Author Topic: The State Of The Gaming Industry  (Read 79 times)

Offline Starfox

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The State Of The Gaming Industry
« on: August 19, 2019, 09:54:24 AM »
For those who might wonder... yep, I'm still alive and nope I've not been very present these past couple of months, although I always kept an eye on things.

Reasons for my silence are varied and numerous, mainly personal stuff, but also gaming related. To put it bluntly, the current state of the video gaming industry (especially AAA publishers) makes me vomit, (figuratively speaking of course, but something fierce). That does not help putting me in a mood to play *new* games and especially of the AAA kind.

Where to start... Electronic Arts and Activision and their monetization schemes? Epic Games Store and the millions upon millions of dollars they fork to secure exclusives just to kill the competition without actually doing any kind of work that would benefit consumers and hence push them to envisage a switch of platform? Or Steam that is going like if nothing was happening? Or Bethesda and their screw ups repeated over and over? And the list goes on... Latest? Rockstar 10 years worth of tax evasion in the UK... because yeah, we wouldn't want to pay a single cent out of the shitload of money we make would we? Oh no, because how else could we pay our new Lamborghinis. And what about Google Stadia? Boy, that last one is very funny (but I won't explain the concept right now, maybe later).

A couple of weeks ago, EA was in front of the UK gambling commission due to their lootboxes (you pay to open a lootbox but you actually don't know what's inside, so you don't know what you pay for in the first place which suspiciously seems like gambling). Suddenly EA turned back the table "hey, they're not lootboxes, they're surprise mechanics". And despite the fact that it's really just a matter of semantics there (meaning: how could rename the mechanics change a bloody thing?) it seems that the UK gambling commission found that acceptable "oh, then it's not really a gambling problem... we can't regulate that".

On the other hand, Belgium banned any game featuring lootboxes (and I doubt that renaming them surprises or Easter eggs or whatever will change anything to their position because Belgium didn't rule on the pure basis of gambling, they ruled on the threat posed to young and/or easily influenced people who could see their life ruined by such "mechanics").

And you may think that there's exaggeration there. Not if you consider the guy who revealed some time ago that he suddenly realized checking his EA account that he had spend around 10,000 USD on just one FIFA game in a little more than one year just on micro-transactions (which eventually accumulated into a final mega-bill). The only reason why he didn't realize it sooner is because he's apparently wealthy and $10,000 was not really a problem for him. But as he said himself, he also realized that not every gamer was that wealthy and that this kind of thing could derail a life easily. There's some thought... FIFA is one bloody pricey game.

One could easily think that it's a lot of talk for just a little "feature" when nobody force gamers to adhere to it. Well, that's what you'd think. But hey, according to their own records, EA makes about 60% of their revenues from monetization (micro-transactions, pay-to-win schemes, lootboxes...), so no, it's not just a "little" feature, it's a giant money making machine. EA is officially a game publisher but somewhere along the road they ended up with game publishing generating only 40% of their revenues, the rest being acquired from abusing the games published to extract more money from the players with about zero supplemental effort which of course generates a shitload an astounding amount of return on investment because the investment in that part (monetization) is about nil or in any case, just a very minimal fraction of the cost of developing a full game.

Motto of the day: "Making as much money as possible with minimal effort". And there comes the concept of games as "services". In the brain of AAA companies top dogs it means, developing a game that has the ability to attract and retain people, then instead of going to develop the next game, make this one last a dozen years just collecting the fruit of the monetization inside, issuing new mini-DLC, customizations, weapons, armor (whatever) along the way but making sure that all the while you embark much more money that you actually spend.

Still don't believe it? Well, I would like to direct you toward a video released by the youtuber YongYea, featuring an interesting audio file and a keynote of prominent persons in the gaming industry explaining how making a shitload of money works. Be warned, this is edifying (if you're still delusional to the point of thinking that the gaming industry is all about making gamers happy, prepare to be educated). The audio file in particular is from John Riccitiello (during an investors meeting) who was (for those who don't know and those who forgot), back when the audio file was recorded, the CEO of Electronic Arts and the guy that wanted every game published by EA to feature a multiplayer component and yes, he was the one CEO in place during the very bad ending of Mass Effect 3 "episode". The second piece of evidence, is a keynote called "Let's go Whaling"... Seriously, they're not even trying to disguise it anymore. The "whales" in case you wonder are us, gamers, the very big money bags that they absolutely need to harpoon (I particularly love the Ikea portion of the video, really; wouldn't have dreamed myself to compare a video game to Ikea but... there you go).

Note that both evidences were not intended for general audience. They were made for the industry inner circles and such displays are generally done either during financial meetings for investors or behind closed doors during presentations that are reserved to a sparse "elite" specially selected and invited. Well, that such discussions take place in the "inner circles" is nothing new. Gamers have been more or less considered like absolute money bags by a certain portion of the gaming industry starting something like 10 to 15 years ago. What is worrying though is that AAA companies are more reckless about it than ever. Today, they don't even care if gamers know what is going on, they invent a nice tale about how they didn't intended it to be that way (despite evidences to the contrary) and they move on, sometime taking the monetization slightly back just to say they do something about it before pushing it forward again a few months later.

To be clear, I'm hitting EA there because they are the foremost example of what's been happening but most if not all AAA companies do it to some extent, Activision, Square Enix, Ubisoft, 2K, Take Two (and I forget some) are or have been engaged in some form of monetization in some or a lot of their games during the past decade. But now, it's getting simply out of control. We are seeing a re-purposing of successful franchises (Call of Duty, Star Wars Battlefront, Battlefield, Fallout, Wolfenstein, Tomb Raider, Borderlands, Assassin's Creed... etc.) in order to enable rabid monetization at the cost of game quality all for squeezing every available bit of wealth from the "money bags" (us) at minimal cost for the publishers.

I won't spend much more time on the whole subject of how monetization does work because others have done it better than me. Go check this video by YongYea or this other one of Gopher blowing a fuse over Fallout 76 "micro"-transactions if you want to know more.

What I will say however is that I feel sad to see consumers releasing so easily the only power they truly have regarding corporations: to NOT BUY the damn products in the first place. If nobody would buy micro-transactions, then micro-transactions would disappear... it's as simple as that. Corporations wouldn't keep a system with no financial viability. If they do it's because the system works, which means that enough people are actually buying the crap to justify maintaining the system. Even worse, it shows that a non negligible part of the consumers don't really care. They happily fork $60 for a game then are fleeced for $120 more for idiotic stuff like armors or hats and apparently find that very normal. To paraphrase Gopher, it's really robbery in broad daylight with willing victims. Imagine that, a guy mug you at the corner of a street just asking for your wallet and your watch and what do you do? You give him the key to your bloody house to your car, of course, and your credit card number and PIN and all your bank account numbers while you're at it... No even more, the guy is just standing there minding his own business and you walk to him to force him to accept everything you have including your wife, your kids and dog.

That seems absurd to you? Well, that's basically micro-transactions in a nutshell and any other monetization schemes in existence. And still people fall for that.

I'm not against companies selling additional stuff for a game, as long as it's reasonable. I happily paid for the two Witcher 3 expansions because they were full size "campaigns" of high quality and adequately priced. I happily paid for Shivering Isles for Oblivion in its time, for similar reasons... etc. But paying a power armor paint job for practically the price of Witcher 3 blood and Wine 20+ hours campaign?

Where will the idiocy stop?  What's depressing is that there's not even one sign showing that it will stop someday. In fact I can imagine it getting worse with base games sold for a mere $5 with $500 worth of micro-transactions behind  if you want to have a full size game (and possibly a mediocre one at best because who has time to develop good games when there's all that money to count?).

And that's just on the topic of monetization. I have other bones to pick with the AAA gaming industry current practices but I don't feel like doing that right now.

Good for Epic Games because they would have been the next ones in line.

On the bright side, the whole thing gave me time to catch up on TV series and movies.
« Last Edit: August 19, 2019, 10:07:06 AM by Starfox »


Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. -- A. Einstein

Offline bobdog

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Re: The State Of The Gaming Industry
« Reply #1 on: August 19, 2019, 12:03:37 PM »
I play games on my computer and phone, and the phone micro-transactions are insidious. I've had to train myself to be patient, and to deny that need for "just one more." Our brains are hard-wired to accept rewards, and they way most games are set up with a win-lose scenario really preys upon that need.

I don't buy any micro-transactions on my computer games, and am still working on much older stuff, where I got the "full" package including DLCs -- all at a huge discount. I don't anticipate I'll ever fully catch up to current-day releases, so I'm more immune to the temptations that PC micro-transactions allow.

I hope that gamers will become more sophisticated and not necessarily fall for every lootbox thing coming down the pike. And I'm glad some countries are finally taking them to court to try and force some changes. Slowly....

Offline Starfox

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Re: The State Of The Gaming Industry
« Reply #2 on: August 25, 2019, 06:10:37 PM »
The aspect that worries me the most about the rabid monetization that is currently going on is the actual impact it has on the quality of recent games. I played Wolfenstein Youngblood not long ago and it is pretty typical of that big trend.

When you start to tell developers that they absolutely have to include monetization in a game then you are asking them to take a big chunk of the development time allocated to the game and effectively use this time for nothing else but the seamless inclusion of commercial mechanics into the game even if it's detrimental to other more important aspects, like the story, the characterization or the gameplay itself. So yeah, monetization is a problem not only because of its inherent financially risky nature for users but because it as the potential to lessen the quality of future games more and more as publishers will be willing to move the monetization even more forward (and hence over-encumber the developers with idiotic demands).

The other thing that worries me is that developers have been raising a generation of future consumers to not even question the inclusion of monetization in games. Think about your example with phones. Yeah, I agree that monetization in phones is even more insidious than on PC and generally address an even younger audience (I'm thinking of Frozen Freefall by Disney, a free game that I tested at some point to see what young people were playing these days and I was appalled by the amount of monetization in it). And the problem is that the generation that will become adult consumers after 2020 have practically only known their phones as primary casual gaming source. So for them, monetization won't be a problem, it will just be a fact.

When they started the monetization on phones, publishers really knew what they were doing. They weren't trying to convince current PC gamers because it's pretty much a lost cause especially for those like me who have known the 80s/90s of PC gaming (when collector editions didn't exist, when all the goodies were already in the box, when developers had to distribute a flawless game because patching  it was costing them an insane amount -- they were forced to send the patches by mail on floppy disks free to all users requiring it). Instead they were softening up (to not say formatting) the future generation of buyers. And the reason why monetization is becoming more and more rabid with AAA publishers now is that the first "next-gen" of buyers is already there, with people who lived their teens during the 2000s/2010s and have mostly known phones on the go, PC and consoles being almost secondary units. So logically, it seems like a good time for publishers to make their biggest move yet from phone to PC and consoles.

Unfortunately for them (and maybe fortunately for us, even though only future will tell) EA was so reckless with Star Wars Battlefield 2 and Activision with the latest Call Of Duty that they attracted the wrong kind of attention like "Wait... soldiers during WWII in Normandy weren't happily jumping in front of lootboxes randomly falling from the sky... WTF?"

The last thing that worries me is that governments are getting involved. Of course they are getting involved because the industry is unable to get its crap straight and that may be a good thing. However, when a government start to look at something and say "well, this shouldn't be like that" they are very well in their right mind so far as monetization is concerned but who's to say that they won't start to look at other things and start to regulate those other things too. I guess that publishers certainly don't want that (and yet are stupid enough to invite the oversight)? But do we wish that as players? I'm not sure I do. So the best case scenario would be gamers put pressure on publishers and publishers finally get tired of the backlash and stop their crap, and no one else needs to get involved. That probably won't happen though. But getting governments involved is a risk not only for publishers but for gamers as well.


Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. -- A. Einstein

 

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