12 November 2009

The way the wind blows...

Now, i love Gamerswithjobs.com but sometimes i find (as with elsewhere) that i am at odds with the site's wordsmiths. This article is a case in point.

My main problem is the thesis behind the reasoning. Elysium speaks about how not supporting DLC, microtransactions and other piecemeal efforts that the gaming industry has introduced over the last ten years is resulting in the companies being unprofitable. He's railing against "the haters" to use a common phrase these days. To which he leads us to this part:

I hate to be dire, but I’ve seen 3 years of the Bobby Kotick doctrine, and if that’s what the future for companies like EA and TakeTwo and THQ is going to be then we’re going to sit back in a few years and long for the day when we got to whine about Day-1 DLC in a game like Dragon Age. Let me describe the future I see. Subscription based services married with microtransactions. Hobbled initial releases where the DLC is not just an optional quest, but key game mechanics. One-time required online authentication that prevents multi-player for used games. A virtual death of games like Mirror’s Edge, Dead Space, Ghostbusters, Brutal Legend, Borderlands or Dragon Age.

Of course, he doesn't see the opposite side of the story. The people who don't support those methods saw this writing on the wall years ago. Seriously, he's so far behind the curve that it's unfunny. I never supported DRM, DLC, microtransactions etc because i saw that it would lead to a future where we were nickel-and-dimed and it's strange that we could come to the same end through different conclusions.

On his worry that we won't see those innovative games? I don't have the same fear. There will always be companies willing to innovate and therefore people who want innovative products and therefore people who will pay for those innovative products. Innovation will not die because the current way of making the high-end games is unprofitable.

Also, on that note, why the hell are they unprofitable? Games were profitable 10 years ago... they were profitable during the last console generation.... some of them are even profitable nowadays and the market for games has increased by a huge amount. So what the hell is going on? Well, it comes down to this: The game companies (developers, publishers) are making products that make no financial sense and i don't mean that in the risk/reward way. We're not talking about releasing a hardcore product on the Wii (primarily casual market system), we're talking about just making a game which doesn't cost so much that it requires 2 million sales at full price to break even when there's not a large enough market to support that sort of sell-through rate for very many games. I've made this point before, but developers and publishers have no one else to blame for making games that are so expensive. Consumers were pretty happy with the lower graphics available five years ago but instead of moving forward slowly and growing their audience, they really jumped the gun with the Xbox 360 and PS3 - pushing almost more-than-state-of-the-art hardware - and in the process increased the development costs of a game by an order of magnitude and are now complaining when they don't make a return on their investment. Worse still, they've managed to convince a portion of their userbase that it's all down to a failure on the consumer's part that these problems are now rearing their heads for gaming companies. The worst part of his spiel is that he acknowledges that the game industry have backed a model that doesn't work but haven't changed it. If this were a conversation about the music industry then he would be chastising them for making the same decision.... why the difference?

Moving on to the piracy issue.... piracy has pretty much stayed constant on consoles and PC over the last 10 years. I mean, even if it has only grown 10% since 2000, that's still an 80% piracy rate if you take the most recent developer studies to date, the small jump to 90% just doesn't make that big of a difference. Further adding credence to this line of thinking is the fact that a large proportion of developers in the UK do not view piracy as a real threat to a game.

Finally, the nail in the coffin of his argument (from my point of view) is this:

Gamers have waged their own zealot war against a changing marketplace, irresponsibly made unreasonable decisions about their entitlements and bent the rules as they see fit to get what they think they’ve got coming.


Let me put it this way, if having Day-one DLC in a game like Dragon Age means that Bioware gets to make the sequel, and not having it means they don’t, I will happily take the opportunity to make my informed purchasing choice and I will fold my arms and look sternly at those who gripe and complain.


If you want an industry that can take chances. If you want an industry that can be agile and adaptable to niche demands. If you want publishers that are willing to explore new IPs and put resources behind projects like Dragon Age, then you, my stubborn and well-intentioned comrades, need to turn down the righteous fury.

It's a classic mistake and one that many others have made before him. It's also another thing i've highlighted here in the past. I'll let you into the secret one more time:

The hardcore gamers - especially those on PC - are a small part of the market. Out of that small part of the market the people who find DRM, DLC etc offensive on whatever level are an even smaller part. We're talking about a noisy but financially inconsequential part of the gaming market. Any action we take, any stance we make.... any code we break, any line we stake..... we'll be inconsequential....

We don't affect the bottom line on very many games and it's incredibly egotistical to think that we do.

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