The Game Industry Is Not Your Friend

Video game players, particularly MMO fans, can get pretty attached to development and publishing companies. We anthropomorphize them a bit, even. Official forums and player blogs alike are full of statements like, “Blizz, why won’t you help me?!” and “Man, Bioware, dumb move.” Players like to think of development houses in particular as a paternal force for good, an entity who loves you and wants you to be happy. You can relax and know that they are looking out for you, the player.

Except really, you can’t.

Now, I’m not saying that development and publishing companies never want to create and distribute good games that make players happy. On an individual level in particular developers and designers and their related colleagues tend to be folks who are passionate about games and who want to help the medium progress. However, while yes, a company would like to make or distribute a game that is a success with both consumers and critics, the final goal at the end of the day is to make money.

And I don’t mean that in a perjorative way. Obtaining profit is the end goal of the vast majority of businesses! Sure, EA loves having their name on a game that is a critical masterpiece and sells a bajillion copies, but they’re also pretty okay with having their name on a game that is not really that good but also sells a bajillion copies. Blizzard would like to have 10 million happy subscribers who play every day, but it’s little difference to the balance sheets if they have 10 million kinda meh subscribers who play every six weeks.

I’m bringing this up now because there are two issues floating around lately that I think benefit from examining the MMO consumer’s business relationship with the developers/publishers, and those are the Mass Effect 3 day one paid DLC, and WoW’s fancy new Scroll of Resurrection offer. Both have caused quite a bit of outcry in the player communities, and while I’m not arguing that either of these aren’t sucky situations I’m not sure we should be so surprised or outraged.

I could write an entire post about Day 1 DLCs, but let me cut to the chase: while I appreciate that developers need to pay rent too, there is absolutely no way to make paying two fees for a game on launch day palatable. It just can’t be done. But even more importantly, to my mind, is that we are being asked to trust the distributors that the content is a) not just part of the game that was pulled out for extra money and b) worth the price — I’ve seen $10 on everything from extra missions to an appearance pack.

I’ve spoken with a number of eager developer types whose pro-DLC argument essentially boils down to, “trust the developer/publisher because they are working hard” but I think that is asking for more leeway from consumers than you’d find in most other business relationships. EA is under no obligation to change their DLC release dates to be nice, and I am equally not obligated to buy a day 1 DLC to support creativity or be a team player or whatever.

A lot of people are also cranky about Blizzard’s new returning subscriber bonuses. I have seen so many responses where folks are almost pleading for affection from Anaheim: “I’ve been a loyal subscriber since day one, even when Cataclysm came out and half my guild quit, so why do you hurt me like this?” Again, this is a company with a goal of profits, not of being cuddly. Creating a crazy deal to lure back old subscribers seems pretty par for the course and I would bet it’s going to be successful, much like cell phone or cable company plans.

When you’re passionate about a hobby it’s easy to assume that we’re all on the same team because, hey, we all love games and gaming culture, right? Right? But it’s foolish for us, the game consumer, to expect anything from developers and publishers aside from.. well.. a game, and not always a good one at that. Don’t waste energy expecting them to treat you like a dear friend or even a valued asset, and don’t trust them to be looking out for your best financial interests. If they do, then great. And if they don’t… take your dollar elsewhere. It’s your right as a consumer.

Author: Jessica Cook

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10 Comments

  1. I’d pay good money to see the statistics these companies have. From what we can observe from their marketing, players don’t seem to walk away in droves from bad products. Sure there’s thousands of threats — we see them daily on every game forum. Yet companies don’t often change their tune, which may indicate players promise “never again” but continue to pay these guys.

    There’s too much psychology in marketing as well. One would have hoped this science would aid with human wellness, but it’s become a tool that fosters sickness; the way these companies prey on their beloved customers isn’t just unethical at times but *frightening*.

    But yeah. Players apparently can’t stop paying them. We get the games we deserve in that regard.
    Doone´s last post: Response to Specialization is Key

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    • “Players apparently can’t stop paying them. We get the games we deserve in that regard.”

      Very true. I wrote this post, but I still bought the ME3 DLC a couple of days after launch because.. well.. hate the delivery method, love the content. I’m part of the problem!

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  2. I’m kind of in two minds about this. I do think that with the way accounts, always-online play etc. are becoming ever more prominent, video games are turning more into a service than simple products that you just buy for their own sake, and as they become more like a service I do think it’s reasonable to expect… well, better service :P, which includes things like sensible payment plans.

    However, there isn’t much point in moaning while simply continuing to pay up, because like you say that’s what really matters to them in the end. If you really think that a company is providing bad service, then you should probably take your business elsewhere. However, I get the impression that gamers in general are pretty bad at this, because for all their annoyance they’ll often buy anyway because they “can’t resist” or whatever. As long as we keep doing that, we can’t really expect to see much change IMO.
    Shintar´s last post: Reasons to play a trooper

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    • Gamers are so bad at this, indeed. I think we generally really want to be loyal, particularly to an MMO provider, but we would benefit from being a little more cutthroat with our subscription dollars. At the end of the day, it’s really the only thing we can expect a company to listen to.

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  3. The thing is, yes MMOs are business and whatever publishers or devs do or don’t do isn’t “personal”. YET the nature of MMO development is still different from let’s say a movie company. the game industry lives from a more direct relationship to its fans, relies on feedback, forums, beta testers etc. a loyal fanbase / sworn player bases are not something you can so easily dismiss in this particular genre. you must please longterm and yet, you must also “squeeze”. I think many companies struggle with this dilemma; see Blizzard for example, they installed voices like Ghostcrawler to somehow have a personal connection out there to get in touch with their players. but how significant is he today, really? I don’t know.
    so, while players should never forget that their not in a “love relationship” with a developer, it’s understandable that loyal customers react somewhat touchy depending on what’s happening. the longterm nature of MMOs is quite a significant factor, methinks.
    Syl´s last post: Which MMOs are you holding on to?

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    • Good points, Syl! And I’ve certainly done my share of feeling loyal to MMO companies. (Oh, Blizzard.)

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  4. Echoing Syl a bit, it’s worth noting that MMO companies, especially subscription ones, are all about providing a service. Other game companies can get away with merely providing commodities. There are different “best business practices” between the two. A service company really does benefit from building good relationships with customers, more so than commodity companies.

    That said, I’m all for treating these MMO things as commodities, speaking as a consumer. I’m not looking for a service or a commitment, I just want a game. That’s how I spend my gaming money, and I don’t mind that MMO companies in particular are understanding that better.
    Tesh´s last post: Barely Interactive Movies

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    • Tesh, great point about MMOs being more of a service than a single commodity. That does alter the consumer relationship somewhat. It’s interesting though — it feels like players are moving towards hopping around MMOs, cancelling and resubbing for new content, and treating them as less of a dedicated service. Hopefully companies don’t put less effort into building good customer relationships in turn.

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  5. As a developer, I’ll say:

    1) You are absolutely right.
    2) Personal motivation can be different than corporate motivaiton.

    A lot of developers do what they do mostly for the sheer love of games. I said before that Meridian 59 caused me to go tens of thousands of dollars into credit card debt (that I since paid off without bankruptcy by doing consulting work). But, I can say with a clear conscience that my work on M59 was more motivated by love than by profit.

    But, that’s obviously wasn’t sustainable. Now I’m working for a startup funded by investors, and those investors want a return on investment. That doesn’t mean that I worship at the altar of profit rather than wanting to make a cool project, but I can’t simply ignore the money aspect.

    But, this is an old struggle: art vs. commerce. This has been an issue for centuries, if not millennia. This is why I’ve harped on the importance of supporting people doing cool things with your money, because if you don’t then they can do the cool things you might look forward to.
    Brian ‘Psychochild’ Green´s last post: Being a game decorator

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    • Yup, exactly. Our money is also our vote for more cool people doing cool things.

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