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The $60 Question: How the world got turned upside down

October 5, 2012

Doone recently posted an entry trying to answer the question: “What should I expect, when I pay $60 for a game?” he argued that looking at the amount of content and features we get now in games we pay more for less. As support he offered a comparison between Torchlight 2 and Diablo 3, interestingly he, from there came to the conclusion that it will be harder for new ARPG titles to sell their games for more money than TL2 without backing it up with content and features, something I hope but remain sceptic to. Doone also implicitly asked the question how this evolution of paying more for less could have happened in the game industry. I thought I’d answer that question.

 

One important point in answering this question that often gets overlooked is the shift in consumer values we have had over the last 20 years. Nowadays we value quality in the form of polish in our games a lot more than quantity in content and we expect games to entertain us longer, ergo be updated more frequently with content that follows the same rule of rather being polished than abundant. If we look at the quality in the form of polish over quantity point I am making, what exactly do I mean by that? Well a simple demonstration would be our impatience concerning bugs or “clunky” gameplay, as well as our obsession with graphics. Example: Who would today have the patience to babysit the broken path-finding that your party members in Neverwinter Nights 2 have? A lot of players would give up in frustration or at least wail about it (I know I do). Mass Effect in its first instalment had horrible graphics (at the very least by today’s and several yesterday’s standards), but they got the job done very nicely, would we accept these kind of graphics today? A lot of games were also rather arduous to install were prone to crashes and bugs and the estimated fix-time for these was long. Would we accept that kind of maintenance and lack of polish today?   WoW launched with a huge number of bugs and was largely unplayable the first few months due to server crashes, people falling through the world etc. Do we accept something like that today in in 2012? I think the answer to all those questions is: No!

 

What does this leave us with? For one the fact that a lot more time and money is being put into to safeguarding that, what little content gets published is polished, that the game runs well on the designated machines and that any future problems are solved quickly. It also shows us something of us: the consumer. And what it shows us fits rather with the gist of our time. We would rather be safe and secure in what we have, than trust into innovations that might prove risky and involve an effort on our part as the consumer in making things work. That was rather abstract was it not? So let me clarify: How many of us have heard/seen/read a game being flamed to the ground because of bad graphics? Everyone right? Graphics should aim to be as realistic as possible it seems and if it’s the case that developers feel that this is the public opinion of course more money and time is going to be put into that, than additional content, after all that can be released later and sold for more profit. Combine this sentiment regarding the graphics with the popular utterance on at least MMO game forums but other game forums as well: “I play a game to be entertained, after a hard day of working I do not want to get home and do even more work in my leisure time!” Notice the first part of the quote “to be entertained”; that is a highly passive attitude towards playing games. It almost sounds like we want to sit there and get everything handed to us like in a movie. With that kind of attitude being ripe in the consumer base of course we are not going to get more content, because all it takes is giving us pretty colours and fancy cinematics for us to be entertained! Ergo all the game companies have to do is deliver us a stable, flashy game that keeps us entertained, there is no need for large amounts of content, our need to have the most polished and flashy gaming experience does not require THAT for us “to be entertained”. In support of that one need to merely look at which movies sell the most and which TV shows have the highest rating, that right there shows us how little it takes to entertain us.

 

But you said we wanted to play games for longer and specifically cited content in that sentence is that not a bit contradicting? No it is not. Our fixation with having a very polished game, basically leads to the trade-off I described earlier: We trade more content for polish and the promise of more content down the line, content we often have to pay extra for. And how is this extra cost justified? By making it be polished and running smoothly and making sure bugs are smashed quickly. So what are you paying for when you pay $60 for a game? You are paying for the guarantee of a smooth and polished medium of entertainment; you are paying $60 for security and safety! It is when this perverse shift happened, when someone managed to persuade the public that it was O.K. to pay for the guarantee that the product you just bought actually works that “the world got turned upside down”. I mean think about it, in what other industry or form of business can you charge extra (and that is what the companies are essentially doing by making us buy the DLC), for the guarantee that the product you are selling works? I certainly can’t think of any.

 

This sentiment of attaching a value to security also explains how Blizzard could launch Diablo 3 and have a huge success with it. In our drive to have security we attach this to certain brand names and having the stamp of Bioware, Blizzard or Ubisoft etc. guarantees us this safety and that’s why we buy their games. And what happens with the money they make? Well a big part of it goes into advertisement, which is why I don’t think TL2 will have such a big effect on the ARPG market. I told a friend of mine, who has also played games for a very long time and who had played the Diablo series as well, that I was playing TL2 and he should try it out. His response was: “What is Torchlight 2?” Maybe it tells more about my friend than Torchlight 2, but it certainly shows that whoever has the power to advertise his/ her product the most wins in the end. If the big masses are kept ignorant of good titles, be they indie or otherwise, nothing will change in the gaming industry. That is why I in the end think that the best solution for us would be to rethink our values concerning what a good game should be like and most of all get rid of this ridiculous notion that it is alright to charge for a game to be playable and to have maintenance, all those things should be self-evidently included in the game free of charge. You should not be forced to pay for a service like that, at least not if the company cares about its customers, but do they? Or are we just shiny bundles of money to them? If the latter is answered with a “yes” and I fear it is, we have a long way before us, before anything is changed in the way games are made. I think our hope lies in the indie sector, the only problem is, is it strong enough to influence the whole industry? I remain sceptic.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 9, 2012 11:23 pm

    I like and agree with your arguments about the price of flashy looking games. If there’s a culprit for the “focus-on-realistic-graphics” phenomenon from developers, it’s definitely because people allow their eyes to deceive them, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the game is crap.

    That said, I realize I play a lot of games and have a level of dedication your average consumer doesn’t. If it looks nice, your regular Joe Consumer will probably try it out, mostly because he really doesn’t know better.

    But that’s exactly the biggest bone I have to pick with that whole transaction. Developers *do* know better, but they often chose to cash in on ignorance. Whose to blame? I don’t think this deserves finger pointing, but definitely developers know better. Offering less or worse game for ever higher prices, or placing too high a price point on a game that doesn’t deserve it …yeah, they know better. Unfortunately, it’s all about wringing as much money out of a product as possible with increasingly less concern for quality and quantity of content. Nasty trend. But I have faith that indies and other studios like Runic will stay the course. In the long run, I think they are doing games a great service.

  2. October 10, 2012 2:25 pm

    I agrre with you Doone! I just guess that since I am somewhat disgruntled with the situaton as it is now and I have very little or rather no tools to influence the gamng companies directly I look to what I/ we aas consumers can do and where maybe our behavour has caused or aggravated the problems we speak about. Thanks for the comment and really nice post you had today =)

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