How to avoid the next game industry crash

Bill Harris thinks the videogame industry is heading for a crash. I’m not sure if I like Bill, but I do respect him. His general antisocial ways probably appeal to my misanthropic nature and so I try not to have too much positive personal bias, but I can rarely argue with his analysis. He makes some good points about a potential looming crash, though I don’t think he goes far enough.

I don’t like to rehash other people’s blog posts, so I don’t want to talk about why we’re heading for a crash, just that I do think we’re heading for one. Right now the four big players are playing a four-way game of chicken except the only way to win is to not veer off course, crash into your opponents as hard as you can, and hope you’re the one who can still walk away. While there is the possibility that one or more participants could survive such a contest, a far more likely scenario is that all four wind up on life support.

Then it occurred to me this week that while the crash is almost certainly inevitable, there is a way for at least one company to win.

Instead of playing this four way game of chicken, one company needs to reverse course and completely change their whole approach. Almost every strategy being proposed by EA, Activision, Ubisoft, and Take Two focuses on nickel and diming consumers if not outright treating them like garbage. If one company starts to focus on making consumers happy, they win. That’s not a minor proposition though because it flies in the face of everything the movers and shakers in the market are working in.

Quit spending money on day one DLC. Either it’s in the game or not. Drop your prices for 360 and PS3 games to $50. Stop development on every game we all know is not going to sell. Do we really need a Kane and Lynch 2? Quit worrying about the secondary market. I’m not saying embrace it, just quit drawing attention to it and quit making it look like your trying to screw consumers. In general, start looking at ways to make gamers feel good about spending money on your products. Also, let’s face it, the current release model is unsustainable and the current economy will only make it worse. I don’t have the answer to how, but these companies are supposed to be full of smart people. Figure out how to make the “long tail” work for you and quit this ridiculous death march of trying to sell a million copies in the first two weeks of release just to break even.

Also, I know I didn’t spend much time on the above points but I’m sure the price point thing is going to stick with some people. Look, $30, $50, or $60, the actual price doesn’t matter so long as a game recoups it’s development costs. Once a game gets past the cost of development it is essentially printing money. Valve has proved time and again that lowering the price of games increases sales exponentially. $60 is an off-putting price. There are many more games I’d be willing to buy on day one for $50 instead of $60. There are many games I do buy when they hit $10 off. The difference to consumers between $40 to $50 is not the same as $50 to $60. It is not “just $10 more” in the minds of consumers. I’ve worked in software development for over a decade now and I promise you that a piece of software is only worth as much as someone will pay for it. Trying to sell $20 games for $60 is part of the reason the videogame industry is struggling so much in today’s economy. Trying to market $20 games as though they are worth $60 is just throwing money down the toilet.

The overall strategy needs to be a shift towards doing something good for the consumer.


  1. I’m not sure how practical or feasible it would be, but I think that the big 4 publishers should take a long, hard look at how Atlus treats its customers if they were to bother taking a ‘customers first’ approach to business.

    Lower prices, lots of extras and great marketing through word of mouth = win for me.

    • While I agree with your statement on one level and I love (most) things Atlus, if the big four were to do this they would die. Atlus games are not usually lower in price. They end up being a premium. (Cause people find out too late how good they are).

      EA and Activision are big—BIG.

      Their business models are so different from Atlus. I do think that EA has not fared especially well doing new things (think Mirror’s Edge or Brutal Legend). They are going to go where the money is at and where it is at the most.

      This is why we see things like Hannah Montana, Jonas Bros., and Petz.

      Now, if the big four were to create a division like Atlus (which will almost never happen thanks to the Infinity Ward fiasco) I would be all over it.

      Meh. I think this is why I’ve bought more independent or niche titles in the last two years than mainstream ones. I want quick bursts of fun that get me to think and don’t break the bank.

  2. A couple things I thought about while reading this (and Bill Harris’ post). One, I don’t think it can be understated how popular a game company would be on the web. It would be all over the place, on Twitter and Facebook, on the blogs and in the forums. That dovetails into my second thought, how that kind of buzz would potentially drive that “long tail”.

    I’d love to see it happen.

    • Ah, I think they are but we as gamers ignore it because we know it not to be sincere.

      It’s hard to be employed by a company and sound “cool” and not like a “shill.”

      Sincerity and honesty. I like that stuff. Want more of it.

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