A Dirge for the Sinking Ship
Ask certain people in the know, and they will tell you that the current gaming market is unsustainable. It’s pretty rare that I turn my Sauron eye to the forums for support, but this particular comment about Electronic Arts’ recent layoffs is the kind of science I like to see laid on people. It ties together with troubling research I’ve done on my own end, and while I’m not on board with the full conclusion, there does seem to be some strong evidence that the gaming industry is stuck in the Death Star trash compactor and can’t seem to get 3PO on the communicator.
I honestly have a genuine fear about what the next 3 or 4 years might bring in the gaming marketplace. Even if there is not dire writing on the wall some troubling graffiti has turned up portending dark days ahead. The industry has been in a struggle for nearly a decade to monetize their transactions outside of the initial purchase, and instead of making progress the rise of the used market, an unreliable consumer base and the omni-present piracy revenue suck have just made things worse.
So, when Bioware and EA put so many resources into developing a hardcore gamers-game like Dragon Age, and people light pitchforks on fire because of optional DLC, I can’t help but feel intensely frustrated at what I see as thin-skinned entitlement and monumental naivete.
I consider many in the angry mob to be friends, and it does not give me pleasure to stand against them. But, I firmly believe that if you want to keep getting games like Dragon Age, like Fallout 3, like Uncharted 2, like The Beatles: Rock Band then gamers are going to need to get on board with or at least stop openly revolting against things like Day-1 DLC.
I have been watching with trepidation and concern the past 2 years as a conflict of game publishing ideology has erupted between the once mighty Electronic Arts and the laser-focused, unrepentant capitalism of Activision. And, as EA sheds hundreds of jobs, and more importantly dozens of projects, my worst fears are come true. The focus on scatter-shot approaches to new IPs and emphasis on driving quality over quantity is great for warming cockles in hearts, but ejaculating dozens of crappy iterations of go-to franchises has tragically triumphed as the profitable way to go.
The only way to sustain that emphasis on gamer-friendly qualities is by making a profit on the releases that do well to off-set the costs of doing business. Warden’s Keep isn’t about greedily slurping up the ignorance of gamers. It’s about funding the next Mirror’s Edge. It’s about having the resources to take chances on games that gamers love.
Have cake or eat cake. Sorry, kids, you only get to choose one, and I fear now even that choice may have been taken from our hands.
While we were all squabbling in the corner over meaningless skirmishes about DLC and dedicated servers, the war was waged on another front and it’s starting to look like we lost.
I hate to be dire, but I’ve seen 3 years of the Bobby Kotick doctrine, and if that’s what the future for companies like EA and TakeTwo and THQ is going to be then we’re going to sit back in a few years and long for the day when we got to whine about Day-1 DLC in a game like Dragon Age. Let me describe the future I see. Subscription based services married with microtransactions. Hobbled initial releases where the DLC is not just an optional quest, but key game mechanics. One-time required online authentication that prevents multi-player for used games. A virtual death of games like Mirror’s Edge, Dead Space, Ghostbusters, Brutal Legend, Borderlands or Dragon Age.
You're standing on the Titanic, and you're complaining about the color of the deck chairs.
If I sound mad, it’s because I am. It is an unfocussed rage that simmers and burns, because many of the kinds of games I adore are destined for the dust bin. And, the reality is that no one is clean in this fight. Publishers have adopted a model that is proving unsustainable to match the rising cost of development. Retailers who struggle against thin new-release profit margins have compromised the industry as a whole for their own profit. Gamers have waged their own zealot war against a changing marketplace, irresponsibly made unreasonable decisions about their entitlements and bent the rules as they see fit to get what they think they’ve got coming. Nobody comes out of this smelling like a rose.
As our well-informed forum commenter mentions in his post, the acquisition of Playfish along with the cancellation of mid-range games might as well be EA’s white flag waved in the breeze. You recall when Activision let go of Ghostbusters, Brutal Legend and the Chronicles of Riddick remake. These are exactly the kind of games that major publishers can’t afford to make any more if they can’t find a meaningful way to continue profiting beyond initial sales. These are exactly the kind of games that EA just ejected.
Let me put it this way, if having Day-one DLC in a game like Dragon Age means that Bioware gets to make the sequel, and not having it means they don’t, I will happily take the opportunity to make my informed purchasing choice and I will fold my arms and look sternly at those who gripe and complain. Drawing the line in the sand has consequences, and I’m not nearly invested enough in the ideology of consumer activism in the gaming marketplace to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
If you want an industry that can take chances. If you want an industry that can be agile and adaptable to niche demands. If you want publishers that are willing to explore new IPs and put resources behind projects like Dragon Age, then you, my stubborn and well-intentioned comrades, need to turn down the righteous fury.