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Capitalism killing games?

Posted: March 28th, 2015, 10:38 am
by ptdebate1
Very provocative article by the designer of the Oddworld games. Basically, shareholders [investors] in game companies need to see big numbers, which means capturing the largest market share possible. The problem is that this hampers creativity and, not surprisingly, long-term sustainability. I expect that this race for bigger, more realistic games with bigger, more reliable multiplayer infrastructures will lead to more and more studios either folding or being closed down when sales and metascore targets are inevitably missed.

A few pithy excerpts to get you started:

[QUOTE]"Most developers never really made money. They were able to stay in the business. But the way the deals were structured, they were basically dead."[/QUOTE]

That problem has been a trend, really, since I got in. I'd say it's more of a capitalism trend, which means all those companies need growth. If you're a public company you need to have constant growth and you need to conquer more territory, and the day you're not, your shareholders bail. That's it."[/QUOTE]

The possible solution to this endless game to produce bigger numbers for shareholders? Don't play, the writer argues:

"So what is a sustainable model? Well, don't have investors. Don't have an IPO. Don't go public. Then maybe there might be a sustainable model. But can you focus on niches instead of blockbusters? If you're going to continue focusing on blockbusters, then you're going to be competing against the big boys. Now you're half a billion dollars into development... just like the movies. So who can afford to play? But when we talk to indies today, I used to be like, well, if I sell a million and a half units, we're going to be a loser. But today, if we sell 150,000 units we're in the black," he said.[/QUOTE]

Capitalism killing games?

Posted: March 28th, 2015, 12:11 pm
by Atarifever1
Before you get too many "capitalism is life" responses, I wanted to make general point for people.  Large corporations are not really capitalism in a pure state.  Large corporations are like little islands of centralized government in the sea of the market.  People there have huge budgets, making the immediate consequences of their actions mean very little, and they try, just like Governments, to steer their ship through the market.  That means their choices are not the market.  Their choices are their choices.  The market works long term on all their choices, and the bigger the company, the longer term the market has to work on them before they fail if they make the wrong choices.

All this is to say that just because EA, Activision, Ubisoft etc. SAY something, does not make that thing the choice of the market.  So, before someone jumps in with "big publishers are just giving the market what it wants" please remember that they are SAYING they are giving the market what it wants.  We'll see in 20 years if what they DECIDED people wanted was really what people in the market really wanted.  It is entirely possible that a strategy that seems to be working at EA, Ubisoft, etc. may work short term to boost their profits, while long term eroding the value of their products, or people's trust in them, or in games generally.  It is entirely possible to make short-term profits from your choices as a corporation, then persist in those choices after you stop making money (even for years) and to end up having been wrong overall.  A large company can do a lot of damage to a market in the time it takes it to die.  

Anyway, that's just something to think about given that we're talking about capitalism and corporations as if they are one and the same.   

Capitalism killing games?

Posted: March 28th, 2015, 12:31 pm
by VideoGameCritic
This is an interesting topic.  One can argue that video games "went corporate" during the 90's and now we're feeling the consequences.  Namely, big-budget games that ride the safe road of sequel/remake or first-person shooter.

I saw somebody mention once about the disappearance of the "middle class" in games. We get a lot of uninspired big budget titles and throw-away indy/mobile games.  We get $60 games and $1 games.  It's one extreme or the other.

To me, this makes the classic titles of the 80's and 90's all the more attractive.  They didn't fall into this model.  You really didn't have this gaping chasm.

Capitalism killing games?

Posted: March 28th, 2015, 5:23 pm
by Vexer1

Personally I disagree with this, but I do think that Metacritic is terrible and should be abolished, it's average score is completely meaningless, as many game sites use different ratings systems(I.E. some use 1-5, other use 1-10, still others use 0.5-10.0) so their process of aggregating all those ratings systems into an "average" score makes no sense, and it's complete BS that a developer can miss out on a bonus if a game is a mere one point below an expected metascore, that should never be the case(this has also led to problems, where in one case a reviewer wanted to change his negative review as he admitted he hasn't actually played the game much and the game deserved a higher score, but Metacritic in their infinite wisdom refused to allow the updated review to replace the old one on their site). Many game sites such as Eurogamer have dropped ratings systems altogether as they've found out that people tend to focus far too much on scores and tend to completely ignore the actual text in the review.

I don't think most big-budget titles are "uninspired" in the least(though there are some exceptions like the AC series) though, I do think we need more mid-range 30-40 dollar titles, we still occasionally get some such as the Sniper: Ghost Warrior games, and I should point out that most indie titles are around 10-15 dollars(a game generally only sells for 1$ if it's REALLY bad and gets heavily discounted like Ride to Hell: Retribution was before it got pulled from Steam altogether).

Capitalism killing games?

Posted: March 28th, 2015, 5:37 pm
by Jon1
It all started in late 1995 when the 3do and Jaguar got discontinued. The Neo Geo drastically reduced its North American presence, and everything went to pot. To think, just a couple months before all of this happened, it seemed like video games were in an amazing place.

Capitalism killing games?

Posted: March 28th, 2015, 6:13 pm
by Jon1
How about the fact that certain genres have just disappeared, seemingly been abolished. Interesting early 3d exploration games like Hover Strike CD, I-War were never improved upon, just died. Fast action 2d games like Metal Slug, gone. Advanced 2d Shmups, never happened. The interesting 3d graphics you see in Star Fighter, or some of the Jaguar's games were never improved upon. Instead we got ugly crap for years.

Capitalism killing games?

Posted: March 28th, 2015, 11:17 pm
by Herschie1
Hey, Capitalism is great. Capitalism is about competition and innovation. That's why I hate this crap with Madden and the exclusive NFL deal. It squashes competition and thus quality. 

Funny how we're talking about this, I was playing a demo of MLB 15: The Show at Best Buy this afternoon, and I was talking to the Sony rep about this very thing. The PS4 is the better product, and so the market is showing that by the number of sales vs. the Xbox One. But that's the best part about Capitalism; it forces companies to innovate and to strive to get better and better. 

Be glad we don't have Communism, or else we'd spend hours in line at Gamestop waiting to pick up games like Action 52. 

Capitalism killing games?

Posted: March 29th, 2015, 8:24 am
by ptdebate1
[QUOTE=Herschie]Hey, Capitalism is great. Capitalism is about competition and innovation. That's why I hate this crap with Madden and the exclusive NFL deal. It squashes competition and thus quality. 

But...capitalism is what created the situation with EA. Regulations that would prevent this virtual monopolization are the polar opposite of capitalist economics. 

There is no reality in which capitalism actually does what people think it does.

Capitalism killing games?

Posted: March 29th, 2015, 10:34 am
by scotland171
[QUOTE=ptdebate]Basically, shareholders in game companies need to [continually] see big numbers [/QUOTE]

Its not capitalism writ large, but an investor tactic called short termism. Its the opposite of delayed gratification. The internet age has made this a bigger issue all over (eg twitter) but investing makes the downsides clear, like eating candy prioritizes short term gain over long term rewards.

A possible solution is having a large portfolio of products. Investment is in the portfolio, so that allows room for risk, innovation, and failure on smaller projects without investor flight.

Capitalism killing games?

Posted: March 29th, 2015, 10:46 am
by Dogtanian1
[QUOTE=Jon]Interesting early 3d exploration games like Hover Strike CD, I-War were never improved upon, just died.[/QUOTE]

This would be funny if you weren't being serious.

It's a shame you didn't know enough about gaming when things supposedly went to pot in late '95, otherwise you would have been able to get an Action Replay for the Saturn and spent the next few years importing some of the greatest 2D games ever made. You would have concurrently built up a library of games that would have appreciated in value and would be worth many thousands of dollars now. You probably wouldn't be quite so bitter about the games industry over the last 20 years either.

Back on topic, it is inevitable that financial motivations will stifle creativity to some extent. You simply cannot have the mentality of a Spectrum-era bedroom developer if you are a public company. There are clear parallels with other media. One of my other passions was electronic and dance music from the '80s and early '90s. There was a real sense of freedom and experimentation at the time, but the sheer scale of financial rewards on offer now have resulted in a prolonged dearth of innovation and the rise of superstar DJs who literally pretend to mix onstage, while their engineer plugs in a USB stick with a pre-programmed set.

Yes, the indie scene is a noble counterculture, but for those of us who feel that there was a golden age of gaming I personally don't believe that it has consistently produced the ideas or quality to be considered a truly successful movement. I suspect that ptdebate feels otherwise though, which is probably a happier place to be.