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.


Music games and irresponsible sequeling

Recently in the VGAs, Rockband Greenday was announced. Soon Guitar Hero: Van Halen will make it to the stores.

The music genre has been probably the most succesful new genre of the last 10 years and both EA and activision have taken good profit out of this. Activision has released 5 Guitar Hero, Band Hero, DJ Hero (the only one to try out smtg new) and ungodly amounts of Guitar Hero of this group or another. EA has released Rock Band 1 & 2 and another good set of band exclusive games (without counting LEGO).

These kind of games are losing their commercial push and more and more people who own one don’t find the need to buy another, especially now that they could just release new DLCs instead… The market has been saturated with these games and people have become wary of that. I myself have played many hours on both titles and enjoyed just as much. I only bought World Tour though because I had a friend that used to buy them all. The thing is that he has bought Guitar Hero 5 in what he called a moment of weakness and consumism desire. He has hardly gone through the first gig and he has already left it and is talking of selling the whole set. Activision has been more irresponsible than EA with sequels but has had its fair trade doing band spinoffs. Many similar cases come to my mind of games that launched sequels of games that felt more like an expansion on a yearly basis like, for example, Tomb Raider.

Tomb Raider was a revolutionary game and showed that you didn’t have to be Miyamoto to do an excellent 3D game adventure-platformer. The thing is it finished tiring players by launching a yearly game. Eidos should have learned from that experience when they handed the series to Crystal Dynamics (which did an excellent job with Legend) but it seems they are still trying milk the dead cow. Tomb Raider is still successful but it isn’t half of what it should be.

Blizzard is an example of how you treat a series… every new installement sells more than its predecessor as it turns its games into legends. Guess how many games will Diablo 3 and Starcraft 2 sell and add another couple million.

All these games would benefit from a much smarter management. It is true that a yearly game means more immediate benefits while the game is fresh in gamer’s minds but on the long run it can mean spoiling a good series.