This post comes after a brief conversation on Twitter and after Clockwork published this first post and later a second one, all somewhat related. The subject was video games, designing them for future monetization, and how doing so doesn’t sit very well with some of us (including myself) despite rapidly becoming the new normal.
It can be difficult for anyone to discuss ‘what is deserved’ when we exercise our market powers and make a purchase. Typically, one group of naysayers will call you ‘entitled’ for expecting anything or smear you by accusing you of thinking a business not make money. The other group will take what you say and expand it dangerously far into areas that seem less like compromise or more like the ‘feed me, Seymour’ entitlement which makes the first group so afraid/annoyed.
Video games are a product which has been created to earn a profit*. This is innocuous enough since this free exchange has been going on for a few decades now. Yet, as major publishers have consolidated into fewer companies, the cost of entry into getting your game on the market has rapidly diminished, and the cost of gaming’s biggest blockbusters have skyrocketed in production costs, the standard model of how we as consumers purchase our games is rapidly changing in some unpredictable ways.
One of Clockwork’s major contentions are games designed from the ground up to have DLC, such as Evolve. We both agree that such design intentions differ from the expansion models of old. The concept of an Expansion has an almost wistful, nostalgic sensibility to it at this point. It conjures up ideas that a developer had too much content for one game or too many ideas with too little time to implement them. Whether it is the designers intention or otherwise, for many of us, DLC seems to be an outright attempt to game the system, take advantage of the players, and rake in “unjustified” money.
I don’t think publishers are necessarily corrupt beyond the norms of capitalism’s ‘maximize gains, minimize losses’. I also don’t think DLC is especially abusive. Still, though my rational mind comprehends quite well the reality of my relationship with publishers and game developers, the elephant in the room will always be the illusion of corruption and abuse. Frankly, I think any sense of trust has been largely eroded away by the period of rapid monetization changes we now find ourselves in.
Take the example of a game designed from the ground up for DLC. This is the new norm for most major releases, and it includes pre-order DLC, same-day release DLC, or season passes to unlock pre-planned DLC. The concept immediately generates a gut reaction that the product I end up with is incomplete. Whether it is the case or not, I feel like the developer/publisher have planned well in advance ways to hold back/limit their initial release so they can extract more money out of me on a semi-regular basis.
As a long-time gamer, I feel bombarded these days on all sides to give additional revenue for games. You can buy your way into Early Access, spend a lot of money on the Cash Shop, and then finally pick up a bit of DLC when the time comes. More and more AAA releases are adding small cash shops or multiplayer features which seem to only be added as an additional revenue stream (buy skins or other unlockables). Once upon a time, there was a single cost of entry and then one or two expansions for an additional charge. I should also note that the concept of an expansion works far better than a DLC for me since its themes/features/other additions all flow together better than a far more limited DLC pack.
Nowadays, playing a game means actively willing yourself to ignore all of the prompts for additional ways to spend your money. The means of monetization grow and that illusion of abuse looms ever larger.
There are no easy solutions. For the most part, you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Designing a game from the ground up to be marketable and profitable beyond its initial release should be the norm, but publishers and developers need to be more conscious of how their systems of monetization are perceived too. While you may gain more pre-orders and sales with exclusives, I worry that we are risking the long-term faith of the consumer for some short-term and ultimately short-sighted gains.
I fear that these changes in how the medium is monetized may drastically alter it for the worse. Case in point, I think H1Z1’s charging for Early Access into an alpha build of the game is bad enough, but for SOE’s first priority to be their means of monetization seems to be a perfect example of the illusion of corruption. Rather than deliver a quality product that people are already paying for, they are more concerned with guaranteeing additional streams of revenue after taking gamer’s money for the privilege of testing their game for them. Other games feel designed to print money, not make it honestly by being a good product first and foremost.
It is a truly sad world when expecting a quality product for your money that doesn’t try to monetize you at every corner is regarded as naive or idealism. I suppose the notion of “getting what you paid for” has largely been replaced with “pay us and we will give you access to an exclusive marketplace where you can pay us again and again.”
Well, at least the marketers are making money. Keep building websites, cutting trailers, and tweeting you indomitable bastards. You’ve earned it!
- Out of Beta: Phantasms of Commercialization
- Out of Beta: [Heroes of the Storm] Free to spend $40
- In An Age: H1Z1, HotS, TESO
- Leo’s Life: Paying for Beta
- The Ancient Gaming Noob: Is Paid Early Access a Good Thing for MMOs?
- Tales of the Aggronaut: Reaping What We Sow
- The Bind Point: Subscriptions Might Not Mean What You Think
- Healing the Masses: The Issues of Early Access
- XP Chronicles: How to Early Access
- United We Game: My personal plea to those in the game industry.