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Retail

The Price is Wrong

The Price is Wrong

Mon 16 Apr 2012 9:55am GMT / 5:55am EDT / 2:55am PDT
RetailPublishing

Veteran journalist John Walker explains why used games aren't the source of all the industry's woes - the problem is the price-tag.

Recently within these pages, Mr Richard Browne explained what he believed is the real cost of the pre-owned games market. A doom-ridden tale of woe, explaining how re-selling a game has led to the death of variety, the loss of the AA market, and the refusal of publishers to take risks. There was an unfortunate mistake in the diatribe. When he used the phrase, "Of course, in reality it's pure conjecture without any evidence," he failed to attach it to any of his own arguments. Because there isn't a single scrap of evidence or reason supporting his complaints.

Browne's soothsaying is an attempt to lay the blame of every major failing in the games industry at the foot of the consumer (although pretending he's blaming the retailer, who are of course only responding to their customers). But those consumers are exercising just about the only right they have left when it comes to games ownership.

I'd suggest that the lack of any evidence is because the pre-owned game market has caused none of this, but rather the blame lays with the seemingly limitless hubris of the publishers.

The argument over re-selling games is pretty simple, and not the point of this reply. To get it out of the way, imagine you recently bought a 3DS, but, deciding it's just not for you, you opt to sell it to a friend to fund the purchase of a Playstation Vita. Your friend pays you 100, and off you go. But the next day you find a Nintendo goon at your door, demanding 20 of your money. (Oh, and at your friend's door, demanding another tenner from him before he can switch it on.)

You can take hardware to your local GameStation or CEX, and the manufacturers aren't showing up demanding their tithe, so why should this be any different for software?

You'd tell them where to shove themselves, right? But this is the argument being made by publishers when they require a cut from shops reselling games. You can take hardware to your local GameStation or CEX, and the manufacturers aren't showing up demanding their tithe, so why should this be any different for software? And why should you, a consumer, not be allowed to resell your own property? Rights are being violated all over the place.

The attempt to control - or even entirely obliterate - the pre-owned market is an attempt to prevent people from selling their own goods, to interfere with the free market, and to artificially induce massive depreciation of your own products. And when a game costs quite so much money in the first place - 45/$60 - it is no wonder that most people cannot afford to buy all they want at full price. And that is the point. This is a matter of how publishers behave, not what retailers and consumers do with the results.

With the average console game clocking in at eight hours before multiplayer, and industry figures showing the average gamer only buys nine full-price games in the lifetime of their console, they're getting around 70 hours of gaming over five or six years. If it's someone's hobby, they're probably going to want a little bit more than that.

I'm not saying that the prices are too high - publishers can charge what they like. I'm saying that, at those rates, the industry should expect there to be consequences and find better ways to cope with them.

Richard Browne declares that the homogenisation of gaming is a consequence of the pre-owned market, although forgets to actually say how they're connected. Perhaps he means that the twelfty-hundred billion dollars a year publishers claim they're losing to pre-owned sales is forcing them to only make sure-fire hits, those that are popular with the audience rather than... Wait, no, it doesn't hold up, does it? When you're only going to buy - let's be generous - two full-price games a year, you're going to want to make sure you're definitely getting value for your hefty deposit of cash. So you're far, far more likely to go for something you know rather than take a risk. As ridiculous as it may seem, it's not the lack of risk-taking on the side of the publishers that's the issue - it's the consumer's understandable reticence to take purchasing risks due to the high price of the products.

And of course publishers want to make hits. They exist to make vast amounts of money for their shareholders. If they "take risks" it's because they strongly believe there is good revenue in doing so. They aren't creatives, desperately hoping to please the gamer - they're a business, trying to make money. And they know the big bucks are, currently, in very particular types of games, so those are the games they make.

The reason publishers believe it's impossible to create more diverse games for less money, with smaller sales predicted, is not because someone might take their copy of it to GAME three weeks later, but because the publisher will still insist on charging 35 to 50 for it. An enormous amount of a person's money for a short amount of a person's time, which they'll obviously prefer to spend on War Shooter VIII because they know they loved War Shooters I to VII (apart from IV, obviously - that sucked).

And the reason publishers believe they have to work in tacked-on multiplayer content to combat those reselling their games is not the fault of those reselling the games. It's the fault of the publishers for pretending it's an issue in the first place, and then going to such ludicrous lengths to scupper it.

Blocking the options for pre-owned games is not a valiant attempt to save the games industry. It's a calculated attack on consumers and retailers

To understand the frantic attempts to demonise the second-hand market you need only look at the similarly conspiratorial behaviour of the film and music industries. All are overflowing with money, and all are desperately trying to appear as if they're barely surviving, dressed in rags, forced to sue their own grandmothers for the money to eat. Shareholders see it as lost revenue, they're expected to do something about it, and so they'll do anything they can other than cut costs to the consumer.

Like the arguments against piracy - in which publishers pretend that every pirated copy is a lost sale, without doing any research to demonstrate this (and indeed ignoring all the research that shows it to be utter nonsense) - there is no attempt to prove that games bought second-hand would automatically have been a full-price sale were they not available. Instead, it's just declared to be the case, no matter how obviously flawed such a notion is, and then acted upon.

The real cost of used games? It's enlightened customers to the fact that they're being charged a great deal of money, and so they've embraced a system that allows them to share the price among themselves. And canny retailers have realised it means they can keep selling the same product over and over, each time keeping all the money for themselves. If publishers want to see this stop, they need only lower the price of their games. They need to stop acting like the budgets they spend are imposed upon them by some mad wizard, and spend less on making great games. Or, they can just accept that people have the right to sell their own property, and attempting to prevent this is a grotesque abuse of basic rights.

Pretending that the loss of single-player content, variety, and mid-tier gaming (whatever that means) have anything to do with pre-owned games is a sleight of hand to distract from where we should be focusing our attention. However angry Mr Browne is with his customers for resisting the ever-growing prices he wants them to pay, punching them in the face and shouting "IT'S STILL GOOD VALUE!" is a tactic Tesco rarely employs, and for good reason. Blocking the options for pre-owned games is not a valiant attempt to save the games industry. It's a calculated attack on consumers and retailers that is only more likely to harm their own businesses.

84 Comments

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,485 1,254 0.8
If publishers want to see this stop, they need only lower the price of their games
It really is becoming a tired argument, but it's true. Look at the PC market (and Steam sales) and learn. Learn that consumers put a monetary value on your game that isn't necessarily the same as what you put on it, and when it hits that point (or starts at that point) it'll sell. Heaps. It's not that games aren't worth 35 pounds, or that gamers are averse to spending 35, it's that not all games are worth 35.

Of course, this requires publishers and developers being objective about the game that they're selling, and pricing them accordingly. Indies are entirely willing to do this, and they recoup the costs of their game extraordinarily fast. But larger publishers - generally speaking - don't want to.

Posted:2 years ago

#1

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
All this is a consequence of the tired old console business model. It started like this because cartridges were so expensive to make that they had to charge a lot for them. And they got away with it because consoles act as anti piracy dongles. It continues because games need to be expensive in order for the platform holders to get back the initial loss they took on selling the hardware.

But now there are app stores and in game purchases as a business model and the world has moved on. Sure, inertia means that certain sorts of games still find their way to market the old fashioned way. But the world is changing incredibly quickly.

Personally I think that Sony and Microsoft will have to come up with something very special indeed to persuade consumers to buy into another console generation in historic numbers.
And, of course, the Apple console will follow the app store model and will be wildly successful, taking Apple stock over $1,000!

Posted:2 years ago

#2

Tameem Antoniades
Creative Director & Co-founder

196 164 0.8
Isn't it more complicated than that? Why aren't 5 hour games sold for 15-20 for example?

Posted:2 years ago

#3

Preet D Bass
student

92 13 0.1
This guy the nail on the coffin. This console gen has shown the true colours of these publishers. I hope a better publisher comes and wipe them out.

Posted:2 years ago

#4

Paolo Giunti
Localisation Project Manager

42 8 0.2
Yup, this article makes a lot of sense, and i recognize myself, as a consumer, in the behavior John described.

Back when i was an EA employee, i could benefit of company discounts for their games. Out of all the games i bought (in a span of 3 years) using the employee-discount, there's only two titles i would have bought at full price anyway.

Posted:2 years ago

#5
@ Tameem Hear hear!

Shouldnt devs/publishers be able to release games in tiers of pricing relative to its content/value instead of a artificially high 35.99-39.99?

Posted:2 years ago

#6

Tommy Thompson
Lecturer in BSc (Hons) Computer Games Programming.

44 28 0.6
@Chee

I can imagine if we go that route Activision will charge >60 for subsequent CODs on the grounds of 'near infinite value'. You heard it here first. ;-)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Tommy Thompson on 16th April 2012 12:49pm

Posted:2 years ago

#7

Robin Clarke
Producer

297 681 2.3
I think it's a little bit naive to assume retailers are automatically working in the best interest of customers. Buying used games for a pittance and selling them for 5 off the RRP (which still often works out at more than buying online) doesn't seem like that great a deal. Nor is anybody arguing that publishers should get a cut from preowned games - at least, Richard Browne's piece wasn't.

The link between publishers having a brief window to sell as many first hand copies at full price before they have to compete with preowned, and publishers taking great pains to dress up every release as a GTA-style epoch-shattering 'event' seems fairly plausible to me.

As for publishers being the sole arbiters of price - I expect that retailers are more keen to take full price products, because anything else can't be used to fuel the preowned treadmill. A difficult deadlock to break.

Posted:2 years ago

#8

Felix Leyendecker
Senior 3D Artist

181 200 1.1
First of all, it's a really bad analogy to compare hardware to software. Hardware deteriorates with use, gets scuffed, worn and eventually stops working. Games as an immaterial good don't degrade in quality and the experience as a first, second or 50th owner is exactly the same.

Seeing as eliminating used games worked well for PC, it don't see it as an anti-consumer move.

What I think needs to happen is that platform owners find a way to eliminate the used games business in the form of gamestop, while still allowing used game sales among friends. For example, you could have a friend list tied to your account, and if you want to sell a game to your friend, he can register and tie the game to his account, then "own" it without having to spend 10$ to unlock it or buying it over again. This could be limited to a small number of transactions, say 5.

Finally, it's worth mentioning that shutting out used games doesn't mean everyone will always have to pay full price for games no matter what. Retailers can still slash prices on old games or slow sellers, just like they do today.

Posted:2 years ago

#9

gi biz
;,pgc.eu

341 51 0.1
I couldn't agree more with that.
And that reminds me, with MegaUpload shutting down and the likes preemptively stopping their sharing services, many of us would like to see numbers showing improved sales. This didn't happen as far as I know, so I take it whatever demonization coming out of publishers is not even worth reading.

Posted:2 years ago

#10

Spungo McGee
Reviewer

40 44 1.1
"First of all, it's a really bad analogy to compare hardware to software. Hardware deteriorates with use, gets scuffed, worn and eventually stops working. Games as an immaterial good don't degrade in quality and the experience as a first, second or 50th owner is exactly the same."

This is, of course, utter rubbish. My ancient GBA SP is still in immaculate condition, whereas game discs I bought at the same time are a scratched, unreliable mess. Others won't load at all, but were released by long-dead publishers and can't be replaced. PC games no longer work with modern versions of Windows, even under supposed compatibility modes.

Still more discs were made by surviving publishers, but who either have no back-catalogue stock or want to charge a ludicrous sum for a replacement, despite the fact that I supposedly bought a licence to play the game, not a disc. I have cartridges with dead save batteries, now just paperweights unless I want to play an entire 40-hour adventure in a single sitting.

And that's without even getting into the state of the packaging - bent and torn by use, faded by sunlight on shelves, cracked or broken or tatty in countless other ways.

Sort yourself out, eh?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Spungo McGee on 16th April 2012 1:28pm

Posted:2 years ago

#11
While I think this article makes several valid/good points, I don't think its all correct.

Over a recent conversation with a friend of mine, we came up with a new definition for the term "hardcore" (gamer): the more money someone is willing to spend on a given game, the more hardcore they are.

This has nothing to do with the duration of games. Take Pokemon for example: players can easily get 50-100hrs (if not more) out of a Pokemon game, yet it can be priced for $40AU (say $30US). And it sells in massive numbers.

So why isn't it priced for $60US? Because they would lose a huge number of sales, and bring the *total* revenue/profit for the game lower. Its based on audience/market analysis.

A contrasting example would be some of the niche Japanese fighters/RPGs - selling for over 7000 yen (almost $100AU). It doesn't sell a lot of units - but it sells those units at a higher price, because the followers are "more hardcore". Drop the price, and the overall revenue drops.

Now - publishers don't control consoles. Hardware manufacturers do, so publishers have nothing to complain about. Plus, the more times a device changes hands - the more likely the new user is to buy peripherals, extra games, etc. Everyone in the chain wins.

Additionally, hardware "wears out". The more used a console/handheld is, the less "real" value it has (like a car). Digital media doesn't wear out - it either works or doesn't work.

Another problem with second-hand games, is that often the retailers sell the used games "as new" (this is common place in Australia, i.e. JB Hifi) as a full-priced title. Sometimes its not even marked as 2nd-hand. The consumer gets ripped off, the publishers get ripped off, and the retailers make double profits on these titles.

I never sell my games 2nd-hand to stores: the buy price is usually a rip-off (I'll trade or sell it directly to friends instead). The exception being when the "buy" price at a store is above the "sell" price at another store (happened a few times).

Maybe the publishers should get together, and put together their own conglomerate of retail stores. Sell the games at a lower-retail margin, and break the used-game cycle (no buy, no sell).

Posted:2 years ago

#12

Felix Leyendecker
Senior 3D Artist

181 200 1.1
As long as the medium is intact, the experience of playing the game stays exactly the same and doesn't degrade, no matter how many previous owners the game had.
Gamestop will make sure the disc isn't scratched or it won't sell it to you, some guy on ebay will make sure as well or you will ask your money back, give him a bad review, etc.

Posted:2 years ago

#13

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,485 1,254 0.8
@ Michael

An interesting definition of "hardcore", but I think it's ultimately flawed due to the publishers (I would assume) pricing the same products differently across different countries.

http://store.steampowered.com/app/57400/?cc=au
http://store.steampowered.com/app/57400/?cc=us
http://store.steampowered.com/app/57400/?cc=gb

Once again, the publishers determine how much a game sells for (on Steam, anyways).

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 16th April 2012 5:31pm

Posted:2 years ago

#14

Harrison Smith
Studying Games and Graphics Programming

75 4 0.1
I would like to see Pay per hour type systems for single player focused games, where instead of free to play with micro transactions, players would pay for as long as they want to play, with each hour costing around a few pounds (developer would decide). Games then move from premium upfront payments to more services, where the developer wants the player to keep playing so continually updates the experience. The first hour can act as a demo, and a player no longer has to take risk and spends more money if they are enjoying the game. Those who give it a miss might spend a few pounds, while those who love it might spend 100s. I see some potential in this sought of payment scheme if done right.

Posted:2 years ago

#15

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,485 1,254 0.8
@ Felix

Out of curiousity, do you count the use of a one-time-only DLC code as degradation? I'm not sure I do, if I'm honest. The medium is intact, but the content itself is devalued, due to the consumer who bought it new using the code.

Posted:2 years ago

#16

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

555 607 1.1
Agree 100% with Mr. Walker. Something that is also open to publishers, but what (at least to my knowledge) nobody has started yet:

do your own used copy sales!

Amazon and play.com offer a consumer marketplace where consumers and companies can list their own stock of used items for re-sale. Why does EA not create an account with Amazon and allow gamers to send in their used games (even in return for EA credit - which would keep the money with the publisher), and re-sell the used copy for half price again. Perhaps halfprice +5 USD and includes a brand new online pass - something a highstreet retailer could not offer.

Yes, it would probably mean a bit of added infrastructure, but at the same time it would allow publishers to give great deal to customers, gain their loyalty and get them away from giving used copies back to highstreet retailers. Publishers can make a ton of money that they now loose out on.

Obviously lowering cose overall is the ideal solution, allowing gamers to purchase more games per year and paying full price for something they are not sure about.

Posted:2 years ago

#17

Tommy Thompson
Lecturer in BSc (Hons) Computer Games Programming.

44 28 0.6
@Felix What I think needs to happen is that platform owners find a way to eliminate the used games business in the form of gamestop, while still allowing used game sales among friends

So do we eliminate the possibility of selling via eBay, car boot sales etc? Using any sort of scheme that ties titles to consoles will make the consumer think twice about what to buy - unless you drop the price. Given that consoles still focus on disc-driven delivery, there has to be the option to sell the disc if you no-longer want to keep it. Peoples attitudes to digital content differ, but tend to be significantly cheaper than their physical counterparts.

I would argue such an approach would force consumers to continue their focus on AAA, multi-player driven games to ensure they get the perceived 'value' for their money. Once the game has ran its course - a year or two with continued online play - then they will feel happy to discard the game given the impending sequel or loss of interest. Is it not better to give people more incentive to pick up day/week 1 purchases with a lower RRP rather than forcing them to become even more strategic in their selection?

Posted:2 years ago

#18

Lewis Mills
Creative Partner

18 0 0.0
the problem with this is that we haven't defined what we have purchased. At best nothing more than a bit of plastic, at most a licence to play the game. The game is not my personal property.

Posted:2 years ago

#19

Felix Leyendecker
Senior 3D Artist

181 200 1.1
@Tommy: "So do we eliminate the possibility of selling via eBay, car boot sales etc? Using any sort of scheme that ties titles to consoles will make the consumer think twice about what to buy - unless you drop the price."

Yes. I'm not much of a used game buyer myself, but I'd wager the majority of game reselling happens through gamestop of privately between friends. With ebay you have ebay-fees, mail fees, and so on, so I think many people think it's too much trouble and sell it to gamestop instead.

And regarding "I would argue such an approach would force consumers to continue their focus on AAA, multi-player driven games" Skyrim sale numbers on steam prove you wrong there.

@Morville: Yes, this is obviously a degradation, but it won't be needed anymore to have any of this when resales are no longer an option. Rage had locked content like this, but not on PC.

About dropping the price, yes, pricing will have to become more flexible, but if you look at skyrim on PC, it sold several million units on steam at full price, with no option to resell it. So it's not as simple as "insane sale deals or bust".

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Felix Leyendecker on 16th April 2012 2:06pm

Posted:2 years ago

#20

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,485 1,254 0.8
@ Felix

The full sentence of Tommy's that you quote bears examination

"I would argue such an approach would force consumers to continue their focus on AAA, multi-player driven games to ensure they get the perceived 'value' for their money"

There's no doubt that Skyrim is value for money. Even a single run-through clocks 35 hours+ which means 1 per hour. But what about games which last less time? Most single-player FPS campaigns run to about 6 or 7 hours (Syndicate, MW3, BF3, Crysis 2). What value is there then? Multiplayer, and that's it.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 16th April 2012 2:23pm

Posted:2 years ago

#21

kyfhgjf
Founder/ Creative Director

5 0 0.0
I agree with this article and, interestingly, last week published the first part in a mini series of blogs which explore the financial breakdown of console games.
I'd be grateful if you guys could check it out and give me feedback to help shape the 2nd part.
Cheers.
[link url=""]http://gloliquid.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/digital-decay-in-progress/[/link]

Posted:2 years ago

#22

Tommy Thompson
Lecturer in BSc (Hons) Computer Games Programming.

44 28 0.6
@Felix.

In my opinion selling via GAME, GameStop etc. is a fools game. You can make far more money off of titles that are still 12-18 months old via eBay in my experience. But hey, to each their own.

Referring to your last post, yes Skyrim doesn't fit into the multi-player driven bracket, but you omitted the last part of that quote: "to ensure they get the perceived 'value' for their money". The number of play hours in what is undoubtedly a massive single player game will certainly provide value for money in the same way as continuing to play BF3 or MW3 online.

Your argument those sales numbers prove me wrong doesn't *really* work, given it's Skyrim: a widely marketed game with strong critic ratings and word of mouth, which also carries good value for money. What about decent single-player experiences that simply don't match the size, scale and perceived 'value' of Skyrim? Take games such as Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Enslaved: Odyssey of the West or Vanquish: three decent single player games that didn't really sell that well despite reasonable critical acclaim - metacritics of 85, 82 and 84 with sales of roughly 1.16, 0.83 and 0.82 million respectively according to VGChartz. Combined these three titles can't even reach 1/4 of the likes of Skyrim (approx. 11.5m) with over a years more time on the shelf. If these games are priced at 40 under the restrictions you suggest - meaning I can not resell the game except under specific, strict conditions - and put them next to titles of similar size and marketing push as Skyrim, which would I pick? Would I not want to ensure I have spent my 40 wisely in case I can't get rid of this game? In this instance I would imagine these 'lesser' titles will suffer even more.

Posted:2 years ago

#23

Tommy Thompson
Lecturer in BSc (Hons) Computer Games Programming.

44 28 0.6
Ah, I believe Morville made my point more succinctly, as well as half an hour ago. Students at your door: an occupational hazard.

Posted:2 years ago

#24

John Bye
Senior Game Designer

479 443 0.9
The truth is obviously somewhere between the extreme views presented in these editorials.

Would many games make more money at a lower price point? Definitely. Most games drop to 20 or less within a year (in the UK at least) anyway, and selling them at that price from the start would mean stronger sales, particularly for new IP and smaller titles. But the behaviour of companies like GAME and Gamestop is clearly hurting the industry too.

You only have to look at how much shelf space is dedicated to pre-owned to see that it's having a negative impact on the industry, as there's then less store space to stock and promote smaller and back catalogue titles. If you walk into an average Gamestation, maybe three quarters of the store is taken up by second hand games, and it's almost impossible to tell which are new and which are used because they're not individually labelled. Aside from the chart and a handful of big new releases, many stores seem to have little or no new stock at all, and even big titles are often conveniently out of stock so your only option is to buy used (or go elsewhere).

Even if you find a new copy of the game you want and take it to the till, the person serving you has been told by head office to ask you if you want a used copy instead and has quotas to meet. And let's face it, who wouldn't want to save a couple of quid? Especially if they're not told they'll have to fork out four or five times that much to get the bonus DLC and/or multiplayer access that would have come free with the new copy they were originally going to buy.

The problem isn't gamers selling their old games on eBay or trading them with their friends. It's the big high street retailers that encourage people to rush through new games and trade them in as quickly as they can, restricting stock and shelf space for new games to make ever more room for lucrative used copies, and pushing used copies on customers at the till even when it's not in their best interests.

Everybody is getting hurt by this behaviour, from the publishers and developers to the customers. Just look at Gamestop, who were recently sued by customers in California for failing to notify them about charges for "free" bonus content in second hand games.

Posted:2 years ago

#25

Felix Leyendecker
Senior 3D Artist

181 200 1.1
About the points regarding skyrim, ok, fair enough, it's either MP or super-lengthy SP or the game won't sell.

It's a shame that valve refuses to publish steam sales data, or we could have a closer look at what sells and what doesn't when used games are locked out.

I personally think it won't make a huge difference, really. Publishers avoid releasing games that are not a.) MP-focused or b.) super long, so they won't get resold so quickly. When used games are no longer a factor, they will keep avoiding to release games like this, because they are simply less value for the money, as it's happening now on steam.

Another point which is largely overlooked is nintendo. They never reduce their prices and get away with it because they deliver the quality, and they don't have the same over-saturated games catalogue as the other platforms. Their used games aren't readily available at gamestop because fewer people trade them in. This means they likely don't have as big of a problem with used games the way MS and Sony do, so they could afford stepping out of this game and not enforce such a rule, which would be good PR for them.

The point I'm trying to make is that it isn't as black-and-white as people are making it out to be. Cutting of used games doesn't mean you have to introduce a DD-only steam model with aggressive price cuts, or an app-store model with no TCRs and an unhealthy race to the bottom. I also don't think they will cut off used games entirely, just like they won't switch to DD only within a year. You can still buy boxed PC games in stores, even though they are worthless without steam and can't be resold.
It will be more of a gradual process.

Posted:2 years ago

#26
(These are my opinions and should not be understood as those of my employer.)

Some publishers - in fact, a small minority - have expressed their unhappiness with the used market in unhelpful, perhaps even counterproductive, language. It seems unfair, however, to suggest all publishers are conspiring to grotesquely abuse basic rights. Certainly I haven't heard anyone suggest anything like this where I work, next to the shark pool in the secret laboratory under the volcano on Skull Island.

Instead, we're trying to surmount the challenge the used trade presents, to answer the question it poses to our businesses:

Why would a gamer spend N on a new game when the retailer suggests he might instead want a used copy in almost-as-good-that-you-won't-notice-the-difference condition for just N-2?

(by the way, publishers don't set prices in stores and there is a variety of 'price points'.)

Posted:2 years ago

#27

Felix Leyendecker
Senior 3D Artist

181 200 1.1
Why would a gamer spend N on a new game when the retailer suggests he might instead want a used copy in almost-as-good-that-you-won't-notice-the-difference condition for just N-2?

I guess these are the possible answers:

1.) Give the original buyer an incentive to keep it, so that second-hand copies never enter circulation
2.) Give incentives to people buying it new, make them unavailable to second-hand owners.
3.) Make used games impossible by locking all games to your account.

1 is the only politically correct option, and the hardest to pull off.
2 is already happening and not well-received as it essentially means online passes and locked out content.
3 is the most effective solution, as demonstrated by steam.

Posted:2 years ago

#28
do your own used copy sales!
I have to say that there is a certain attractiveness to this concept. The potential to keep money in larger parts with publishers, while reacting to the recent market trend of pre-owned gamesales, is indeed a clever move. By giving customers an opportunity to sell their used games in a more publisher controlled enviroment, seems to be a win-win scenario.

However, I only see profitability in this approach, if any third parties e.g. online retailers are excluded from the publisher's own pre-owned marketplace. A co-operation with external parties would not only diminish revenues, but would also put publisher in dependency of their partners.

Consequentially, a publisher controlled 2nd hand market is only feasible for bigger players. Those are more likely to realize an independent sales infrastructure free from external dependency.

Also cannibalisation could be a concern where the publisher is selling the same products though different channels.

Posted:2 years ago

#29

Andrew Jakobs
Lead Programmer

223 83 0.4
It really is becoming a tired argument, but it's true. Look at the PC market (and Steam sales) and learn
Uhm.. You cannot resel a game bought on Steam, you can with a physical copy (for now).

You can't sell an AAA-title for 10 pounds/euro's/dollars on first day, the budgets these days have risen so much compared to the selling price of the game (which hasn't risen a bit), just check how much a game cost about 20 years ago, you also got the same amount of playing time, and it still costs the same as games these days..

Certainly a lot of games aren't worth 35 or more, but most games can be bought for that price on release if you shop around. Just wait a while and you can get a lot of games for much less, brand spanking new. It's the gameshops are actually ripping you off if you bring in a secondhand game, they give you about 5 pounds off a new game, but sell your copy for at least 20, so they make a LOT of profit.. and that's what bothers publishers.. they don't mind the reselling between customers (so much), but they loath the dealings of the shops.. Secondhand games are sometimes more profitable now than selling new games, and it has even become a big business now with a lot of shops which in the past didn't sell any secondhand like HMV (UK)..

And Indies don't spend millions of dollars on their game, so yeah, it's much easier for them to go with a lower price..

Posted:2 years ago

#30

Charlie Moritz
Studying Philosophy with Psychology

19 0 0.0
Very good article! I don't even buy used games and I agree!
I mean just look at sales of games like Dungeon Defenders and Terraria. Budget titles indeed but I don't see anyone pirating these games cos they only cost 8 when they came out!!! Triple AAA titles may be great and require more input, but spending 45 on a game is not what I signed on for. I'll buy Diablo 3 for 30 thanks very much, who would buy that used anyway? :P

Posted:2 years ago

#31

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,485 1,254 0.8
@ Andrew

"You can't sell an AAA-title for 10 pounds/euro's/dollars on first day"

Ah. And what do you class a AAA game? To me, there's 2 types of AAA - AAA Quality, and AAA Budget.

Dear Esther
Legend of Grimrock
Stacking

All 3 are AAA in quality. All 3 retail for $10-$15 on Steam. Dear Esther and LoG made their dev costs back in 3 days.

And then we have AAA in terms of Budget

Modern Warfare 3
The Old Republic
Syndicate
Mass Effect 3

Can you spot the difference in quality, innovation, and polish?

"And Indies don't spend millions of dollars on their game, so yeah, it's much easier for them to go with a lower price.. "

And yet they still provide as good, if not better, quality game as the big-budget 35 titles produced by EA and Activision. That surely says something, no?

"you also got the same amount of playing time, and it still costs the same as games these days.."

Dungeon Master cost me 25 on the Amiga. It lasted me 100+ hours. I still return to it. Meanwhile, I've grown weary of Battlefield 3, considering its 6 hour singleplayer campaign and tiring multiplayer.

Edit:

The assumption that all AAA games have to cost a vast amount to develop and thus cost a vast amount to buy is shocking. Budget does not always equal quality, and final retail price does not always equal what the game is worth, monetarily, to the consumer.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 16th April 2012 5:14pm

Posted:2 years ago

#32
Certainly a lot of games aren't worth 35 or more, but most games can be bought for that price on release if you shop around. Just wait a while and you can get a lot of games for much less, brand spanking new.
But isn't that another facet of the same problem? That even AAA games see their prices collapse, often within just a few weeks of launch?

If high profile titles fall to 20 or less within a month or so, that's retail reacting to the consumer, who is indirectly telling the industry that this is the price point where they'll make an impulse purchase.

Therefore it stands to reason that the smart thing to do would be to develop with that in mind. Instead of spending tens of millions on one massive project that has to sell at full price, make two projects for half the cost and sell them for half the price. Cut your cloth to suit the market.

Instead, what we're seeing is a lot of publishers saying "But games cost so much to make!" as if that's something that is out of their hands, and then charging 40 just because the industry dogma is "that's how much games should cost".

It's a bad habit. A vicious circle. And pouring the blame downhill until it lands on the consumer is a good way to make them stop being a consumer. Saying "game prices haven't gone up" may be true from a financial/inflationary point of view, but that means sweet cock all to the person weighing up the cost of a new game versus the weekly food shopping.

Posted:2 years ago

#33

Geoff Richards
Commercial Manager

6 0 0.0
I was initially surprised by the "only 9 full price games per console lifetime" link in this story, though reflecting on my own collection, it seems reasonable. Especially as it's only an average.

As another angle on this whole Buy vs Second Hand debate, I wonder what impact the likes of LoveFilm et al have, where "canny" gamers are merely paying a few quid a month to rent the latest discs. They blast through the single-player in a few hours (as discussed above) then move on to the next title.

They are neither contributing to the New Sales figures, nor fuelling the Second-Hand merry-go-round.

There is surely a growing erosion of sales for games just the same as there is for movies. Plenty of people just stream via Lovefilm / Netflix instead of buying DVDs - why have the hassle of storing hundreds of films (nevermind the cost) when you can stream on demand?

Posted:2 years ago

#34
Mr Moritz,

It interests me when people say they don't see relatively inexpensive games being 'pirated', because a cursory Google search usually supplies evidence to the contrary.

Google for Dungeon Defenders torrent and the second result reveals that, according to Pirate Bay, 93 people are currently seeding it and 13 leeching it; a Terraria torrent has 63 seeders and no leechers.

Even free games are pirated.

Posted:2 years ago

#35

Tom Park
co-founder

1 0 0.0
Blocking players out of used games -- that's the death throes of a dinosaur business model.

Freemium will eventually beat the full price market, including most hardcore gaming. Currently you can argue that "free" is a lever that's used to compete against "quality", but the quality of freemium games will improve until it matches other AAA titles. Even before then, freemium will have disrupted the old business models; it's already happening. Eventually, it'll be big publishers who are excelling in the freemium space.

Posted:2 years ago

#36

James Ingrams
Writer

215 84 0.4
"Seeing as eliminating used games worked well for PC, it don't see it as an anti-consumer move."

You have to be joking right? Name 5 PC games this past year that were AAA and PC only, and how many will be console conversions?! Conversely, how many AAA games were 360 or PS3 exclusives?!

The fact is removing second hand PC games has just driven many gamers to piracy in the first instant to test the game, and only then buy it if it's a good conversion! Do we need to drive gamers to piracy where we may lose them?

It's all very well talking about indie games as being part of the PC market, but I see it as part of the indictment of the format, sort of like calling petrol driven lawnmowers as part of the luxury car market! (no offence intended!)

The No.1 problem, as I see it, is the mainstream gaming media. It is there for the industry, not the gamers, so when HL2 EP1 came out with 5 hours gameplay for 20 UK retail, there was no debate about his whatsoever. It's like all the media dare do is say whether a game is good or not! Hence, when we started getting 45 ten hour gameplay games, the gaming media said that was average. Since when?

There is a market showing the way, but the mainstream media is so "owned" by the big U.S. publishers, that it generally belittles it, and that's the quality AA and AAA PC games coming out of Europe. These titles are not have 30 million spent on them, but closer to 10 million. This means they can sell that many fewer and still make a decent profit! Games like STALKER, Metro 2033, Drakensang, Gothic/Risen, Sacred, Two Worlds, Space Rangers,etc. Excellent European AAA PC titles almost never get above the mid 80's,and yet quite dire U.S. AAA titles (Dragon Age II?) still get mid 90's!

It's quite blatantly,in my view, a biased gaming media! One example: Bioshock had "revitalization tubes" that brought you back to life. The gaming media saw this as "keeping the story flowing". Two Worlds had "revitalization shrines" and the media said this was just a cheat. Same thing, and in one U.S. game it's a benefit and a negative thing in a European game.

So until the mainstream gaming media gets a backbone. Realises there is not just "movie blockbusters" and "made for TV" games, but also a Sundance Festival" level of well made, mostly European AA and AAA games coming out of Europe, being made at the right price, offering excellent gameplay in comparison and is much more gamer driven (The free Witcher enhancement pack?).

This European method is the future of the survival of the PC market, and by extension, the console market (the console market would not be what it is today if, at the peak of gaming , in the 90's, games like Doom, X-Com and Baldur's Gate weren't being converted from PC to console!). Yet the mainstream media generally ignore it and just go around in circles: "Oblivion is the best thing since slice bread" - until Skyrim is announced, then it's "Well,Oblivion had this problem and that problem!". Now we have a "perfect" Skyrim, until the next Elder Scrolls comes out! This is the sum total of 25 years of mainstream gaming media. When Mr. Walker was around the media represented the gamer. Now we have a media that supports the industry!

Posted:2 years ago

#37

James Stanard
Senior Engine Programmer

8 13 1.6
Perhaps I'm looking for another sales model to go along with the current one. I'd like the option to *not* be able to resell my game, and in exchange, that game should cost less overall.

With cinema, you have the option to pay for a seat at the theater and enjoy the experience one time. You don't "own" that experience. You can't "resell" that experience. And it costs a bit less than if you did. Later on, you get the ability to purchase and even resell that experience in the form of a disc, but that costs a bit more.

I think Steam works surprisingly well even though you're locked into your purchases because the entry price for most games is significantly less than for boxed copies. And then you get many additional perks on top of it being cheaper: Never lose or scratch your disc again. Install on other compatible platforms (Mac). Don't worry about them running out of copies. No annoying sales guys trying to get you to offload your old games. Release date delivery is always available.

With DRM that locks you in, you should also get so many benefits that you don't care. Perhaps we still need boxed retail so that there can be a used games market and consumer freedom, but make sure to reward those who choose to opt out of the used games scene. Sony should take note. The reason people aren't downloading as many games from PSN, especially when a boxed version is available, is because you're offering no perks. Mass Effect 3 as a download costs full retail price, can't be resold, can't be lent to a friend, and requires a *very* long wait to download. Why would you pick that over a (usually cheaper) boxed copy?

Posted:2 years ago

#38

Rick Lopez
Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,269 941 0.7
Regarding the article: "No shit sherlock"

But anyway, when a game like " asura's wrath" that lasts around 6 hours is priced at 60$ and then a few weeks later they say they are going to offer a DLC that will show the games "real" ending that really sucks.

"bullet storm" is also another game... it lasts around 6 hours and DLC was announced on day one...

Mortal Kombat... you pay 60$ for a fighting game, only too have DLC come out every month for it so you can have the " Komplete" exirience. naturally they released the 'Komplete" collection. But this really sucks for those day one buyers.

then there is Vanquish... that game lasted 3-4 hours tops. And honestly its a game thats probably one of the best of its kind. However, I did not get it until the price went down to 20$ for a brand new copy. Makes me wonder how many units could have been shifted if the price tags on games was cheaper.

Im also reluctant to buy DLC when I buy a game at 60$. However with lower prices, DLC may be more appealing. However Im not stupid and it annoys me when a developer announces DLC right at the games release.

After what I went thogh with Street Fighter IV and marvel versus capcom, im passing on Tekken x Street fighter, until the release the " super ultra edition complete defenitive ultimate edition".

i Really find it easier to pick up games valued at 20$ to 40$.

Games like Asuras Wrath, Vanquish, bullet storm, could clearly be priced lower, while games like saints row 3, Mass Effect and Xenoblade can be priced higher because the offer more hours of play, content and things to do.

I generally purchase most game systems. however with the PS Vita, i wont even consider a purchase because of how expensive the system and games are.

A game like Rayman origines could easily have sold more at 30$ then at 60$. I picked it up after a price drop. then there is " El Shaddai" beautiful game, but its still not a game that falls within the production quality, range and costs of mass effect or assasins creed. Why would they sell it at 60$????

Anyway, im just talking about my personal expiriences with buying games and why I agree that prices should go down. Besides if prices go down, game retailers cant get so much money from them.

If you sell a game at 30$ retailers will be forced to resell the game at 15$-25$, in which case buying the game new would be more appealing.

Posted:2 years ago

#39

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,485 1,254 0.8
@ James Ingrams

Generally I agree with you. Certainly the gaming media is spineless and bought in many many ways (or do people here really think Dragon Age 2 was worth 94%?).

However...

"The fact is removing second hand PC games has just driven many gamers to piracy in the first instant to test the game, and only then buy it if it's a good conversion!"

Y'see, there's enough assumptions about piracy without this comment. Yes, people try before they buy through piracy. But blaming the removal of second-hand games for that is making a leap, and your comment about conversions is... questionable.

Sales of games on Steam are high, and sales of Steamworks games can be even higher. This surely illustrates that the removal of second-hand games has done nothing to stop PC sales. Look at Deus Ex:HR, The Witcher 1 and 2, the Warhammer 40k RTSs, the Civ games. Everyone here is using Skyrim as an example, so I shall too - on PC it's a Steamworks game, which prevents resale. Do you think that has negatively impacted its sales, either through piracy, or through the lack of second-hand?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 16th April 2012 6:31pm

Posted:2 years ago

#40

Felix Leyendecker
Senior 3D Artist

181 200 1.1
I don't think game length should be the only deciding factor on pricing. Having a short, but exhilarating and eventful experience should have merit. Not every full price game single player game needs to be 50 hours long. Not everyone has this much spare time, and you inevitably end up with padding and repetitive gameplay.

Posted:2 years ago

#41

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,485 1,254 0.8
@ Felix

That's totally true. But it still requires some worthwhile - objective? - assessment regarding the price, which I don't know if publishers and developers actually want to do. No-one wants to look at whatever creative endeavor they've been involved in and say "Well, it's not quite fantastic enough that we could sell at 25, but it's definitely good enough to sell at 15". But, then again, that's one of the things that indie devs do, surely?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 16th April 2012 7:08pm

Posted:2 years ago

#42

Felix Leyendecker
Senior 3D Artist

181 200 1.1
I guess objectively judging the price sounds like a good idea, but I don't see what you'd base it on. Some indie games might have game mechanics that are as fun as the ones of an AAA game, but then the indie game doesn't have the brand awareness, IP or developer reputation to pass off as a full price game. Or there are production values in the form of mocap, voice acting, face performance capture, orchestral score, etc to separate the two.

I don't think indies sell games at low prices just because they are so humble and think their game isn't all that great.

Posted:2 years ago

#43

Tin Katavic
Studying MSc-Games Technology

44 3 0.1
I wonder if this would work as a solution ... buyback program!
You buy a game, play it, sell it back to the developer and get 33% to 50% of its value as their currency (think BioWare points) which you can then spend in their store to buy a new game or DLC.

This way consumers get something back and developers cant complain that they are loosing money to used games stores.
In fact this might even stimulate customers to buy another one of their games as the "currency" will be good only for other games (or even that developer - like BioWare points are good only for BioWare stuff).

Posted:2 years ago

#44

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,485 1,254 0.8
True. I can totally see that some indie games sell at a low-to-mid-tier price point because they know that they don't have the IP or the production values of a larger title. They know that if they were to charge $50 then they'd sell less, because their product is an unknown quantity (at least, in the beginning, until word-of-mouth spread).

But larger titles, whilst they may have an established IP or mocap, may have worse gameplay than the indie title with neither. So, what happens then? The larger the amount of money being handed over, the more the consumer expects. "You get what you pay for" is a well-known saying, and if it's applied to games, then you would expect a $60 game to be better and longer than a $15 game. But that's not always so, is it? In the end, there has to be some happy-medium between what price the publisher/developer wants to charge to cover costs and make a profit, and what price the consumer will pay. Right now, there are three things that cover that: Steam with its tiered pricing and sales, second-hand copies, or waiting for new copies to drop in price substantially on Amazon.

An objective measure of a game's worth by the developer/publisher would be very hard to do, but it's worth thinking about. Certainly, there're indie games that can outshine some of the larger publishers finest, and could easily sell for twice what they're currently going for, so there's room for movement both up and down.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 16th April 2012 8:47pm

Posted:2 years ago

#45
Morville, how do you think a publisher decides on the trade pricing and RRP for a game?

Posted:2 years ago

#46

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,485 1,254 0.8
Hmmm... I'm guessing through purely financial measures, like cost of development, marketing, production, etc. Together with an examination of the type of game it is, and what the market generally thinks is acceptable.

Although, some of these are taken into account when maybe they shouldn't be? Mass Effect 3 on Origin being 5 more than on Amazon, even though there's no production or distribution of discs is not quite right, from a consumer perspective.

Ah. I forgot retailer's cut. Though that's a bit weird. Witcher 2 on Origin - 35. On Steam - 25. Kingdoms of Amalur on Origin (it's an EA game) - 35. On Steam - 30. Again, Amalur is an EA game, so why exactly is a publisher pricing its own game more than a competing digital service? Is it because EA thinks the consumer will gladly pay 35 for it? In which case, they're pricing more because they want the 35 pricing structure than on game costs and profit margins.

I'll go out on a limb here and say that generally speaking qualitative measures of the gameplay aren't factored in, because there's no way in hell some of the games I've seen go for 35+ should have been priced at that if gameplay was factored in.

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 16th April 2012 9:05pm

Posted:2 years ago

#47

Brian Smith
Artist

194 78 0.4
Top article. IMO spot on Mr Walker.

Posted:2 years ago

#48

Greg Wilcox
Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,132 1,039 0.5
Let me add my two cents here and shut up.

Does anyone understand that even a "short" game, if it's well done and hell, GREAT, will be replayed MORE than once, thus justifying the price tag (in most cases). Remember that lousy review that said Vanquish was a "four hour" game? Well, it wasn't. I can think of other reviews where longevity versus price was questioned without a shred of thought as to the FACT that some people actually replay games until they see everything and go back at some point if the REALLY like the game. Kind of like reading, kids. I'm sure everyone has a favorite book they're pored over multiple times, right?

Hell, some games who aren't as skilled take LONGER than a reviewer rushing through something just to get it over with so he or she can do some pub crawling with fellow editor-types. I say rather than write reviews as a master gamer or someone who can figure shit out in seconds, maybe play that "short" game with someone new to the hobby and see if your reawakened sense of wonder trumps looking at your watch.

Anyway, I've been gaming since 1972 and other than games that were so terrible they couldn't be completed, I can't think of too many games I played ONE time and took back to a shop, gave to a friend or traded for something else. Then again, I've always been broke, so I've learned to choose wisely (yeah, right 2000+ games and I've picked some doozies) and play something to death because I couldn't afford much else.

Maybe those of you out there talking about how long a game is as opposed to seeing what went into making it (and appreciating those elements) need to step back and think things through a tiny bit more.

Posted:2 years ago

#49

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,485 1,254 0.8
No, myself and Felix, certainly, are in agreement that length shouldn't determine price or value (or at least not be the sole determining factor). Unfortunately, that's one of the most objective ways to look at a game, so even if you try to avoid it, it's still there, glaring at you like a weird duck with an attitude problem. Or something. :)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 16th April 2012 11:42pm

Posted:2 years ago

#50

Keldon Alleyne
Handheld Developer

427 403 0.9
http://www.inc.com/paul-schoemaker/4-secrets-of-great-critical-thinkers.html
... Ironically, the more experience you have, the harder it will to break from conventional mindsets. Leading companies often get stuck in old business models. ..
^^ The "multiple lenses" mentioned in that article is such a great philosophy. To a hammer everything's a nail, and pre-owned takes the flack for everything under the sun.



And I quite like Green Man Gaming's approach to digital distribution. Is that the way forward?

Posted:2 years ago

#51
I whole heartedly agree with the Article, nice to see a bit a of logic aired for once, bravo

Posted:2 years ago

#52
50-odd comments, the majority agreeing with article yet no one has mentioned this line "They need to stop acting like the budgets they spend are imposed upon them by some mad wizard, and spend less on making great games."

Is that what the consumer really wants? Do you really want games that are shorter? Look graphically worse? Have crappy music? Are glitchier?

I'm guessing that anyone who agrees with the "spend less on making the games ergo passing the saving on to the consumer" line has not got a clue as to how a AAA game is made. Can anyone tell me how exactly you can "spend less on making great games" and still maintain the standard?

Posted:2 years ago

#53

Tin Katavic
Studying MSc-Games Technology

44 3 0.1
@Jonathan Allow me to make a comment then. :)

Do we really need the voice of a character be done by a hollywood star?

Do we really need to get Oscar winning composer to do the music for the game?

Do we really need to spend half the budget on marketing?

Do we really need to see the eyelashes on our enemies before we frag them?

Ok, that was a charicature but the point is that a HUGE chunk of game cost is lost on the things players dont really care or notice. Keep in mind that when a game comes out most of the gamers cant run that game on max rez/details etc so all that money spent on perfect life like graphics (we wont get into the issue of uncanny valley) is wasted because the player doesnt notice it.

Posted:2 years ago

#54
So to answer my question, you would prefer lower quality games? So we should skimp on good voice actors, good musicians, good graphics and hope that word of mouth sells our product? That's really the answer to "save" the games industry? Sheesh.

Posted:2 years ago

#55

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,485 1,254 0.8
Oh, come on...

To quote myself

"To me, there's 2 types of AAA - AAA Quality, and AAA Budget."

Jonathan, go look at Legend of Grimrock. Absolutely epic game. Beautiful production values, both audio and visual. A genre that has mostly been ignored. Sells at (currrently less than) $15. Made its dev costs back in 3 days. Dear Esther is the same. Dustforce is another. Are you really saying they could be significantly improved by flinging more money at them?

Yes, there's a place for big-budget games. But not every game needs a big budget to have big (or even good) production values.

We need to get to the place where film is, not in distribution and pricing, but in realising that not every big-budget film/game is awesome, just like not every indie film/game is awesome because of how much or little was spent on it, or the technology involved.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 17th April 2012 9:35am

Posted:2 years ago

#56

Keldon Alleyne
Handheld Developer

427 403 0.9
Jonathan: Can anyone tell me how exactly you can "spend less on making great games" and still maintain the standard?
According to the "learning process", costs should go down the more we perform a task. This is evidenced in the many production improvements Crytek and this article speaks about.

And regarding the price point of games, as we can see by the sales of pre owned, a lower price point generates something of around an additional $4Bn a year, but it might be best to leave it as a two tiered system of brand new at full price, and reduced price when pre-owned.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Keldon Alleyne on 17th April 2012 9:38am

Posted:2 years ago

#57

Felix Leyendecker
Senior 3D Artist

181 200 1.1
Are you saying you can approach the production values of AAA games with an indie team? I don't think so. Compare Legend of Grimrock to Skyrim. I haven't played it, but what I've seen from videos is a dungeon crawler with just one kind of environment, modular rectangular grid-type architecture, no humanoids with faces or facial animation, let alone voiceover, no overworld or terrain/vegetation, the list goes on. So yes, flinging enormous amounts of money at it would have bought it all these things, and it could have been a AAA game.
Same for dear Esther. It doesn't even have animated characters.

Which brings me to the next point, the comparison to indie movies doesn't work. Give a guy a camera, put 4 people in a room and let them talk. You now have an indie movie with a budget of a few hundred bucks. Try doing the same with a video game and you have a multi-million dollar production team trying to build a fragile bridge over the uncanny valley. Do a movie about spaceships blowing up the entire planet and suddenly the budgets reverse.

It's not that simple. If AAA devs/publisher could get away with omitting human characters, cutscenes, voice acting and big-name composers, they would do it. But it's not 1995 anymore.

Posted:2 years ago

#58
The "learning process" doesn't really apply to a lot of areas of development. It will take me just as long now to animate a character with a fully rigged face this year as it will next year. And the year after. And the year after. In fact it will probably take longer because said face will have more nodes and polys. When I started in the industry "facial animation" consisted of a blink bone and a jaw flap. Nowadays it's individual eye control right down to pupil dilation, it's nostrils that flare, it's lips that stick together when the mouth opens. Do we really want to go back to blink bones and jaw flaps?

Posted:2 years ago

#59

Felix Leyendecker
Senior 3D Artist

181 200 1.1
@Keldon this is correct, time spent goes down if you have good, proven tech and tools, but you still need a certain team size and skilled specialists to realize the production values people have come to expect from a full-price game. Especially if you want to finish it in a reasonable amount of time. I'm just slightly irritated that people pick exceptional indie games and less stellar full-price games, compare them and deduct that everyone could easily deliver AAA quality at a fraction of the cost, disregarding the qualities and amount of content that separate such projects.

Posted:2 years ago

#60

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,485 1,254 0.8
@ Felix

And it comes down to intent.

One kind of environment?
Grid architecture?
No humanoids with faces or facial animations?
No overworld or terrain/vegetation?

It was designed as a Dungeon Master-style dungeon crawler, where the plot is you're the only humans going through a dungeon, killing monsters. Given it's a Dungeon Master-style game, the grid movement was a design choice.

So, every single criticism you made there can be rebutted with

It was designed to be like that.

Just because it misses things other games have, does not mean that it needs those things, was designed to have them but they couldn't afford them, or that all gamers would prefer it to have them. Just like the indie film with 4 people in a room isn't aiming for anything beyond "indie film with 4 people in a room", which does in itself have a market if done well. It's all about concept and design.

And, again, I'll quote myself, because it looks like I'm anti big-budget:

"Yes, there's a place for big-budget games. But not every game needs a big budget to have big (or even good) production values."

Edit:

"and it could have been a AAA game."

What, like Dragon Age 2?

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 17th April 2012 10:14am

Posted:2 years ago

#61

Felix Leyendecker
Senior 3D Artist

181 200 1.1
It was designed to have a reduced scope, so it could be realized with a small team and budget. They are selling it for a low price because they know the scope can't compare to full-price games like skyrim.
I'm not sure what we're even arguing about. You're saying small games can excel within their limited scope, even in production values. I'm not denying that. I'm just saying you can't extrapolate from this that big studios are dumb for just wasting money for celebrity actors or composers and could make due with half the budget if they worked smarter. It's not that simple is all I'm saying, apples to oranges, etc pp

Posted:2 years ago

#62
One aspect we didnt discuss is marketing. How much would a AAA marketing affect a mediocre game vs a great game to total sales? Would such exorbitant marketing cost be justified?

Posted:2 years ago

#63

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,485 1,254 0.8
"It was designed to have a reduced scope, so it could be realized with a small team and budget."

Debatable, but anyways... :)

"I'm just saying you can't extrapolate from this that big studios are dumb for just wasting money for celebrity actors or composers and could make due with half the budget if they worked smarter."

Not saying they're dumb, not at all. I'm saying that flinging more money at games can only do so much, and that not every game needs "more money" to be a good game, or a better game. You can't extrapolate from the big-budget success of Skyrim that every game would benefit from a big-budget.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 17th April 2012 10:26am

Posted:2 years ago

#64
"Compare Legend of Grimrock to Skyrim."

Both are role-playing games. Both have been very successful financially. This obsession with "AAA game" meaning "massively expensive production values" is what will sink the current publishing model. Yes, there will always be a market for games at that top end, technologically speaking, but only a very small number of games will get to dominate that space. Everyone else is pissing money up the wall.

Almost Human knew they couldn't compete with Skyrim on that level, so they did the smart thing: they developed a niche product within their means and they've been rewarded with a game that is in profit already. In that sense, Grimrock and Skyrim are very similar, despite being so very different.

Almost Human may not have a sweeping Hollywood soundtrack, or characters with dilating pupils, but they do have a popular product, creative freedom, a financial model that works and a healthy business. From an industry point of view, isn't that what matters?

Nobody is saying the industry should be all Grimrocks and no Skyrims, but clinging to a broken business model out of habit is clearly foolish when there are proven alternate models staring you in the face. A great many developers would still be in business if they hadn't felt compelled to over-extend themselves to keep pace with a technological dick-waving contest that, frankly, doesn't matter that much to the public.

The number of gamers who care about high end production values is tiny compared to the number of people who would play more games if they could afford to. The average consumer can't tell the difference between SD and HD. They certainly don't notice flaring nostrils on a video game character. And a millions of them are too busy playing games on Facebook or their phone for pennies to care how much Awesome War Dude 9 cost to make.

There are so many ways to make money out of games right now, yet the core of the industry would apparently prefer to keep gambling on five year production cycles and multi-million dollar budgets in the hope of squeaking through another year without going bankrupt. It's madness.

Posted:2 years ago

#65

Felix Leyendecker
Senior 3D Artist

181 200 1.1
Not every game needs more money to be a good game, but I think games need a certain level of production values and variety in content to make people buy it at full price. If Grimrock or Dear Esther would be on shelves as a boxed title for $60, do you think reviewers wouldn't criticize the lack of variety, comparing it to big budget games, and gamers wouldn't feel slightly ripped off?
Reducing scope works for indie games, it's not directly applicable to full price games.

Posted:2 years ago

#66

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,485 1,254 0.8
"Not every game needs more money to be a good game, but I think games need a certain level of production values and variety in content to make people buy it at full price"

Mmmm... That's very much a matter of opinion.

The lack of production values and variety in Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age 2 have been criticised by gamers. Both those games retailed at full price on release. I know I was disappointed with DA2, and I bought it at full-price.

"do you think reviewers wouldn't criticize the lack of variety"

Well, looking at the reviews for both ME3 and DA2, the lack of variety were never mentioned. Why is that? Is it like James Ingrams suggested above, that the media is spineless? Or is it that reviewers were wow'd by the big-budget, and glossed over the flaws?

I know I felt ripped off by Dragon Age 2. And there's no doubt that the time-constraints of it meant BioWare had to reduce the scope of it. AAA Budget games can easily have their scope reduced and still retail at full-price - because the publisher needs to recoup all that money they flung at it. The person who gets burned is the consumer.

And a third point:

My initial comment on this article was "look at Steam". That's still true. Look at Steam's tiered pricing structure. I'd have happily paid 30 for Grimrock. I'd have happily paid 20 for Dragon Age 2. Paying below 30 for Grimrock, I feel like I got a bargain. Paying more than 20 for DA2, I felt like I got ripped off.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 17th April 2012 10:46am

Posted:2 years ago

#67

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,485 1,254 0.8
@ Dan.

Absolutely agree there.

Posted:2 years ago

#68
"technologically speaking, but only a very small number of games will get to dominate that space. Everyone else is pissing money up the wall."

How are devs to know when they are "pissing money up the wall". No one sets out to make a bad game in the same way no one sets out to make a bad film or bad song. If no one took risks we would be stuck with the same games coming out every year. If Infinity Ward had taken that attitude years ago we would be stuck with MOH being the only realistic shooter that gets released every year. We wouldn't have Forza (why try to compete with GT?).

To be honest the arguments being put forth by the "spend less money on development" brigade is not winning me over. "Spend less money and make better games" doesn't work in reality.

Posted:2 years ago

#69

Felix Leyendecker
Senior 3D Artist

181 200 1.1
Agree to Jonathan, I'd rather have devs aim high and fall short then everyone thinking small and making tiny niche games. Sometimes I think there are mainly business guys and hardly any actual devs on this site. Nobody is in it to aim low and to not even try to up the ante.

Posted:2 years ago

#70

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,485 1,254 0.8
@ Jonathan

"Spend less money and make better games"

And...

"No one sets out to make a bad game in the same way no one sets out to make a bad film or bad song".

In both these situations an objective look at the game is required. I'm not trying to be a dick and say "BioWare created a bad game with DA2 and they knew it", nor am I saying less money would've created a better game. I'm saying it was not as good a game as EA would have us believe at the price-point they set. I fully appreciate that the dev/publisher has to make their costs back and a profit, but pricing poor quality games at 35 because of the money you spent on them is bad for everyone. If you spend less money, then you can afford to price the game lower on Day One.

Obviously, two things occur here:

1) No-one really knows the quality of game as you're spending the money producing it. Regular reviews only help so much.

2) A point comes where more money is better. That point is "does X+1 dollars in the pot make a better game than X dollars?"

In both these cases, the very quality of the game is the question. Which ties into my other comment on the first post of this thread:

"Of course, this requires publishers and developers being objective about the game..."

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 17th April 2012 11:36am

Posted:2 years ago

#71
So conversely if a game cost x amount to make and is actually an all time classic should they charge 100 for it? 300? If we are going down the route of pricing games dependant on their quality why should there be an upper ceiling?

Posted:2 years ago

#72

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,485 1,254 0.8
The upper ceiling is what the consumer is willing to pay.

Which gets back to the point of this article. People buy second-hand games because they're cheaper than new ones, and that difference is the difference between a sale and not a sale.

Posted:2 years ago

#73

Mike Froggatt
Senior Software Engineer

1 0 0.0
"Which gets back to the point of this article. People buy second-hand games because they're cheaper than new ones, and that difference is the difference between a sale and not a sale."

That is the core issue here. The question is not whether people will buy more games if games were to be cheaper (they probably will), the question is why, when presented with two items that are functionally identical, in the same shop, a customer should choose to buy the more expensive one over the cheaper one.

It doesn't matter if games are cheaper, pre-owned will always cost less. In fact, under some circumstances, selling games cheaper makes pre-owned more attractive, not less. After all $1 saving on a $100 game is a bit meh, but $1 saving on a $5 game looks like a bargain. Even if discount scales proportionally with price, it's still a saving. $5 cheaper on a $50 game? Take it! 50c cheaper on a $5 game? Still take it! Why not?

Thoughts?

Posted:2 years ago

#74
It's like you saw into my brain and wrote down my thoughts!

Some games are worth the price tag. Others are kidding themselves and need to be cheaper.

Since the age of 11 I've been saying this, cheaper games means more sales, lower the prices of those that aren't worth it!

Posted:2 years ago

#75

Mats Holm
Technical Process Analyst

53 38 0.7
The simile used here is the same one everyone keeps using when they talk about used games, and it always seems to flare up everyone.

If you are in the game making business, you view games as a Club Goods product, on par with cinema, private golf courts and cable. A game is stuff that you consume, its a luxury goods product, and you cannot really re-sell it. We view it this way because we view the content, not the delivery method of it.

Consumers see games as Private Goods, stuff like food, clothing, a car or electrical equipment, because they view the DVD, the delivery method, as the product. And as long as we are selling disks that can be re-used, consumers will have this view.

Now, the other major fault here is that we will keep rivalrous pricing (how private goods are priced) once we transcend games into pure club goods. Why would we keep a private goods price scheme when we club goods price methods are so much more profitable?

Posted:2 years ago

#76
"I'd rather have devs aim high and fall short then everyone thinking small and making tiny niche games. Sometimes I think there are mainly business guys and hardly any actual devs on this site. Nobody is in it to aim low and to not even try to up the ante."

That sounds kind of snobby, to be honest. Indie devs "think small" and "aim low"? Big budget games "aim high"? It depends what your definition of "up the ante" is, I suppose. The assumption that any game that doesn't have a multi-million dollar budget isn't aiming high just doesn't hold water.

It seems to me that it's the big budget games that are becoming increasingly homogenous as they try to capture as much of that small hardcore audience, while indie games are free to up the ante, as you say, by trying new things. It's only if you judge the value of a production by its blockbuster sheen that this argument makes sense. Steam, Facebook and iOS have shown that's not neccesary. People will spend money on games that don't look like Michael Bay's wet dream. They'll spend a lot of money. More money than they'll spend on this month's generic "this'll pass the time until the next COD" shooter.

But this really isn't a question of indie vs big budget. It's not an either/or argument. Clearly, the current retail/publishing model isn't working, at least not for the large swathes of the industry that are turning out shooters and racing games without the benefit of a massive brand behind them. The audience for those games really isn't as large as the industry seems to think.

Put simply, the middle has dropped out of the market, and too many publishers are trying to cram into the AAA space at the top because that's the industry they understand and remember from ten years ago. That, more than anything is what's stifling the industry, because that means everyone is trying to copy the same few proven blockbuster templates, and that in turn means physical retail products are harder to justify at full price. If 80% of shooters are trying to be COD or Halo then most players will wait for a new COD or Halo, and only buy second tier titles when they reach the right price.

If more publishers and developers stopped throwing tens of millions at these make or break projects, and instead worked on more cost effective ideas that could be sold at a more impulse-friendly price points, things would change for the better. Smaller budget doesn't have to mean smaller ideas.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Dan Whitehead on 17th April 2012 1:45pm

Posted:2 years ago

#77

Felix Leyendecker
Senior 3D Artist

181 200 1.1
I wasn't trying to sound snobby, although I probably did. I'm just with Jonathan when he says more devs shouldn't aim lower as in trying to do more with less money. If everybody stopped trying to pitch or make full price games except for a small handful of studios, do you think the situation would change for the better? The top dogs would become slow and lazy, innovation would be even more stifled, there would be no more competition and the big guys could push their DLC or lockout schemes even further.

I'd rather have teams like CD projekt, GSC Gameworld, Piranha Bytes or other european devs that were mentioned here aim high, as in not giving up on full-price experiences.

I'm fully aware that indies up the ante when it comes to gameplay mechanics or new ideas. But this discussion was starting to sound like "nobody wants to pay full price for a game anymore, everyone should just make small, focused, 15$ games." I just don't agree that it would be best for the medium. For business, maybe?

Posted:2 years ago

#78

Paul Shirley
Programmers

174 147 0.8
@Felix Leyendecker

"I think games need a certain level of production values and variety in content to make people buy it at full price."

In a discussion essentially about the public finding ways to avoid paying full price, your entire focus remains on getting them to pay full price. Not considering that 'full price' may be the problem. No thought that if you cut punters off from reducing their costs (and risk) they do have another option - not buying your product at all.

There used to be a captive audience, trained to pay stupid prices, trained to look no further than *your* release schedule for the next fix. Those days are over, adapt or die.

Posted:2 years ago

#79
I don't think anybody here is talking in absolutes. I certainly don't think the entire industry should abandon full-price games and charge to the other end of the field instead. But the industry is top heavy, and you don't need to look far to see the downside to that. That "every game a blockbuster" approach just doesn't work any more.

Devs are going bust every month, publishers shedding jobs and closing studios, talented people getting churned from one company to another, titles that never even get to the shelves because they're too big and unwieldy and grind to a halt. How many "big" games, often good games, have we seen that get released in a big fanfare and then fizzle out in the lower reaches of the charts?

The market has changed. That's a fact. What worked in 1998 or even 2004 doesn't work in 2012. Gamers have become more diffuse and varied, yet the majority of the industry can't stop trying to seduce a small yet vocal minority with ever greater displays of technical showboating. It's unhealthy, is all.

I'm certainly not arguing that every game should cost 100k, or that we should abandon core games and just makes iOS physics games and Facebook cash cows, but the argument that "we have to spend this much money because otherwise it's not a AAA title" is self-defeating. A business that has to spend exorbitant amounts on products that maybe - maybe - scrape into profit eventually is not a healthy business. The quality of the games doesn't even enter into it. Caring about the health of the industry doesn't mean being a soulless money-obsessed drone. It means wanting good companies to stay afloat so they can keep making great games that people will buy and enjoy.

It'll never go away completely, but the time when the big bollocky full price shooter was the best way to make money has passed. Right now, there's every chance that a ten-person team with a good idea and clear vision can make more money, and more interesting games, than a 200-strong studio working for a major publisher. Unless you've got a guaranteed billion-dollar IP in your hands, any company that doesn't react to that risks going the way of the T-Rex. I truly believe the asteroid has already hit, and we're seeing the rumbles at retail. The eco-system has been changed forever. Gamers just don't buy games the way they used to. Time to evolve.

Posted:2 years ago

#80

Ken Varley
Owner & Freelance Developer, Writer

40 30 0.8
For what its worth, I think games are over priced. I don't buy from the game shops. They're too expensive. I mostly buy online where ever the cheapest is. I also use the steam sales.

So, yes price is a major factor. I would buy more games at 20 and below.

Posted:2 years ago

#81

Sam Maxted
Journalist / Community / Support

155 65 0.4
It's very rare that I'll pay full price (or even an online launch price) for a game any more. Last year, I think I bought a grand total of one game at full price and I'd be surprised if I even do *that* this year. For me, 20 is around the level that I'll consider picking something up, even if it means I have to wait 6 months for the price to come down.

Posted:2 years ago

#82

Rick Lopez
Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,269 941 0.7
I honestly prefer to buy new games. But true to the matter, if a game is a month old and I find it at 30$ or 40$ used in almost new condition, then my choice is obvious. However if new game prices were lower, im willing to put down a few extra bucks for a newer copy versus a used one.

Posted:2 years ago

#83

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