It’s a Player’s Market
Being a child of the eighties, the concept of video games evokes a very clear mental image. Either you went to an arcade with a pocket full of quarters or you were lucky enough to have a console that you played in front of the TV whenever no one else was home (There was only just the one TV, and the rest of the household had priority over you and your “silly toys”). In both cases a substantial sum of money would be expected to change hands. $60 for a new cartridge or CD has been the standard. And if you didn’t like it, your money was already in someone else’s pocket.
As I’m a luddite at heart, it was only a few months ago that I upgraded to a computer possessing more than 64 bytes of memory, let alone capable of the foreign concept of “PC gaming.” Sure I’m exaggerating, but it wasn’t until recently that my eyes were opened to the possibilities that computers present. Video gaming has for more than twenty years been dominated by the problems of logistics. If you and a group of people managed to develop your own video game, you faced the onerous task of finding the capital to mass produce a disc. Then you had advertising costs. Then you had to develop a line of supply with various retailers. In this way independent game developing groups were stillborn.
Then direct downloads came along. It didn’t deal with all the cost and logistics issues (Microsoft charges licensing fees and takes 30% of the profit for using Xbox Live Indie Games, for one), but it made taking your idea and getting it out there more possible. And now it’s becoming a new standard of the industry. Games which had previously been console-only are now available to the PC in order to appeal to a larger market. DLC too. Both huge organizations like EA and small garage-based companies are finding themselves on an increasingly level playing field. Some scaremongers are even saying that Steam and Big Fish Games, with their plethora of discounted indie games, are flooding the market to the degree that game developers of any kind will be unable to make a profit on all but their most popular titles. Even though that’s highly unlikely, it shows us something about a changing market trend.
Gamers now find themselves in a position they have never before known: They dictate the market.
Let’s talk about Free-To-Play games. Initially they were gimmicks. They either tried to sell you something or they were a scam. That is still true in some cases. It can be argued that many free-to-play games are the last stop before a dying game is scrapped entirely. That is also true in some cases. There are even some assholes who say free-to-play gaming is a natural reaction to high rates of internet piracy, despite being unable to come up with accurate figures dictating the rate of piracy.
You can Google “Free Games” and come up with millions of hits. Steam alone hosts five dozen, and the number is increasing steadily. Steam’s endorsement of free-to-play games has helped to legitimize the concept in the eyes of the public. It represents a change in the mindset of widespread developers. Rather than saying “This is how much the game costs and you’ll pay it if you want to play it,” many developers are now saying “Give this game a try, free of charge. If you like it, maybe you’ll consider buying something else we make.”
And if you don’t like what a developer makes, they haven’t got your money yet.
The number of burgeoning developers out there is forcing them to work for your business. And plenty of competition is a good thing. The options available to gamers have gotten to the point that game reviews are having a more powerful effect on their buying choices, so much so that producer of the MMORPG game Star Trek Online Dan Stahl has gone on record as blaming “unfair” reviews for the game’s poor sales. Examining the quandary between boosting sales (and therefore allowing a reviewer to keep his job) by giving false positive reviews versus being honest to the public and telling people whether or not a game is crap is a topic for another time, but the point remains that gamers can afford to be picky now. And they should. If you’re a gamer, do your part to help the game industry progress by buying smart. We’re essentially trying to housetrain an incontinent puppy here. Routinely rubbing its nose in its mistakes and swatting it with a newspaper is what needs to be done.
If you’re tired of the interchangeable Call of Duty shooters released every six months like clockwork, don’t buy them. If you’re angry that EA releases half a game and expects you to shell out more for the DLC (which is really just the complete game) don’t buy it. If you try a Free-To-Play game and hate it as well as the way the developer does business, stop playing it and don’t purchase anything more the developer releases.
Now more than ever gamers can shape the industry and correct its faults by simply doing nothing at all.