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Monday, January 19, 2015

Phantasms of Commercialization

Edit: The post has been edited to clarify my point and remove confusing statements.

So while I was ranting about a quote from Jim Sterling's video about Evolve's DLC the insightful Talarian asked:
Sadly the question requires more than 140 characters to answer so I delayed for time and scrambled over here to hash something out. The question makes a good point, it's difficult to say when something was cut because the developer ran out of time because theoretically the developer would throw everything in if time and money weren't a factor and when it was a feature that was simply planned to be added later.

The triple-A video game development model is an entirely commercial thing, but we players like to indulge in the illusion that developers are cool people who aren't trying to attach to our wallets like a mosquito. Many of them aren't, but the modern reality of keeping a game studio open means the studio has to figure out ways to pay its bills. So every studio has to at some point ask itself how it's going to get a return on their game. That was never in question, we live in a commercial world. However, some of those take it a dozen steps further and stop making it about "Lets aim for the stars and make the next WoW!" and take it to "So how can we maximize profit off the sheep players?" The trick is not making it obvious where on that spectrum your company lies. When you are using every possible means to generate revenue from players, we get suspicious.

I think it comes down to the intention of the developers when they are making the choice as to whether or not include a piece of content. If the developer is genuinely out of money to dedicate and needs to release, I see no problem with cutting content that they simply can't pay for. If they are being held to a strict release date and can't postpone any further I am also less critical. Though in "the olden days" plenty of developers would postpone releases to finish a game; these days it seems marketing and corporate controls when things get released, not whether the game is finished and tested (I'm looking at you Assassin's Creed: Unity).

However, if the developer has already finished the majority of the content piece and will have it ready for release soon after and hold it back purely to sell it for more later, then I start to get a little annoyed. What constitutes an acceptable time period or amount of content is entirely subjective of course. I mean, in the case of Evolve they are literally increasing your eventual cost for content if you fail to pre-order. Now in some situations ordering something before release can be good, but in most of those the quality of the product is highly likely. The video game industry on the other hand has routinely been shown to release shoddy products after large amounts of hype to encourage pre-orders.

Planning to expand your game in the future isn't a crime, but at the same time, charging people an upfront fee that is only getting them a relatively small portion of the intended total content (with a penalty if they do not pre-order) breaks that consumer illusion that the company isn't seeking to exploit us. Your price model should reflect that intention, which should mean charging a smaller initial fee.

Developers should aim high. At the risk of sounding idealistic there is nothing wrong with wanting to be the next WoW or LoL, but there is a difference between trying to make something great and trying to nickel and dime your customers. Where that line lies is subjective, you the player have to decide whether you are getting the value your money is worth.

1 comment:

  1. I think there's a happy medium between "Keeping the lights on," and extracting maximum profit at any expense. When I worked at a super big application software company, we had a mantra: "Shipping is a feature." You can't sell product without that feature, and you need to ensure that feature is completed on time. If not, well, you're talking tens of thousands of dollars a day for missing that deadline if you're a major studio. Heck, even my studio, missing our shipping deadline would mean a few grand a day, assuming we could even afford that (we can't), so shipping dates are generally pretty solidly set, regardless of size. Unless you're a small operation and you're not paying your developers, or you're a massive operation making money hand over foot from other properties and can afford to subsidize new properties, delaying a ship date is simply often not possible.

    That being said, the quality of games coming out recently has definitely undershot my expectations as a consumer. Overhyping, under delivering. The game industry as a whole is guilty of that to a significant degree. But until consumers start staying away from companies who do that, or until someone sues the pants off a game company for demonstratively false advertising, I don't think things are going to change.

    Who knows, perhaps the AAA game studios will eventually collapse under their own weight. Zeus knows, Ubisoft got nailed hard by the AC:Unity issues.