PC gaming

Phil Cordaro and Adam Ames are joined by Mike Bezek who discuss various facets of the corporate side of PC gaming.  Adam starts off with his thoughts on single player titles morphing into quasi multiplayer experiences.  After that point, topics in this episode include DLC, micro transactions, current business models and why gamers continue supporting shady gaming companies.

*This cast does not touch on SimCity*

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  • Mister Monsieur

    There is a lot of things to say about it. I’m still not sure what I’m really thinking about it…

    1. Industry
    Sure I’m sick of seeing the gaming industry changing and become that gigantic industry just trying to milk consumer in every possible ways. But it’s just the ‘natural human’ way it’s meant to be. You know… capitalism economy… etc … When something seems to be profitable it start moving from the passionate guys to the business guys…

    It went from the arcades “only 2$ for one more continue/life … ” to home gaming with “5$ for a new weapon”.

    The only problem for now is about finding an equilibrium.we need :
    – finding something correct for the customer. Obviously 60$ a game and 10$ for a costume isn’t good …
    – getting enough people saying ‘NO’ when it’s exaggerated.

    Let’s get realistic, the archetype of the ‘gamer’ went from the young nerd to …. there no one anymore, everyone can be a gamer now. (for example, I went to a conference about ‘gamification’ some month ago, I don’t remember the name of the guy saying it, but studies told that the average ‘casual gamer’ is a 30 year old woman) So it seems logical (on a business point of view) to go the way of the micro transactions.

    2. In my head, by example :

    a. Borderland 2 and season dlc / season pass. First I was like ‘what the fuck’ 20.- for a season pass, the first game was not bad, but no way I’ll buy B2 and the season pass. After a few week, some good friends bought it, and I finally toke them, and didn’t regretted my purchase.

    b. Mass effect 3, I remember that when It came out, there was a lot of scandals about a lot of thing in this game, then with DLC…. I just remember saying ‘no way I’ll buy that shit’, and never requestioned myself about it. So now I know I’ll not buy it, but don’t remember why exactly. (that pretty much like how I become vegan … except I remember why ;))

    c. I’ve spent a lot of money in TF2 items… (the most expensive one was a 100$ hat)

    So all this example to say, ‘there is no right/wrong’, the price of something is the price people will pay for it (basics of economy). The big things with micro transaction / dlc for digital content, is the ‘right middle’ is harder to find, because the act of buying is really at 3-4 click away (that’s the trap)

    You know in my head, as long as I say “I don’t want to buy this” it’s easy to do, I just have to do nothing. but if I’m hesitating 30 sec about buying that shit., it’s all the time I need to click/buy it. That’s the big ‘problem’ for the customer and digital goods. That’s actually the big trap about it. I’m completely aware about it, but at the end of the day, I pretty much don’t care seems I’m not short on money.

    3. Kinda Conclusion/What I think

    I’ve been an activist anti-capitalist until 20-25ish, trying to make things change, manifesting,..etc … Did I’ve gave up ? no.. Did I stop hoping about a better days ? probably. I’m now just an engineer living the “new-customer dream”. Being able to work-buy-play-sleep, without having to think too much about my spending, profiting this ‘profiting society’, secretly dreaming that it will end soon enough.

    My point here is : for a gamer, that dlc/microtransaction shit is the tip of the iceberg, but the problem is the industry in general. Is there any point in trying to resist ? I pretty much think “YES, but don’t think it’s the most important cause you have to fight for, but it’s a good start”.

    It probably looks like a ‘old tired guy’ speech… but tell me I’m wrong… I would be happy to change my mind.

    I would be pretty happy to see some ‘gamers associated against industry fucking up our favorite hobby’ association. But would kinda doubt his success.

    hoo man…. probably over thought it a little too much … 😛 will wrap up 😛

    —–

    Anyway, great cast 😉 was nice to hear your point of view about it. You’re still my favorite cast around 🙂 some great analogies was told 🙂

    PS : at this point, in 3-4 years, every games will have (let’s mix the 2 worst things every happing to gaming) the achievement related to the money spent in micro transaction i.e. : “money king : spent 150$ in microtransaction”

    sry for the wall of text…..

    • Philski

      That PS! What a nightmare scenario!

      Some interesting points here – Not too get too far into economics stuff but the nature of digital distribution and microtransactions does lend itself to a few things that can be a little sketchy. It’s kind of a funny thing to think about because on one hand that is the way economics works and who says that publishers can’t indulge in consumer-unfriendly strategies if it makes them money…after all, that’s the business they’re in! At the same time, I think the long term implications on the industry would be really bad if we continue down this path of monetizing everything, and filling every game with tactics like carrot-on-a-stick “you’re always just short of your next upgrade but you can pay real money to get it now” strategies, diminishing returns, reliance on sunk cost effects over time to make gamers more willing to pay disproportionally more than DLC is worth, psychological price barriers, and a million other awful things probably.

      So while the jaded old man in me wants to just lean back in his chair and figure we’re all screwed, part of me hopes gamers will voice more of their concerns about these things and maybe the publishers will listen.

      Many thanks for your interesting post. 🙂

  • Steven S

    First a few words on big corporations. You are absolutely correct about poor customer service stemming from the decision makers being too far away from the customers. It happened in music, movies, sports and now it’s come to games. This is the brilliance of the franchise business. The guy running your local McDonalds is personally invested in that particular store and is in charge of running it. The suits up at McDs HQ don’t see the faces at the drive through or the kids in the ball pen, so they would be poor cashiers and cooks. Whereas the manager could, and often does, step in and do some of the little jobs. You see this same sort of disconnect even here on the TPG interviews in how an indie game maker with 1-2 games feels about DRM, Pay-what-you-want and DLC vs the official stance of large game companies. A gamer-programmer wants to make a game that they want to play themselves, the MBA just looks at trends and tries to stay on the leading edge. It’s like handing the keys to a fully restored classic car to some kid who just got his license rather than the guy who spent 2 years fixing it back up. The flip side however is that someone who knows all the ins and outs of making a good game usually doesn’t know the first thing about running a business. When you give your creative mind the full power and control of also being the business owner the result is often worse that you could have expected. Look at what George Lucas did to Star Wars, he was given free decision making powers and an open ended budget for episodes 1-3. So if you are a hard core gamer in school now, do yourself and the gaming community as a whole a great big favor. Hit the books, go to business school and graduate top of your class so that you can walk into a job with EA and run it right.

    I like the idea of a gamer alliance, in theory. The problem is going to come when deciding which issues to tackle. If you just want a large group of gamers who stand up and say that the industry is broken and needs an overhaul, that will be easy. Now ask that group what the biggest issue is that should be fixed and you will end up with a dozen splinters of that original group. Ask each of these what the fix should be and watch the groups splinter again. I would rather have a group that just exposes all tactics a company is using and then encourages gamers to take action on what ever pet peeve they may have. The only real restriction would be that members don’t openly flame each other. It’s one thing to ask “What is the deal with DLC? Why is it bad?” but another to say “What wrong with you that you don’t want DLC?” For myself I have written a number of emails to numerous game developers and publishers about games that I am interested in. I thank them for their time and the work they do then I mention the game in question and why I am interested. Depending on what stage development is in and what issues I am writing about I will lay out my problem then ask that they either consider my position, reconsider their decision or ask about a more user friendly re-release at a later point in time. However I fear that my email may be the only one they get and therefore ignored. It would be nice to have someplace where I could say that I sent an email about game X and see how many others have done the same. Sort of like a Greenlight but for fixing the gaming industry.

  • Bob

    “Who discuss?” Really? What a weird sentence. “As they discuss” would have been a much better choice of words.

    • Adam Ames

      Thanks for the advice, but I am not going to modify that sentence.

      • Philski

        He’s right Ames, it would have sounded better that way! Search your feelings, you know it to be true.

  • Randy

    Gentlemen. Play good games that follow the belief system you have and support the values you hold as a gamer. No one has ever held a gun to your head to force you to buy a funny hat or a cute costume. Trust me. If people are turned off by Fremium games they will go away. That hasn’t happened yet. Why do you care if there’s some dude with insane armor in Guild Wars? As I understand the pvp it’s evened out and isn’t effected by in game purchases. This kneejerk stuff about in app purchases is silly. Read some articles about Real Racing 3. Sounds to me like you throw ten bucks or so into it and get a second car. Trading off gives you much interrupted play. They heard complaints and they fixed it. A AAA racing game for a ten dollar purchase. Great deal right?

    Spend a few days with gamers under 25 and see how they spend their gaming money. My kids played wizard 101 and they spent all their allowance money on virtual goods and got tons of utility. I thought it was bizarre at first but it was a great investment and served them well. There’s a guy that I work with who has encyclopedic gaming knowledge and has beat countless old school games He didn’t wait one second to buy a bigger gun in Dead Space 3 when given the opportunity. Virtual Purchases have value.to lots and lots of people.

    Saying your monetary vote doesn’t count is ridiculous. Also, not to point fingers, but it sounds like all of you bought Diablo 3. Why would you do that knowing what we all knew about it going in? You’re part of the problem. I don’t care how much you liked Diablo II. Don’t buy games that don’t line up with your values or your values are suspect and arbitrary. Buy games from GOG when you can. Don’t buy stuff with DRM when you have a chance to get it elsewhere.

    Just being frustrated isn’t interesting. Give us some solutions. One of the best games in the past year for me was Path of Exile. Free to play, nothing locked out, “always on DRM” and it is amazing. If a game is fremium and you enjoy it, throw them a few bucks and play it. Featured recently on your own pages was an interview with the dev for Triple Town, a fremium game (And a good one at that) with great payment options.

    Thanks for listening. This was supposed to be short. Love the website (except for those money grubbing corporate adds I’m forced to look at on the sides of the screen 😛 )

    • Adam Ames

      I am a little annoyed you assumed all of us bought D3. I did not buy Diablo 3 because of their stance on DRM, regardless of their proclaimed features. I did not buy Dark Souls because I am against bare bones ports. I did not buy SimCity due to the ridiculous always-on and the fact that they, essentially, developed SimCity MMO.

      I will never play any of those products no matter how cheap they become. I do, in fact, vote with my wallet and words. When a person asks my opinion on a game, I inform them of the reasons behind my feelings, but leave the purchase decision up to them. I do not preach nor do I attempt to make them feel like I feel. I lay down the facts and it is up to them. “Here is why I believe you should not buy it.”

      • Randy

        Sorry about being annoying. There was pretty detailed chat about modes and play style that lead me to think you all had it. Sorry about that. I agree with your points above completely. I do think that voting against bad games is more effective than voting against delivery mechanisms. I’m staying very far away from Sim City Online, but once they work it out it might be a good experience. Online DRM can work and be completely fair and fun for the player. It just hasn’t happened much. I trust small devs like Grinding Gears (Path of Exile) much more than EA to pull it off in a good way.

        • Philski

          Thanks for the input – This podcast is pretty organic and I understand generally things might come off as overly reactionary or not as well-thought out or in-depth as they might be in a written piece. Plus I guess it doesn’t help that we got a little bit ranty. 😉

          The fact of the matter is that I feel this is a tremendously complicated issue, and it’s something that can be very difficult to properly approach, especially in the context of what was supposed to be a casual mini podcast.

          I completely understand your argument and I think it is very sensible – People are smart to support the things that they feel are worthwhile and ideally we would wind up in a scenario in which only the worthwhile stuff manages to survive. However, there’s a lot more to it than that in my opinion, and maybe that didn’t necessarily come through in the show. Among other things, I worry that the window of acceptability for what we consider to be “worthwhile” is going to continue to shift as more and more developers put out otherwise excellent games and essentially force players to make that concession. It’s kind of like a weird little Overton Window shift for video game microtransactions.

          Of course, I can get how it seems dumb for us to rail against this stuff if it is worthwhile to someone (and I’m not saying that it never is or that people are not justified in their decisions to purchase these things) but I think it can set a very dangerous precedent and can negatively influence games in the long run. I also think it’s not too crazy to say we’re now living in a world in which certain releases have definitely been less fun / worse games than they would have been in a world without microtranscations or DLC. It is perhaps a paranoid fear of mine but I do have this nightmare scenario in mind where games are just developed with these strategies woven into them. The only way to advance / be stronger / get cool stuff / accomplish anything is to pay real money. It’s easy for us to point at things like DLC armor now and say “well that’s not worth the price so I’m not going to buy it”, but it’s dangerous to underestimate the influence that can have on people. Many others might feel that it is worth it, and that might lead to more armor being DLC, and that might lead to all of the best stuff being DLC, and that might eventually lead to a game where everything is DLC but it happened so gradually that we just sort of accept it.

          I guess what I was really trying to say here is that there is no “control condition” in real life… it’s impossible for developers to really know how much these strategies are negatively influencing their sales (particularly versus more sensible strategies towards microtransactions, like some that you suggest), and I think that’s why it’s really important for people who dislike that stuff to be vocal about it and to really explain why they don’t want to support it. This way, we can ultimately wind up with solutions that satisfies the most people.

          All of that being said, I might just be acting overly paranoid. 😉

          • Randy

            First off, no need for any apologies. This is the internet right? Just leave my mom out of it. Ranty and unscripted is good. It gives commenters fodder.

            I like your passion, but you know, at the end of the day you can’t make that bigger gun or that nice virtual house or an extra life go away. People love that stuff. I don’t like the way things are going either (see the game “dlc quest” for a very funny/scary scenario) but I don’t see it as a problem yet. It’s easy to get all wrapped up in that “slippery slope” line of thinking but people are usually standing by to scream bloody murder when their entertainment value is compromised. (I wish people were as interested in stuff like personal rights and any number of political causes but that’s another podcast/blog.) In stuff like tech you always see the pendulum swing both ways. When I was younger Every business wanted to have a fully functional pc on every desk, then things went to Citrix and the cloud, then when there’s a big high profile breakdown in the cloud, I’m pretty sure it will swing back. If there isn’t a breakdown I guess it’s a pretty good solution. Trust me: If this always on DRM scenario keeps failing it will have to change. People won’t stand for it. I love that Sim City 2000 was GOG’s top seller when the new Sim City was melting down. Just watch the rise and fall of Zynga if you think these practices won’t change.

            I guess I’m wondering what games are really worse because of DLC. To me the “always on” drm is tougher to live with. Either you like the core game or you don’t. It doesn’t matter if the DLC is loaded on the dvd you bought or if you have to download it. I never buy that stuff (mostly because there are way too many other games to play). Mass Effect was what it was, but did the DLC do anything to change it or make it better? I’m really curious what fans of Dead Space think about parts of the plot being buried in co-op and DLC on the new release. I haven’t played it but it sounds like poor design as much as some grand conspiracy.

            Thanks for listening. It’s fun to talk about this stuff.

        • Adam Ames

          I apologize as well. Annoying was probably too strong of a word. We do love reading feedback so please keep on posting your opinions.

          The cast sometimes can get away from me, especially when we have more than just Phil and I on. I will write down or make mental note of something, but before you know it, the conversation has shifted into an entirely new area. One of the few downsides to not being scripted.