Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Keeping the lights on

Clockwork from Out of Beta is talking about commercialization of games. Quote: "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. ... 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."

Basically Clockwork wants game studios to only make as much money as is needed to keep the lights on. Which is a rather bad idea, I'd even go as far as calling it dangerous. What we need is spectacularly successful games where the game companies make money by the boatload. And selling more content over time is one valid strategy to get there.

The reason why we need those blockbuster games is the reality that so many games fail financially. If a company sets out to make a game, they are aware that there is a very real possibility that the game will never even pay for the development cost. If the best they could hope for was to break even, why would they even bother? The reason why we have such a big choice between many different MMORPGs to play today is that Blizzard at one point made a billion dollars of profit per year. If the financially most successful MMORPG in the world would just have kept the lights of the development studio on, many of today's games simply wouldn't exist.

To make a game you need capital from investors, and you need manpower. Investing in a business like games or movies is a high risk venture. The reason why you risk your money in that instead of buying treasury bonds is that there is a chance to get filthy rich. And the reason why developers program games instead of software for a bank is because they too dream of becoming famous for having created a blockbuster title or even rich.

I am opposed to a culture of entitlement where players want games and more content, but do not want to pay for all that. Let game companies pursue whatever commercialization strategy they want. If a game comes out at a certain price with a certain amount of content, you should decide whether that content is worth that price. Whether the development studio is profitable or not should not figure in that decision.

I think there's a difference between our good friend Bobby Kotick's maximum exploitation of franchises to extract maximum value from the customer base and just, "Keeping the lights on."

The context that paragraph you quoted is in reference to DLC and other content. It comes down to the idea of are you paying for half a game, or a full game? Given that DLC generally needs to be available on Day 1 to make traction, it's a valid question.

In many cases these days, games are shipped incomplete, and the time between a game going gold and being pressed to disc to actually being installed, you'll get a big ol' patch to fix bugs, and sometimes some content. In other cases, said content will be developed in that period with the intention of being sold as Day 1 DLC, which does irk a fair number of the game playing populace.

If that content can radically alter the experience of the game, one might make an argument for selling an incomplete game (early access disguised as shipping the game, if you will), and in that case I think a customer would rightfully be disgruntled. Granted, the sheer lunacy that is customers paying to get into Alpha-level software boggles my mind, but clearly there's a market for it.

Ultimately I agree that simply "Keeping the lights on" is insufficient. As a game developer myself these days, that's definitely just the minimum bar, not the end goal. However, I think there's nuance and ethical considerations to getting there. Clockwork is just discussing what some of those may be.
I agree wholeheatedly with you on this, Tobold. I actually like to buy my games the old-fashioned way (what is now referred to as buy-to-play). If I want more content, I pay for it.

It's in all our interests that games developers and publishers make a fortune and decide that making more content and ore games is a profitable vfenture.
Clockwork's argument makes no sense to me because I cannot think of a more customer friendly way for developers to achieve an ongoing revenue stream than to sell additional content chapters. I certainly much prefer that to obnoxious pay to win money pits. It makes no difference to me whether the DLC was coded before during or after the base game.

The only circumstance in which I would accept Clockwork's charge of exploitation was if the base game did not work as advertised without additional DLC. For example: "You promised 100 hours of content but it is only 20 without the DLC" or if the base game was a horrible buggy mess and the new paid DLC fixes all those bugs. I cannot think of a case where this has happened however.
High risk isn't just in software, but in other areas such as pharmaceuticals. That's part of the reason why you see more drugs for heartburn and impotence than for cancer these days: there's less risk in developing drugs for the former than the latter, and the potential for profit is greater too.

One massive success in a new drug will fund a pharma department for years.
When people talk about dlc they forget that most dlc is content that would have never made it into the final game ten years ago.

Are there some companies that have shady practices to dlc? Sure there are.

But most dlc is made with the point of being dlc in the first place, which means it was never intended to be part of the base game.

That sounds bad to players that feel like they should get "all" of a game, but to an industry that is constantly dumping in money into products in sure of the next big thing it makes financial sense to develop dlc. You are developing content at a lower cost (the base games already there) and you are getting good return based on the cost of making that dlc. Makes total sense from the viewpoint of the business.

I agree with Tobold. If you don't like it simply don't buy it.
Let's face it, the ills of the gaming industry aren't due to content limitations, it's due to the utterly ignorant revenue schemes that the majority of developers/publishers have adopted as of late. When a game is designed to extract the most out of players monetarily, then additional content will be damned in most cases.

I agree with Clockwork, and if the recent debacle that is Call of Duty isnt enough justification to get gamers all riled up, then let them continue to suffer the effects of drinking the Activision kool-aid.

What's next on the horizon? Yet another money grubbing scheme along the lines of "episodic content"..or some such BS.
If gamers didn't pirate the games or use Gamestop, they could complain about DLC. If they wouldn't throw an enormous fit if video game prices had adjusted for inflation (meaning they could cost about a $100 bucks), they could complain about DLC.

But they do. I don't get why gamers are the only ones allowed to adapt to new technology or economic realities.
Here's the issue: "back in the day," both player and developer interests were aligned. If a developer wanted to make a profit, they needed to sell a lot of boxes, which meant making a game that was a good value out of the box. DLC wasn't possible, so they crammed as much value into that box as possible because they had one chance to make that sale.

Needless to say, this was great for the consumer. All that extra content and secrets and such increased our Consumer Surplus.

These days, our interests are not aligned. Developers can sell less boxes and make up the difference with DLC/cash shops/going after whales. Major aspects of a game's plot are sequestered behind paywalls. Putting customization and fluff options as unlockables is seen as leaving money on the table. In short, Consumer Surplus is being eroded at every turn.

Developers are not entitled to our Consumer Surplus, and all of us have every right to legitimately complain when we see them carve up a complete game or engage in insane monetization strategies. "Keeping the lights on" is not our problem as consumers, and typically has little to do with us anyway; we have no control over how management like Curt Shilling or investors run a company into the ground. Nobody asked anyone to spend $200 million on SWTOR, but it happened, and now they're selling hotbars.
Almost every game I buy is too cheap. If games were ten times the price, they'd still be a really great deal in terms of hours of entertainment and level of enjoyment.

Like I bought a game called Factorio for $15, and I've played it a good 200+ hours and enjoyed it so much I still want to keep playing a couple hours every few days. If I were to try to get the same amount of hours of fun from watching movies it'd probably cost upwards of $1200. If I wanted the same from books it'd cost $400+. If only one game in twenty that I bought was worth playing at that level, evening adding in the costs of all those other games I reject it'd still be good value.

I have no patience for someone whining about having to pay another $5 for something they admit they'll enjoy.
It's come back to bite them, as many experienced customers wait to buy these days.
I agree with you. The number I see is that 10% of Silicon Valley startups succeed. But huge successes keep everyone trying.

But I am completely baffled over the Day1 DLC contretemps. If Developer1 spends $40m on a game, all before launch and has D1DLC, they are worse for consumers than Developer2 who spends $15m before launch and 10 after for the same priced to consumer game? There can be good & bad games and values-for-price, regardless of the business model.

If you buy a new Microsoft O/S on release day and take it home, there will probably be patches to be applied. Microsoft Office is now being pushed as a subscription not a purchase and rumors are that Microsoft really wants to make Windows a subscription.
Azuriel, you can complain of course, but that doesn't mean they're obliged to listen to you.

Devs want to earn more money. Customers want to pay less money. Neither desire is intrinsically better than the other.
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