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.

Mirror’s Edge on the Go

We kind of had a little bit of a love/hate relationship with the console version of Mirror’s Edge. Some arguments made online is that the game would have been better in third person. It looks like the game has been shrunk down, put in third person, and married with Canabalt for your iPod/iPhone.

It’s not out yet, but my guess is soon.

Feedburner sometimes does not play nice with video. If you don’t see it in your reader, come home.

Command and ConqueRED!

I have always been a huge fan of the C&C games. Command and Conquer 4 came out this week. I was contemplating purchasing it on Steam. At the bottom of the page, I saw this:

PERSISTENT INTERNET CONNECTION, EA ACCOUNT, REGISTRATION WITH ENCLOSED SERIAL CODE AND ACCEPTANCE OF END USER LICENSE AGREEMENT REQUIRED TO PLAY. SOFTWARE REGISTRATION IS LIMITED TO ONE EA ACCOUNT PER SERIAL CODE AND IS NON-TRANSFERABLE.

Thank you EA. The first three words helped me save $50. We’re reading about people raping Ubisoft all over the Internet about this. Why have we not heard anything about EA?

I’m going to be alarmist and state that PC gaming is going to look really different in the near future. It’ll be more niche, indie, and cheaper. I, for one, welcome it.

This makes me red.

Dragon Age First Impressions

Now that I’ve spent a little time with Dragon Age: Origins, I thought I’d post a few impressions.

Initially, I didn’t think Dragon Age: Origins was going to do it for me. Things started out really slow. I didn’t care for what at first glance appeared to be a rather generic story. Some of the graphics were distracting. Controls didn’t feel right. I was not impressed.

Now that I’m about five or six hours into the game, I’m happy to admit things get much better. The story, now that I’ve read some of the background (via the Codex) has me buying in to what’s happening. I quickly became comfortable with the controls.

Graphics are still a bit of a disappointment. It’s probably nit-picky and petty, but some of the character models look really bad. I know the game has been in development for a long time, but it’s surprising that Mass Effect, a game two years older, looks just as good (if not better) than Dragon Age. Maybe that’s due to the fact that this game was obviously designed for PC first, consoles second, but some of the models are very distracting.

I had read in more than one place (Josh most recently) about how Dragon Age had a potentially steep learning curve but I thought I was good enough to start the game at a higher difficulty level. WRONG. After an hour of dying needlessly I set the difficulty back to normal and moved on. I don’t know why I have this need to do things the hard way but I’m getting better. I’ve decided that after I gain a few more levels I think I’ll give the next difficulty up another try now that I’m getting the hang tactics system and my guys aren’t as squishy.

And one last thing. Normally with BioWare games, I’m almost always go with the “good” options. In conversation I say the “right things” and when offered a moral choice I “do the right thing”. This game, I’m trying to be a “bad guy” or at least not a knight in shining armor. It’s hard. On more than one occasion I’ve felt a twinge of guilt as I send an orphan packing or see a “-10 Alistair” after I make a decision. If nothing else, that’s got to count for something in terms of emotions in a video game.

Set your DVRs

Got this note from EA’s PR peoples and figured some of you would be interested. I know I am, but I’m also torn. I’ve been avoiding any and all info about Mass Effect 2 to go into the game pure and unsullied as possible. I have seen a few of the teaser videos for the game, so maybe I’m already corrupted. Either way, check it out:

Tonight the SyFy Network will debut the special TV documentary, Sci vs. Fi: Mass Effect 2 , featuring celebs, creators, and experts discussing 2010’s first blockbuster videogame, Mass Effect 2 and its place in the sci-fi pantheon. Tune in to the Sy Fy Network for the premiere airing on Tuesday January 19th at 11 PM EST/PST and 10 PM CET. The show takes an in-depth look at both the science and fiction of Mass Effect 2, and features interviews with in-game voice talent Tricia Helfer and Yvonne Strahovski, Sci-Fi fan favorite Wil Wheaton and journalists Jessica Chobot and Adam Sessler among others.