This article is the first chapter from our eBook The Future of Gaming, in which KeenGamer writers discuss how the game’s industry will change. If you enjoy our work, please consider sending us a donation via PayPal on [email protected]. Every dollar will help us fund future projects. Feel free to download the full book in PDF. Or you can read the chapter of your choice in the list below:
Chapter 2: The Future of Virtual Reality Games
Chapter 3: The Future of Social Good Games
Chapter 4: The Future of Video Game Platforms
Chapter 5: The Future of eSports
Chapter 6: 11 Companies that May Build the Road to the Future
A discussion on where the games industry is going is often a heated one. Many gamers remain optimistic, while an equal proportion expresses concern. The gaming audience is split. From one side, there are older generations, who have experienced how retailers deliver games for decades. At the same time, younger players only know an industry embroiled in the power of the internet and what it can offer. The former of the two parties, me included, is naturally worried, because an inevitable shift is coming and, no matter how it plays out, the way we get our games will change.
The current state of distribution has been in the making since the seventh generation of consoles (Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3) became fully compatible with the internet. Before this, online distribution platforms, like Steam and GOG, meant the sudden death of PC titles finding their way to store shelves. As soon as that happened, it appeared that consoles were lagging in how efficiently they delivered games. When seventh gen consoles arrived, they introduced the idea of downloadable content, as an answer to Steam, but they still provided incentives for you to buy physical copies, such as preorder bonuses. This strategy gave to the brick and mortar game stores we see struggling today more time to enjoy success. The entire run up to this state of the market was sudden and complex, encompassing more than just how games reach our devices. The internet also changed the business model of the industry.
In under a decade, shipping a game in parts, after taking a full payment, has shaped how developers make our titles. This strategy has affected everything, from game design principles to consumer expectations. Again, we have the two halves of the gamer audience. The older of which laments the idea of not having a complete package after the initial purchase. While the younger, having known no other form of distribution, will get disappointed to buy a game and notice the lack of content in the years after the release. It is the second of those two halves that will see to the ultimate success of this trend that has us older gamers worried.
Thanks to these changes set forth by the internet, AAA game publishers are leaning towards multiplayer formats. With these, companies like Electronic Arts (EA), Activision and Ubisoft can focus on long-term profits per title, by adding content in the future and implementing microtransations. Online marketplaces within games further bolster the hunger for a growing revenue. These have become the norm, but for how long is this practice sustainable?
the most optimistic future
As we have learned, consoles are lagging on the logistics of how to distribute games. Providers like Steam and GOG seem ahead of the curve, when it comes to more of an “instant gratification” kind of purchase. It’s that same consumer satisfaction that has led to the success of microtransactions, regardless of how many of us may lament their existence.
Although, when breaking down the buying process, digital marketplaces have many advantages, not just to the consumer but also to the developer and publisher. They can save serious money, when taking into consideration the portions of game profits that go to brick and mortar stores. On average, 27% of your game purchase goes to the retailer. Then, a portion of the revenue pays for boxes, the artwork upon them and the creation of the disc within. For a rundown of where your money goes after buying a game, check out Eurogamer’s exhaustive investigation. As much as we may like or hate the idea, the death of physical stores would be a plus for the people who create and deliver games to us.
Take all the brick and mortar formulae out of the equation on a worldwide scale and game developers can save plenty of resources, allowing for a higher quality in the games they deliver. Studios can invest more in polish and functionality – two aspects that have taken hits under the pressures of publisher deadlines and the sudden wishes of investors. Mass Effect: Andromeda (below) is a perfect example of this. With BioWare Edmonton working with the Frostbite Engine for the first time, deciding to specifically handle all facial animations turned out to be too colossal a task for the team. As a result, EA’s deadline loomed, and the team had already wasted time and resources on a bespoke facial animation plan that never came to fruition, leaving us with the infamous robotic faces of today’s game. Former BioWare employee Jonathan Cooper shed plenty of light on this terrible hindsight after Andromeda’s release.
With fluctuations in money made by developers and publishers because of brick and mortar stores going extinct, the pricing of our future games is going to change. Although it is unclear in which direction it will go. Games could be more expensive because of their higher quality. At the same time, they could be cheaper, after finding themselves on an all-in-one kind of streaming service with a monthly subscription. This kind of popular Netflix culture has already penetrated videogames with MMO subscriptions on PC, PlayStation Now and Xbox Game Pass.
As the current generation already flirts with these methods of delivering older titles through subscription, it begs the question: How long will it be until we go fully-digital and what form it will take? Further down the line, with no need for disc drives, current technology like the Amazon Fire Stick makes me wonder how long it will be before all we need is a Smart TV and a clever USB to “download” our console and monthly subscription tied into cloud computing gaming. Although, in the here and now, many smaller time developers use the services of publishers as a necessity.
These development studios rely on deals with publishers to fund the marketing and distribution of their titles. An example of this that sits more favourably in the public eye is Santa Monica Studio developing God of War and Sony Interactive Entertainment partnering as an exclusive publisher to fund the project. This is a happy example that will lead to the continued success of the franchise. However, things do not always go so swimmingly between developer and publisher.
Proof of how relations can come crashing down is Hideo Kojima’s departure from Konami upon the completion of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. After spending upwards of $80 million dollars, Konami insisted enough was enough, slapping Kojima with a sudden deadline. He had to round up the troops at Kojima Productions and edit the events of the Metal Gear finale to comprise a tangible ending. Players who finished Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain will know first-hand the grim realities of publishers yanking on the chain of developers.
Considering the horror stories we bear witness to, like the Konami/Kojima relationship or the often unfinished feeling Final Fantasy XV has (FFXV will still have DLC releases in 2019!) we have to keep in mind how things would shape up if these publishers were suddenly not necessary. After all, going fully digital would replace them in almost all services they offer. Online advertising is much cheaper and a link to a buying page is all you need to sell your game. At London’s EGX Rezzed, April 2017, I caught up with Tom Betts, the lead programmer at Big Robot who was developing a game called The Signal From Tölva (below) at the time.
As a small development studio of 5 people, it would be easy for them to succumb to the pile of gold offered by a big publisher, on top of the chance to break out onto consoles. In the end, Betts and his team decided not to take the plunge with the marketing and distribution assistance a publisher could have provided.
“We thought about this a lot when we started off. We’ve even had people offer us publishing deals. But we were looking really, to be able to self-fund. I think if you can do that, it’s really worth thinking about. It just means that you don’t have deal with whatever restrictions might be placed on you by publishers. I know a lot of people can’t be self-funded so at that point, publishers are a viable option. Yet, getting involved with a publisher means devs have to be careful. Some publishers have much stricter ideas about what your game needs to be. Some of them are a lot more flexible.
There was a weird thing recently whereby if you were funded by one of the European publishers you had to put overly British things in your games. Like red telephone boxes or the Union Jack. Yet here we are making games about alien planets and we can’t really put British-ness on that. One advantage that smaller teams like ourselves do have is that they don’t need as much money. So a lot of studios have to go to the big publishers because they’re dealing with really big overheads. Getting the money for those projects is a far more daunting task for them. Not like us – a team of around five people.
We did think about going with a publisher for the sake of things like future returns. And the kind of publicity you get from a publisher. Or without that, you can hire your own PR or do it yourself. But then that’s extra workload to worry about. In the end it’s a case of looking at other publishers and seeing if what they offer is worth it for you.”
Anyone would assume, with a bit of context, that not going with a publisher was a wrong move, but with this information, it’s easy to see the stress his team would have gone through, had it chosen to seek one. 2017 was a year when game developers started to push away from the sense of necessity with big time publishers. They began to learn that success in delivery of their game was not necessarily synonymous with uncomfortable deals with EA or Activision. We can find a prominent example of this in Ninja Theory’s self-published Hellblade: Senua`s Sacrifice (below). After three months, it sold half a million copies.
This was not the only pushback against the AAA publisher machine. An important bit of game development activism happened in late 2017 and barely anybody noticed. The result was the beautifully designed Echo, released in September 2017, by Ultra Ultra, on PC and later in October for the PlayStation 4. The reason it is worthy of this topic is that, like Hellblade, it arrived in the market independently, released at indie price, but it leans closer in presentation to an AAA title. How it came into existence; however, is far more important, when considering the hypothetical “no publisher” future as part of a fully digital landscape. Martin Emborg, CEO of Ultra Ultra created his game studio along with a core group of eight developers from IO Interactive. The team, having built Hitman games for IO Interactive under the watchful eye of publisher Square Enix, decided they just wanted to do their own thing.
So we come back around to the concept of self-publishing leading to total creative freedom. Again, this shows in Echo – a game clearly designed for a niche stealth gameplay loving audience. Its environs consist of beautifully endless hallways inspired by 19th Century Venetian architecture. This kind of game design would not go over well in a meeting with a potential publisher looking for a product to appeal to a mass market. To quote UltraUltra themselves:
“The studio was born out of a longing for stranger horizons. The hardboiled realism of IO is something the team greatly appreciates, but their true passion is to create something not of this world. Holding senior positions, it was no easy choice to leave, but in the end we had to make it happen. We are proud of our heritage and hope that will shine through. Leaving behind the enormous machinery of mainstream AAA – and the astronomical cost that comes with it – UltraUltra focuses on a product that is much more personal, and not based on market trends and user research. We believe that this will be felt in the game, and hope for like-minded players to make this a viable strategy.”
From this statement, we can begin to see an optimistic future forming for videogames distribution. Both Ultra Ultra and Ninja Theory have proven that, when developers are left to their own devices, they are capable of great and original things. Of course, publishers won’t disappear altogether when we go fully digital. But their lessened presence will likely see the microtransactions and DLC bubble burst after so long. Games will once again have to be sold on their merit alone and profits will grow as a result of sheer undeniable originality and the word of mouth that brings, as seen with Hellblade.
the most pessimistic future
As with all things in life, not all is peaches and roses. While there is the chance that a fully digital marketplace could poke and prod publishers out the door, there is one big problem that still needs attention on a global scale. It is part of a wider issue about the internet itself, which will be the foundation pillar to prop up our digital gaming mecca.
The problem I refer to is lawlessness. Worldwide, laws exist to prevent us from descending into a Mad Max world. That in itself is testament to how important regulations are, whether we agree with them or not. Consider for a moment that no extensive legal works exist for the digital world. The internet is still a criminal’s haven, be that a videogame pirate or EA. We can find in Hawaii a perfect example of this problem beginning to rear its ugly head. State Representative Chris Lee (below) has been the most outspoken politician on the culture of lootboxes and microstransactions. He began his path against predatory practices in games as a result of the Star Wars Battlefront II furor.
House bill 2686 and Senate bill 3024 would restrict retailers from selling games featuring purchases of “a randomized reward” to anyone under the age of 21 in the state. This is a unique situation as it is the first wide-scale attempt at enforcement of something that only exists in the online space. The problem that awaits us is that laws like these will not be instantly global. Potentially, some countries could have restrictions on in-game purchases, among other online attributes that may yet develop and need to put in check, where others do not.
While this segmentation of the market would affect the logistics of a fully digital space less than it would a disc distribution space, it could ultimately lead to some countries being totally deprived of certain titles. As it stands, Australia restricts some extreme games like Manhunt or Outlast II from being sold due to their graphic nature. In this new world of unfolding legislation for videogames as part of a policed digital space – many more countries may have to adopt Australia’s attitudes, albeit for wholly different and inescapable reasons.
Another potential problem that sits threateningly closer in our gaming timeline is the survivability of single player titles. 2017 was the year of lootbox controversies, yes, but that eventually made us pay attention to the waning profits of narrative driven experiences. The ones that can only find continued revenue in one or two DLC expansions. As far as a big publisher can see, this pales in comparison to the long-term profits brought in by microtransactions. With EA disguising the language of microtransactions with the phrase “live services,” it’s clear to see the heights of success EA is experiencing.
After all, Wolfenstein II, Prey and The Evil Within 2 each suffered underwhelming sales figures for Bethesda Softworks last year, while the newly rising figures surrounding the Battle Royale style of game cannot be denied. According to SteamCharts, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) has lost a little of its player base, likely due to the banning of so many cheaters, but its concurrent player count, at the time of this writing, still sits pretty at 787,545 players. Meanwhile, Fortnite has beaten PUBG’s record, reaching 3.4 million players. Is this a phase? Only for as long as microtransactions are profitable. As Mark Hamill famously said of Star Wars “Be careful, kids. They don’t care about the story. They only care about the money”. The same rings grimly true of the games industry.
Again, I can see a generational divide that major publishers are taking serious advantage of to bolster this growing corporate environment for videogames. The older generations come from a time when single player games were the only way to play. We shared the same wonderful experiences through fantastically written stories and, at the time, writing for videogames was generally better, as there were fewer features to be distracted by in development. Monkey Island and Discworld Noir spring to mind. However, the younger generation is attracted by the allure of simple premises offered by Fortnite, Call of Duty’s multiplayer and PUBG. There are no complications here, no stories to pay attention to, but much less creativity to enjoy. The younger generation is the future of videogames’ success and the wider industry knows this. How many 12 year olds do you know, who not only played Dishonored 2 (below) but also finished it? Without the allure of all their friends texting to jump on for another match of Fortnite? I rest my case.
Of course, the outcry for how publisher treat single player games these days was finally brought about by EA’s cancellation of their upcoming Star Wars game, codenamed Project Ragtag. It was to be a single player action adventure experience like Uncharted in the Star Wars universe. To be fair, the project was cancelled due to EA’s splitting of the team to work on Battlefield: Hardline DLC and writer Amy Hennig unwittingly taking on the role of Creative Director just to keep the team solid. Where the story became truly relevant was how it ignited a discussion on just what the heck was going on with single player games. Amy Hennig was the lead writer in the first three Uncharted games. Since leaving the franchise, she has yet to be part of a shipped project. It’s a shame, as she is one of the most talented videogame story writers of today. With these trends going the way they are, other storytellers aspiring to reach similar heights suddenly find themselves in a tougher career environment. In a recent interview at Polygon, Hennig had this to say on the current state of single player games:
“I think we’re in an inflection point right now. Obviously what happened with our Star Wars project didn’t come out of the blue. A lot of too-dramatic articles were written about it — the death of linear story games and all that kind of stuff — but look, there is a real problem: this line we’ve been running up to for a lot of years, which is the rising cost of development, and the desires, or the demands even, of players in terms of hours of gameplay, fidelity, production values, additional modes, all these things. Those pressures end up very real internally.
If it costs you, say, $100 million or more to make a game, how are you making that money back, and making a profit? And the $60 price point can’t change, right? There’s a lot of negative press around monetization, loot boxes, games as a service, etc., but these things are trending now in the industry, especially for larger publishers, as an answer to the problem of rising development costs. Budgets keep going up, the bar keeps getting raised, and it starts making less and less sense to make these games. There is also this trend now that, as much as people protest and say, “Why are you canceling a linear, story-based game? This is the kind of game we want,” people aren’t necessarily buying them. They’re watching somebody else play them online.”
From this set of observations, it’s easy to start wondering if the games industry will become segmented in a new way. Will single player titles ultimately go to the indie space, while AAA becomes a smörgåsbord of multiplayer exclusivity ever bolstered by money hungry, predatory and unchecked publishers to play out their game of greed? After all, that’s the space where the money is, which means it won’t be going away soon. For that AAA space to stay in check and for consumers to not be mercilessly taken advantage of, we’ll need more politicians like Chris Lee to introduce some law and order and possibly balance things out.
Indeed, things are looking grim for our brick and mortar gaming stores in the wake of… “progress.” Even now, the signs here in the United Kingdom can be seen at our main gaming store, simply named GAME. The staff always asks you at the end of a transaction “would you like to preorder anything today, maybe get this game with a Prima guide?” The need to push further for sales has left GAME (below) no choice but to implement this asking policy. You could argue that this is just typical sales stuff. But what is a preorder if not a guarantee of a future deal? It makes up for the loose grip keeping game stores in play now and that grip will slip yet further when the next generation of consoles arrive without disc drives.
Brick and mortar stores also appear to be getting less relevant. Not only do they have the growing digital marketplace to contend with but also other retailers like Amazon. It is doubtless the reason why Gamestop had to close 150 stores in America early last year, due to a sharp decrease in customer footfall. Some stores offer purely traded-in products which has always been a great money saver for the gamer on a budget. These will likely last longer based on their main business idea allowing them to continue the fight for ongoing sales of what will later be retro games for retro console owners.
Although that on its own does not sound like a sustainable business plan alongside the impending digital takeover. The fact that technology exists even now for emulators to run old titles from different consoles on PC also has to make you wonder if even the retro corner of the market will go fully digital. Karl Slatoff, President of publisher Take Two Interactive, is a big believer in the transition to fully digital and even feels the takeover could happen in the next five to ten years. Depending on when that plays out, brick and mortar game stores will quickly become extinct.
the likeliest future
If we were to round things off now, I’ll start by saying how unpredictable the future is. While I hope that what I’m about to discuss bangs the nail on the head, who knows what will happen? If you’re old enough, think back to a time when you picked up a PC game and it came in those massive A4-sized cardboard boxes. They were filled with the stuff we expect to pay or retrieve online today. Things like uniquely stylized manuals with game lore or concept art booklets.
Travel back to who you were at that time and tell yourself “In ten years, games will only come halfway completed and you’ll have to pay for the rest afterwards… What`s that? Oh yes, the game will still be at full price, same as always.” The past you would have laughed in your face. Regardless, it has become reality and what once would have been considered scandalous has become normal. A video by Jim Sterling on YouTube highlights this effectively as he discusses how Sea of Thieves will only have microtransacations and no lootboxes… and players applauded. The past you goes “what the hell?!”.
The point I’m trying to make emphatically clear is that it’s one thing to predict the future. It’s another altogether to predict the next years of this chaotic, corporate and vicious industry. The two points I made throughout this chapter that absolutely will happen are the death of brick and mortar game stores and the arrival of a fully digital marketplace. Let’s bear in mind the current existence of a digital marketplace and how that has had a direct effect on how studios make games; how developers must have discussions at the start of development about how the game will be distributed.
From the mere existence of a separate and easily manageable selling platform, games like Battlefront 2 and Shadow of War undergo massive development decisions that shape the final game, all in the name of money, long-term profits and the survival of a studio. So, when we think about predicting the future of videogames, it’s basically synonymous at this point to be predicting the future of the internet, its structure and how it is delivered to users (with the “we’re going fully-digital” thing).
At the dawning of the internet, its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, envisioned an information delivery system that would self-sustain on a Mesh Network Topology. Bear with me here. This is the idea that every technological item of today, like smartphones, laptops and computers, would act as a node through which information could travel. A little like being the host server for a multiplayer game, only every player is the host and the overall network connection is flawless as the load is shared between everyone. The idea of Mesh Network Topological information delivery systems applied to today’s widely used tech is possible, strictly speaking.
We always have at least one item in our possession that has either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. The only problem that Berners-Lee did not foresee was the quick arrival of Internet Service Providers (ISP). These corporations of today, like then, added structure and usability for all under an easy to understand payment system. It seemed like progress but, with your ISP having the power to decide what you have access to and the good old idea of business competition, the free-flowing Mesh Network Topology suddenly had a big brick wall put in front of it.
Of course this boxing in and structuring of the internet is the form of delivery we still have today. It is my belief that, after a long time, the ISPs will go the way of the brick and mortar games store. With them out of the way, a question remains concerning how a Mesh Network Topography would be sustained financially. The most likely outcome would be: each time a block of data passes through a person’s device, it incurs a toll that would need to be balanced by a separate and automated token system. A kind of intelligent tax. Readily accessible internet as a basic right, blanketed equally across the planet for users to enjoy. Free of buffering, lag and slow load time. How long will it be until the undeniability of Mesh Network Topology can be denied no more?
This ties into videogames and their near future. As it stands, cloud streaming for games has had a go with platforms like OnLive and Gaikai, but they never really gained enough momentum due to the limitations of today’s internet structure. They just never really stuck, a bit like the old UMD discs for the PlayStation Portable. Unlike other past technological gimmicks however, failure feels unjustified for these platforms as only a select few people have internet speeds suitable to get a smooth gameplay experience. At this point, it is becoming easier to envision a future I mentioned earlier, when we have the equivalent of Amazon Firestick for gaming and titles get streamed to us. Although, with the existing problem for cloud gaming not seeming to go away any time soon, a pessimist could say that cloud gaming’s chance has come and gone. That could well be the case, if we circle back around to Mesh Network Topology.
Let’s get back into the idea of sharing the load with Mesh Network Topology. We can natively download files and information now to our one specific machine, yes. Imagine if every device on the planet already owned a segment of that game to be delivered to your “whatever machine of the time” on demand as you play the title? It would remove loading screens, online match lag, processor stress etc. All that hard work is no longer the sole responsibility of your machine but shared across every machine on the planet. As Sam would say to Frodo “Share the load”. I think I’ve hammered the benefits of this Mesh Network Topology enough now.
What is frustrating is that it’s already here at the technology party waiting to build up the confidence to get up on the table and dance, instead of lurking in a dark corner with an empty beer can. When it does arrive, and hopefully it will, we will experience a second renaissance on this planet. What’s scary is how well or how badly it will be regulated for the safety of all. What’s a lot less scary is the incredible incline we’ll see in gaming technology that will, more than it has ever has been, become truly accessible for all.
insights from inside
I reached out to Associate Producer at ThroughLine Games, Ingvi Snædal (below, left), for his thoughts on the future of videogames distribution. He and his team are close to releasing their labor of love, Forgotton Anne. The hand drawn side scroller gives off a Studio Ghibli vibe and I personally wish Ingvi and the rest of ThroughLine Games every success. For now, Ingvi was good enough to get back to me with some insightful remarks on where we stand and where we’re heading with videogames distribution.
What are the business positives to consider when releasing a game digital only? Any temptations to go for a boxed release?
“There’s something about the haptics of holding a physical copy of a game you’ve made in your hands that makes it more real. I don’t think anyone starts developing a game without imagining themselves holding a boxed copy of it one day. For most of us indies, though, that copy will be a home-burned Blu-ray disk in a store bought case, the box art of which we printed out of a photo printer at home.
Some of us are lucky, however. Some of us make it big and our games become so popular (or our players so passionate) that they demand boxed copies or collectors editions of our games. In those cases, we are more than happy to oblige.
Starting off determined to go for a boxed release, however, makes little sense for an indie studio. Your publishing and distribution costs will be sky high and all that extra money could have gone into making the game better, and in this competitive market, that’s all that counts. At the end of the day, digital only allows you to take a better product to market at a lower cost and retain more of the profit as well.”
What kind of marketing processes do indie games adopt when not riding the coat tails of a big publisher?
“Anything that works. Most of the indies that hit it REALLY big do so under the power of word-of-mouth. There’s no better sales pitch than the opinion of a personal friend who you trust. The only way to get that doing is to make a good game that people want to talk about.
Of course, if you make the Citizen Kane of indie games and no one knows about it, you might as well not have bothered. This forces every independent developer to be creative. The marketing approach really depends on the type of game you’re making. A grand strategy game like Europa Universalis would probably not benefit from a super over-produced YouTube trailer, but might get eyes on the brand by reaching out to blogs and even going the Early Access route of getting the game in the hands of interested players as they iron the last few kinks out. Physics based games like Goat Simulator and Stick Fight, on the other hand, look super fun on video, so sharing lots of funny clips and Gifs works wonders for them. More artistic or story driven games benefit from longer form content, such as let’s plays, extended previews, and streams – which is why you tend not to see much from them until they’re almost out.
If you have some money to throw into marketing, and your game is visually appealing, you could try Facebook ads. They do work, if you catch the audience’s eye, but if your game looks ‘just okay’ they’ll most likely just keep scrolling. If the hook of your game requires explanation, the long form pieces mentioned above (and written previews) are the way to go. Never, ever pay for media coverage, though. Readers don’t take anything written up as “sponsored content” seriously, and they may even hold it against you for trying to sneak one past them. Of the magazines and websites, indie focused websites are going to get you the best exposure. Readers there will comment and share the articles among themselves at much higher rates than an article on GameSpot or IGN would. Engagement is everything.”
Looking at the wider games industry, how long would you say before we go fully digital?
“Never. There will always be a drive to collect physical copies of the games we love – not to mention collector’s editions. Even though the store fronts are disappearing (GameStop devotes less and less space to boxed copies of games and more and more to merchandise and other goodies) online pre-orders of popular games are going strong. The trend will continue toward the digital for the next decade or so, but after that it’ll plateau and, barring another unforeseen game distribution revolution, come to some kind of balance.”
What’s your personal opinion on the price point of AAA videogames today? Are they justified? And in turn, would you say microtransaction culture has a fair place among these kinds of prices?
“My personal opinion: no, they are not justified. AAA games should be a lot more expensive. The amount of work, R&D, and tech that goes into making them is simply staggering. The microtransaction culture is an attempt to get back some of the money lost after giving you a $200 product for $80. It’s kind of analogous to the printer market. Do you think a new printer costs $50 to make? Of course not. The manufacturer takes a net loss on each unit sold with the hopes of getting it back in ink cartridge sales. Star Wars Battlefront II is a printer. Microtransactions are ink cartridges.
The problem, in my mind, is not the developer or publisher of the game, or their clumsy attempts to regain their investment. The problem is our expectations of what a game should be. Not only do they have to surpass everything that came before them in terms of visuals and sound, but they have to have more and bigger maps, more weapons, more character models, more accessories, more animations, better gameplay, and they have to run smoother. If the same group of people were given the same amount of time and the same budget to make the sequel to a popular game, they would make a more polished game every time, simply because technology moves on – but that is not enough for us. We need them to push everything as far as they possibly can, but we’re not willing to pay them to do so.
I stopped playing AAA shooters when all of the official ranked servers took expansion pack maps into rotation. This meant that, if you didn’t have the expansion pack and the map they were switching to, you’d be thrown off the server and have to find a new one. To me, this was unacceptable. Until, that is, I read about how much the game cost to make and that this was a way for them to encourage players to buy the expansion. I totally understand this, but I won’t be a part of it. I prefer a tighter, more fast-paced, and fair and balanced gameplay experience anyway – which is why I play Insurgency.”
There seems to have been a greater leaning toward indie titles the last few years and a lower price has to be something to do with that. After Hellblade and Echo releasing with great game quality at a lower price point, do you see a future where AAA game prices come down?
“I think AAA prices will go up, if anything, for the reasons mentioned above. If the microtransaction culture keeps blowing up in publisher’s faces, they’ll eventually see no alternative but to sell the game at market value or come up with some other way to recoup their investment.
I think a lower price point definitely plays a part in the rise of the indie market, but I’d like to think (perhaps naively so) that it has more to do with the variety of gameplay experiences to be had with indie games. Indie games, thanks to their lower budget and therefore lower financial risk, can try things that AAA publishers wouldn’t dare to. In indie games, players can explore the most passionate of fascinations and the darkest recesses of the human condition, and delve into subject that the marketing departments at AAA publishers would never greenlight. That is the true strength of indie games, in my opinion.
That being said, I think we’ll see the lines blur between what counts as indie and what constitutes AAA in the next five to ten years. We already see a much greater variety of production quality and retail pricing within the indie scene than in the rather homogenized AAA sphere, and indie game studios keep getting bigger and bigger while one man teams keep making better and better games. Publishers still act as important gatekeepers to the market and having one behind your back is instantly recognized as a promise of quality, but even the role of gatekeeping is being democratized in our online culture. I rather look forward to the time when we stop talking about indie vs. AAA and enjoy the mosh pit of different experiences on offer, whether they cost $0,99 or $80.”
Do you prefer the instant gratification of downloading a game? Or would you rather stick to game boxes, proudly collected on your gaming shelf?
“I am a pragmatist, a utilitarian, and I don’t have a sentimental bone in my body. When I first started using Steam, I hated having to install a separate, useless piece of software just to play Half-Life 2. Later, when I had formatted my computer and was setting it up again, I found my Half-Life 2 disk lying on the floor where I had accidentally rolled my desk chair – with my fat ass in it – over the disk, shattering it. I was convinced I’d never play Half-Life 2 again, or any of the other Valve titles included in the Orange Box. Having already downloaded Steam, though, I logged in to find all my library there, intact and downloadable. I haven’t had any sentiment towards boxed copies since. To me, it’s more about security than instant gratification.
Also, when you buy a downloadable game, a bigger chunk of the money you pay goes to the actual developers of the game. If you want to support the devs, buy directly from them if possible.”
This is the first chapter from our eBook “The Future of Gaming,” in which KeenGamer writers discuss how the game’s industry will change. Feel free to download the full book in PDF.