Good news everyone! Last week I took yet another swipe at the big publishers, arguing that their attempts to raise prices via lootbox shenanigans were damaging and self-defeating. Also I said that if they wanted to increase revenue, they were looking at the wrong part of their business. In response, John Videogames, the worldwide President of Videogames, called me up and said he liked my blog. As a reward for posting smart things on the internet, he said I could run my own set of development studios. I even get a bunch of stock or shares or whatever it’s called when you own part of something.
Now, most of you know me as a nice guy who isn’t really interested in money except as a tool to fend off starvation. I don’t push merch. The vast majority of my work is given away for free. I’m very low-pressure when it comes to promoting my Patreon page. So you probably think I’m going to run this company like a bleeding-heart hippie. Maybe you’re expecting me to have some kind of “artists first!” crap. Maybe you’re hoping I’ll run it like a nonprofit and only charge enough money to pay the expenses. Six hour workdays. Free fair-trade coffee and organic vegan energy bars for everyone! Five months of paid vacation! Paid maternity leave if you adopt a puppy from a shelter! On-site grief counseling for players exploring Blighttown for the first time! Footrub Fridays, where I personally massage the feet of our proud workforce!
But screw that.
All I care about now is money. I want to make as much money as possible, for as long as possible. I no longer have any use for artistic integrity and I don’t particularly care if people like me, as long as the dollars keep rolling in.
I figure I’ve got an edge in this game. Andrew Wilson, Bobby Kotick, and the Guillemot Collective are all business types who don’t have a background in programming, game production, game design, or criticism. While none of them are willing to hang out with me yet, I’ve kind of pegged them as the typical golf-playing executive types who only understand technology as translated by terrified underlings. Phil Spencer understands technology, but he’s worked at Microsoft for most of his life and those guys can’t tell the difference between interface design and weapons manufacturing. I don’t think any of them actually understand their customer base, so it should be pretty easy for me to stroll in and eat their lunch.
So here’s my plan to get filthy rich as a gaming executive…
No More “Temp” Hiring
The lynchpin of my get-even-more-rich scheme is to make popular videogames. Diablo, Grand Theft Auto V, Portal 2, Minecraft, The Sims, Skyrim, and almost everything Blizzard has made in the last two decades are all notable because of how they dominated the sales charts for multiple years. You can’t do that if you make bland derivative titles that are visually indistinguishable from the competition. If you want to make great games, you need to hire talented people.
The rumors are that some AAA studios keep a majority of their workforce in “temporary” status. As a contractor you don’t get paid sick leave or vacation. When your temp contract ends they sign you for another “temporary” position with the promise that maybe “next time” they’ll hire you as a full employee.
I’ve worked with other programmers and artists before. If you went to business school then you probably just think of programmers as interchangeable overweight nerds and artists as interchangeable underweight nerds. But I know from experience that the good ones are many times better than the average ones, and the worst ones can even have negative value.
When you create a shitty workspace, an interesting thing happens. The people who are most able to leave, do so. Those are the people with impressive resumes and they get jobs someplace else. The only ones that stick around are the ones that can’t get another job. Nice going, idiot. You’ve created a filter that gets rid of the talent and keeps the losers and inexperienced kids fresh out of game collegeSure, sometimes genuinely talented folks stick around due to a hilariously exploitable sense of loyalty, but you can’t build an entire studio out of those sorts of people.. The more skilled someone gets, the easier it is for them to leave. Which means you’re effectively paying to train the workforce for your competition.
The beautiful thing is that even if an employee is three times more talented and efficient than the average, you don’t have to pay them three times as much. Heck, just pay them 10% or 20% above industry average and they’re all yours! They’ll even thank you for it! The rubes.
So that’s what I’m going to do. EA can pay to break in the youngbloods when they’re green and then I’ll skim the best ones and pay them enough that they’ll want to stick around.
No More Perma-Crunch
There’s been some research that suggests that working longer hours leads to sharply diminishing returns. Those studies line up with my personal experience. Now, I normally wouldn’t care about this. I don’t really care about people anymore, so if I have to hold you hostage in the office for an extra ten hours to get one more hour of productivity out of you, then that works for me. It’s still an hour of work I didn’t have to pay extra for.
The problem is that we’re working in a creative field, and a creative field needs creative people. We’re not making shoes here. You can’t just stick a hundred people in a sweatshop and expect them to remain enthusiastic, creative, loyal, and friendly. Tired people don’t do their best creative work. So even though I’m a soulless, amoral tyrant, I’m still outlawing perma-crunch, simply because it hinders my ability to make popular games, which hinders my ability to acquire lots of money.
Tired people are also more likely to squabble and create office drama, and I don’t need crap like that distracting me when I’m sitting in the corner office supervising my way through a midday nap. Also, office infighting is just another thing that might make some of my talented people leave for the competition.
Also, if we crunch all the time then we can’t modulate our speed. If it looks like we’re going to overshoot our ship date by a few weeks, we can just go into crunch mode at the endTemporary crunch doesn’t seem to have the same extreme drop-off in productivity that long-term crunch does.. If we’re already crunching, then we’re screwed.
The suckers at the other companies think you can just ship a half-baked game. Well, technically you can. But it turns out consumers are not goldfish and they remember shit like that. Bad reviews don’t just hurt the sales of this game, they also hurt the franchise as a whole and even the publisher. Sure, release it prematurely and you’ll get some money now. But it’ll hurt the sales of the next game, even if that one is good. And like I said, I want to keep making money. So we need to ship quality, polished games.
Disney doesn’t just get halfway done with a movie and then dump it in theaters because “The director promised the movie would be done by now”. They pay extra to finish it or they scrap the project, but they don’t release unfinished garbage that will tarnish their reputation. They know that quality matters, which is how they made enough money to buy both Star Wars and Marvel. Once people associate your logo with quality, marketing becomes way easier. And since these days it’s not uncommon to spend almost as much marketing a game as we spent making the dang thing, anything that makes marketing easier should benefit our bottom line.
The Release Schedule Should Fit the Game
By all means, let’s sell those sports games every year. I don’t know why sports fans are willing to give us $60 for a roster update, but if it works for them then it works for me. And yeah, multiplayer shooters seem to need regular installments to keep the playerbase from getting bored and jumping to the competition. But roleplaying games are not sports games. Strategy games are not roleplaying games. Simulation games are (mostly) not strategy games. Strategy games are not multiplayer shooters.
At my studio, we understand genres are different and require different development techniques. My dum-dum rivals think everything needs to be yearly or biennial. So they throw tons of manpower at the problem, trying to pump out games faster.
But you just can’t force out a detailed, story-rich roleplaying game like that. You need to write the story. Create the characters. Do the concept sketches. Settle on a design. Build the models. Animate them. Hire the voice talent. Record the lines. Do the lip sync for the cutscenes. That’s just one pipeline of many, and those things need to be done in that specific order. This prevents you from doing a lot of work in parallel.
Sure, you can get it all done if you push, but that doesn’t leave any room in the schedule of experimentation, deliberation, testing, and polish. Listen to an interview with a developer from Blizzard or the developer commentary in a Valve game and think about all the iterations their designs went through. Just imagine how much worse the game would be if shceduling pressure had forced them to always go with their first idea. It’s like a writer never going back to edit a previous sentence, even if they blatantly misspelled “scheduling”.
The other guys think that if 50 people can make a game in two years, then 100 people can make a game in one year. But throwing bodies at the problem creates a lot of inefficiencies and friction. The larger your team, the more time is spent trying to keep everyone organized and on the same page. Meetings are longer and the logistics of assembling the game become more complex. It’s hard for a large team of artists to all nail a particular stylistic look, which is probably why so many large studios give up and aim for photorealism. We want our game to feel like it was made by a focused team of dedicated professionals, not a warehouse full of transient strangers.
Also, with a larger team it’s harder to stack your ranks with the best talent. The work of the top five best available character artists is probably going to be more impressive than the work of the top 30 best character artists.
Note that I’m not suggesting we spend more on our games. I mean, obviously. I’m thinking of buying a supercar and I don’t want expanding game budgets to eat into my juicy salary. I’m not running a charity operation here and I expect the devs to earn their keep. I’m just saying we should spend it more slowly to get the most out of it.
Some fandoms don’t want a game every year. People weren’t asking for a Skyrim sequel in 2012, because they were still playing Skyrim. Pumping out sequels every one or two years makes them feel less special. Leave some room in the schedule for the audience to get hungry again. If they’re eager for the next installment then their enthusiasm will drive traffic, which will bend the news mills to our will and allow us to harness that curiosity for free marketing. They’ll post every “leaked” screenshot, every trailer, every developer interview, and every promotional image we put out. They’ll speculate, make memes, pester us for more news, and generate social media buzz.
None of that can happen if the public reaction is, “Yeah. I guess it’s about time for the next one of these.”
We Want Money From EVERYONE
As part of our longer development times, we’re going to make sure we get money from a lot more people. My rival idiots just want to sell games for $60. But I know that genre boundaries are porous. I don’t get into military shooters these days, but I’ll pick one up for $40. I’m not into driving games, but I’ll spend a few hours with one if it’s just $30. I’m not into fighting games, but I’d pick one up for $20 and button-mash my way through the single-player content for laughs.
If we spend three years making each entry in the Sword Guy series, then that gives us three years to mess around with prices and pick up some sales with all those people who aren’t really into swords but are willing to give it a try. Or with the people who just don’t have a lot of disposable income. We’re not too good to accept money from poor people. Maybe a few of those people who picked the game up for $30 will discover they like swords and dialog trees after all. Maybe they’ll show up to buy the next Sword Guy for full price.
The model is simple, really. When the game stops selling, drop the price. When it stops selling again, drop the price again. Keep going until you have money from everyone. The other guys worry that if you make a habit of dropping prices then consumers will respond by waiting for the price drop. This is like never putting a movie out on Blu-ray because you’re afraid people will stop going to the theaters. It shows you don’t understand either market.
People who love a game will want to buy it at launch – particularly if they’ve been anticipating the game for a long time. Gaming culture is built around these flash-in-the-pan micro-cultures that arise when a game hits the shelves and then gradually dissipate over the following weeks. The press talks about it. YouTubers review it. People stream it. People make memes of it. The Reddit for the game is busy. Fans want to be a part of the initial release. They have lots of incentives to pay that $60 for games they love.
Case in point: I do it all the time. Yeah, I could save $20 by waiting half a year, but I want the game now while it’s relevant! (And before the spoilers are so common they’re unavoidable.)
Let Studios Specialize
Here at Shamus Studios, we understand that genres exist for a reason. Different people like different stuff, and different studios are equipped to build different kinds of games. I’m not the sort of idiot who’s going to walk into the RPG wing and ask them to make me a shooter because shooters sold well this year. This is doubly true for entering crowded markets. (Like shooters.) I know RPG fans won’t really appreciate the shooter stuff, the RPG developers aren’t likely to make a good shooter on their first try, and shooter fans probably won’t buy it anyway because they already have shooter franchises they’re into.
Just like artists aren’t interchangeable, neither are studios. A particular studio is going to attract like-minded creatives who like their work and want to participate in making it. Having them make something else doesn’t just push them out of their personal comfort zone, but out of their area of expertise. All those years they spent crafting balanced leveling mechanics and interesting character choices will be useless when their job is to make sure the shooting looks and feels fast and fluid. None of their experience will help them with first-person cutscene design, hitboxes, blending reload animations, or weapon feedback. Their knowledge of medieval combat and mythical creatures won’t help them nail all the fine details like military uniforms, jargon, protocol, and culture.
If a particular genre fades in popularity, we just reduce the budget of the studios that serve that genre. That way we’re still serving that market, and we have people in place if trends come around again and demand increases. As long as it makes money and turns out a respectable product, they stay in business. I don’t just want to exploit the big genres, I want the small ones too! I want everyone’s money!
If You Want To Make a Movie, Make a Good One
This is a business, and I’m not here to fund your attempts to turn your garbage fanfiction into a Hollywood movie. If you start asking for access to a performance capture studio, budget for dozens of voice actors, and you want to make a game packed with cinematics, then you’d better show up in my office with a dynamite script. I don’t just mean “The main character is really cool” or “It’s a lot like my favorite movie”. I mean you’d better be able to explain what the central theme is. What’s the message? What are the character arcs? What are the artistic influences? What’s the tone? Do you have a proper story structure, or is this just a bunch of shit that happens?
I’m going to make you read some of your dialog to me out loud, so be ready for that. Also I expect your scenes to always be accomplishing multiple things at any given time: Exposition, characterization, plot advancement, foreshadowing, jokes, setups, and payoffs. If a scene isn’t doing at least two of those at all times then you’re doing something worse than just wasting the player’s time: You’re wasting my money.
I know some studios make these terrible stories just so that have something to make trailers out of. Given that marketing is already stupidly expensive, I see no business reason to make an entire (probably terrible) movie just to help market the game. If we need a trailer then just make a trailer. Better yet, outsource it to a company that knows what they’re doing. That way we can keep our teams small and focused on our core talents.
Maybe you’ve got some Naughty Dog level of story you want to tell, but odds are you’re vastly overestimating your skills as a screenwriter. Bring your A-game. Movies aren’t cheap to make and I’m not going to pay for them if they aren’t going to earn me back my money.
Don’t Pay for More Graphics Than You Need
Have you seen Minecraft? It’s worth a billion dollars and it looks like the graphics cost about ten bucks. World of Warcraft made even more money than Minecraft, and it spent most of its lifespan looking “out of date” in terms of graphical fidelity. And don’t get me started on how much money that little bastard Mario makes for Nintendo every year.
I’m not saying graphics aren’t important. I’m just saying you need to think about how much realism you need in your game. Realistic scenery means we need realistic human figures. Realistic human figures need complex character models, many texture layers, and lots of shader complexity, which means more optimization work for our programmers. Realistic human figures also need complex blended animations. They need clothes that bend, fold, and respond to physics. They need motion capture, facial animations, and lip sync. And all of those systems need to work just right or the whole thing will fall into the uncanny valley and all that expensive art will go to waste.
For an example of what I don’t want to see:
Like Kotaku said, “You might not even have noticed the way Dodger touched that door, but for Visceral, that simple animation was months in the making.”
That. Exactly that. Never do that. Don’t waste “months” fussing with bullshit the player might not even notice. Oh sure, someone out there needs to do that kind of work to push the medium forward. Fine. Let them do it. They can turn it into middleware and we’ll license it. But “months” of work means a fortune in terms of development costs, and this is not the kind of feature players are hungry for. That’s nice as an extra. A bonus. A cool little surprise to add for the player once everything else is working great. But crap like this is why the other publishers think single-player is “dead” because you can’t charge players by the minute. You can’t make money on single-player games if you spend months on stuff like thatAnd it’s useless in multiplayer..
Meanwhile, if you’re willing to step away from photorealism you can cut corners on all that stuff. You can treat stairs like a ramp instead of mo-mapping special animations for ascending and descending steps. Have doors pop open without connecting animations from the character. Pull weapons out of hammerspace! Use the same animations for characters of different sizes! Automated lip-sync instead of hand-crafted! Light and render a character without involving six texture maps and half a dozen shaders! Have multiple weapons share the same animations! It’s amazing what you can get away with when your characters are even a little cartoonish or stylized.
Before you swagger into my office with a design doc to make the next “ultra immersive” game of photorealistic graphics, ask yourself if any other design styles might suit it better. Something whimsical like Nintendo? Pulp-esque like Borderlands? Storybook like WoW? Maybe something in victorian gothic or Burton-esque? You’ve got good artists. See what they can do.
Get Rid of The Assholes
I know how much of a killjoy it is to have bullies, jerks, creeps, and pranksters in your ranks. This problem becomes very easy to solve if you’re not dealing with the chaos of constant turnover and your ranks are filled with good people.
“Oh, we can’t get rid of Alan. I know he’s a massive asshole that made Barbara cry and caused Chuck to quit, but Alan is a really good animator!”
So? All of our animators are really good. We’re not picking people out of the dumpster here. Get rid of him. His good output can’t possibly offset the reduced output of all the people he annoys.
And be sure to give him a stellar recommendation. I want that insufferable jackass working for our competition as soon as possible!
Don’t Waste Our Money on DRM
We have more important things to worry about than playing tag with the game crackers. Once we have a big pile of money I might launch our own digital platform to escape the Steam tax on the PC. And maybe to promote the platform I’ll make sure our gradual game discount policy always happens on our platform before we lower the price on Steam. We’ll win either way. People willing to sign up will join our userbase and get a nice discount, and those that stick to Steam out of habit will pay a little more for our games. (Or wait a little longer.)
All we need is a lightweight client. It should start up fast, keep a small memory footprint, and not mess around with the user’s machine. Make the API map neatly with Steamworks so that developers can easily set up dumb crap like achievements without duplicating work. We don’t need to clog the system up with DRM or any of that nonsense. We just want to escape the 30% Steam tax, and if that means people can “rip” our games by simply copying them from their hard drive… Well, how is that any different than the situation we have on the torrents now?
The problem with really good game designers is that they generally don’t want to make the same game over and over again. We want them to keep making the game because they’re so good at it, but they get bored. Sometimes they get so bored they leave the company to “pursue other opportunities”. And then they turn up a few months later, working for the competition on something new that they will find challenging.
So when I get one of these successful people that’s a little too creative for their own good, I can let them play in the skunkworks. They get a small budget, a small team, and can make something PC-only. (So we don’t have to mess around with porting or licensing deals.) They can ship a small game. If it becomes a hit, great! If it’s an idea worthy of expanding on then we can spin the team into another studio and the game can become a full-blown franchise with marketing and console releases and a larger budget.
This lets them do something different, and allows us to prototype new stuff without risking a fortune. This is where new stuff will come from. Sure, sometimes an idea can only be done on a large scale. (It would be pretty hard to prototype something like Batman: Arkham Asylum with an “indie” sized team.) But lots of ideas can. Even if the games don’t make a lot, as long as the place isn’t a money sink then we can keep it going. Without new ideas, we’ll be doomed to wind up like the other publishers: Desperately copying each other’s overused ideas and trying to create them in ever-increasing levels of fidelity and then trying to figure out how on earth to pay for it all.
This is a technology-driven business. In technology you’re either inventing new stuff or you’re dying. If we assume the most reliably successful designers are a fountain of good ideas, then we should give them the occasional chance to try a few of them out from time to time. Rather than inventing new ways to waste money on graphics, we’ll be inventing new gameplay or genre flavors.
So That’s The Plan
That’s it. Make great games. Sell them. Make shitloads of money. Repeat until rich. Blizzard does it all the time. Valve used to do it before they found an even BETTER way of making money. Nintendo might make some strange moves when it comes to hardware, but they still manage to make games their fans love without destroying themselves in the process.
EA, Ubisoft, Microsoft, and the non-Blizzard parts of Activision are making lots of mistakes we can learn from. They think the secret to making money is to abuse your creative team, sabotage your products, waste money on stupid shit that doesn’t enhance the product, and engage in PR so bad it’s indistinguishable from trolling. The field is wide open for fun, hassle-free games and I intend to get rich steamrolling them.
EDIT: John Videogames just called. Says he decided to give the studio to Peter Molyneux instead, because Molyneux made bigger promises. So I’m not going to be rich.
So, uh… please support my Patreon?
 Sure, sometimes genuinely talented folks stick around due to a hilariously exploitable sense of loyalty, but you can’t build an entire studio out of those sorts of people.
 Temporary crunch doesn’t seem to have the same extreme drop-off in productivity that long-term crunch does.
 And it’s useless in multiplayer.
The game was a dud, and I'm convinced a big part of that is due to the way the game leaned into its story. Its terrible, cringe-inducing story.
The Plot-Driven Door
You know how videogames sometimes do that thing where it's preposterously hard to go through a simple door? This one is really bad.
WAY back in 2005, I wrote about a D&D campaign I was running. The campaign is still there, in the bottom-most strata of the archives.
Bethesda felt the need to jam a morality system into Fallout 3, and they blew it. Good and evil make no sense and the moral compass points sideways.
What was the problem with the Playstation 3 hardware and why did Sony build it that way?
187 thoughts on “How I Plan To Rule This Dumb Industry”
I for one welcome out tyrannical games making overlord.
Really hit the right tone, probably one of the best articles on the site for a while…
“And be sure to give him a stellar recommendation. I want that insufferable jackass working for our competition as soon as possible!” Genius.
There is a story of the finance director saying to sales director “Why do we spend so much money on training, when people can just leave for other companies?” The sales manager responds “But what if they stay?”
Also, the picture with the locks: bonus punchline: it still has a single point of failure of the chain, which looks like crappy steel.
Even worse, there’s a huge hole in the chainlink, that people can walk through, just out of shot…
A cheap pair of pliers can cut through chain link fence with some effort. A pair of bolt cutters would do it with zero effort…
A proper set of bolt cutters will go through the shackle of those locks, much less the chain holding the gate. It wouldn’t even notice the wire that forms the mesh of the fence.
Even worse … the game is actually on THIS side of the fence!
I’m fairly confident the point of that assembly will be that undoing any of the locks allows you to open it.
Looks like it only opens when all locks have been disabled…or you use tin-snips one foot to the right. :)
It’s possible it doesn’t open at all, and this is just where they store their unused locks.
I read it as “Either all of the ones on that complex assembly OR the one on the chain”, and that implements an access policy that I don’t understand the reason for.
Leaving aside the fact that an unwatched fence only serves to mildly delay unauthorized people.
Nah, CMaster is probably right. The shackle is probably retained by the left-most vertical bar, and the vertical bars probably lift right out once their respective locks are removed. Open any of those locks, lift out its bar and move any to the left of it to the right, freeing up the shackle the chain is attached to.
Or open the one on the chain, because they used up all the other slots.
That’s the problem with making really complex security systems…it’s easy to find a weak point and exploit the hell out of it. >:D
Also, the door is plot-driven anyway.
Also, they hid the key under the flowerpot. Which they put right in front of the fence.
The real problem is that we want to let all our customers through that gate all the time, and they’re getting impatient during all the key-fiddling…
We wouldn’t want them following that guy who’s trying to cut a hole in the fence, we want them getting tolled to come through the gate!
I tried looking him up in the white pages but he’s apparently unlisted. Wanted to call him up and give him a piece of my mind.
You don’t still have his number, do you, Shamus?
Frankly,Im glad that it didnt work out.Imagine if we had another company like disney,waging war on our benevolent mouse.It would be chaos!
Well I’d give you the job.
On a serious note – I thought it was kind of established that gamers DON’T really punish publishers for releasing buggy, unfinished games. E.g. it seems to be an established fact that Assassin’s Creed Unity was a hilarious unfinished mess (and for that matter AC3 was pretty universally panned critically). But the series seems to have kept selling fine, as far as anyone can tell.
Have I missed something? (It is entirely possible I have.)
Sometimes people argue what constitutes a “gamer” as opposed to someone who just happens to also play some video games in their free time, and imo the real difference here is whether one is engaged in any form (even passive, i.e. just watching and reading) in the gaming community at large, or a particular game’s individual community.
And I think “gamers” in that sense are a small minority among the totality of “video game customers”.
Which is also why I have said in various places, if game devs want to get some important news to the players (e.g. “don’t do X because of a bug in the latest update, it will break your save”; “servers will be down tomorrow for maintenance”), the most important thing is not to post this on reddit or their own official game forums, but in the game itself, or the game’s launcher, because only a small fraction of the players will actually see any of these sources outside of the game.
In the same manner, while the loot box controversy around SWB2 was huge, there is probably still a large customer base mostly oblivious to the whole issue.
I think I might be a gamer. I spend a lot of time playing games and I follow a few gaming-related websites like this one. But I don’t feel like a gamer. I don’t play a lot of different games. I don’t play AAA games. I never pre-order or buy games at release. I don’t–well, almost never–play games online. So I guess I’m a gamer for purposes of casual speech but not for demographic and marketing purposes.
The venn diagram would have two main sets – ‘likes AAA games’ and ‘likes indie games’. The intersection is people who like AAA games that are also indie games, which is impossible. The set that only likes AAA is “casual gamers”, and the set that only likes indie games is “indie gamers”. People who like both are “gamers with too much money and free time”, and people outside of those sets are “people who don’t really play games, you know?”
I can’t really speak for all gamers, but what I can say about the Assassin’s Creed franchise is that it’s improved a lot, presumably from the collective voice of the gaming community taking Ubisoft to task for that house-of-horrors that was Unity. Syndicate was a pretty solid entry that went mostly unnoticed, probably because people were still stinging from the last game. And Origins is just a straight-up good game.
If anything, I’d say that the Assassin’s Creed franchise is an example of the collective fan wisdom pushing a company to get on track. They stopped with the annual releases and started focusing more on making good games. At least I think so: We’ll have to see what the next game looks like to know if they’ve maintained their drive for quality over quantity.
But I agree with your premise that people speak more with the Internet, which often has little-to-no effect, instead of speaking with their wallets, which seems like it would change everything.
Pretty much that. Although listening to the fans did lead to Ubi essentially abandoning the modern storyline aspect, which I quite enjoyed. I wonder if they’ll try to bring it back gradually. Origins seems to indicate that. That, and I’m still waiting for a Watch Dogs crossover.
Considering that it was one of the most common complaints, completely unconnected to the main game, often quite restricted and shoe-horned in, and was only introduced by corporate fiat, I’m amazed it lasted as long as it did.
One of the big things Assassins’ Creed has going for it is the whole Historical Settings aspect. Sure, there might be bugs. Maybe the main character’s a bit lame. You’re not a fan of stealth. The crazy conspiracy stuff’s not your thing… but what other game lets you personally explore recreations of the French Revolution? Or Ancient Egypt? Or the early Americas? All brought to life with usually amazing graphical fidelity and interactivity.
I basically agree… except for the bit about interactivity. Admittedly the last one I played was AC: Brotherhood, but in those first three games the interactivity with NPCs was basically limited to:
– sit next to someone
– pick pockets
I found it very frustrating that there were these gorgeous, expansive cities full of people and you couldn’t really interact with them in any meaningful way.
Aww,you didnt play black flag?Look at what you missed.
The shanties were definitively the best part of that game.
Followed only by shivving ships with another ship.
As Shamus’ recent series on Wolfenstein 2 points out, there’s this oddity within the gaming industry where sequels often get the praise or criticism of their predecessor. Wolfenstein: The New Order was good, so TNC gets a few extra points from critics as a sort of retroactive recognition of TNO, despite not reaching the same heights. AC: Unity was a buggy, uninspired mess, so AC: Syndicate catches flak despite being a much superior game etc..
Releasing a bad but highly in-demand game might allow you to get away with profits from that game, but it is quite likely that the gaming circles and press will remember and will tear into your next game instead. I think part of the problem here is that games tend to mature more then other pieces of media, due to patches, DLC and the simple virtue of interactivity. It takes a few weeks or months for some form of consensus to form around high profile releases, which means that the game itself is out of harm’s way by the time people know “what to really think”. This in turn means that the sequel comes into the line of sight for any praise or criticism that the first game never got.
As a connoisseur of plenty of ubisoft franchises I can say that the reason ubisoft still sells a ton of stuff is that from time to time they deliver a really good game.Then they deliver a sequel that over saturates the market,and another sequel that squeezes the last drop of good from that game,and then they deliver yet another sequel just to show how far down they can kill a good thing.But THEN,they deliver another really good game,starting the cycle all over again.And sadly,we are such suckers that we are willing to forgive them A LOT of shit things for those few really good games they publish from time to time.
And you can see similar cycles with practically every publisher currently on top.
Alternately, wait for professional reviews or customer reviews before purchasing a game.
I get the impression the backlash over Unity was so big it warped the entire genre, such as it is. I mean, one of the complaints that got mileage was that they didn’t have a female custom avatar for multiplayer, and then at the next E3 Dishonored 2 and Syndicate both made a really big deal out of putting the ability to pick a female PC front and center.
I stopped playing and buying AC because of the bugs that made it unplayable.
I remember being introduced to the concept of permatemp through coverage of Microsoft in the late 90’s, probably in connection to the class action lawsuit that was happening at the time. And I remember that their PR was “some of our younger employees prefer it that way. More choices.”
If there’s anything more distressing than the devs making your games being permatemp, it’s the devs making your OS being permatemp. No wonder Windows was always a hot mess.
Ah yes,the good old “choice”.Always the first defense of shitty corporations for their shitty practices.
Really I heard the words before but never understood it until my fiance got “hired” by company doing just that. They made it sound like she would have a full blown schedule so she left her job the week she “started” with this company. It’s been 3 weeks and all they’ve done for her is send her to a 2 hour seminar that explained nothing about what they would be doing or what tools they would use and 2x 6 hour shifts of training. This week she yet again got 2x 6 hour shifts but then hours later they were cancelled with no explanation and just an apology when she questioned them about it. If this goes on much longer I’m going down to department of labor on her behalf.
It really should have thrown a red flag when their scheduling is that you have to accept the shifts your scheduled. Or the fact that even after you accept it can be changed at any time they like. As I understand it that’s not even legal without first getting permission of the employee to make those changes.
“Employee” here being the key word. They reclassify you as a temp exactly so they can get away with stuff like that without paying for it.
I told you, people! I told you John Videogames was going to drop the ball on this ever since he was picked as president of all Videogames! Oh sure, he looked like he was going to do right with Shamus here for a bit, but I knew he was going to screw the pooch in the end!
I am not sure if there’s anything of value I can really add here though, I’m afraid. I agree with you absolutely on this – making money while also not abusing your work staff, and also making a good product is, in fact, quite possible, which makes it all the more stupid when people just refuse to do that.
It’s one of those situations where the smart thing to do is to do the stupid thing. As in, the incentives are counterproductive. For example, replacing regular employees with temps, then burning them out with permacrunch and replacing them with newbies with entry-level wages certainly keeps the personnel costs down. There are plenty of ways to damage the company that are profitable in the short term. Which one of these directors would you like to be:
1. The one that raises profits, then gets promoted by the satisfied superiors or hired by another firm as wunderkind. The next guy can deal with your mess. Not your problem.
2. The one that has to explain to bunch of folks (who usually don’t understand the industry) why doing the less profitable thing now will be good in 5-10 years, why the modest loss the skunkworks projects are running is actually a good investment, and so on.
Moreover, if you bought a bunch of shares with an intention of selling them at profit a short time later, which type of CEO would you prefer?
Your second model describes hot potato. It will always hit the fan eventually, as EA has repeatedly demonstrated for the last decade.
And EA sucks at this. They could have used their monopoly with FIFA and EA to serve as a base to make awesome stuff in all kinds of mew ways, like MCU era Disney.
Instead, they’re Eisner era Disney.
I know they’re profitable, but think how much less headache you’d get from a competent non international incident generating, fan base enraging, IP devouring, assholish publishing house?
A publisher that can fuck up Star Wars releases is a publishing house that is not a safe bet for the stock broker, in the same way that Godzilla has consistently demonstrated terrible regard for interior design.
“Investors” that treat multi-million dollar companies like poker bets are scum who have successfully destroyed much of the world. A true investor is interested in the health of the business because that will lead to long term, healthy and predictable returns.
should probably be “give them the occasional chance“, though it almost works as a reference to small amounts of money.
I read it as “change of scenery”, which also kind of worked.
My typo spot: “If You Want
Youto Make a Movie, Make a Good One”
The question is… why haven’t they been steamrolled by Blizzard, Nintendo, (Sony, CDPR) et al. ?
Say there’s two producers in the field, Valve and EA. Valve games are always better than EA games, such that people would rather play them than EA at the same price, and both companies produce 10 games a year.
Further, say there are three groups of players: casual gamers who buy 5 games a year, moderate gamers who play 15 games a year, and hardcore gamers who play 20 games a year. Valve is getting all the money from the casual gamers and two-thirds of the money from the moderate gamers, but EA can still survive off the money it makes from the moderate and hardcore gamers – none of its games are going unplayed.
Why doesn’t Valve make another 5 games a year, or better yet 10? Because the reason their games are so much better is the people they’ve got – managers, game designers, artists, whatever – are more talented, either individually as people, or as a result of good group cohesion. Their programmers can’t just program another game, and if they just hired a new team of programmers, their managers couldn’t effectively manage them.
Valve can only grow slowly if it wants to keep its special Valve-culture, so even though it’s making a lot more money, it haven’t chased EA out of business yet.
Valve is still making games?
There’s that crossover between portal and bridge-builder that happened recently. They don’t do as much, but they aren’t doing literal nothing.
I’m pretty sure Valve employees just spend all their time reminiscing about when they used to actually make games.
I think they have. Nintendo reportedly has ten years of operating capital. Like, they could sit around the office playing ping-pong and not making products and it would take them 10 years before they ran out of money. (That number might have gone down after the Wii U.) Likewise, the money that Blizzard makes is legendary.
I’m not sure about CDPR.
Last I heard that number had actually gone up. I read an article shortly before the Switch released saying they were looking at 14 years of operating capital. And that was before the Switch became a runaway success.
You know you’re successful when you can actually do everything about releasing video games but releasing the game, for almost a generation, and not run out of money.
Because when a billion dollar company is being steamrolled by another billion dollar company,they still have billions of dollars.
Also,ea has their sports division that can sustain them practically forever.What surprises me is that they didnt go the konami route and just focused on that one thing that prints them money.
I think you can put that down to Konami, whilst appearing to many people to be scum of the earth (sensu Jim Sterling), being happy to put a limit on their level of greed. They make plenty of money from pachinko machines and their other ventures, so video games are like a little side business. They could make a bunch of money out of it if they really wanted to, but they obviously feel no pressing need to do so.
EA would never be satisfied with just making the obscene amount of money they do from their sports titles. They have to make all the money. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, they always want more, more, MORE! The majority of the AAA industry fall into this same mould, which is why you see the dreaded “performed below expectations” line trotted out so much (followed by “we’ve laid off all the development staff and closed down the studio”). If you can’t make all the money, what good are you?
Because those companies don’t make enough games in enough genres to serve the entire market. Blizzard and CDPR only put out a handful of games between them. Nintendo has a somewhat narrow focus and style to their games; you aren’t going to get a full-fledged FPS or RPG from them, and their games are all very much geared toward being accessible to younger audiences. Sony… uh… has Naught Dog?
“you aren’t going to get a full-fledged FPS or RPG from them”
Doom and Skyrim are Switch games now.
And your point is…?
:D, just kidding, I’m not that pretentious. Yet.
They still aren’t made by Nintendo. They’re just on a Nintendo console.
They really are to an extent. EA especially does pretty terribly outside of their sports game franchises. Those are the money makers for them and they’ve structured themselves pretty well to build them. It’s the bleedover that tends to make them look worse in general gamer terms.
In general the companies make money but don’t make the kind of profits that the others do. Which is kind of the point. The others don’t steamroll because competing is difficult and it takes time to properly grow the company. Can only train people so quickly.
It’s just quite interesting that there’s space for the EAs etc. given so much competition. I guess they have:
1. big external licences (FIFA, SW etc)
2. popular franchises that gained traction when they weren’t quite so terrible (ME, AC)
3. AAA production values do still carry a lot of weight
So the games market might seem saturated but the AAA market is not?
And like Shamus says, perhaps they are doing badly by comparison, but in an unsaturated market, and supporting their failures at game production with the income from their gambling mechanics.
I happen to design and test software and a lot of this really rings true. When I started this job, a significant portion of my team were contractors and we were constantly working under so much crunch that I started to forget what sunlight looked like. And we ended up cranking out buggy software that required patches back before patches were ubiquitous.
A new department head came in and saw how much of an inefficient mess it was and his first order of business was to sit down with us and ask “Why isn’t this working?” And he went on to do something even more crazy: He actually implemented changes based on our feedback.
We permanently hired on the quality employees. We went from having hard release dates to having release windows. We laid out in detail what exactly everybody’s job was instead of the mish-mash we had where we all had to do a little bit of everything instead of being able to focus on specific things. And everything changed. We hit all our goals. We’re not stressed-out messes. Our software isn’t buggy. I haven’t had to work an hour of overtime in a few years. Our department has such a large budget surplus that we’re constantly being audited by the higher-ups because they think there’s some sort of shenanigans going on.
One of the unexpected consequences of having a permanent staff was that we’ve gotten used to working together and now our whole department works far more efficiently than it ever would when it was a patchwork of journeyman strangers who came together to temporarily create a piece of software that they had no reason to invest themselves in. We can offer predictive time tables with “eerie” accuracy. We come in every day sharp and ready to go and we actually care about the product we’re turning out. It’s a recipe for success that seems obvious but that nobody else embraces.
Someone I know has a similar story, but backwards.
He works in a industry where you earn both a salary and a commission; his previous job had a decent salary with a modest commission on sales as an incentive.
But the company was bought out by another, with a different culture: the basic salary went down and the commission percentage went up. In practice, this means everyone’s pay went down, though of course management was quick to point out that with this commission rate, the employees could be making loads more!
And wouldn’t you know it – morale is down, the office is less motivated, trusting, and there’s a real incentive to compete or screw over your co-workers. Lots of people are leaving…starting, of course, with the most qualified and competent.
Perhaps it had something to do with the way management turns up (regularly) for a perfomance review, which invariably points out how my friend’s office isn’t doing as well as the other offices the company has. And they’re not interested in excuses like ‘that office has more staff’ or ‘they’re in a better location’ or any nonsense like that.
Nothing about that setup seems sustainable long-term. That kind of thinking uses a very cold calculus that does not consider human psychology. I think that’s why so many people are resistant to the idea of re-evaluating its effectiveness. The variables get a lot more squishy when you try to include human thoughts and feelings into the equation. In the very black-and-white, cost/benefit world of corporate productivity, there tends to be a stigma attached to the idea of “How will this affect employees internally?” They don’t care about that – they just care about the bottom line. Corporations are very risk-averse and I think most of them would rather maintain damage control on a system that kinda-works than to take a gamble that might pay off in the long term. And I’d argue that it’s to a detriment to them and their employees.
I love happy endings.
I’ll bet you do. :D
You know whats the most baffling to me?Not that stories like yours exist,but that stories like yours existed OVER A HUNDRED YEARS BACK.The first factories brought by the industrial revolution were operating precisely like the video game industry is operating today,until people realized how counter productive that model is.
“Those who dont know history” and all that.
Here’s what’s baffling to me: My department is considered to be the Island of Misfit Toys within the corporation. On the rare occasion that we have a job opening, nobody in the office wants to transfer to us because they think that we’re some sort of weird social experiment that could implode at any moment. The fact that it’s been a successful formula for around eight years now hasn’t swayed anybody. And all we can do is just laugh all the way to the bank because the other departments are still stressed-out and overworked and getting nothing from it.
Once in a while, it’ll get so bad for someone at the company that they’re to the point that between the notion of transferring here or just quitting without another job lined up, they figure “screw it” and they transfer to us. And they can’t believe how good it is and how efficiently it all runs. It’s like people move into our department expecting to see drum circles and burning sage and instead of finding a place that’s gone completely off the rails, they find a smoothly-functioning office environment where nobody’s trying to kill anyone else. It’s a wake up call – to them anyhow. When they report back to their friends at the old department, nobody ever believes it.
We didn’t re-invent the wheel here. It’s still a professional corporate environment that just so happens to run really well. But it speaks mountains about the corporate mentality that people look at what we’re doing and they see it as something between alchemy and voodoo. And certainly nobody else is lining up to try it this way. I’ve just learned to thank my lucky stars that I’ve found the unicorn of software development.
Well, how should they? It’s one of the tainted guys speaking. Of course he’ll be lying, he’s obviously in denial.
Couldn’t they just look in the mirror, and compare the bags under their eyes / the lack thereof? Seems like it would be a pretty easy way to compare stress levels…
I think the idea is that it’s not that they don’t believe him it’s not stressful and that there is no crunch, but because he isn’t working as hard as them, the entire department will be collapsing any day now, ANY DAY NOW. Because it HAS TO. Because if it’s actually working well then all this inhumane treatment of us was for NOTHING! And these people have just convinced themselves that rivers aren’t really a thing and that the only way to survive is to drink rainwater as it falls from the sky. So when someone comes to them telling them there was a river just over there for decades they don’t want to believe.
I can only assume that’s what it amounts to. We all tell ourselves stories to get by and the story you tell yourself when you’ve been beaten down by your job is “It can’t work any other way. Ipso facto, it doesn’t.”
There is a good reason that this years Nobel prize in economics was awarded for all the ways people can be stupid, irrational and daft.
In the team where I’m working, I’m the only contractor, the rest being permanent employees, with most having years of experience on our product. And you can really feels when you’re working on anything remotely complex, they know most of the ins and outs of the code so they are going way faster that I could.
But the software is so complex and there so many possible configuration that we are still releasing with a lot of bugs. We’re not really helped by the fixed release dates, the priorities of the PO (more features!) and the limited number of devs.
Still we are another proof that permanent employees are superior in such cases. A team of mostly contractors could never grok efficiently enough to have a reasonable productivity.
I find that I have sympathy for game studios who push back release dates because I know just how brutal it can be to hit a hard date. Back in the old regime, there were so many times when we sunk in hundreds of billable hours between all of us in the last few days of a project just to hit a mark when it could’ve just been pushed back a few more days with only using a fraction of those hours. To say that there’s a diminishing return in those last few days of work is an understatement.
I was fortunate to be brought on as a full time employee when a lot of people weren’t. It just makes for a more cohesive unit when it feels like there’s some permanency to it. And everybody just understands the projects better. When I’m testing something and I find a problem, I can generally find the exact line of code where there’s an issue and just tell the developer how to fix it. It’s crazy how efficient a team can become when everybody’s intimately familiar with the code from the design to the development to the testing. That should be the goal of every company that makes software – not having a turnover of people who have to learn it all from scratch, just so you can undercut them on the pay and benefits.
Shamus, I think I see why Mr. Videogames passed on you.
You did not address micro-transactions and we know that all people who love money address it in someway.
Heck, Valve could probably buy a building with the money they made on hats alone.
Too soon, man.
On the subject of funny names,did you know that last year Lil Jon became the ceo of Papa John’s ?
I agree with what I believe is your intended point about let studios do what they’re good at. I am assuming your point is to not FORCE a Shooter studio to make a Strategy game, which I agree with wholeheartedly.
I’m just curious how you would handle a studio WANTING to do something different. NoClip has a great piece on Horizon Zero Dawn. I never would have guessed this game was made by the Killzone studio.
This falls a bit into your point about the skunkworks, but this was an entire studio that wanted to try something big and “dangerous” and completely different to what they’ve been doing for a long time.
I believe that would fall under the “you better be convincing that it’s a good idea to try, son” part.
I wondered the same thing as I wrote the article. I was specifically thinking of the case where pre-EA BioWare WANTED to make a huge dialog-rich MMO even though they had no experience with MMOs and no experience with projects that large.
Honestly I don’t think there’s an easy answer to this. (Well, in the voice of the rapacious and amoral manager I used to write this article, you could justify saying “no” simply because it’s safer.) Maybe your team will make a breakout hit, or maybe they’ll waste money and sink into development hell because they’re in over their head.
I guess to answer the question: I suppose I’d let them take a crack at taking a small part of the team and making a gameplay demo of what they want to do. Maybe when most of the studio is doing post-release updates and DLC, I’ll let the project lead spend a few months to show me what they have in mind. Once that’s over and it’s time to start the next game, we can look at what they did
* Is the demo solid?
* Do they seem to grasp the challenges they’re going to be facing on this new kind of project?
* Is my company in a position where we can afford to take this risk without endangering other studios?
If so, then I’d be open to letting them try something new.
If so, then I’d
I was impressed by Guerrilla Games in that Noclip documentary. My apologies if I remember wrong, because it’s been a little while, but I think it went like this:
We’ve been making Killzone games for a decade. They’re successful, we’re happy, but we’ve made the same thing for a long while now. Let’s ask the entire company to present pitches to us and choose the one we like the best.
Okay, this werewolf one looks good… but The Order 1886 just got announced, shit! We’d like to present Sony with a type of game they don’t already have in their portfolio the same way we gave them a first person shooter with Killzone, so this won’t do.
Let’s do another one of our popular internal pitches, an open world action-rpg post-post-apocalypse thing with mad machines(which was pitched ages ago, but got the shaft because Enslaved got announced and was very similar in concept).
This seems great, but it would be the first game we developed for the new PS4… that could prove difficult. Here’s what we do: We make a Killzone game, which we’re pretty used to by now, and use that game to familiarize ourselves with the console. We can even do the open world stuff off in the background of this one where nobody is going to notice it. And after that, it’s Horizon time.
They just seem like such a nice and smart company.
Typo in your comment, looks like copy-paste error on the last line. Feel free to erase this comment when corrected.
Nonsense. Just get some stick figures.
Nonsense. Just get some stick figures.
Typo: “to by leisure” in the alt text of the image directly under “We Want Money From EVERYONE”
You, sir, are a genius.
Oh good, you pointed out the typo I wanted to point out and talked about some of the hilarious lines in the article. Is there any way we could make this article required reading for CEOs?
Step 1: Support Shamus’ patreon to the level where he can hire some guys to help him develop games.
Step 2: Shamus makes procedural games that absorb all the sales from everyone else.
Step 3: All the CEOs read this article to figure out why they are loosing so much money.
“All I care about now is money. I want to make as much money as possible, for as long as possible. I no longer have any use for artistic integrity and I don’t particularly care if people like me, as long as the dollars keep rolling in” – Shamus Young
Ha! Now it’s a real quote on The Internet anyone can use against you! You can’t hide your true colors anymore!
Hey, you misspelled “sched…” … Oh.
Anyway, this is pretty much the argument I was having in the comments from your previous article. People insist it’s a question of being a “good” or “bad” publisher when in reality it’s simply a matter of competence.
This is what irritates me the most. Many of the current problems with gaming could be easily solved in ways that would leave everyone happy. But it’s just so hard for certain people in power to even consider the idea that they might be wrong that they refuse to try.
You did misspell “buy” as “by” in the picture of the girl holding money, though.
Like, damn near impossible – and not necessarily by choice.
It’s how power in pretty much every culture I’ve ever seen works: politicians, CEOs and authority figures everywhere are terrified of admitting fault because it’s seen as weakness. And if you’re important enough, even a hint of weakness will have other people out for blood, looking to take your place.
Who will them find themselves in the same situation once they’re in charge.
What I think of when people gripe that a President (or similar politician) isn’t apologizing and admitting that they were wrong. Unfortunately, while apologizing as an individual can be shown as a sign of strength, doing so from a position of grand authority can simply make your future plans much harder to carry out as your rivals will take full advantage of your confession.
Actually, I’d say trying to make everybody happy is a major part of the AAA industry’s problem. At least in the sense of “happy” meaning “appeal to all ages and demographics”. You can never make everybody happy, but you shouldn’t need to (and trying to do so is an exercise in futility).
Sure you can. Just target different games to different segments instead of trying to hit all of them with one. It’s not rocket science. Now you aren’t making everyone happy AT THE SAME TIME, but with diverse enough staff you can do it in shifts.
Release all your different games on the same day, and you can still make everyone happy at the same time!
Except for Marketing.
What he did.
I saw it.
I keep thinking they should order a hundred people to make two games in two years and alternate franchises. Then you’ve still got one AAA game out a year, aren’t dealing with the same scaling issues, and don’t have franchise oversaturation.
AAA industry has been doing this for a long time now. Assassins Creed games are made by two alternating teams, each having 2+ years to work on the project (Origins has been 4 years in the making) and EA at some point had THREE developers on the Call of Duty franchise. It’s just that even 2 years is a woefully short time for such projects.
“And maybe to promote the platform I’ll make sure our gradual game discount policy always happens on our platform before we lower the price on Steam.”
I’m less certain for Steam, but I gather in other digital media sales (books, music, movies), the contracts have a clause something like “If we see your product at a lower price on a competitor’s site, we can unilaterally drop the price to match.” Which is why prices on digital products available from multiple sources are typically all in lockstep.
Oh, and yeah, totally fire that Alan. What an asshole. :-)
If Valve did that to me, I’d use bundles to get around it. When we release the GOTY edition that’s base game+DLC for a discount, I’ll make sure to release it on my platform first, and then there will be a delay before it shows up on Steam while “My team works on the Steamworks integration”.
So you can get the base game on Steam for (say) $50, or you can come to my platform and get the game+DLC for the same price.
You can’t do this for EVERY step down in price, but it would give me a way to entice people to join my platform without going to self-defeating UPlay route of “You’re joining my platform, willing or no.”
I’m pretty sure Valve is a wakeup to those type of things. Trying to cut Valve out of DLC sales and thereby invoking the wrath of Gabe is exactly what prompted EA to abandon Steam and turn the EA Downloader into Origin. The only way not to hand over a cut of your revenue to Valve is to leave their platform altogether, as it is pretty much a case of their way or the highway.
All hail Lord Shamus, the Benevolent! Has a nice ring to it, I’d say.
Joking aside, I don’t really get the love for Blizzard when compared to EA, Ubisoft and others. I mean, Blizzard makes a lot of its money from Hearthstone, which is basically “Lootboxes: The Game”. Same with Overwatch, which also doubles as “Deviantart Fodder: The Game”. Not to mention WoW, which is the closest digital entartainment has ever gotten to replacing heroin as the most addictive and destructive thing in the world. I love Warcraft 2 and 3 as much as the next guy, but these days Blizzard encapsulates some of the worst industry practices. So why the free pass? Honestly asking here.
Blizzard has been selling lootboxes that give you no unfair advantage over others. That are not required to experience the game in its fullest. They’re mostly skins and stuff, and while there are probably people who went broke buying Overwatch skins or bought the game really, really wanting that one Widowmaker skin that was locked behind a paywall, those are by far less prevalent, and in the former case, I would probably not put the blame on Blizzard.
Hearthstone is a bit of an outlier there, as it is basically a card lottery, but that’s what trading card games are about, more or less. There are TCGs without predatory practices, and even those that just let you buy the specific cards you want, but it seems those are more of a niche market compared to Hearthstone players. It seems people like to play the card lottery, after all.
I’ve not played the game myself, just heard of its bad practices in a comparison video (with Gwent). While I do find Gwent to be the superior and more customer-friendly game, nothing I’ve heard about Hearthstone was outright appalling.
I believe this is entirely what Redrock is referring to, though. Hearthstone’s loot-boxes are pay-to-win gambling, and central to that whole game. The strongest cards in the game can technically be gotten by random chance if you grind long enough, but it’s a long enough time that for all intents and purposes it’s infinite. Players who have the money to burn on card packs however, can get the powerful cards by just dumping enough money into the lottery. Everyone else gets to have crap random cards.
Hearthstone is pay to win gambling, and it doesn’t ever pretend to be anything else. It’s HONEST pay to win.
Being pay to win would mean that you are assured a victory if you buy the stuff.But in heartstone,RNJesus rules,so you never know what will happen.Which is why its terrible.
The better cards are still affected by RNG, but they’re so much stronger that you’ll still be willing most of the time. At this point though, it’s semantics – does increasing your odds from 50% win to 75% count as “pay to win”? I think it does.
People are a lot more lenient about loot boxes in free-entry games. We understand they have to make money somewhere.
Your first dose is free, eh? Doesn’t that make it even more shady and predatory, then?
Not really,because the free stuff remains free for use forever.So it only depends on how solid that free component is:Is it the fallout shelter non game,or the warframe full game.
Sooo, the mere presence of lootboxes and microtransaction as an option isn’t shady and predatory by default, regardless of context? Careful. The Church of Sterling might brand you as an infidel for that.
Not really,Jim himself says that in free to play games stuff like that are not that bad.
Not when the first dose will carry you through endgame.
Being a deep practitioner of STO which does something a bit different but similar – you can totally play for free, no problems – plenty of ships of capability and power to play without having to spend money on ships or on money for lootbox ships.
You can even for the direct-sale stuff, buy money from other people using a time-gated currency.
So in theory it’s fair – the feeling is you can put the work in inside the game or out of it.
I’m not really giving them a free pass. I’m just saying their greed is effective (because they understand their customers) and EA is ineffective because they can’t tell if an idea is going to piss people off. (Or they don’t care.)
It’s not that Blizzard = Good, EA = Evil. It’s that Blizzard = Competent, EA = dysfunction, mismanagement, and lost opportunities.
Which is to say that in this article you *are* giving them a pass here…but only because this article is specifically about how gaming publishers can make money as effectively as possible, not anything about morality.
Interesting point about Blizzard – they tried to set up one of the most blatant pay to win systems in modern gaming with the original Diablo 3 Real Money Auction House setup. And after it had been out for a while, after they’d weathered the initial bad press and it was an accepted if resented part of the game…they got rid of it. Not because they felt bad about it, but because it wasn’t making (enough) money and it was turning people off of their product.
Can you imagine EA or Ubi completely scrapping a cash-grab system after sucking up the bad press of it’s initial implementation?
Eh, different model. EA and Ubi don’t make their games to be as eternal as Blizzard. And since they release new titles all the time, if a particular model sucks way too much, they’ll probably just gut it in the next iteration.
Ok, I can get behind that. Although it’s worth noting that the three companies you listed as competent, i.e. Blizzard and Nintendo and Valve all basically gave up on making (or never made in the first place) narrative-driven single player games. No immersive sims, no RPGs to speak of (one Xeno game per Nintendo console isn’t much), not even much in the way of open-world action-adventure whatever. And that worries me. It worries me that this approach seems to be very effective. That we might stop getting new Preys and Deus Exs and Hitmans and even Assassin’s Creeds not because their respective publishers are screwing them up, but because not even attempting to make those kinds of games is working out so very well for the likes of Blizzard and Nintendo. I mean, I love my Switch, but boy did I need a double story-based cocktail of the Observer and Tales of Zestiria of all things after the narrative void that is Zelda and Mario.
True,but thats because the three have specialized.Blizzard is doing their multiplayer thing,nintendo is doing its single player gimmicky console thing,and valve is doing their online store thing.Nothing says that another company just as competent cant specialize in their own thing.In fact,there is one Id mention:Firaxis.Despite what their publisher,2k games,is saying,firaxis is still doing their turn based strategy thing with great success.If 2k games cant force one of its publishers to dance in lockstep with their core “ideals”,there is hope.
I see your Firaxis and raise you Paradox – pretty decent and consistent save for that pricing hiccup last year. But can anyone name a publisher that consitently produces videogames in the genres that I mentioned – single-player, strong narrative, etc., – and can also be considered competent by Shamus’s standards? Because while neither Square Enix nor Bethesda are as bad as EA and Ubi, they still have heaps of problems, be it QA, unreasonable expenses (Squeenix’s tragic flaw, it seems), or a myriad others.
What about seedy project…I mean cd projekt?
Yeah, those guys are pretty cool, I have to admit. GOG is cool, CD Projekt Red is cool. I must say that they are tiny compared to the major publishers and have, as far as I can tell, only published games developed in-house which amounts to a single franchise, but still, they are pretty amazing and exhibit some amazing business practices.
Another question altogether is whether those practices are sustainable outside of Eastern Europe and, more specifically, in USA or Canada. I have my doubts, to be honest.
Wait how has Nintendo stopped making “narrative-driven single player games”? The only thing that I can think of is them taking away the combat from the paper mario series, but mario and luigi and fire emblem are two really good rpg series that still seem to be going strong.
I guess it’s just kinda hard for me to consider anything Mario as having a meaningful or engaging narrative. And I don’t think that they are intended to be, even the RPGs. As for Fire Emblem, you got me there, totally forgot about those. It’s still not much, is it? One main game every three years at best?
“I don’t really care about people anymore, so if I have to hold you hostage in the office for an extra ten hours to get one more hour of productivity out of you, then that works for me.” – I don’t quite understand this sentence. It seems after digging through the satire, that overtime crunch hours are being implied to be free?
Like, no wages are paid at all for these hours, let alone not bonus overtime special wages? Is that actually how it is, those on overtime/crunch work for free during that time?
Cos, otherwise, aren’t you getting one hour worth of work for 10 hours pay? I’m not sure, maybe there’s an extra level of satire I’m missing but that just seems weird to me.
Salary workers are not paid overtime. They’re paid a flat amount every month / week. This is the main reason crunch is so hated. Overtime pay only applies to workers paid by the hour.
(All of this is in the US. I don’t know how it is elsewhere.)
Its not like that in serbia,at least not in the public sector*.You have a fixed salary for a month,that covers the 40 hours a week you are obligated to do.But you step even an hour over that,and your employer is legally bound to pay you at least 4 hours of overtime.Of course,there are bosses who constantly try(and sometimes succeed)in getting overtime from workers without paying the bonus,but Ive seen a bunch of people sue and win precisely on this issue.Which is strange since this is a banana republic with horrible corruption and low living standards.But,due to unions and remnants of the old republic,some benefits still remain.
*The private sector is a hell where they pay you whatever they wish for being basically a slave.
Yikes, that sounds rather harsh. Overtime in the US is typically 1.5 times the pay. Going over by a little bit isn’t that big of a deal to the employer in theory. Yet despite that, I’ve seen employees get screwed and sent home early because the employer didn’t want to pay any overtime just on principle (I even saw it happen once with two servers, who make a *whopping* $2.13/hour). As a result, some employees get less hours than they’d like (capping out around 35-38) because their employer was so skittish about overtime. These people would never be allowed overtime if it was 4 X pay.
Overtime is 1,5 the pay here as well,but the minimum you get is 4 hours,regardless of how little you work.You can get it to be more,of course,though there is an upper limit.Because of that lower limit however,bosses usually try and get someone to do at least those 4 hours instead of getting them to do “just this little thing”,or they try to stack a few little things that add to 4 hours over several days and count it as a single day,or other shenanigans like that.It works sometimes,unless the employee is a real stickler for the letter of the law,which many union people often are.
That does suck, but I wouldn’t call Serbia a banana republic – that term usually suggests a strong dependence on a particular export. As far as I can tell, Serbia’s economy, while affected by corruption and government interference, is a bit more diversified than that of, say, Honduras or Venezuela. Sorry, I tend to get pedantic when it comes to political lingo and theory.
We do depend on a particular export:Educated brains.
The education really improves the flavor.
Well, dang, the concept of doing extra work for literally no pay is kind of absurd to me. I always assumed this crunch thing was a quality of life issue, primarily, but wow. Read your contracts, kids, and think about what they allow for. That is the lesson I learned today.
A better lesson would be to outlaw contracts that exploit people like that.
The concept is that the company is essentially saying, “We’ll give you X dollars a month to take care of this problem for us.” They don’t care how much time it takes you to do it. If it only takes you 6 hours a week to do your job, then you can relax in your office and play minesweeper or whatever. This sort of arrangement gets to be really important when you’ve got executives at the top of the company. If there’s a PR disaster or company-wide problem, you come in on the weekend. You’re already paid a lot, and the company doesn’t want to haggle over individual hours.
The idea is that the job is only SUPPOSED to take 40 hours a week, so if you’re working late it’s because you screwed up.
And to be fair, there is a certain danger to allowing engineers to get overtime. It creates the unfair situation where a terrible engineer will make more than a really good one, because the good engineer keeps the system running seamlessly while the bad engineer has to keep coming in on evenings and the weekends because the thing is always borked. It also creates a perverse incentive: Are you a little short on cash this month? Maybe just “forget” to apply that critical update and then soak up the bonus pay when the system goes down.
For the most part, this isn’t usually a problem, Technology workers are so precious that only an idiot would dump an 80-hour-a-week job on an engineer. The engineer will just quit. Good technology workers have a lot of bargaining power and we don’t usually worry about them being exploited.
But in the games industry we have this odd situation where technology workers have almost NO bargaining power. Game colleges are pumping out eager beavers, the market is flooded, and half of my generation grew up dreaming of becoming a game developer someday.
So the companies keep the salaried payment system for technology workers, but then require them to work ridiculous hours.
And heres the biggest problem with such a system:You can do whatever you wish EXCEPT leave the work early.
Also,what if your task is maintaining a functioning server?You dont have to do much if there are no problems,but if something bad happens then you have to dig in.And seeing how problems dont pick a time when theyll occur,why should you waste your time in an office if the problems have a higher chance of occurring when you are at home?
Not to mention,who decides what work requires how many hours?Especially in a fast changing industry,like video games development.If you overshoot/undershoot,is it because of your skill or because of poor estimation of your boss?
Back in the 90s, I had a job like that, and the answer was “you can work from home.”
I feel like blowing off work Friday to go see the latest movie, no problem. I might log in at midnight and put in a couple hours. If there’s an emergency, someone can call me and I’ll drop what I’m doing and go home.
These days you could bring a tablet and a hotspot and remote in from anywhere.
As Rick C said, you can totally blow off work when there’s down time, and depending on the industry it will still even out to 40 hours a week on average, even if some are 50 and some are 30.
Of course, this is all before you consider the fact that companies basically have carte blanche to count anyone they want as “technical,” aside from some minimum yearly salary requirements. Games companies used to classify testers making pittances for salaries as “exempt from overtime,” though I imagine that’s not the case now since the minimum wage reuqirement was recently raised (THE HORROR HOW WILL THEY ALL STAY IN BUSINESS!?!?)
This is standard for every programmer, everywhere in the US. You can read the contract all you want–with the exception of a very few people they’ll all be based on salary, even if the employer works out some sort of overtime compensation on the side.
The only exception to this I’ve seen are some programmers I knew who started off as air conditioning repair techs at an commercial automation company–they came in through the union and got to keep the union benefits.
In France, from what I’ve understood (I’m no specialist in the Work Code), you can have a paid by the hour contract, in which case you’ll get paid more for those hours and get supplementary paid days off.
Or you have a monthly contract without mentions of worked hours, usually for white-collar worker (that’s what I have): in that case you get paid by the month without any increase in case of overtime, since there’s no number of hours in the contract, but you get, by default, more paid time off (2 weeks/year) (in theory because you’ll always do some overtime).
Australia here, I don’t think companies here can force unpaid overtime on you, but that doesn’t mean nobody does it.
Where I work approved overtime is given as time-in-lieu (so that you get those hours back later), but it’s not uncommon for people to do an extra hour here or there to get things finished without claiming it back.
A bunch of years back (pre ps4/xbone) we basically ended up in a permacrunch situation on a game that was way behind schedule. It was a miserable, unproductive time that led to a buggy hacky mess of a codebase that continued to bite us for years to come. Thankfully everyone understood how bad it was and management made sure we never did it again.
There is a limit. If your fixed salary is low enough then you do still qualify for overtime. The limit is super low (something like $25K a year) so this doesn’t apply to technology workers it’s mostly for people like fast food managers who are paid a fixed salary and then end up working way more than 40 hours.
It used to be $25k a year, they raised it (I think the year before last?) to something like $47k a year. Of course, certain people got all in an uproar (“how dare you mandate proper working conditions for people making $12 and hour!?!?! think of all those poor people losing all that work time they’re not getting paid for!” etc. etc.) when it happened, but to me it makes sense given cost of living…
It is true,perma crunch is (somehow) in the contracts of these companies and they do legally force their employees to work overtime for no extra pay.It was shocking to me when I first heard it.
It’s got to do with the nature of a lot of software employment contracts. They’re usually not hourly but pay out a fixed salary per month or whatever. Since they’re not being paid by the hour they don’t strictly speaking have overtime and aren’t eligible for overtime pay. I’m pretty sure that legally companies can’t make working more than 40 hours a week without paying overtime mandatory, but they can imply that it’ll be remembered next annual performance review.
I was highly amused by this dig at the movie industry. This is exactly what Hollywood claimed back in the day about Blu-ray. And before that, what they claimed about DVDs. And before that, what they claimed about VCRs.
And before that, television itself.
Guys, libraries are the devil!
Yup. That was argued at one point too.
> If we need a trailer then just make a trailer. Better yet, outsource it to a company that knows what they’re doing. That way we can keep our teams small and focused on our core talents.
Regarding this, Blur Studio make some good stuff (see more at http://www.blur.com/work/) (I just love their work!).
Actually, now that you mention it, isn’t this how we wound up with the Dead Island trailer controversy?
Would Shamus Studios games feature lootboxes?
I blame the investors as much as the executives. They ought to be demanding that management protect the value of the brands they own, not squeezing out as much cash as they can in the short term.
Good point. Valve is privately owned, and Japanese Nintendo shareholders are historically much further focused. It’s not clear to me how Blizzard is owned, as they have shares, but don’t appear to be publically traded? Anyway, the success examples seem to be relatively free from short-term investor pressures.
Blizzard Entertainment is owned by Activision Blizzard which is publicly traded (in fact they’re a member of the S&P 500).
I’d second that in a heartbeat. Most problems with big companies nowadays seem to stem for investor meddling. I grew to hate the stock market influence on my surroundings quite a lot in the past decade.
Its ironic to see gamers criticize people who minmax in real life.Not wrong,mind you,just ironic.
It’s not the minmaxing that leads to the complaints; it’s that they’re maxing the wrong things. They’re like an MMO tank that’s gearing to max their DPS when they can’t survive the boss’s tank-killer move. After all, DPS is what kills bosses, right?
But they arent maxing the wrong things.They are playing the financial game with the goal to get the most money.And just how a speedrunner ignores powerups and focuses just on time,the investors ignore long term quality and focus only on immediate gain.
Part of the problem is that investors don’t really understand games either. Also, unless a company pays out dividends investors need the stock price to rise so they can make money selling it so they’re less concerned with long term value.
I take it the hyperlinking of only the “a” in “Patreon” was a deliberate expression of your very-low pressure approach to promoting yourself?
“If a particular genre fades in popularity, we just reduce the budget of the studios that serve that genre. That way we’re still serving that market, and we have people in place if trends come around again and demand increases. As long as it makes money and turns out a respectable product, they stay in business.”
When you reduce the budget of a studio, it’s because you’re spending less on the people. Assuming that you’re still paying 10% over industry average per person, to reduce spending you end up with fewer people.
You might be able to transfer some of them to different studios that are getting bigger budgets, but that sacrifices your specialization strat.
Or you produce games more slowly – not a terrible trade off.
Producing games more slowly isn’t going to save you money if you’re still paying everyone’s wages, in fact it’s likely to do the opposite.
If you want to reduce the budget then you either reduce development time, reduce the number of staff you are employing, or reduce wages (or some combination of the three).
Shamus’ example seemed to be suggesting reducing the team size so that you still have a small studio producing at least some output in Genre X, which will cater to a niche audience and aim to break even while gambling that eventually one of these small niche studios will produce the Next Big Thing™, or will at least be experienced in Genre X should it suddenly become popular.
No, my point was that crash spending produces a lot of waste due to management overhead and basic collaborative friction. If you’re a small part of a large team then sometimes you get stuck waiting for someone else’s work. It takes longer to get feedback, which can lead to wasted effort. If you’ve got five artists then they all know each other, they work near each other, and they communicate all day. If you’ve got twenty artists then you’re herding cats.
The projects can still be big, AAA experiences. You just need to be willing to wait 4 years instead of 2. My position is that if you take the same budget and spread it out over a more relaxed timeframe, you’ll get a superior product for the same money.
If you are making savings by dialing back the expensive voice acting, motion capture, fancy door-touching animation middlware, etc then I can see how you might be able to reduce the budget significantly. Not having to pay for overtime (assuming you are even paying extra for crunch in the first place) would also help.
However, if you are paying the wages of a 100 person studio for the duration of the project then it’s going to be significantly more expensive to pay those wages for four years than it is for two years. While they may make a better game that will make more money, it would logically follow that it’s going to be hard to both double the development time and reduce the budget that wages are coming out of, while still paying the same number of people the same wages.
We might be talking at cross purposes here, but the original comment in this thread was arguing that reducing the budget is going to reduce the amount you can spend on your staff, and to me making a game more slowly, and thus having to spend even more on your staff, isn’t really the solution to that.
Yeah, I misread it as part of the argument about “100 people for 2 years” vs. “50 people for 4 years”.
I do seem to have misinterpreted your intent in what you were suggesting the teams who make less popular genres do with their small budgets, but there does seem to be a key choice to make still.
To me it seems like a situation where you pick two of:
– Lower budget
– Additional development time to avoid crunch and releasing before the game is ready
– Final product with a AAA scope and production values
Unless your plan is to not actually need “additional” development time, but just to allocate it in a smarter manner, so in the end you’re not actually spending more hours on the project in total, but the hours you do spend are more productive.
The issue with that I can see is the implication that a lot of crunch hours are unpaid as it is, so allocating the same number of hours without crunch would have more upfront cost.
The wage portion of budget is equal to the monthly cost of each employee (henceforth ‘monthly wages’ in defiance of the fact that there are lots of things that aren’t technically ‘wages’ in that number), times the number of employees, times the number of months in development.
100 people for 2 years cost the same as 50 people for 4 years- maybe 50 people for 5 years produce more.
But if you go from producing a game every year by having two teams of 100 people each making a game every two years to making one game every four years with a team of 50 people (because the genre has lost popularity and you now saturate it with a game every four years instead of a game every year), the cost of each game is about the same, and you have fewer people ready in case the genre gets big again.
If smaller teams working longer on each project is more efficient, I’d expect that teams of the optimum size would be the most profitable long term. That might be what the indie publishers are- they individually slow to make a game, but because they know how to not spend lots of money on big voice actors and motion capture, and everyone can coordinate, they spend less on it and it earns less less.
The solution I see is one of an insurance/marketing company. Indie publishers pitch an idea to such a company, who takes some fraction of the risk of flop in exchange for some fraction of the gross. Because that company has so much skin in the game, they should also be involved in marketing.
Maybe once Fig gets enough operating capital they could start that.
That means having fewer people doing the same work over a longer timeframe- if the genre loses popularity, people in the studio that serve that genre get laid off or transferred.
That was an entertaining and fun read.
Unlike this stuff which is just sad:
Why System Shock Remaster Kickstarter Backers are Pissed
Flightsimlabs put a virus in their game to harvest passwords and called it DRM
Aww Man. That System Shock update is sad indeed!
Those flight sim guys just prove what I said above about not knowing history.Because sony lost a big lawsuit when they tried something like that in their music cds.
I had just re-read the Twelve Year Mistake articles before reading this and it does seem to me … with 20/20 hindsight … that your best way out of that hole was to have clubbed the CEO of EA insensible, taken over the job and you would be a multi-millionaire already :)
Videogame publishers should have a secondary brand they release rubbish and experimental games under.
Not releasing a bad game can be expensive. Fixing them can sometimes be unfeasible. But if you could release them under a different name marketed in the same way the Risen RPGs are – as flawed games with heart, you’d get the money but not the damage.
You could even actually sell it to a publisher like Deep Silver if need be.
Nice post. It reminded me of Scott Adam’s proposed Out At Five company philosophy from his book The Dilbert Principle. I couldn’t find a copy online (unsurprising) but there is a precis of it here (Ctrl+F Chapter 26).
The article seems to ignore the simple constraint of time.
Sure, if you want a sustainable, developing, wind-at-your-back-forever-sire company that earns fame & riches for the foreseeable 50 years, then this is all good advice.
If, however, you arrive on the scene, beautiful turnaround CEO, a human void filled with shark teeth, and are told by shareholders to “extract maximal value” immediately within the next 2-3 years (because they never look ahead further than that, having no interest in the games industry and plenty of interest in finance), then you’re gonna herd your little human lemmings into a blender and you’re gonna extract the *shit* out of some value. The next guy can clean up the mess (or rather, find more lemmings and do it again).
The people responsible are not stupid (if they were, they wouldn’t get to be in charge. not giving a shit is not stupidity), they know *exactly* what kind of damage they do, and they really could not care less. If you wanted to change how things work, well, you’d just have to build a different system. As some studios have tried to do (say, Nintendo and Valve).
Alternatively, you could try staying small enough to avoid such a scenario. It’s no surefire guarantee (Obsidian could tell you about that), but it’s an option. Not necessarily indie-small, more like 2003-small. This probably isn’t viable in the anglophone part of the globe – costs being what they are – but it can work fine elsewhere. Europe or Japan comes to mind.
People keep advancing this theory, but the problem is they’re not exactly succeeding on that metric either. Bad game releases tank stock prices. When Unity came out, Ubisoft stock prices fell by 12%. Simcity forced an EA CEO to resign. And investors registered their displeasure when Battlefront risked the Star Wars license.
One of these days, I’m actually going to read Peopleware.
One of these days.
I looked at that Start Wars clip a dozen times over before reading on what you think was wrong with it. And the only criticism I had was the way his hand doesn’t actually touch the doorframe, but it seems like he leans against it with his wrist …?
People touching things has always been hard in 3D animation, and this scene looks like someone took a shortcut. If they spent months doing it, I think they should have just let him walk through.
…that said: I’m always in favour of having a small devoted team of nerds somewhere in a room working on far out tech stuff that isn’t strictly required at the moment. Every once in a while, these people will come up with something you can use in a game, and the rest of the world will be very very surprised how you managed to do that thing. It also means that there are always some people in the company who know the complicated technical bits inside out. Superhelpful in case one of the “regular” developers gets stuck on something.
Yup missed the quote from the article – there was nothing wrong with the animation, the problem is that it took them way too many resources to make such tiny detail work – or rather that someone decided that it was worth pouring all those manhours just to make the character lean on the door frame in just the right way.
That’s the point: there is something wrong with it, and it’s precisly the thing they tried so hard to nail: He’s not leaning against the door correctly, he’s cheating by using his wrist somehow, so the animator didn’t have to model the surface of his hand conforming to the surface of the doorframe — which would have been the most tricky part of it all.
I’m pretty certain that the point of that section was not about the not getting the job done, but the fact that they took two months to deliver a feature that was used for 5 seconds and is, by the admission of the journalist, almost imperceptible.
CEO Shamus does not like it when his underlings waste precious resources on something that has no monetary return.
YES, I KNOW WHAT SHAMUS WROTE.
And now look at that video and tell me that they got the hand right.
I mean, *I* walk through doors like that sometimes…
He touches the frame with his wrist because thats how cool people are doing it.
Sports anual games: roster updates, in the case of Football Manager there are also some touches to the match engine and other parts. Latest version makes a nice rework of scouting and adds some good features.
Comparing Shamus to Peter Molyneux is like comparing apples to a tree that will grow from a seed wherever you plant it and it will be amazing.
Shamus for President of Videogames 2020!
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