Kerman7's Blog - Jul to Sep 17 (9 followers)

PermalinkOn a business of hype
It was recently announced that Crackdown 3 was delayed until 2018. Or more accurately, it was being delayed again.
The game was first announced during the E3 conference in June 2014 to great fanfare. It was hailed not only as a console exclusive, but also a vehicle to showcase the power of Xbox One's Cloud. With so many successive delays, one can wonder if the hype was warranted, but more than that, if this is a practice that still has its place?
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Conferences have always been used for big announcements that either create a buzz or build up excitement. In fact there probably isn't another industry that relies on hype as much as video games. The practice goes hand in hand with that of pre-order culture as hype is required to generate or at least build up the amount of upfront sales through pre-orders.
Crackdown 3 is a recent high profile example but not an isolated one. In fact, what happened to that Cloud's unlimited power available at our fingertip? During the same E3, Cuphead was also revealed and has similarly been heavily delayed (but “only” until the end of 2017). Those are two cases that stuck with me because I was pretty interested when they were announced. Today, I hardly care.
The hype machine is a remnant of practices stuck in the past. It is used as an attempt to differentiate games lost in the profusion of choice available to gamers in the current age, but it is actually hurting it along with every section of its target audience.

A good portion of gamers enjoy early announcements and following progress and further reveals until a game get commercialised.
However having so much time to wait and long for it, often generate expectations that become too big to match. The most recent and now best example is No Man's Sky. The game fell in the two biggest dangers of the hype train: Reveal too early & Over promise. The result is a growing number of disappointed customers getting increasingly suspicious with publishers and the industry as a whole, which leads to shrinking sales & lower revenues, to lower budget games & lower quality products. It is in fact feeding a viscous circle.

Of course this doesn't apply to everyone. there is a number of those gamers who do get excited with hype, that don't get disappointed. But more often than not it is because they get so involved with the game that they cannot accept it doesn't deliver. Somehow the industry managed to get some of their customers to accept or even ask for games to be delayed, as it's apparently better to get a good game late than a bad game on time. Now I have been working on software delivery for many years and delays have never been seen as a good thing. 4 months delay is a pretty poor show so what do you think 4 years would be? In fact being forgiving is not helping anyone.
Game developers should be getting better at estimating what they are getting themselves into and not bite more than they can chew. And sometimes scaling down is the right solution, or even delivering good rather than aim for perfect and never achieve it.
The problem though is gamers have also grown tired of incomplete games being sold to them full price and day 1 patches. It is hard to please everyone and the industry is finding itself between a rock and a hard place. That being said, they put themselves there and still have the power to break the circle. And the same can be said about gamers by the way…

The final section of gamers, drops along the way and end up forgetting, moving on or not caring. Which is a loss for everyone, the industry losing on a sale and the players losing on a potentially good game.

If we want to buck that trend, we may already have a solution actually. Bethesda is an interesting example to look at and may be the leader to show a different path.
When Fallout 4 was announced, its release followed only a few months later. The excitement it created was genuine and the experience that followed didn't disappoint many. The game still had many (a lot) of bugs, and could have been slated as a big mess, but it didn't. Gamers were only too happy to be able to play it, without expectations and only satisfaction. Gamers didn’t have time to build up unattainable dreams based on vague statements or pre-rendered trailers. They simply enjoyed the experience as it was available.
And this is why if Valve is by any miracle working on the holy grail of gaming, I am glad the only times they talk about it is to deny everything.

If I was to give advice to the industry, I could say “Don’t make announcements if games are not at least in QA (Quality Assurance) stage” and “Don’t lie”. Not that much to ask.
But I'd mostly say to stick to quality rather than quantity, and let it speak for itself.
As a consumer however, I can simply try to ignore advertisement, never pre-order, and sample before I buy. Let's break that circle.

Posted by Kerman7 on 25 August 17 at 22:05 | Last edited on 25 August 17 at 22:19 | There are no comments on this blog - Please log in to comment on this blog.
PermalinkOn the cost of Free
There is no such thing as free lunch. So goes the adage.
How about free beer?
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If you know the history behind the saying, it comes from a time when free lunches were used to attract people in restaurants to boost activity and revenue. The reasoning was that offering free lunch would entice the customers to spend more money on drinks.
When it comes to beer, caution would be well advised. Even if no money is exchanged during the transaction, someone is paying for it, and the end user always pays their due, in one way or another. (Providing an answer to your own rhetorical question has a unique charm)
If you look at the Video Games industry, there is no reason why it would be any different. Every time something is given for 'free', there is a cost associated to it. And it is fascinating to see how the gaming community reacts in different ways to free gaming.
No matter how it is received or given, the appeal of a free item is often too hard to resist. This is a well-known and natural reaction, but it is interesting to take some time and have a look at the costs associated to those decisions as they are hardly ever considered or even acknowledged.

  • 1. It makes you play games you wouldn't

Being given a free game you didn't have before, more often than not makes you play something you didn't plan to.
It's not necessarily a bad thing of course. There will be good surprises on occasion, plus a reasonable section of players can't actually afford all the games they'd like to play, so having free ones provides more opportunity and variety. But it also increases the chances of playing turds.
If we consider this cost being simply an increased risk of playing an awful game, it doesn't seem that bad. But the real cost rather is being made to do something you didn't want to, sometimes without realising it. Why are so many gamers building up a 'backlog' that they complain keeps on ever increasing but never stop adding to, and further exacerbate their self-made plight by creating events to force themselves even harder to play them all?
Everyone these days would agree forcing someone to do something against their will is wrong; how do we feel about forcing someone to do something without them being aware of it?

An addendum to that is it can compel you to keep playing something you don't want to.
This only applies to freemium or trials that unlock achievements, and to people who are completionists. But in those cases, it can make you keep playing something you hate, or force you to find safeguards and use secondary accounts. In either case, it increases your legwork.

  • 2. It affects your judgement

The recurring event of monthly free games with Games With Gold (GwG) is a great source of information and observation of reactions.
No matter how diametrically opposite some reactions may be, there are common factors that trigger them, one being the emotions of the players are being altered by the freeness of the gift.

One section of the community will always say things along the lines of 'Can't complain for free'. What happens is they have lowered their standards to such a low level that they have disappeared. All simply due to the fact the game is free. Now let's imagine the GwG was reducing games to $1/£1 instead, would the same people still claim you cannot complain no matter the quality? Would they themselves be closer to having the same expectations than at full price? Would the expectations be proportional? The answer is known and the 0 price tag is what creates the predictable anomaly.
On the other end of the spectrum, some will always complain how the free games are 'shit' and some will demand a recent AAA offering instead. I could go with the popular comment of a generation of entitlement, but as much as it may be a part of it, the principal cause is the free price tag generated higher expectations. If they are promised a gift and don't get one, they feel let down. Think about receiving a birthday or valentine present, would you feel different if you knew the giver got it for free as opposed to having bought it? If you knew the item you wanted just went on a 50% sale, would you now expect two of them?
Price always impacts our judgement, and never as dramatically as when it's free.

The effect can be slow burning and long lasting as well. Linked to the fact you may be playing a game you wouldn't have otherwise, forcing yourselves through it may feel like work instead of fun. In the long run, it may burn people out, impacting the enjoyment they get from playing any video game. And as your judgement may have been impacted, it can be something that is difficult to fight against.

  • 3. It makes you forgo boundaries

Sometimes to get a free game, you need to queue at a shop, or provide personal information. Maybe you've had to create an account to a new website, retweet a post or authorise a Facebook app to your account's wall, or complete a survey for a chance at winning.
In each case you disclose some element of personal information in exchange of the 'free' item, and although tech savvy people will know how to protect themselves, each occurrence is a new risk to make a mistake.

  • 4. It makes you spend money

If you go back to the original saying's history and replace 'lunch' with 'game' and 'drinks' with 'DLC/microtransactions' (which you probably did instantly then) it's easy to work out.

This time it doesn't only apply to hardcore completionists who have to buy the DLC after being given a GwG. An even larger user base is likely to consider that given they didn't pay for the game itself, it is fine to spend a little on extras. Probably more often on freemium games and microtransactions than GwG and DLC, but in the end it is all the same.
Spending £5 on extending an experience you were given for free may not sound that bad, but the reality is that it is money you wouldn't have spent, had you not been given the game for free. The mistake made is comparing the money you have spent to the money you could have spent; so if full price+DLC was £25, it feels as if you've saved £20, and that sounds a lot better than realising you normally wouldn't have spent any and actually wasted £5…
To be clear, note I'm not assessing if the spent is worth it or not (remember my objective here is to discuss the impact of 'free'), I'm merely acknowledging the effect.

Another expression of this effect is when a free exclusive item is offered with a pre-order. The incentive is meant to rush our decision into buying and losing the free item if we don't, which could make someone pay full price for something they'd otherwise been happy for wait a sale for.

Some say it is up to each of us to make up their mind and that nothing is forced on anyone.
I say if it rains, you will get wet whether you want it or not. But you can always get an umbrella.
So next time something will be given to you for free, don't forget to ask yourself one question: What is it going to cost me?

Posted by Kerman7 on 10 August 17 at 15:45 | There are 5 comments on this blog post - Please log in to comment on this blog.