GWJ Conference Call Episode 289

Conference Call

Trials Evolution, FEZ, The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition, Diablo III Beta, An Interview With Kim Swift, Levelling Up in Games, Your Emails and more!

This week Jeff Cannata joins the crew to talk about levelling and RPG systems invading games. The free to play angle, Diablo III and much more. We also have an interview with Portal creator Kim Swift about Quantum Conundrum!

To contact us, email [email protected]! Send us your thoughts on the show, pressing issues you want to talk about or whatever else is on your mind. You can even send a 30 second audio question or comment (MP3 format please) if you're so inclined.

Sponsor

Tech Thing Daily
Game Thing Daily
Good Old Games

Totally Rad Show
Quantum Conundrum
FEZ
Trials Evolution
The Witcher 2 Catch-All
Diablo III
Ora et Labora
Asteroyds
Discworld: Ankh Morpork

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Show credits

Music credits: 

Intro/Outtro Music - Ian Dorsch, Willowtree Audioworks

New Tristam Theme - Diablo 3 - http://www.diablo3.com - 37:39

Vergen by Night - The Witcher 2 - http://en.thewitcher.com/ - 52:14

Comments

Jayhawker wrote:

If they drop to $30, they just lose revenue, as the budget gamer will still use Gamestp to find it for $20-$25. But if publishers get their wt dream, and new consoles make it hard to play used games, they can afford to market their games much more aggressively.

They can, but will they is a completely different question.

I agree with you though, pricing is what is, and they'll do whatever the market allows them to do. The problem I'm seeing is that the development budgets have passed the point where $60 a copy isn't breaking even for a certain percentage of AAA games. So either they have to expand the audience somehow to draw in more potential customers, development/distribution costs need to go down, or prices need to go up.

Fundamental economics is finding the price point that maximizes revenue based on supply and demand. Some companies just decide everything is a $60 game though.

However, part of the problem there is video games are one of the only entertainment industries that will print a limited run of games and then stop.

Not really. Things like Critereon Collection movies can become quite difficult to find, and music from smaller labels often became scarce in the pre-MP3 days. Books that are unlikely to sell a lot of copies get small print runs and may or may not see more editions down the road.

You'll see fewer shortages of games as digital distribution becomes more prevalent in the industry, but small print runs for niche products are hardly something exclusive to gaming.

But it seems like it happens with EVERY game, for the most part. The only ones where it doesn't are the absolute best selling first party games and the occasional third party.

It's frustrating, because it feels like people refuse to see how everything affects everything else. Right now, with a strong used games market, there is no incentive to keep producing copies. If there was no used game market, the same demand that drives used games sales would lead to additional runs.

It really doesn't matter. We are going to spend about the same amount of money for the same amount of games. That's the demand curve. What publishers are trying to affect is how much of that revenue goes to them versus the retailer. But that is meaningless to the consumer.

They are going to buy or not buy based on perceived value and the price of games.

Jayhawker wrote:

It really doesn't matter. We are going to spend about the same amount of money for the same amount of games. That's the demand curve.

Sorry to repurpose this point for a different line of thought, but the real dream of any company is pricing exactly to the demand curve, that is, charging $500 to the guy who'll pay $500 (Elysium?) and $5 to the one who'll pay $5. The freemium model aims to get game companies there, but I think it'll fundamentally change the game experience at the same time to be decidedly less fair. The pay-per-powerup mentality of Facebook is starting to bleed into hardcore games, and I don't think we're going to like the results.

Padmewan:

Sorry to repurpose this point for a different line of thought, but the real dream of any company is pricing exactly to the demand curve, that is, charging $500 to the guy who'll pay $500 (Elysium?) and $5 to the one who'll pay $5. The freemium model aims to get game companies there, but I think it'll fundamentally change the game experience at the same time to be decidedly less fair. The pay-per-powerup mentality of Facebook is starting to bleed into hardcore games, and I don't think we're going to like the results.

That sort of thing is inherently self-limiting. What a Free-to-Play model does exceptionally well, is that it takes non-paying customers and repackages them as AI for paying customers to play with. That's a rather cold-blooded way of saying it, but it's true nonetheless. An MMOG is only as good as the crowd that hangs out there. It's like a bar or social location. If you're not cool, you won't have enough people around to buy your drinks.

The turnabout here is that if the nonpaying customers don't like your game for one reason or another, they migrate elsewhere and the paying customers go along with them.

What you want your FTP game to do is to monopolize mindshare - it's not a supply-demand relationship, but a mindshare model where your game creates the demand, and you want to make your supply as inexhaustible as possible (no upper buy-in limitations).

This is based on the premise that every customer only has a limited paycheck and will only pay as much as they can afford, modified by how obsessed they are about your game. The optimal result to have enough mindshare in a significant enough fraction of your gamer population to suck enough of their entertainment dollars away to make a profit. In real world terms, if all your customer does is play WoW all day everyday, why limit him to paying $15 a month? Sell him all manner of cutesy stuff and allow him to expend his entire disposable income on your game!

This is why companies who think that shortchanging the game experience for non-payors simply do not understand the business model they're dealing with. It's not about maximizing a static supply/demand curve. It's about creating demand, and then having an infinitely flexible supply.

Regarding Game Influence:

I think that as a product and as a driver of culture, games cannot help but reflect and shape the culture in which they are consumed. An easy target here is the chicken-and-egg question of how games portray women.

For good or for ill, games rarely portray women as anything other than prize money for the protagonist, or as eye candy for the player. The advent of games designed for womenfolk is changing this, but since womenfolk themselves grew up in a culture where they are objectified and discriminated against, their expectations are circumscribed as well.

Games with barely-concealed gravity-defying boobs are not only created by folks who think that that is a positive feature; its presence in a mainstream game moves the boundaries of normalcy and mundanity to include women whose boobs I am highly tempted to examine for various worrying disease entities. Similarly, the high percentage of male protagonists who win the game by obtaining their woman of choice as a sex partner casts this viewpoint as normal.

I feel the need to elaborate a bit, since this is so normal that some young gamers may not have an alternative viewpoint. There is an alternative perspective that simply views people as people first and possible sex partners second (or third). In this worldview, all women default to Samus in her armor - identifiably female, but assessed for capability and competence in their core disciplines, rather than as sex partners. If I were a prince and I was going to rescue a princess, she had better be a darned good ruler; and I'm not going to marry her unless she proves to be a compatible ruling partner (and she would assess me likewise, natch).

A less obvious target is how games have branched out from goal-oriented design to touristy games like RDR and GTA, and even to simple, mind-relaxing entertainment such as Angry Birds, and accessible entertainment like Wii Bowling. By dint of breaking into the mainstream, these games bring the language and culture of gaming and gamers at large from the internet to meatspace; allowing the internet occasionally to extrude into the real world.

Angry Birds plushie toys are not just a profitable market tie-in. They are a way to remind people about the Angry Birds game and how they think and feel about the game while doing something else entirely.

LarryC wrote:

They are a way to remind people about the Angry Birds game and how they think and feel about the game while doing something else entirely.

Hence why probably a number of us listen to game soundtracks during work?

shoptroll wrote:
LarryC wrote:

They are a way to remind people about the Angry Birds game and how they think and feel about the game while doing something else entirely.

Hence why probably a number of us listen to game soundtracks during work?

Spot on!

Incorrect link for Asteroyds, here is the correct one:

http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/6...

Great show this week. Jeff was especially interesting, offering good, well-thought out counterpoints and examples throughout the show. I hope you guys keep having him back!

As far as Fez goes, I'm saddened that Julian and Shawn weren't as taken by it as Jeff (and I) were. Not that I think they're "wrong" and can't have an opinion prior to oh, about 32 cubes ("beating" the game once)... I don't think that's a fair expectation for fans of a game to have. It's not respectful of someone's time if a game "doesn't get good until 20 hours in." In this case, I would say getting to the next level, so to speak, with Fez took me about 4-6 hours. At that point the range of possibilities really opened up.

However, prior to that time I had already engaged with the resonant part of the game, for me: exploring the world. Entering a new hub and having the score greet me with the wonder, horror, or potential of that environment was always invigorating. I always felt like I was making progress...chipping away at a block of marble to reveal the latest distinguishing feature of the final sculpture.

Entering the area after 32 cubes, the score coming to a crescendo and then pushing through to the first ending and all the mystery it entails was amazing and will stick with me for a long time.

And there was so much more to discover from that point onward.

Padmewan wrote:

Great podcast and thanks for taking the existentialism question seriously. I've researched and written quite a bit on games and learning, especially moral learning, so it was great to hear such high-level yet non-dbaggy conversation on a very meaningful topic.

We have a tendency in liberal society (which is to say, informed by the Enlightenment) to privilege moral reasoning over other forms of moral learning. Specifically, when we think about profound experiences we tend to weight more heavily the experiences that lead us to reflect on our lives and make a conscious changes, which is how I think you interpreted the question.

But there is another way to think about how games change our lives, and that's through affecting us directly through, e.g. emotions. You touched briefly on Journey, which I didn't play, but I felt like I did after listening to the totally amazing spoiler section several weeks back. That's an example of a game which, if it was the kind of thing you'd play every day a little bit (it's not, from what I understand), could create a change in your outlook on life in the long run. There's a different educational tradition that focuses not on reflection but on practice -- the idea being that changing how we behave then shapes how we think, not vice versa. In the U.S. this has generally been thought of as "character education" and associated with the Boy Scouts, etc. But it's also implied in yoga and other practices.

Preach that Posthuman gospel, brother!

Note: I love the level of discourse that some find pretentious. If some folks feel the need to front in order to take part in that conversation, that's a price I'm willing to bear in order to have more, deeper conversations about games.

Gravey wrote:
Padmewan wrote:

Great podcast and thanks for taking the existentialism question seriously. I've researched and written quite a bit on games and learning, especially moral learning, so it was great to hear such high-level yet non-dbaggy conversation on a very meaningful topic.

+1. I hate how often these kinds of questions or conversations are immediately kneecapped by the asker (defensively, "I hate to sound pretentious") or the audience (dismissively, "This is pretentious"). This, to me anyway, is where all the good thought is to be found and is a part of what makes playing video games so rewarding.

In the first few seconds of their approach, I thought the crew was going to torpedo it. I should've known better. I found it hard to ask that question without sounding like a douchebag. Kudos to the crew for running with it. Pretty much why I sent it to 'em in the first place. +)

Padmewan wrote:

We have a tendency in liberal society (which is to say, informed by the Enlightenment) to privilege moral reasoning over other forms of moral learning. Specifically, when we think about profound experiences we tend to weight more heavily the experiences that lead us to reflect on our lives and make a conscious changes, which is how I think you interpreted the question.

But there is another way to think about how games change our lives, and that's through affecting us directly through, e.g. emotions. You touched briefly on Journey, which I didn't play, but I felt like I did after listening to the totally amazing spoiler section several weeks back. That's an example of a game which, if it was the kind of thing you'd play every day a little bit (it's not, from what I understand), could create a change in your outlook on life in the long run. There's a different educational tradition that focuses not on reflection but on practice -- the idea being that changing how we behave then shapes how we think, not vice versa. In the U.S. this has generally been thought of as "character education" and associated with the Boy Scouts, etc. But it's also implied in yoga and other practices.

I like this tack. It reminds me of the archetype of man or woman who meticulously and efficiently performs some supposedly menial duty day in and day out. Jet Li's Huo Yuanjia in Fearless finds peace and a renewed sense of moral fortitude after running away and ending up in a small village. He spends his days tending rice crops, and at first is rash and sloppy, but later learns to respect the farm more than his time.

I think this is coincidental with the attraction many have to Dark Souls and Demon Souls. I haven't played them, but when Certis or Michael Abbott talks about his experience, it's every bit the whittling away the redundancy, the superfluous, leaving only the precise and necessary. In this sense I could get what I want out of Fallout, but not for its clumsy reproduction of human society. I can choose to use one or two weapons only, leaving all else, rather than my current tactic of hoarding absolutely anything that might be even minimally useful. (C.f. Thulsa Broom.)