After much protest from consumers, Microsoft decided to change its Xbox One policies: used games will be playable just as they were on the Xbox 360, without any additional fees imposed on the retailer or player. Used games continue to be a huge part of the AAA console market, making up around half of GameStop's gross profit, but developers often have a lot of disdain for the practice, which doesn't yield them one penny.
Ready at Dawn boss Ru Weerasuriya is definitely one who falls in the anti-used games camp, but he doesn't want to see them disappear. He simply believes developers need to get a piece of the revenues.
"I think the problem is right now there are retail outlets that are really taking everybody for a ride. You can't make a living at the expense of everybody else. Unfortunately, they're not just making a living at the expense of developers but also the consumers because the consumers will see less and less games come out if developers can't get revenue to make more new titles and keep going as a business," he lamented to GamesIndustry International.
"I think this is something we need to curb on the retail side. We're putting the consumers in an awkward spot and we shouldn't have to," he continued. "Why should they be the ones to deal with a flawed system? They are the guys we do this for. They are the ones who should be able to benefit the most from being able to buy it."
"I don't think we should stop used games, but we should do something about getting part of the revenue back from GameStop and places like that"
Weerasuriya went on to describe the anger he felt during a recent experience he had at a GameStop store. "I walked into a GameStop, asked for a new copy of a game and without telling me he tried to slip me a used copy and wanted to sell it to me for $5 less. I flipped out in front of the guy. I was like, 'Dude, wrong guy... You're doing this to the wrong guy.' I don't think people realize, and the guy was trying to justify it to me. I was like, 'You have no idea.' There are developers out there who are making games for [years] and some of them will go down purely because the revenue stream is basically flawed and creating this place where developers don't see even a little part of it," he said.
"I don't think we should stop used games, but we should do something about getting part of the revenue back from GameStop and places like that. That's not penalizing the consumers; they'll still get what they want. But I don't know who's going to address it."
Of course, the fact that the pre-owned business is thriving is a symptom of a larger issue: game pricing. For the average consumer, buying a console for several hundred dollars followed by numerous $60 games is simply not feasible. The game has to be a true blockbuster to be worth 60 bucks for many gamers, and that means that a lot of AAA developers are feeling the pressure. Wouldn't it be easier for consumers if they could buy a much shorter AAA experience for $20 or less? Telltale has certainly shown that episodic games like The Walking Dead can be hugely appealing and successful.
"Think about it this way. What the consumer wants is choice. It doesn't mean we have to kill the $60 game, but you should have the choice for other price points. I would love to go home and play a two-hour game at night right before I go to bed. You play the game, get a full experience and a full story and go to sleep afterwards. I love that idea, but I also love the idea of playing the 15-hour game that I have to pay more for. I think there's room for different tiers. And I think the market is already breaking those out," Weerasuriya commented.
Just like summer blockbusters in Hollywood, there will always be a desire for thrill rides like Call of Duty, he added: "We can make the indie game just like there are indie movies, or we can make the summer blockbuster. The beauty of our ecosystem is that it continues to grow and is getting stronger to be able to allow for all these tiers to exist, and for them to balance out. For every big, Titanic-type thing you can have a bunch of projects that are smaller and that's the beauty of the ecosystem. We need them for each other. We can't dismiss one and hope to have just the other."
Weerasuriya hopes his new, first-ever console IP, The Order 1886, will fall into the blockbuster category. It's an idea that he's been percolating for many, many years, and Ready at Dawn is finally prepared to tell the story... with a little help from history.
"One of the things I love about storytelling is some of the best stories ever told are the ones we've actually lived. You can create all these crazy worlds and stuff but sometimes they're not believable. If you really think about it, our history is the most amazing place to find stories," he said, conjuring up ideas of Assassin's Creed for us.
"The funny thing is we started our ideas on this even before we heard about [Assassin's Creed]...This IP is really a recreation of the world and how the world would have evolved into something slightly different, and we really catch it in that moment of post-industrial revolution London. And you still get to experience a lot of the things that really happened in the [real] world. You'll interact with real people that lived in our world. The idea of all of this is imagine you created something where you didn't have to explain everything to people. If people wanted to find out something about a character they could just look it up in Wikipedia."
Some gamers instantly labeled the game as Steampunk, but Weerasuriya would classify it as anything but that actually. "Steampunk is usually not believable. We call it neo-Victorian London... For us, it was how real can we keep it, and what can we do to make people believe this really existed? So if you push a weapon or something too far to make it unbelievable, then we dial it back. And then it could be a weapon that Edison put together using technology that he invented at the time... that's what was important for us, that believability," he said.
Most developers today are platform agnostic. Financially, it just makes sense to get your game to as large a base of consumers as possible. Ready at Dawn is taking a risk by staying exclusive to PS4, but Weerasuriya is completely confident in his decision to stay loyal to Sony.
"We saw the initial talks about PS4 and what it was going to be and we've had a relationship with Sony for 10 years, so we felt it was the right time to not only move but to move to a single platform again where we could bring our expertise to something that could make us realize the game we wanted. Once we knew that internally, we approached Sony and said this is what we have and here's where we want to go, and they listened to us and we had a great discussion about how big it was going to be, and it turned out to be bigger than expected. So it's a good conscious decision from us to target a platform that we could make the most of," he explained.
We pressed Weerasuriya on the financial aspect of being PS4-exclusive, and he acknowledged that his studio often is guilty of putting creative needs ahead of fiscal ones.
"You have to be willing to give part of that financial aspect up to see your vision through"
"For us, the number one factor in making our decision was always creative. And to a fault over the last 10 years, we sometimes chose creative over a lot of other things. Yes, of course, there's an opportunity to make a dual-platform game and there are third-party publishers we can go to, and it's not something we'll ever dismiss, but for now since we've been so targeted towards working on a single platform it felt natural for us to make that decision regardless of the financial hit we would take," he said.
"In the future, who knows? I can only imagine that if the platforms get more and more similar in the future, maybe hardware manufacturers will only make hardware. I don't think that's ever going to happen because you still need to support your hardware. Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo still need to support their platforms. And Sony always takes chances on their hardware to make very, very risky games as far as ideas and content is concerned, but it pays off. You have to be willing to give part of that financial aspect up to see your vision through."
Part of the creative vision for Ready at Dawn is to enhance games' believability. "Everything you saw in the trailer was in-game, and it was important for us to create something that we call filmic. A lot of the effort that went into it was to emulate a lot of things people are familiar with today," Weerasuriya said. "You don't have to tell someone who's watching a movie if something looks odd if it's filmed the wrong way. They know it because for their whole lives they've been watching movies."
"So we strive to emulate glass and how it looks looking through a lens with real depth of field and chromatic aberration - everything that we could do to basically build the correct physical aspects of a real lens, we tried to do in the game. Giving people that experience, you're not going to have a disconnect; it's really about climbing out of the uncanny valley to the other side. I think this is the hardware that's going to do that," he asserted.
If The Order 1886 is successful, Ready at Dawn could be looking at much more than video games. Weerasuriya noted that his team definitely has big transmedia ambitions.
"I will tell you, the franchise was created not as a game franchise. It lived its life before it became a game as a world, as an IP. You can imagine now that the game is a window into that IP, so yes, I want to have a lot of windows into that IP, and hopefully that'll come in many different forms," he said.