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(03-01-2013, 05:36 PM)
Htown's Avatar
I am going to try my best to avoid invoking Natural's Law in this post, but we'll see how it goes.

Let's start at the beginning.

The video game industry is just that.

An industry.

Which means that it exists in a capitalistic world. You know, a free market. A place where you’re welcome to spend your money on whatever you please… or to refrain from spending that money.

Those companies that put these products out? They’re for profit businesses. They exist to produce, market, and ship great games ultimately for one purpose. First, for money, then, for acclaim.

And when those companies are publicly traded on the stock market they’re forced to answer to their shareholders. This means that they need to make a lot of money in order to increase the value of the shareholder’s stock. Every quarter.

No one denies that businesses exist to make money. The entire point of the position you're arguing against is that there are good ways to make money and bad ways to make money. There are are business models that a pro-consumer and anti-consumer. The problem arises when you start to use the "free market" as a "free pass." The mere fact that a business needs to make money is not an inherent and impenetrable defense for all of the actions that business decides to take in order to further that goal. Snake oil salesmen were trying to make money as well.

This "free market" defense is tied to Cliffy's later argument, so I'll save the rest of the problems with that for later.

Adjusted for inflation, your average video game is actually cheaper than it ever has been.

This is not because developers and publishers are doing gamers a favor by releasing cheap games. It's because:
1. Demand for video games is relatively elastic, particularly in the weak economy of the past few years. This is also why used game sales are so popular. If publishers thought they could get away with a higher sticker price, they would hike that price up.
2. Older game prices were artificially inflated by the costs of the cartridge media they were shipped on.

Never mind the ratio of the hours of joy you get from a game per dollar compared to film.

This is a cute comparison game makers love to make, largely because movies are the only form of entertainment media with which the value comparison works. Unfortunately, the comparison completely falls apart when you bring television or books into the equation, let alone service-based entertainment like Netflix or Hulu.

To produce a high quality game it takes tens of millions of dollars, and when you add in marketing that can get up to 100+ million. In the AAA console market you need to spend a ton of cash on television ads alone, never mind other marketing stunts, launch events, swag, and the hip marketing agency that costs a boatload in your attempts to “go viral” with something. Not only is the market more crowded than ever but your average consumer has many more entertainment options than ever before in the history of humanity. (Hell, when levels are loading in our games my wife and I read Twitter and Reddit.)

Another factor to consider is the fact that many game development studios are in places like the San Francisco bay area, where the cost of living is extraordinarily high. (Even Seattle is pretty pricey these days.) Those talented artists, programmers, designers, and producers that spent their time building the game you love? They need to eat and feed their families. (Something that the hipster/boomerang kid generation seems to forget all too often.)

Aside from a brief moment where Cliffy confuses extravagance of budget for quality of content, a misconception shared by movie titans like Michael Bay, this is basically just saying that games are expensive to make, and therefore companies need to make money.

Of course they do. But again, no one is saying they don't. There are good ways to go about it, and bad ways to go about it.

I’ve seen a lot of comments online about microtransactions. They’re a dirty word lately, it seems. Gamers are upset that publishers/developers are “nickel and diming them.” They’re raging at “big and evil corporations who are clueless and trying to steal their money.”

I’m going to come right out and say it. I’m tired of EA being seen as “the bad guy.” I think it’s bullshit that EA has the “scumbag EA” memes on Reddit and that Good Guy Valve can Do No Wrong.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m a huge fan of Gabe and co most everything they do. (Remember, I bought that custom portal turret that took over the internet a while back and I have friends over there.) However, it blows my mind that somehow gamers don’t seem to get that Valve is a business, just like any other, and when Valve charges 100$ for an engagement ring in Team Fortress 2 it’s somehow “cool” yet when EA wants to sell something similar it’s seen as “evil.” Yes, guys, I hate to break it to you, as awesome as Valve is they’re also a company that seeks to make as much money as possible.

They’re just way better at their image control.

This is where we can see CliffyB's unwillingness to look past the most obvious surface similarities coming back to bite him. Yes, Valve and EA are both companies. Yes, they both conduct business with the goal of making money. If you want to put more thought into this subject than a third-grader, however, it's quite easy to see where the difference lies.

1.There is a difference between adding microtransactions to a free product in order to make money from it and adding microtransactions to a product for which the customer has already paid 60 dollars. This should be self-evident.
2. There is also a difference between charging for optional cosmetic items and charging for game content. Video games are an interactive medium. This means content that effects the interactivity of the game is fundamentally different from content that only effects the visual look of the game. In Team Fortress 2, for example, Valve makes all items that effect the interactivity of the game (weapons, maps, game modes) available to players for free. The "ring" you're speaking of is an example of the cosmetic items Valve sells that have no impact on the actual gameplay.

Valve put up this web page detailing the 119 free updates (both patches and increased content) they had made to Team Fortress 2. That was three years ago, and they still haven't stopped.

We know exactly how EA responds in a similar situation. Battlefield 3 was a 60 dollar product, and they ask the user base to pay for every additional set of maps and content.

If you bought TF2 on day one, it's price was 20 bucks. Final price for experiencing all of its content is 20 bucks. If you bought Battlefield 3 on day one, its price was 60 bucks. Final price for experiencing all of its content is upwards of 110 bucks.

But nope, no difference there.

Making money and running a business is not inherently evil. It creates jobs and growth and puts food on the table. This country was built on entrepreneurship. Yes, there are obvious issues around basic business ethics (Google “Pinto Fires”) and the need for a company to give back to its’ community, but that’s not what this blog is about right now.

Another strawman. No one's saying that making money is inherently evil. It's not an inherent good, either. Commerce is, in and of itself, a morally neutral concept. It comes down to the way you go about it.

I do find it interesting that CliffyB lambasts those who think that running a business is inherently evil, while using "it's a business" as an inherent good that supposedly makes complaints irrelevant.

People love to beat up on Origin, but they forget that, for a good amount of time, Steam sucked. No one took it seriously for the first while. When Gabe pitched it at GDC to my former co-workers years ago they came back with eye rolls. (Who’s laughing now? All of Valve.) It took Valve years to bang their service into the stellar shape that it is in these days. Yet somehow everyone online forgets this, and they give EA crap about trying to create their own online services. Heaven forbid they see our digital roadmap for the future and try to get on board the “games as services” movement.

Yes. Steam sucked at first. People hated it at first. So why are you surprised that people hate EA's offering at first?

Also, two things:
1. Origin is not competing with the Steam of 2004. It's competing with the Steam of 2013. "They also had crappy service nearly a decade ago" is not a valid defense of current product/platform policies, prices and performance.
2. Origin isn't that new. Everybody in the games press and industry fell for the rebranding, I guess. I still remember EA Download Manager, even if you guys don't.

I remember when the rage was pointed at Epic when we allowed users to purchase weapon skins in Gears 3. I replied to an enraged fan on Twitter that “You’re more than welcome to not buy the optional cosmetic weapon skins that will make you more visible to the enemy.” And you know what? In spite of the uproar, people still bought plenty of them. (I’ve seen the numbers.)

Different people, obviously, than the ones complaining about it. This is just more "don't like it, don't buy it" nonsense, though.

If you don’t like EA, don’t buy their games. If you don’t like their microtransactions, don’t spend money on them. It’s that simple. EA has many smart people working for them (Hi, Frank, JR, and Patrick!) and they wouldn’t attempt these things if they didn’t work. Turns out, they do. I assure you there are teams of analysts studying the numbers behind consumer behavior over there that are studying how you, the gamer, spends his hard earned cash.

If you’re currently raging about this on GAF, or on the IGN forums, or on Gamespot, guess what? You’re the vocal minority. Your average guy that buys just Madden and GTA every year doesn’t know, nor does he care. He has no problem throwing a few bucks more at a game because, hey, why not?

"A lot of people don't care" is not a statement that has any bearing on the rightness or wrongness of any situation.

The market as I have previously stated is in such a sense of turmoil that the old business model is either evolving, growing, or dying. No one really knows. “Free to play” aka “Free to spend 4 grand on it” is here to stay, like it or not. Everyone gets a Smurfberry! Every single developer out there is trying to solve the mystery of this new model.

I love Free 2 Play. I've got no less than 5 F2P games installed on my hard drive right now.

Just like everything else, there's a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it.

And all of it is different than adding microtransactions to a game that the customer is already paying money for.

Every console game MUST have a steady stream of DLC because, otherwise, guess what? It becomes traded in, or it’s just rented. In the console space you need to do anything to make sure that that disc stays in the tray. I used to be offended by Gamestop’s business practices but let’s be honest…they’re the next Tower Records or Sam Goody. It’s only a matter of time.

The games industry is not the same as the music industry, first of all. I hate to break it to you. There are many, many ways in which they have faced and will face entirely different situations. This post is already long as hell so I won't go into them.

Remember, if everyone bought their games used there would be no more games. I don’t mean to knock you if you’re cash strapped – hell, when I was a kid and I had my paper route I would have bought the hell out of used games. But understand that when faced with this issue those that fund and produce those games you love have to come up with all sorts of creative ways for the business to remain viable and yes, profitable.

Another strawman. No one is suggesting that all games should be used games. (Not that this makes sense even as a hypothetical. If everyone bought games used, there'd be no new buyers to get used games from.) However, as I've said before, there's a right way and a wrong way.

Saying a game has microtransactions is a giant generalization, really, it is an open ended comment. What can you buy? Can you buy a cosmetic hat? Or can I spend a buck to go to the top of the leaderboard? Can I buy a bigger gun? What about gambling? (It’s like saying a game is open world; that could mean GTA, Assassin’s Creed, or heck, even Borderlands.) Which one do you actually mean? Do Zynga’s practices often feel sleazy? Sure. Don’t like it? Don’t play it. Don’t like pay to win? You have the freedom to opt out and not even touch the product.

People didn't have to buy snake oil, either. That doesn't mean the snake oil salesman wasn't shady for selling it.

No one seemed too upset at Blizzard when you could buy a pet in World of Warcraft – a game that you had to buy that was charging a monthly fee.

I don't think you're remembering this correctly, Cliff.

When I was a child and the Ultimate Nintendo Fanboy I spent every time I earned from my paper route on anything Nintendo. Nintendo Cereal. Action figures. Posters. Nintendo Power. Why? Because I loved what Nintendo meant to me and I wanted them to keep bringing me more of this magic.


Also irrelevant.

People like to act like we should go back to “the good ol’ days” before microtransactions but they forget that arcades were the original change munchers. Those games were designed to make you lose so that you had to keep spending money on them. Ask any of the old Midway vets about their design techniques. The second to last boss in Mortal Kombat 2 was harder than the last boss, because when you see the last boss that’s sometimes enough for a gamer. The Pleasure Dome didn’t really exist in the original Total Carnage. Donkey Kong was hard as hell on purpose. (“Kill screen coming up!”)

Hey, uh...

Arcades are dead, man. A very large reason for that because people realized that it was more convenient for them to go buy the home console version of the arcade game, pay that one-time fee and access everything at their own pace.

I’ve been transparent with most folks I’ve worked with in my career as to why I got into this business. First, to make amazing products – because I love the medium more than any. Second, to be visible. I enjoy the notoriety that I’ve managed to stir up. And finally, yes, to make money. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it sure is a nice lubricant when you can take that trip you’ve always wanted or feed your family or pay your bills on time.

And that brings me full circle to my main point. If you don’t like the games, or the sales techniques, don’t spend your money on them.

You vote with your dollars.

So here's his bottom line: if you don't like it, don't buy it. The implication is that if everyone votes with their dollars, the free market will take care of itself.

The only problem is that it doesn't work that way, has never worked that way, and will never work that way.

The free market is not a perfect self-correcting entity. If you think a business is being scummy about what they're offering, the correct response is to both not buy what they're selling and spread the word that they're being scummy and why.

Ask yourself this: why do organisms like the Food and Drug Administration and the SEC exist, accusations of corruption aside? Why do we try to break up monopolies whenever possible? It's because there are certain things the free market is not good at, protecting consumers chief among them.

There are many, MANY things that "vote with your wallet" will not solve. In theory, the free market should weed out any unsafe medicines that make it to store shelves eventually, so let's get rid of all safety checks and vote with our wallets. Companies defrauding people on a scale to match Enron? Don't like it, don't buy the stock. It'll work itself out eventually. A company has a monopoly on a necessary product? Don't worry about it, you don't need oil anyway. Vote with your wallet. That guy's running a pyramid scheme? Whatever, man. No need to get your panties all in a bunch. Don't like it, don't join it. No need to broadcast why it's a bad idea or anything.