This Dumb Industry: Free Advice Part 2

By Shamus
on Aug 1, 2017
Filed under:
Column

Last week I gave some advice to the leaders of the videogame industry. This week I’m going to wrap things up.

3. Stop with the Perma-Crunch

The working conditions here are AWFUL. It`s like the bosses are Nazis or something.

The working conditions here are AWFUL. It`s like the bosses are Nazis or something.

I already dedicated two entire columns to this topic last year, explaining why crunch is a bad idea and why crunch should be saved for emergency situations. The short version:

It’s been well known for years that productivity drops off sharply as hours increase. Above a certain threshold, increasing hours worked can actually DECREASE the amount of work accomplished! And that’s just regular boring office work. The effect is even more pronounced in creative fields. (Protip: Game development is a creative field.) You are making your employees miserable, un-creative, and disloyal, while generating negative press, and at the same time also fueling a high turnover rate within the industry that’s driving people out just as they’re getting good at their jobs. And after all that damage, you’re probably making games SLOWER than if you just ran a proper business. You are screwing everyone else in order to screw yourself harder.

Yes, there’s an extreme glut of would-be game developers out there. The game colleges are pumping out wave after wave of sad-sack graduates who are dragging heaps of student loan debt into the workforce. They’re enough to replenish the exodus of experienced workers. I’m only saying this because you’ve evidently figured it out already. (Otherwise, why would you be treating your workforce this way?) But the point still stands: Just because you can get away with treating people this way doesn’t mean there’s any benefit in doing so.

Do you know if it really makes business sense to rely on a work force of disgruntled, burned-out, and inexperienced creatives? Have you ever tried doing things the other way?

4. Go After Downmarket Sales

No matter how advanced a game is at launch, they all eventually become curious retro throwbacks with dated graphics. They should be priced accordingly.

No matter how advanced a game is at launch, they all eventually become curious retro throwbacks with dated graphics. They should be priced accordingly.

Some publishers are already in the process of figuring this out. They’re about a decade late, but I guess some progress is better than none. If you’re still blundering around under the misconception that keeping prices high is a good way to make money, then let me bring you up to speed.

Steam has already refuted the notion that high prices make for high profits, but I guess if you paid attention to the industry Steam wouldn’t have existed in the first place. No, I’m not asking you to launch Call of Honor: Shoot More Dudes for $40. Obviously that would be throwing money away. There are literally millions of people willing to buy it for $60 + DLC. The thing is, those people are the core fans of that game. They want the new entry as soon as possible. But there are lots of other people out there who kinda enjoy Call of Honor, but not enough to slap down $60 for it. They might pay $40. Still others might buy it at $30. Some folks might not care anything about the genre, but for $15 they might play it as a goof. Also, there are people who might love the game but can only afford it at those lower price-points. Instead of squeezing those core fans even more, you should be trying to get money from everybody. I don’t know if you’ve done the market research, but the group “everybody” is really big!

I’m not asking you to be more generous, I’m asking you to be more greedy but less clueless. Just keep lowering that price each year. I know from my own buying habits that this works, and I know from your pricing habits that you can’t prove me wrong because you haven’t done the homeworkAgain, some publishers more than others. EA has messed around with this a bit through Origin. I suspect their floor price is still a bit high, but they HAVE experimented with lower prices so I’m a little less eager to second-guess their behavior..

Keeping prices high just gives stupid Gamestop some space to operate their sad little gaming pawn shops. If you keep dragging prices down then not only will you make more money, but you’ll strangle the second-hand market you hate so much. People are going to buy the game for $15 either way, so you might as well be the one to collect the $15.

5. Don’t Forget to Polish

The developer must have spent AGES polishing this graphics engine. You can tell, because all the objects are shiny!

The developer must have spent AGES polishing this graphics engine. You can tell, because all the objects are shiny!

I thought about giving some suggestions on how to devise new IP and help it grow in this sequel-driven industry, but that topic is so large and complex it could be an article all by itself. So here is some smaller-scale advice.

If you look at a lot of all-time classics you’ll usually see the games show a great deal of polish. The pacing is solid, so you don’t have action that lasts too long and causes fatigue or downtime that drags on into boredom. There isn’t an annoying character that everyone hates. There isn’t a brutal difficulty spike that makes people quit, or a sag in challenge that makes people lose interest. In many cases all you need to do to turn a good game into a fantastic game is take out the bad parts.

(I’m avoiding specifics here because they will just side-track the entire thread with people insisting that game X isn’t really a classic, or that game Y is, or that Y is actually better than X, and we won’t get anywhere. I’m trying to talk about the importance of polish, and I don’t want to get in a six-sided debate about which games are better than others. Assuming you hire a gamer like I suggested, they can probably cite some examples of could-have-been-great games for you.)

Polish will yield diminishing returns. That first month will greatly improve the game. The next month will make more modest improvements, and the month after that will be very smallObviously the exact intervals will be bigger / smaller depending on the size and scope of the game.. Polish begins once the game is more or less complete. Which means that if you’re throwing the game together at the last possible moment and slamming up against the ship date, then you’re possibly missing out on huge improvements. Sometimes that happens and it can’t be helped. If the team falls behind and you really need to hit the Christmas release, then I guess you won’t be able to polish. But if this always happens then you’re passing up a huge opportunity for a massive increase in quality for a modest increase in cost.

Again, this is another situation where it helps to have a gamer among the executives. Someone experienced with a wide variety of games and genres can play the game themselves and appraise the quality on a deeper level than, “Are the graphics pretty, does it look superficially like other successful titles, and are there obvious bugs?” You can tell if there’s room to turn a good game into a great one, or if there’s not much to be gained from additional fussing.

Okay, that’s all the advice I have for you. Thanks for listening, captain of industry. You can go ahead and put your gamer friend back on now.

Wrapping Up

Ave, true to Kaisar.

Ave, true to Kaisar.

Like I said at the start of this series, people often defend these companies using an appeal to authority. I have some bad news for you young people who are tempted to do this. That news is this:

Nobody knows what they’re doing.

Well, maybe not “nobody”. Clever people do sometimes end up in positions of power, but I don’t think there’s a strong correlation between the prestige of the position and the competency of the person. Sometimes your minimum-wage barista is brilliant and sometimes the guy running a ten-billion dollar corporation is mediocre and drastically over-promoted.

It took me a long time to realize this. When I was a little kid, I thought teenagers understood the world. When I was a teenager, I figured adults knew what they were doing. And when I was in my twenties, I imagined that by the time I was thirty I’d be good at making wise decisions. That didn’t turn out to be the case, but I still held out hope that by the time I hit middle age I’d magically gain whatever wisdom and insight the rest of the world had access to. But now that I’m middle age myself, I can see I spent the entire time chasing a mirage. No matter how old you get or how much wisdom you accumulate, you’re still stuck in an imperfect world where you’ll make big decisions based on outdated assumptions and incomplete data. Sure, you get a little better at making decisions as you age, but the complexity of the decisions also goes up, and the stakes increase as you climb the career ladder so your blunders have a bigger impact.

I realize this is an uncomfortable thought. We want to believe the people above us have some unique qualifications to be running major governmentsYeah, I can see the snarky political joke that just popped into your mind. Everyone else thought of the same thing, so there’s no need to go there., world-encompassing institutions, and global corporations. It’s comforting to believe that world leaders and captains of industry know something we don’t, because the alternative is that the world is being run by people just as dumb as we are. And I’m sorry to say that this seems to be the case.

I don’t know. I’ll let you know if anything changes when I turn fifty.

Enjoyed this post? Please share!

Footnotes:

[1] Again, some publishers more than others. EA has messed around with this a bit through Origin. I suspect their floor price is still a bit high, but they HAVE experimented with lower prices so I’m a little less eager to second-guess their behavior.

[2] Obviously the exact intervals will be bigger / smaller depending on the size and scope of the game.

[3] Yeah, I can see the snarky political joke that just popped into your mind. Everyone else thought of the same thing, so there’s no need to go there.


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  1. Joshua says:

    Yep, the more I work in business, the more I experience people making bone-headed decisions. People like to point out examples like the New Coke debacle, but there are many smaller examples that occur at every company, every day. Even if people do know what they’re doing, there are just way too many variables out there.

    • Veylon says:

      People liked New Coke better than regular Coke in blind taste tests. Switching out seemed like an obvious good move.

      • This problem where nobody really knows what they’re doing is the main reason why I’m highly suspicious of any Dear Leader or Grand Architect with plans to Solve All of Humanity’s Problems.

        Yeah, no. Solving your OWN problems without making MORE is about the most any of us can hope for.

        • TheJungerLudendorff says:

          I’m fine with trying to solve All The Problems, if they can give a clear, detailed, plan for the next couple of decades, as well as a clear explanation how they intend to execute that plan, what the side-effects will be, how they intend to get everyone else along with that plan, and what they intend to do if parts of that plan fail or the circumstances change.

          But since the Great Leaders usually stick to a very basic plan and a few nice-sounding bullet points, they tend to fail that requirement.

          • FelBlood says:

            The appeal to authority is basically the guy at the office who’s always like, “Yo, I got this! Just trust me!” and then maybe he doesn’t got it. What then?

            Maybe you’re lucky and you can just duplicate that guy’s part of the project, in case he didn’t do his part of the job right, but then you start to wonder why he’s even there at all, if you have to do his job, even when he does do it, because you can’t know he was gonna do it.

            Even worse, maybe you don’t have the resources or authority to do his job for him. If he doesn’t come through, you can break your back and the project will still fail.

      • Soylent Dave says:

        New Coke was an obvious good move to anyone who didn’t work in marketing.

        But pretty much everyone who works for Coca-Cola should be a marketer. What does Coke actually taste of?

        Without saying ‘Cola’ it’s kinda tough to define. Looking at the ingredients isn’t much help, either. None of Coke’s (nor Pepsi’s) marketing mentions its actual flavour – just occasional references to ‘great taste’.

        Coke is where it is because it’s a marketing juggernaut, and everything about it is subsumed by the overwhelming power of its marketing, up to and including what the product actually tastes like.

        People drink Coke because they like it, and ultimately they like it because they’ve had it sold to them since infancy. The New Coke campaign failed because the very basis of it was “we’ve changed Coke”.

        That they may actually have improved the flavour was beside the point – no-one drinks Coke for the flavour. We don’t really know what the flavour is, just that we like it.

        The marketing campaign itself (actively creating a ‘coke’ versus ‘new coke’ mentality in the audience) was just the icing on that particular cake.

        • TheJungerLudendorff says:

          Carbon gas, for the most part.

          Also a prickly kind of sugar, I think.

          • Default_Ex says:

            Caramel and Kola. Kola is a bean plant kinda like coffee but compliments caramel very well. Kola on it’s own is gross, needs sugar or caramel to be palettable.

        • Echo Tango says:

          The Coca Cola company only changed their product (make it a lot sweeter) in reaction to their declining sales. The fact that the existing, marketed product was losing sales would seem to refute your claim that the marketing was strongly affecting people’s purchasing habits in favor of Coke.

          • FelBlood says:

            People liked the idea of Coke, because of the positive associations the marketing had built up, the actual product is just an unusually tart, watery tasting cola.

            Knowing that they were losing market share to sweeter, more full-bodied colas, but that people liked the Coke brand better, they experimented with a number of plans for selling a more appealing flavor under the nostalgic Coca Cola brand name.

            Several plants briefly switched to canning the new formula in the familiar cans, however this operation was replaced with the “New Coke” scheme, over fears that there would be a backlash when the public found out about the switch.

            Ironically, this means that depending on their distribution region, Coke fans might have been pitching a fit over which design of can they preferred to drink their New Coke out of.

    • Echo Tango says:

      The fact that people will always make mistakes is why we have process at companies. Somebody got injured, so now there’s a triple-check procedure. Somebody bought the wrong quantity of supplies, so there’s a sign-off procedure. A team forgot X, so now there’s a checklist.

  2. Steve C says:

    Is Augustus supposed to be sick in that screenshot? He looks terrible. Like he might die if he stood up.

    • Lachlan the Sane says:

      Yeah, Augustus always looks super sick in Civ V. He’s by far the ugliest of all the leaders.

      • Polius says:

        He was also a super sick guy in real life. He spent most of his campaigns with the legions holed up in his tent leading to some rumors about cowardice. Then he spent his later years completely expecting he was just going to keel over, which is why he spent so much time thinking about his heirs. The sad irony is that he outlived just about everyone who would have been better than his final choice: Tiberius. As I recall, his will read something along the lines of “Tiberius, since there was literally no one else in the family to whom I can give this job, I guess it’s yours.”

        • Gaius Maximus says:

          Augustus was so ill that his life was despaired of on a number of occasions as young man, the last being when he was 40. He then lived on to be 76 without any more serious illnesses until the one he died of. The Cambridge Ancient History translates the opening of Augustus’ will as follows, “Since cruel fate has robbed me of my [adopted] sons, Gaius and Lucius, let Tiberius Caesar be my heir.”

          As for Tiberius himself, he would probably be remembered as a pretty good ruler if he had died 10 years earlier than he did, but he unfortunately succumbed to bitterness and paranoia in his old age. Whether any of Augustus’ other potential heirs would have been better than Tiberius is hard to say, as they mostly died before they turned 25 and didn’t have much chance to demonstrate their talents or character.

          • Droid says:

            You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

            Also, did you mean “impaired” there in the first line? I ask because I have a feeling that I’m missing some meaning there, not to point out a possible typo.

            • Hector says:

              Saying that Augustus’ life “was despaired of” means that people around him believed he wasn’t going to recover. It’s an old usage, but quite correct. He’s 100% on the nose about the life of Augustus and his heirs, too.

              What we do know about Augustus’s possible heirs suggests that either they died too young to even leave a clear personality, or they were so obviously unsuited that there was no way Augustus could tolerate leaving them his power. Agrippa and Germanicus were the great exceptions, but Augustus outlived both. Weirdly, Claudius, brother of Germanicus but absolutely never considered for any power or position turned out to be really good at ruling.

              • Droid says:

                Oohh, thanks, I see!

              • John says:

                His subjects certainly didn’t seem to think that Claudius was good at ruling judging by the things that they wrote about him after he died. They thought he was a pompous dupe, controlled by his wives and his freedmen. Among other things, his conquest of Britain was thought to be an exercise in sheer vanity, there being nothing in Britain worth the trouble of conquering at the time. The one thing that makes Claudius look good is that he was neither his predecessor, Caligula, a dangerous lunatic, or his successor, Nero, an extravagant weirdo.

                • Polius says:

                  The Romans were also heavily prejudiced against people with disabilities. Claudius had a number of issues that kept him from speaking clearly (something very important tot he Romans) so they figured him either irredeemably lazy or a drooling moron. That he was wise enough to listen to his advisors while he had the near-absolute power of the Princeps says a great deal about his skill as a leader. The annexation of Brittania wasn’t the best choice, but there were good reasons for it at the time: for one thing it was considered a haven for pirates that raided the Gallic coast. It’s just hindsight that we see it was a terrible idea. Overall, I think Claudius did pretty well for someone with no formal training in politics or the use of power.

                  • Hector says:

                    I wouldn’t be too sure the annexation of Britain was a bad idea even in hindsight; it was more the poor choices of later leaders that made it so, and that was a very long time afterward. Britain contributed much to the Empire for many years.

                    There’s another major issue regarding Claudius – Nero’s set loathed him and went out of their way to diminish his memory. Seneca the Younger, in particular, and his written opinions are highly questionable. and written too-obviously to curry favor. Claudius may not have fit the idealized mold that Romans wanted their leaders to fit into, but the fact remains that the Empire under him was militarily strong, wealthy, and more or less at peace internally. He picked good advisors and implemented a reasonably honest and efficient administration, which hadn’t been seen since Augustus.

  3. Bubble181 says:

    …all of you guys’ minds went straight to a joke about the mayor of Antwerp and the prime minister of Belgium? Huh. Who’d have thought. Strange world we live in. :P

    • lucky7 says:

      Those Belgian politicians spend too much time waffling for my taste. :P

      • Bubble181 says:

        See, the “waffle iron” is actually the name of a long-accepted system in Belgian politics (which, simplified, comes down to “we have to invest as much in X in one region as we do in the other”. Which is a horrible system – bridges got built leading to nowhere, canals were dug that nobody needed, etc). You can’t make this up.

    • Lachlan Willson says:

      After several minutes searching the wiki of belgian politicians, I have to know. Is there in fact, a joke, and what is it?

      • mechaninja says:

        The joke is that he didn’t think of a current-events-in-the-USA punchline (which Shamus is asking us to avoid discussing), he thought of some obscure thing (possibly invented for the sake of his joke) and was surprised to learn that we’d all thought of the same obscure thing.

      • Bubble181 says:

        Well, firstly and mostly, what Mechaninja said, but I’m fairly sure a joke can be spun out of the two of them. The current mayor of Antwerp is considered the “shadow” prime minister of Belgium and the one who actually holds all the power, with the actual Prime Minister being a figurehead whose job is pretty much to peddle bovine fecal matter and keep out of his way.

        The current PM’s main claim to fame or quality is “being his father’s son” and “being “brave” enough to lead a coalition with only one party representing his region”.

  4. Lars says:

    “Go After Downmarket Sales” is still present in the retail world. Except GTA New and Sims X, prices of retail boxes crumble. And that at an incredible pace. Mafia 3, a game released 4 month ago, and now in a playable state, is thrown away for 15$ at all platforms.

    On the polishing site you forgot to mention: NO FEATURE CREEP! Bug fixing, UI improvements and taking out dull parts of a game, but no new fancy, untested and unpredictable new features. That would lead to even harder crunches and memes of a buggy released full price game.
    If you need to implement more features to avoid “No Mans Sky”, change the release date, or do early access (a good, but not the best way to polish).

    • Agammamon says:

      They exist in the retail world because of the pressure of storage/display space. That’s it.

      Unfortunately, digital distribution is currently able to bypass that strict limit. There’s no one looking at a full warehouse or display shelf wondering where they’re going to put the next item and what has to go to make it fit.

      But retailers need that limited space – and they can’t just buy up more land and build a store as cheaply as a digital distributor can get more storage media – so to cut their losses (not to chase the long tail) they drop prices just to get merch out of the store to make room for new stuff.

      its a different set of constraints leading to a similar decision for different reasons. But people still aren’t used to the new paradigm.

      • evileeyore says:

        And even then not everyone cuts enough if they think they can get away with it:

        I once (long ago) walked into a big box retail store to buy Warcraft 3 and saw the Warcraft 1 Battlechest still going for $40 bucks next to the Warcraft 3 Battlechest at $60… when I was there to get Warcraft 3 for $50.

        Now granted I suspect they were looking to hit people who had $150 burnin a hole in their pockets and need to get all three games… but still.

    • kdansky says:

      Mafia 3 was released beginning of October 2016. That’s a bit more than four months. Personally, I would rate it 2/5, but most other critics are much more generous and metacritic has it at 68/100. It’s a one-year old mediocre by-the-book sequel: $15 is hardly cheap for that.

      Yes, downmarket sales exist sometimes, but only if the game is considered basically trash.

      • TheJungerLudendorff says:

        On the contrary, downmarket sales are especially high for games that are considered good. Because people actually remember those, still want to buy them after a year, and they haven’t been drilled into the ground by negative press and game footage.

        Also, that’s a 75% discount for a 1-year old AAA game in a series with some renown. Quality is usually not taken into account when people calculate the price.

      • Cubic says:

        Playstation has had its Platinum series, which are bestsellers released later at a lower price. They could probably do more though.

  5. Tizzy says:

    Again, Valve benefits from being privately owned for the downmarket sales. I suspect that the total lack of downmarket strategy in publicly traded companies may come from investors focusing exclusively on launch results.

    If it’s the case, it’s short sighted. You should pay attention to everything. But doesn’t Hollywood do the exact same?

    • Primogenitor says:

      Just because some one else does it, doesn’t make it a good idea! Much of this advice would also apply to any entertainment medium in the digital age. Books, series, movies, all of it.

      • Tizzy says:

        Books are longer tailed: they’re a big time commitment, they’re available for much longer, so many buyers fit the purchase to their schedule rather than buy immediately. To the point that the big chain bookstores tend to offer a discount at release, and charge full price later.

        Music… I have no idea how the stuff works these days. I’m a dinosaur.

        Also, my original point was that if shareholders expect something stupid out of you, it’s very difficult to have to go back to them and tell them that they need to get their head out of their collective backside. Not impossible, but difficult to pull off diplomatically. Hence the luxury of being privately owned. Just have a private discussion with your accountant to convince the owners that what you’re doing earns.

        • Decius says:

          Booksellers have to estimate demand very correctly in advance, and unsold product takes up lots of expensive space.

          Even boxed games take up relatively small space per value.

    • Richard says:

      Hollywood are considerably smarter – presumably because they’ve been around longer.

      As time goes by:

      Cinema release is $10 per person for a singe showing – $20 per couple, $40 for a family (ignoring popcorn etc)

      Then Pay-per-view releases at around $5-10

      Then the Blu-Ray/DVD release – starts at $35 for unlimited showings.
      – After a few months to a year, drops to around $10

      Then Netflix/Amazon ‘free’ tier etc – don’t know what the studio gets, but it must be well under $1 per actual viewer.

      Then finally, ‘free’ TV releases – which interested viewers can record for free and see as many times as they want.
      – Sold per TV channel, so they can have their cake several times over.

      Finally, for the really big hits, the Blu-Ray, per-per-view, Netflix and ‘free’ TV happens again every few years.

      Yet most the gaming companies don’t seem to have realised that the reason this works for Hollywood is because seeing the movie gets cheaper over time, so more people find the “thing” worth paying for.

      • Tizzy says:

        You left out the second run theaters. :-)

        More seriously though, the revenue streams you mention never seem to be part of the conversation when evaluating a movie’s success. How many profitable movies are considered flops just because their box office returns were low but they continued to earn?

        Obviously, someone is keeping track of those earnings. But does this drive decision at all?

        • guy says:

          Depends; for one thing I think movies generally have subsequent earnings proportional to their box office sales, though that can vary, and for another there’s a lot of middlemen in the later sales, while the studio gets practically all the money from ticket sales during the first couple weeks in theaters (theaters make their money from concessions). But the unit cost for DVDs and streaming is minimal compared to the production costs, so there’s no real reason to not sell something they have the rights for.

        • methermeneus says:

          Note that those cinema prices are pure profit for the distributors and studios: Theatres have to charge that much just to cover the licensing fees. The reason concessions are so expensive is that’s literally the only place the cinema makes money. (There’s a little “captive audience” thinking there, but they’re also aware of how easy it is to sneak snacks in, so they have to balance price and convenience.) Heck, some theatres are becoming restaurants (“dine-in-theatres”) to improve their profits.

          Restaurant-business joke:
          Q: How do you make a million dollars?
          A: Make two million and open a restaurant.

          The point is that, while Hollywood takes advantage of the long tail to make some extra money from DVD/Blu-Ray sales, Netflix, etc., they really do make the vast majority of their profits at the box office unless the movie completely bombs before becoming a cult classic, although they do it by gouging the cinemas instead of gouging the customers directly. (Well, that and merchandising, which George Lucas proved to be a viable moneymaker in its own right.) However, video games, like books, are more of a time investment than films, which, along with their higher initial price point, gives them a much shallower tail curve. In other words, the games industry is the best example of potential to make money on the long tail that I know of, which is yet more reason to discount old titles to chase downmarket sales.

          Okay, good, I did have a point in there somewhere. I was afraid I was just rambling again.

      • Liam O'Hagan says:

        Except if you live in Australia; Movie tickets locally are $22 for an adult, basic viewing on a small screen. $26 for viewing on ‘VMax’ (i.e. a big screen) or $40 for ‘Gold Class’ (nicer seats, waiter service, although food and drink cost more on top of that, $10 for a generic beer, $12.50 for hot chips for example)

    • Cubic says:

      I think investors would appreciate intelligent pricing strategies to optimize company revenue.

      • Tizzy says:

        You’d hope.
        But if you can’t get game company execs who are knowledgeable about the product, what makes you think that the investors would be any better? It’s the blind leading the blind out there.

  6. Blastinburn says:

    I don’t know. I’ll let you know if anything changes when I turn fifty.

    When you do turn fifty you should write a short article about how the secrets of the universe were opened up to you. Then post it on April 1st so no one knows the truth.

  7. Dev Null says:

    I’m not asking you to be more generous, I’m asking you to be more greedy but less clueless. Just keep lowering that price each year. I know from my own buying habits that this works, and I know from your pricing habits that you can’t prove me wrong because you haven’t done the homework

    I’m not disputing your – to me, obviously self-evident – point. (Nor your need to make it, since the industry certainly doesn’t act like it’s self-evident to them…) But I wonder if anyone has actually collected the data and done the analysis to _show_ that it’s true. Again, seems so obvious a thing to do that it’s hard to imagine that someone hasn’t done it, but if they had, you’d think that it would get cited all over the place. Surely at least Steam has crunched their own numbers, which must be just sitting there in a database looking crunchy…

    EA has messed around with this a bit through Origin.

    Yeah, but since no one in the history of mankind has ever used Origin to buy a game (as opposed to being forced to use it to start up a game they bought somewhere else) I’m not sure that that really counts.

    • Fade2Gray says:

      Yeah, but since no one in the history of mankind has ever used Origin to buy a game (as opposed to being forced to use it to start up a game they bought somewhere else) I’m not sure that that really counts.

      I don’t know about that. I once heard about a guy who bought a copy of Spore on Origin because he thought it was a Steam parody and didn’t realize it would charge him real money.

    • John says:

      Lowering prices can raise revenue but does not necessarily raise revenue. It really depends on how price-elastic the demand for a particular game is. Cliff Harris of Positech, the maker of Democracy and Gratuitous Space Battles, has been pretty insistent that lowering prices for his games does not in fact make him more money. He’s generally talking about the prices at or near launch rather than at some point long after–and as it happens I have no idea how he prices his older games–but I suspect that developers of niche games don’t benefit from discounting (or third-degree price discrimination, as the economists call it) in the same way that other developers might. I’ve heard people complain that Slitherine, a wargame developer and publisher, charges high prices and almost never has sales. While Shamus is quite correct that they might be earning less money than they could if they behaved otherwise, I suspect that demand for wargames is pretty inelastic and that they might actually be profit-maximizing.

      • Dev Null says:

        Good point. Most of the arguments for price discounting involve pulling in users you wouldn’t otherwise get. With particularly niche games – at least ones that are obviously so from first glance – you may not get many impulse sales even at a low pricepoint, and the copies you sell may actually result in bad press as people who don’t like the genre dump on your game.

      • Decius says:

        Positech doesn’t have a very big audience, and most people who see GSB or Democracy would decline them for free.

        I’m one of them- I got all of Positech’s stuff on a Steam Sale or something and don’t think any of it is worth trying.

    • Andrzej Sugier says:

      Sometimes they DO have some interesting deals, but their pricing can be SO boneheaded.

      This year I wanted to finally play all DA:Inquisition DLC. But, after how mamy years from release, they were still 15$ a piece. HOWEVER, Origins regulary discounts the GOTY edition of DA:I, which includes all DLCs, and sell it… For 15$. Which is a really good price, but the fact the they dont discount individual DLCs at any time seems really wierd to me.

  8. Dev Null says:

    Polish Corollary: Stop selling half-finished games. Stop open-releasing betas. Stop selling things Early Access and pretending that’s some kind of Good Thing. Personally, the trend has pushed me to the point where I won’t buy anything, at any price point, that hasn’t been in full release for at least a year

    This is another thing I’d love to see some data on, but it appears to me that all you get from these half-finished early releases is 1) you push your testing out to your user base, 2) you dilute the excitement of release date, and 3) you guarantee that a bunch of your critical early hype will be bad, because it will be from people playing the unpolished game, not the final polished release. Come on guys; hire some in-house testers. It’s a great place to soak up some of that huge pool of people with online degrees in game design for minimum wage. If you wait and get good release hype – from actual, genuine good user experiences – you can keep the game at a higher price point for longer.

    • Fade2Gray says:

      4) You end up with a game built on the feedback of a hardcore minority of players who really liked the mechanics in the half-baked version of your game rather than what the audience for your finished product would like.

      5) You make a game filled with content that only make sense in the context of playing the game while it was half finished because you were trying to give your hardcore EA players something to do.

    • Matt Downie says:

      Minecraft somehow survived all that – that was effectively early access before we called it that, wasn’t it? I suspect there’s a niche where early access is the best way to build a fan base (especially if you’ve run out of money).

      • Nixitur says:

        No, Minecraft built its fanbase long before it went effectively Early Access. It built its fanbase when it was free which it was for actually quite a long time and it was pretty fun even back then.

      • Dev Null says:

        I realize that I’m by far in the minority in this but… I played Minecraft in it’s early alpha when there wasn’t actually anything to do, thought “cute, but boring”, and haven’t been back since. I really should give it another try one of these days, but that early experience does still negatively color my perceptions of the game.

        • Richard says:

          I played it for a few months in (mid?) alpha, and I think it was the late alpha/beta changes that killed it for me.

          I had invested a huge amount in my couple of ‘worlds’, and each time new things were added I had to travel further and further to reach them.
          Eventually items that were essential to progress became over an hour of real time travel – even via the Nether, which carried a very high cost (and risk!)
          So by that point I couldn’t progress in ‘my’ worlds, the early game had changed so much that I didn’t recognise it, and frankly I really couldn’t stand the idea of spending the hundred hours or so needed to rebuild my (by then) tech/automation level.

          My brother played it for far longer, but only because he modded the living daylights out of it to turn it into several very different games – he never played the final base game at all.
          Almost the only thing they had in common was the cube aesthetic and exploration themes.

    • Falcon02 says:

      Early Access can work well in some games and not others.

      In my mind Early Access can be a good thing depending on a few things…

      The Developer : A fairly small indie Developer can take advantage of Early Access to help keep a project going so they can build it to it’s full potential. But bigger developers don’t need it and shouldn’t use it. Also, it’s introduction to Steam has shown there are smaller “developers” who are more than happy to release “early Access” in bad faith with no intention of getting it to a final product

      The Development Schedule (for lack of a better word) : An Early Access product still need to be “playable” regardless of the stage of development. People should be able to get in and have fun even in these “beta” stages. This takes a bit more effort in earlier development than might have been required if everything was waiting on an official release. In general it shouldn’t feel truly “incomplete” always open to much more potential as they expand it further.

      The Pricing Schedule : Buying an Early Access game is a risk, you don’t know how it will turn it in the end, will the final product disappoint your initial expectations? Will the Dev remain solvent and be able to finish the project the way they intended? It’s not fair to expect someone who buys an early access version that only has 10% of the final features to still pay 100% of the price. The price should go up as features get added and expanded upon, of course any price increase should also be well communicated in advance and not surprise the community either.

      The Game Style : Open ended, Open goal, Open world, games lend themselves more to an Early Access Model. Final Fantasy as an Early Access Game is bonkers… Minecraft on the other hand made a lot more sense. In Minecraft you could still explore, build and generally have fun even fairly early on (okay maybe not it’s earliest stages, I didn’t play it back then). Games with a greater focus on some sort of story or some linear progression don’t necessarily lend themselves to this model.

      A few sucessful Early Access games I can think of (besides Minecraft)…
      Kerbal Space Program : Okay in the earliest phases just getting to orbit was non-trivial… though I did enjoy dusting off some old orbital dynamics equations to figure out what I needed to do to actually make orbit. And was so pleased with myself when I finally did (of course this is a case where I’d probably count as a “Hardcore” player others have referenced). Now of course it’s a bit more straight forward to get into orbit and understand what you need to do… though that doesn’t mean everyone has an easy time with it…
      Factorio : Sure there’s a “win condition” but it’s a vague goal, it’s more the core gameplay mechanics that people love to play with. And that works in the current version, it works in previous versions, and it will continue to work in future versions.
      Subnautica : Okay, this does have a “story” that’s slowly being spoon fed as they slowly integrate it into the game, but the exploration, building and survival challenge are still appealing.
      The Long Dark : As long as it’s taken to get the “Story Mode” on this one, I think they’ve made a good choice to wait til the story (or at least a few story episodes) were largely complete before releasing them. But still the sandbox survival game is a enjoyable challenge that does keep me coming back periodically to try my luck.

      I’m not sure any of these have suffered too greatly from your criticism, except maybe diluting release excitement among those already in Early Access, though I’m not sure how much a negative impact that would have.

      Of course for each of these there’s probably a dozen or so “Bad” Early Access games, which were abandoned or exploited by their devs (Godus and Spacebase DF9 as possible examples) that tend to give the Early Access overall a bad name. This doesn’t make Early Access inherently Bad, anymore than Steam is inherently bad for the asset flip/shovel ware it has. It can be a great tool for devs in some cases, but also can be abused by others.

      Also, I tend to be fairly careful which games/projects I’ll take on in early access to try to avoid getting “burned.”

      • Richard says:

        I’ve had several very bad experiences with Early Access, which has really soured my opinion of that type of release system.

        The first few games I bought that way were great.
        – And then I bought one game that barely ran, and another that was fun (albeit short) when I first bought it but the developer then broke the balance completely and stopped development.

        Which now means I just don’t buy them. It’s not the price, it’s the time I lose on a bad/incomplete game.

        • Falcon02 says:

          I can certainly understand that. Even though I am willing to pick up Early Access games, I don’t quite do so with a “early adopter” mindset. There’s quite a few interesting looking Early Access games I’ve passed on because info elsewhere (Reviews and other articles mostly) that indicated there were major issues with it… or there was a lack of reinforcing info elsewhere to let me know the devs actually had managed to get it to a point where it was still a workable/fun product.

          Also, given what you said in another post about your experience with Minecraft I also understand that frustrating you and causing you to no longer consider Early Access. It is frustrating when you make progress and get forced to lose all your progress to reasonably experience new content. Sometimes it can be fun to go back to start over with new options… but you don’t want your old progress to be lost forever either. And it can make it hard to truly commit to a level/world when you know it’s just a temporary state. It’s why so many people play for a bit and then leave until after a bunch of new updates have gone through to make restarting feel a bit more worth while.

    • guy says:

      Probably the big reason to go Early Access is that it lets you sell games to people who won’t do a blind preorder before you finish making the game, so you don’t run out of money before you can release anything, which can be a pretty big deal for indies.

      • Calculator says:

        Early access is also a way for big name companies to get their games to hit the news cycle more than once.

        Look at something like Fortnite, which has been in development for 6+ years already. The entire purpose of going ‘Early Access’ or whatever they’re calling it, is precisely to hit the news cycle and pull in big crowd of people to pay to play. Once the game goes free to play next year, it’ll already have a community (exploiting sunk cost fallacy) and pull in more people by virtue of hitting the gaming marketing outlets once again.

  9. TMC_Sherpa says:

    If I can buy the base game for less than the cost of your (three year old) DLC maybe make a bundle out of it?

  10. Nick-B says:

    HAHAHA! Your closing remarks! You’re referring to….

    [3] “Yeah, I can see the snarky political joke that just popped into your mind. Everyone else thought of the same thing, so there’s no need to go there.”

    Oh, uh, carry on.

  11. Redrock says:

    Wouldn’t it be more productive to try and convince gamers to stop buying unpolished, unfinished, broken games at launch? I mean, that is the best (and, perhaps, only) way to actually get a point across to corporations – stop buying their stuff. My approach recently has been to not purchase ANYTHING at launch, because even if a game launches in good condition (which is a rarity), it would still get better later with DLC and patches, etc. Case in point – The Witcher 3. Great game at launch, but SO much better half a year or even a year later. Same with almost any game, from the smallest indie to the biggest AAA release. You never ever get the optimal experience at launch, even with the best and smoothest launches, even on console, where optimisation is rarely an issue. My backlog is so huge that there is just no reason to grab a game at launch, and I suppose that the same is true for most gamers, because these days even console owners accumulate big backlogs via sales and PS Plus (or Xbox Live Gold) freebies. Maybe if something really, really important to me comes out, like the new Torment, for example, I’d grab it at launch, but in those rare cases, if the game has problems, I only blame myself for being impatient and irrational.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Wouldn’t it be more productive to try and convince gamers to stop buying unpolished, unfinished, broken games at launch?

      Bwahahahaha!Ask TotalBiscuit and Jim Sterling how much success have they had in trying to convince people to stop preordering.Yeah,thats a lost cause.

      • Redrock says:

        True. But then we have to face the uncomfortable idea that gamers on the whole aren’t all that bothered by what the industry is doing and are mostly bitching for the sake of bitching. You can’t keep giving the corporations money and expect stuff to change, that’s not how it works.

        • methermeneus says:

          That’s how every industry works. You’re not going to get multinational corporations to improve their behavior by “voting with your dollars” directly, because there’s always someone else who doesn’t care quite as much who will give them money. The only thing that works is when someone within the company tries something and then someone with real pull looks at the quarterly reports and finds the correct correlation between higher profits and that thing the company tried (out of all the many things they tried, which is part of why companies often do stupid things: drawing the wrong correlation).

          It’s also worth noting that boycotts that rely on individuals (as distinct from blackballing or industry-based boycotts) have a success rate that’s statistically indistinct from zero.

  12. Simplex says:

    If majority of gamers would stop buying games at launch then franchises would be killed and studios would be closed (look at what happened to Andromeda, IO Games, etc).

    “Don’t Forget to Polish”

    I agree, emulate the developer of the Witcher 3 by releasing AAA games without DRM :)

  13. Locke says:

    I’m avoiding specifics here because they will just side-track the entire thread with people insisting that game X isn’t really a classic, or that game Y is,

    Oh, so you think it’s just so obvious that X is better than Y that not only do we not need to to talk about it, but you can go ahead and use it as your iconic example of one game obviously being better than another game and think that opinion will just be so ubiquitous that we still don’t need to talk about it? Typical. You X fans are so presumptive.

  14. MadTinkerer says:

    The worst part is that a lot of executives seem to be whales or at least potential whales. The sort of people who absolutely do not understand the mentality of someone who considers copies of games (including digital copies) to be precious, and microtransactions to be offensive classist trash. The sorts of people who think that cell phones are an exception to the rule that you should stay out of saturated markets if you’re not already in the market, just because cell phones are supposedly the biggest market. The sorts of people who think that tablets and/or netbooks are acceptable substitutes for desktops and laptops, just because tablets have simpler interfaces and netbooks are cheaper. The sorts of people who think that video games are definitively more mindless of a pursuit than television or movies, because they only ever play games designed for casual whales who have too much money and not enough patience.

    The sorts of people who think turning Ultima into free-to-play and Metal Gear into Pachinko and Animal Crossing into toys-to-life and Street Fighter into filthy casual garbage and Final Fantasy XV (the mobile empire one, not the console one) into a ponzi scheme worse than All the Bravest and Call of Duty Black Ops II into malware that physically destroys PS3s by loading data too fast and adding a real money auction house to Diablo III are all good ideas instead of unforgivably bad ideas.

    The sorts of people who have to report to shareholders who are even wealthier and have even less taste. Shareholders who have even less of a clue about video games and what video game customers desire. The executives are then almost always insulated from the consequences of their bad decisions because they get to report that consumers don’t want a particular franchise any more, rather than reporting how badly they personally ran that franchise into the ground. This is because the shareholders are stupid old rich men who bought shares in the company because share prices were trending upwards and they would have bought shares in ceramics or fisheries or anything else that would have been trending.

    In short, people with MBAs should be disqualified from running video game companies. That might sound so nontraditional as to be unreasonable, but just look at the chaos that results when you do allow people with MBAs to run video game companies!

    We need a new structure for video game companies. Video game companies need to be run like bands, with managers that can be fired by members of the bands rather than managers that get to fire band members. It’s how I fully intend to run my business, assuming I am ever successful enough to have more than two people in my company.

    I am so not joking about any of this.

    • Mousazz says:

      Sure, but just make sure you don’t get an another Daikatana. Just because you’re a gamer that’s invested in his passion project, doesn’t mean you can’t run your own product into the ground (especially due to lack of business acumen).

  15. Joe says:

    Human beings are woefully unqualified to govern ourselves, that’s why we have laws that no-one is above, and a system of government that runs on peculiar rules. The sooner we develop a hive mind like bees or ants the better.

    *jazz hands* mmmPOLITICS!

    • Deoxy says:

      SO many fun things to say in response to SO many parts of that…. must… resist…

      gaaraglglelegjadgdsv/.z/abzvxghdsgh…dsg.ds…….

      OK, I think I managed to resist, but people in my general area may look at me funny for a while.

  16. Calculator says:

    Having recently been a programmer in a major studio:

    Another aspect to crunch that’s not often mentioned is how it destroys your personal bottom line.
    I took two pay cuts to enter the games industry. One was a lower salary for working in games. The second was living in a more expensive area of the country because, for some reason, the games industry is obsessed with having major studios in high cost of living areas.

    The third, and easily the most destructive was crunch. I was fortunate in that my studio never demanded we crunch. But the fact of the matter is when you’re a new guy trying to prove to all the coworkers who depend on you that you’re a team player — You’re going to crunch. And every hour you crunch is another pay cut that you’re delivering directly to yourself. By the time you’re working 80 hour weeks, that modest paycheck for a job that took 5+ years of experience to even get — is turning out to be worse than flipping burgers or stocking shelves.

  17. Daemian Lucifer says:

    There is one benefit to having your prices permanently high though:You can then announce sales more regularly and with slashing your prices ever more in order to fool people into buying your “expensive” product “cheaply”.This tactics sadly does work,proven by other companies.

  18. Deoxy says:

    “Everyone else thought of the same thing, so there’s no need to go there.”

    Actually, as best I can tell, most people think everyone went to the same spot, but about a third of people thought of what an idiot this candidate was/is, another about third of people thought of the OTHER candidate, and the other third thought of both or some general thought about the office itself and/or most holders of said office.

    But I guess, to certain extent, that really kind of IS the same thing, after all…

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