Friday, 4 February 2011

Games: From product to service, and how you lost your say in it.

Haven't really posted in forever. So, instead, a "re-post" of something I said in a forum earlier. Enjoy (or don't, that's really your call):

@The_root_of_all_evil: [To paraphrase a long post as well, something about being upset at TF2 because it changed]

I'm not upset because it changed, I'm upset because it changed in a pointless way, it ruined what the game was, and I have no option to say "no thanks!".

I bought a game, that game isn't what I bought anymore... That is a problem. Imagine you go to a restaurant and you buy a meal. A lasagna, for instances. A very well made, no "microwave" bullshit, true Italian classic lasagna. And you're loving it. Now, halfway through your meal a garçon walks by and tosses whipped cream and marmite on your meal. You didn't ask for whipped cream and marmite on your lasagna. You didn't have a chance to say "no thanks", and they serve no fucking purpose on a lasagna. And yet you're still forced to eat it or pass. There's no option to just disable it.

And that's why I don't buy that this was all a test. First because any idiot could see the results of the "test" a mile away. I mean, seriously, would you test to see if your average male man gets aroused by an extremely attractive woman in sexy clothing being flirtatious? Would you test to see if your average person would accept a Ferrari for absolutely free, no strings attached? No, because the results are pretty obvious. Second because, if this was just a test, they would have given us the option to revert it MONTHS ago.

See, what actually happened is that a few years ago companies started realizing people were colossal suckers, and games like World of Warcraft and similar MMOs (be they P2P or F2P) were extorting seriously obnoxious amounts of dosh. Even more so when they noticed that, for the most part, the apparently "little leaguers" that were the Free-to-Play games with premium shops, were actually making even more obscene amounts of cash.

Since they everyone and their dog realize that there was more money in it for them to monetize games "in the long run". DLC - previously known as "updates". Purchasable items. "Online passes". Subscriptions. Anything that could cause people to consistently drop cash in the game would significantly improve the profit return on the initial investment. It's all about keeping your players paying. Previously it was all about getting the game through the door and getting as many sales as you could. Now the emphasis has shifted. Why invest several million dollars with a relative risk of little to no return (which there is, even on a "safe" sequel, there's still the chance that it's going nowhere and you're not getting your money back). It's much safer to invest what is pretty much pocket change and collect a few millions in return. From a financial point of view, this is brilliant. You're getting an impressive return on next to no investment. You know what it costs for a professional in-house artist to model a new hat? Fuck all. In return they get thousands, potentially millions, of dollars for it. Shit, you don't have to be an Harvard business graduate to make THOSE calculations.

So things changed. Gabe Newell himself said it: Games are becoming less of a product, and more of a service. Now, given my eyeballed calculations and whatever little info we can find on the ordeal, it's also safe to say that Valve makes rather egregious piles of money from Steam. That said, they're not stupid and they're not a charity. TF2 was becoming a bit of a money sink. Money was being spent in development that was not really being returned significantly. Let's face it, TF2 had sold about as much as it ever would. Being known by everyone even mildly connected to the gaming world, and after the absurd number of promotions where you could buy it for next to nothing, almost anyone that could ever be interested in this game now owns it.

So what do you do? You create a way to return it. You make attaining items, all of them, even the game changing ones, a colossal pain in the ass through a retarded and archaic random drop system, a system that was only ever invented in ANY game to inflate a game's length. You introduce pointless "rare" items (and we all know how people love anything that's rare, even if it's a giant piece of shit, if it's rare, the average simple minded dullard will want it more than food!), and create a market to further inflate the importance of these items. Then you "experiment" with an in-game shop with rather high prices. Sure, they're high, but you're not "forced" to buy them! Off course, they're kinda rare and that's by far the best way to get them! And in some cases (coughcough, unusuals and crates) almost the only way! But you totally don't have to!

Off course, that means destroying some things, like your original art style. If you had propose to Robin Walker the inclusion of "flaming hats" or any of this crap in the game 4 years ago he would have patted you on the head and showed you the way out. But let's be honest, how many people honestly, how many people do you think actually understand, let alone appreciate, proper game design? Go to the suggestions forums if you have any doubts. It's a veritable cavalcade of mediocrity, and I mean that in the worse possible way. 99% of all "IDEA"s you find there are mental abortions at best. You think those people even understand how beautiful and pristine the original TF2 was? Fuck no. They see something shiny, they go after it like moths. Remember we're talking about the "average" person. The type of person that comprises the majority of your user/client base. These are the same mouth breathers that made the dreadful Modern Warfare 2 the fastest selling game ever (or something like that).

So here is the approximate formula that at some point formed in Valve's collective heads: TF2's massive userbase - A layer of quality maybe 5% of the population can recognize let alone appreciate + Small investment in crap = mountains of cash.

Again, they didn't need to get their accountants around to do that particular bit of math.

Those of us who know better and are not particularly interested in all this crap, and could appreciate TF2 for what it was, on the other hand, keep getting flooded by all of this crap we didn't pay for and never wanted to begin with. This isn't optional. We can't "opt out" of it. We either enjoy it or fuck off. That's valid in an MMO, like WoW, where you're constantly paying to play the game. If at any time they do something you don't want you can simply stop renewing your subscription and you pretty much get what you paid for. A game that you bought, supposedly permanently, for what it was... That's not what we paid for.

Whether the game is better or worse, it's all arguable off course. I'm sure people like Kraken think it's much better now. Good for them. I dislike it, but I don't think I've ever said these things should be permanently removed from the game right entirely. I would certainly approve of it, but I also realize that some people like that... What I don't like is that we're not given the option. Something as simple as a "force default models" command, something that has existed since, what, Quake2...? Quake 3 I'm sure of. Something that simple just isn't present.

It really comes down to financial interests. Why would they let you disable advertisement.

1 comment:

  1. I Agree with this post with a passion.

    ReplyDelete