E3 is done and the games have been announced. We have prices for both of the upcoming major consoles. We have moments of both glorious success and embarrassing failure from the different companies who presented. We also have lots of ammunition for the debates flying around the industry and internet regarding the topics of DRM, mandated connectivity, and used games.
In this immediate aftermath, Cliff Bleszinski has decided to weigh in specifically on the topic of used games. His thoughts contend the current cost of AAA games development and marketing makes a used games industry harmful to the overall gaming process. He takes it a bit further, however, saying players expect the experience requiring the huge cost, so obviously it is the used games that have to go.
The question of cost
Naturally, given how these comments of Bleszinski’s were made on Twitter, many people responded by suggesting the problem is in the cost of the games, not the public’s desire to re-sell them. Cliff’s response in turn was the rather dismissive wording, “Those of you telling me “then just lower game budgets” do understand how silly you sound, right?”
No, Cliff. We actually do not know how silly it sounds, and we have every reason to believe it is a reasonable solution. AAA games have always been touted as wildly expensive to produce, but the actual numbers are generally kept to generalizations and estimates. The exact numbers of why how much is spent on what is not information we have ever had available to us to be able to suggest something more specific.
If you want people to realize how impossible it is to lower costs, tell us why. Why, exactly, is it so silly to suggest? What costs cannot be optimized or reduced?
The question of demand
Let us go a step further, however, and assume these costs really are an impossible challenge. For whatever reason, we cannot lower the cost of producing a AAA-quality game. Does this follow logically to ending the used games market to compensate?
Only if one takes for granted the assumption that gamers must get their gaming experience entirely (or at least in large part) via these incredibly high-budget AAA titles. This is not a fact despite Cliff’s belief in it. FTL was funded by Kickstarter and went on to not only sell fantastically well but also to be nominated for multiple game of the year awards, and deservedly. Minecraft is famous for how tremendously successful it has been both financially and in terms of the obvious delight it has given literally millions.
There are any number of genres and games produced for a tiny fraction of the price of a full AAA title that sell well and recover their investment almost immediately. If the gaming industry produced fewer of these high-budget games, would it honestly do damage to the industry itself?
The question of blame
The single point in all of Bleszinski’s commentary resonating most negatively with myself others is his assertion that all of this is inevitable progression based upon the customers, not the developers. “The visual fidelity and feature sets we expect from games now come with sky high costs.”
Do we gamers really expect those cutting-edge graphics from every game we experience, or is that limited to specific games? Why was Minecraft so successful if those graphics and features are so important? Why was FTL?
There seems to be a fundamental assumption among many people in the games industry about what gamers actually want. Considering how often the industry uses deliberately-limited focus groups to market its games, it seems presumptuous to be so certain as to what gamers want as to be openly dismissive of other possibilities.
What can be argued on the part of developers and companies with the same belief as Bleszinski is the millions of copies of these large-budget games they do sell. Obviously they are marketing to someone, and obviously someone is willing to pay for it.
But you guys still are not making money, even when selling millions of copies of games. Just how many more copies does anyone honestly think they would sell if people did not have access to used games? Not everyone who buys used is willing to pay new price. Not everyone who buys new is willing to pay full price without chance of trading the game back in.
But then again, I also don’t have anything to lose if I am wrong on this topic. I have plenty of lower-budget titles I will gladly take my pick from.