Sunday, March 11, 2012

Trust is a Finite Resource

I recently heard a claim that humans invented language out of a deep and profound need to complain about things. This is no more apparent than on the internet and on the message boards of video games. "People can bitch about anything and everything!" and while that's true more often than not the seed that births ill will comes from without not from within.

The issue I'm getting at here could be applied to a wide variety of topics ranging from political and economic to religious and ethnic, but this blog is about video games (and to a lesser extent internet piracy) so I'm going to try and frame it in those terms using a recent release as an example namely Mass Effect 3.

Day one DLC is generally a big no-no since it raises the obvious question of why it couldn't simply have been included with the final release product. I've mentioned in the past that DLC needs to be modular and focused on divisive fiddly bits in order to avoid controversy. Releasing DLC which is integral to the story and can only be enjoyed as part of the main story (as opposed to a mini-prequel/sequel) is bound to piss a lot of gamers off. Compounding this is some half hearted attempts to please hardcore fans by throwing in photoshopped stock images. I understand that developers have limited assets to work with, but if you can't do something well then don't do it at all especially when it comes to a big budget series like Mass Effect. Other minor slights against fans include redraws of characters to increase sex appeal, hackney writing and a marketing campaign that panders to non-fans.

Now, from a business perspective these seem like good moves to increase revenue. The problem is all these decisions also alienate the core audience. Granted hardcore fans tend to play passive-aggressive a lot, complaining incessantly only to stand outside their local store for a midnight release purchase. Calling those types hypocrites would be an understatement. However, the fact remains that there are always other new releases that don't resort to clumsy cash grabs. How many would-be-buyers loose interest? Not enough unfortunately, but if you look at the success of recent video game fundraising campaigns I think there is a substantial number of gamers out there that are willing to put their money where their mouth is.

People are dumb, but an individual can and often will be smart. Once they find out they've been slighted they'll go online and let their voice be heard. A developer's integrity might suffer for it though it's hard to judge by how much. Counting how many people turn to piracy or simply refuse to buy involves gathering metrics based on human psychology - a soft science at best. Regardless, one thing is clear; while consumer trust may ultimately be an uncalculable resource it is finite and once exhausted it will affect the bottom line of publishers in the long run.

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