Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Devil is in the Details

These are strange times we live in.  With regards to sales video games are down overall, but there are some very interesting trends occurring.  Namely, the social gaming scene is seeing a shift away from casual titles to gateway core games.  When I first heard this news I rejected it out of hand.  However it appears to be true to some degree.  FarmVille and it's spawn are down and titles such as Trials Evolution,  Minecraft (Xbox version) and The Walking Dead are all selling like crazy.  Normally I would be ecstatic about this demographic shift except I think there's something else going on here too.  Triple AAA publishers such as the makers of Kingdoms of Amalur are struggling to keep afloat.  I think that some of the hardcore crowd are migrating to more mid-core titles.  The real question to ask though is why?

As you might guess by looking at the title and attached image for this post, it has a lot to do with recent game industry business practices.  Big developers are still turning out fun to play games, but such games more often than not have a lot of determents and barriers to entry.  Looking to recent releases we have the highly anticipated Diablo 3, a game that is a blast to play provided you have a constant internet connection and the Blizzard run servers are working properly.  Couple that with the planed in-game real money for virtual gear store and you have a micro-transaction cash cow for the IP holder, but a kick in the nuts to people who plunked down $60 on a game that is also capitalizing on the free-to-play model.

I'll skip the whole "DRM that punishes paying customers is unacceptable" line that I've been preaching since this blog's inception and move onto an upcoming title, Dragon's Dogma.  Capcom has an extremely expensive to develop open world fantasy RPG on their hands here which they seem to be determined to hamstring before it even gets out the gate.  Disk Locked Content (the other DLC) again?  Do they not realize hackers will crack that stuff in a week or two tops?  Not to mention the one character per account limitation is antithetical to the entire game concept.  Employee abuse accusations aside stuff like this only accomplishes one thing - a reduction in sales and a damaging of the corporate brand.  More importantly it undermines the hard work that writers, coders, artists, and animators put into each and every single one of these franchises.

So why is this happening?  It doesn't benefit gamers.  It doesn't benefit the developers.  It doesn't even benefit the major publishers in the long run since statistics are showing that they're discouraging more and more customers.  It's a toxic industry wide situation  created because inept, Mammon worshiping executives decide to screw with those vital details and it needs to be stopped.

1 comment:

  1. I suppose it happens because these companies can and because they are for some reason feel the urge to grip tightly onto their content. Their property. They also seem of the opinion that they can charge the customer for things which might have come for free in past times. Or which rightfully ought to have been included in the main product. It feels rather opportunistic.

    So, perhaps afraid of piracy, perhaps overly arrogant supposing that people will cave anyway (Blizzard comes to mind), they consider various ways to restrict paying customers and think of features which require an active internet connection or which allow them to make more money. Or perhaps remove functionality even.

    Consider the way Blizzard introduced Battle.net 2, with RealID. Were they really that clueless? I think they were just blinded by all the dollar signs. Hopping onto the social media train, connecting their player base may be handy for players but it most definitely benefits Blizzard. The more people associate with eachother through Blizzard games, the more reluctant they'll be to stop playing.

    In Blizzard's case it also points to the importance of WoW and what lessons they took from it. Sarcastically I could mumble: that people are sheep and will buy a box, expansions, a subscription and microtransactions. And eagerly wait to hand over more money.

    Ubisoft, on the other hand, just seems too concerned with piracy to see that their stance on DRM is hurting them more than it's helping them. Especially since pirates in some cases have an easier time playing their games than honest paying customers.

    This is not to say that piracy isn't a problem, of course. But it seems they've given up or not considered making their products more attractive rather than more restrictive and lucrative.

    Our problem, however, is that most people just don't seem to care unless it affects them. Unless, perhaps, they are simply unaware of these issues. EA making you unable to play your games because of a forum ban? Ubisoft forcing people to connect to the internet to play a singleplayer game? People don't care as long as they get their fix and it remains somebody else's problem.