Raph Koster has a post about video game costs, which in large part is a continuation of the discussion from TAGN blog about the topic. In terms of game devs, I like Raph (I obviously don’t know him personally), but I can’t help but disagree with him more on his post. The linked video does a great job breaking down the AAA market, but as someone who isn’t a console gamer, the AAA market is just a tiny fraction of my overall gaming.
Before I go on, I do want to make clear that I think gamers are as much to blame for all of this as developers. Yes, many developers are scum like the hotbar salesman, but they only exist because gamers exist that buy said hotbars. If the majority of gamers had rejected MTX originally and not until SW:BF2, the whole concept would never have taken off. Sadly we can’t do much about the gamers but help to educate them, and that’s a slow process. Even when the ultimate ending in SW:BF2 was a complete wiping out of MTX (for now), you still had people defend the decision to give EA money for that game pre-release, so it’s a hard battle.
First, I understand why MTX makes sense for game devs, and I also think it makes sense for gamers. We now live in an age where a game can easily be supported post-release, which is very different prior to the internet and buying a disc/cartridge. Getting patches, downloading expansions, having mod access, all of that is possible today and makes gaming better.
If I love a game, the absolute best thing that can happen is for the devs to continue supporting it, because that means I get more of what I love. I was sad when Mordheim development stopped because I loved Mord and wanted more. Same for Battle Brothers. And I am willing to pay for that support, so long as its reasonable in both price and in what it adds, so I’m not saying to completely remove MTX and go back to only a box price. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars in LoL, and it’s easily some of the best money I’ve spent in gaming, so MTX done right is AWESOME.
The major problem with a lot of MTX is that their addition makes the base game WORSE. It’s the F2P in MMOs topic all over again, where we have yet to see an MMO become a better game due to F2P, because it’s almost by definition impossible. Games CAN be better thanks to MTX (LoL is by far the biggest and best example of this), because they fund future development without negatively impacting design. But when incompetence or greed kicks in, you get something like SW:BF2, where a decent game is made significantly WORSE by MTX. There is no argument that can be made that SW:BF2 is better because you can spend money to unlock power. Pushed further, there is no argument that can be made that a competitive game is better when some of the power is initially locked, and you have to grind or pay to unlock it. Imagine if in LoL every champ started with their ultimate locked, and until you paid or grinding, you couldn’t use it? Would anyone argue such a model would make LoL feel more ‘rewarding’? Of course not.
“You can see this in MMOs now — where just getting 100k people subbing to something ought to make a highly satisfactory viable business… but go look at player reactions to visuals that aren’t at the absolute top end.” – Raph
The quote is about MMOs specifically, but since that genre is on pause (and no one would call upcoming titles like Crowfall or CU top-end visually), lets look at gaming overall.
PUBG looks like ass compared to most shooters. Its the highest selling game of the year by a mile. Take a look at the most popular games on Steam and tell me how many of those have AAA graphics? CS:GO doesn’t. DOTA2 doesn’t (nor does LoL). Payday 2? Team Fortress? Rocket League? RUST? Sure, there are also games like GTAV, which at release had good graphics, and also games like Rainbow Six, but the point is that the top games aren’t exclusively AAA-quality in terms of graphics, or even that the list is dominated by such titles.
The same can be said for polish. It’s helps, no doubt, but it’s clearly not a must-have. The be-all end-all of gaming success if if your game is fun. That’s it. If your game is fun despite looking like garbage and having a mile-long list of bugs, people will buy it. They bought ARK, they bought RUST, they bought DayZ, and they are buying PUBG. Divinity:OS2 just crossed the million copies mark, and go look at it’s post-release history of patch notes to see just how polished that game was (and while it has nice graphics, no one is calling them top-end).
On the topic of raising box prices. Remember when ARK left early access and went up to $60? Or how PUBG has never gone on sale from it’s $30 price point? Notice how successful Steam games don’t hit the 50% or 75% Steam sale for a while, yet we see failed new releases getting massive price cuts shortly? It all shows that while box price is a factor, its also relative to the actual quality of a game. If a game is really good, it can have a high box price and avoid sales and still move copies.
This topic really is less about the rising cost of games, or whether model X is better than model Y, and more about corporate greed and how some gamers support terrible MTX design. Companies exist to make money, of course, but part of the ‘make money’ thing is to also to stay in business and continue to make money. It’s not a good business move to raise profits by 50% in a quarter by sacrificing the next five quarters. Predatory and flawed MTX is exactly that; it’s cashing in now by duping some gamers only to hurt everyone later on. SW:BF2 might have been the tipping point, where EA had a good game that would have been profitable with solid (in this case fluff-only) MTX, but because of greed put in predatory and ‘bad for game design’ MTX instead, and the result has been a massive hit to their stock price already, with likely more fallout coming when the actual impact to SW:BF2 is better understood.
The video game business model is not just fine, its actually the best it’s ever been. If you make a good game, you will not only get rewarded with sales, but also have the potential to make more money on top with solid MTX. The problem many devs struggle with isn’t rising costs or being bullied out of the market, its in creating a good game. Fix that problem and you will do just fine.