Have money and don´t play games? Think twice

Is the industry profitable? In this golden era of videogames everyone with enough money believes they have the key for a succesful game but… is that so? Can a succesful company be built upon raw investors?

Video games are sort of the golden cow industry right now; many money handling execs look at the figures and think that they can have a piece of the cake. However, it is being proved time and time again that money isn´t enough to build up success.

It is not unheard of: a powerful executive has a lot of money and checks the profit made by companies such as Activision or Zynga and thinks “I can do that. I mean, how difficult can it be to make a game? I´ll rally up some investor buddies of mine and create a video game company!”. These investors have one thing in their mind: making money. As all industries, this is all about the profit; without profit a company goes down. Is it really difficult to build a successful company with successful games? The answer would be yes.

We´ve all heard of it. Company rises up, gets loads of investors to back it up, and they push a game to the market. They start making money, but somehow it is not enough; what to do? Make games or items in games more expensive, that way we make more revenue out of each paying user. Genius! Next step, alienate the non paying user to get him to pay something, watch ads, or quit the game altogether. All that with a low cost game with no real idea of quality.

We all know what comes afterwards… utter and complete failure.

As any industry, having enough money behind a publisher/developer is a must; but where is the passion? No professional game can be made without money or passion. In fact, we can see examples of games making it through with just passion by their devs, sacrificing their social and personal life for the completion of a game (which often happens with money behind anyway being honest). But what pushes the game industry (as with any other) is consumers, and we are a fighting and passionate bunch.

Video game fans are probably some of the most outspoken in all industries and complain openly to unpopular decisions like antipiracy software (aka DRM) or 2nd hand games online pass. Also, unlike other media, opinion about good games is normally unanimous (taking fanboys out of the fray here) despite presonal preferences. For example, I myself am not too keen on Halo, but I certainly see a quality product there; in the same way that I prefer PES over FIFA but still think FIFA is a very good product. However, what gives a game a “soul”? That is tough and not many make it through. This matter is a personal one and not all will agree about what games touched them the most and in what ways. It can be translated in the devs love for a product I guess. Think of a game you have liked and think of a game you started playing but never continued to do so. Were there particular reasons that pulled you away from one game or pulled you to the other? Yes. Can you really explain them? Probably, but some of it you find difficult to explain as it touches a more sensitive or emotional level.

Making games is a difficult venture. Not too many succeed to make money out of it and we are seeing studios with talent going down anyway despite pushing quality products into the market. Sometimes, as consumers, we forget that the main reason a game is published is to make money; therefore, to complain, the best way is to do it through money.

I hear people complain about preorder bonuses, but still preorder the game in one place or the other because they are getting “an awesome unique gun”. Or about how expensive map packs are, but are bought anyway “becasue I don´t want to be left out”. Or how expensive items in a game can be but “I want it anyway”. We could continue with this list forever but it wouldn´t make much sense.

Some companies are hated for their policies, but others are loved because they demonstrate they care for their customer and what she/he thinks. Think about Valve or Blizzard and most gamers will smile; think about Activision (infamous Kotick) or EA and you will flinch. Although even these companies end up producing some high quality products that save them from real gamer hate and, therefore, keep them going. I suppose it´s all about the equilibrium of things. Think of your company and your profit, but don´t forget who buys your product.

Bottom line is: if you have a lot of money, think about playing some games and understanding the media and the users if you really want to be a part of it. Remember that players won´t support a company they despise.


Way to go…

Business in any media has always been a difficult matter to deal with. In video games, purists normally allege for concepts, ideas and the innovation that comes with them. In the last 10 years, however, we have seen our media pass from a nerdy and lonesome pastime to a social experience, shared by more than those that “match the profile”.


Innovation is something we (the gamer audience) often shout at when a new game comes about or when a new scheme to control it appears as “outrageous”, and this has set the position for big companies such as Activision to prey on its customers repeating known formulas. Many games fall for the need of popularity and good market performance adapting formulas that could otherwise work in different genres far better than, for example, an FPS. This is the case of the new Syndicate that is being developed by Starbreeze or the new XCOM by Irrational; these 2 particularly painful for old followers of these 2 series. Through different interviews about the new Syndicate, a question was thrown at the developers: “Why an FPS?” , “Because we want it to sell well”. Many will be disillusioned… but it is something that should not surprise…


The indy scene is proving to be were the innovation is at: games like Limbo, Braid, World of Goo, Bastion, Super Meat Boy and many many more are demonstrating that there is no need for large amount of fireworks if the idea and the concept are good. If you want new ideas, this is where to look.


Video games are business: Call of Duty: Black Ops sold over 25 million copies worldwide. This is a massive amount of revenue for any company and this phenomenon is partly created by gaming trends. Many will complain about the FPS conversion of 2 classic series of games like XCOM or Syndicate, but the truth is that this allows the developers to reach a larger audience and not only nurture themselves of the old fans (which admittedly, are much less). There have been a big deal of XCOM games after the famous XCOM 3, they just didn´t work for a large audience… Why? Because they did not live up to the original in their attempts to make them better and because they were targeting a small audience.


Social games are the new zealot in the business. The Wii had a bad reputation in the gaming community as long time Nintendo fans felt themselves left aside by the company´s shift of strategy. This move has made the Wii the most successful console ever, despite the gamer community reluctance towards the console. FB and IOS games operate on a similar level.


This new social/casual game phenomenon is greatly looked at as unbelievable by gamers. It is difficult for an “old style gamer” to understand this success of the Wii or FB games since they just don´t appeal to them, and that´s the point. If you have played one, you know what I´m talking about: they are plain gripping. You can´t deem them as fun or great experiences (at best, entertaining) but they manage to get a grip on all those people who never did pay any attention to games and never will be bothered by whichever is the new big title.


Games have always pledged for acceptance; and now we not only have that, we are the industry that creates the largest revenue of them all. Social games and fitness games is just the price we have to pay for global acceptance. As long as I still get Skyrim, I can´t say I care.