Escapist Editorials

Escapist Editorials
Publisher's Note: The State of Gaming

Alexander Macris | 8 Sep 2014 21:00
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And yet... "Why do game publishers have to service the mainstream?" some will ask. "Why can't they just keep selling games for GAMERS?" One word: Economics. As gaming hardware has become more powerful, utilizing that hardware has become more expensive, and this has driven the cost of games up. When a AAA game cost $500,000 and sold for $40, a game could have a narrow appeal ("turn-based strategy") and still turn a profit. Nowadays a top game costs as much as $250,000,000, but still sells for about the same inflation-adjusted price as it did when it cost $500,000.

Big game publishers had two ways of responding to this challenging economic trend:

  1. Develop different types of products at different price points for different consumers.
  2. Make Ferraris and sell them to Honda buyers at Chevrolet prices.

Car manufacturers, movie studios, television companies, clothing retailers, and everyone else have chosen the first course of action.

Big game publishers have, until very recently, pursued the second course of action. They have kept on making and selling AAA games at higher and higher cost, kept the price the same, and tried to appeal to a wider audience-typically by reducing complexity and challenge and adding features that some new target consumer might find appealing. You might think of it as the One Ring strategy - "One Game to Sell to Them All, and in their Ubiquity Bind Them."

That the big game publishers chose this route is understandable. Historically their competitive advantage has been in making and publishing expensive AAA game franchises. In order to profit from these they now need to sell more copies. To sell more copies, they are making AAA games as easy, accessible, inclusive, and mainstream as they can without making them so much so that they alienate the gamer audience that they depend on for free marketing and heavy purchase. (Compare the complexity of multi-base 20-trooper X-Com: UFO Defense to single-base 6-trooper X-Com: Enemy Unknown for an example of this trend even within a game aimed at legacy fans in a hardcore genre.)

And game media? Historically our websites have depended on ad dollars from big game publishers aiming to reach a gamer audience. Big game publishers can now reach gamers directly via their own websites without spending as much money advertising on game media websites, so they spend more of their ad dollars on mainstream consumers among whom their products are less known. Therefore of necessity game media sites must either try to position themselves as more mainstream-friendly in order to retain ad dollars or they must find new sources of revenue.

So the notions that "gamers are dead" and "games must be for everyone" are, in part, realistic reflections of these cold economic realities. But gamer culture is not dying. It has simply been bruised by the spasms of a shell-shocked industry trying to figure out how best to stay in business during changing times.

Fortunately, the big game publishers are beginning to realize that "one game to sell to them all" might be the wrong strategy. Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto recently declared that mainstream game consumers are "passive" and "kind of pathetic" and announced that Nintendo EAD will focus on core gamers, leaving the company's mobile division to expand the gaming population instead. (What, nobody told Shigeru that gamers are dead? Huh.)

The game industry will sort itself out. The automotive industry did. After all, Henry Ford once said, "You can have your Model T in any color you'd like, as long as it's black." Right now, you can have your AAA game in any style you'd like, as long as it's an online-enabled multiplayer game from one of 4 acceptable genres with a T or M rating with cutting-edge graphics and about 10 hours of single player gameplay that costs $60. That'll change, in time.