Is The Video Game Industry Killing Itself? Yes – And We’re Helping

How sustainable is the video game industry?

Wow, my first article on GameSkinny and I chose a topic which would be better suited for a PhD thesis. Nonetheless, I’d like to tackle this particular subject to honor those poor souls at Victory Games, who were developing the newest installment of Command & Conquer. By now, you will have heard the news that the studio was shut down by EA in response to the public interest for a free-to-play version.

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There will never be a situation when the loss of jobs is not a sad thing; however, in some cases, it is even more frustrating, especially when it affects one of my favorite franchises of all time. But I can understand why they did it; they tried to use a League of Legends business model by implementing generals into the game, which could be purchased via the online store. By doing their best to avoid the dreaded pay-to-win branding, they nerfed the generals into insignificant puppets, which then, in turn, offered no reason whatsoever to spend a single dime on the game. A catch .22, if you will.

It’s not that Command & Conquer is a bad game, or that there isn’t demand for it. Hell, there has never been a better time to release an RTS, with every competitor in the world focusing on MOBA style games. Currently, the only strategy game out there is Starcraft 2. We need some competition!

This brings us back to the original question–how sustainable, how long-term focused is the video game industry?

There are a number of trends that worry me greatly: Increased number of Kickstarter, fast money via early access, DLC, pay-to-win, and a few more.

Kickstarter

What began as a beautiful story about indie games receiving the money they deserve has turned into a glorified pre-order bonus program with an undisclosed release date.

What began as a beautiful story about indie games receiving the money they deserve has turned into a glorified pre-order bonus program with an undisclosed release date. The sheer number of Kickstarter campaigns makes it a lot harder for those deserving indie developers to secure the funds they need. Instead, the money goes to mega projects like Mighty No9. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan, and I am already excited for the release. However, with the connections of Keiji Inafune and his skills, it should have been easy to secure other ways of funding.

Another point we need to consider are those mega projects like Star Citizen, which recently collected over $25 million. What happens when they run out of money before the game is finished? Or what happens when they finish the game, but anybody interested in the game has already pledged and received their copy? Okay, the last one is highly unlikely, but it might be a danger for others.

Early Access

This is truly the bane of any sort of quality control. A mechanic put in place to earn the developers some extra cash while developing their game, as well as receiving valuable feedback from the community. I am sorry, but this is not what’s happening.

It feels like early access is the way for developers to earn extra cash after their Kickstarter money runs out, or for developers who’d like to cash in on current trends (i.e. WarZ or BoreZ as Totalbiscuit) without a finished game on their hands. Gone are the good old days where we actually got a finished game on the release date.

DLC

The probably best, or depending on how you look at it, worst example is SimCity. This game was incomplete upon release, and EA is continuously developing fixes to initial problems and selling them for $9.99. This is happening with a lot of games… Nowadays it is impossible for consumers to buy a game and enjoy the full experience without having to buy an additional 10 DLC for some titles.

The last point that I will rant about today is free-to-play.

If perfectly executed, it provides an amazing business model, benefitting all types of gamers (see League of Legends, Team Fortress or Dota2), however, most developers and publishers are still figuring out that this business does not have a fool-proof formula. Take a look at Plants vs Zombies 2. This game cannot be enjoyed without spending money. You’re forced to spend hours of endless grinding in order to progress–a mechanic that caused me to lose interest after about 3 hours of gameplay.

I know that I haven’t answered the original question, but please bear with me.

Latest developments and innovations have made the market wider and more accessible for indie developers and small studios, increasing choice and competition. This is generally a good thing for the consumer; however, the digitization of content has brought negative effects as well.

Never has it been so difficult to get a refund on a game as it is now. With the exception of GOG and EA’s Origin, refunds are incredibly rare and only used as a last resort by platforms such as Steam.

So, my point is that the games industry has rapidly transformed over the last few years, but consumer behavior hasn’t caught up yet. People still pre-order to get a 10% discount or a free DLC (which should have been part of the game in the first place).

I cannot stress this point enough– especially since some game journalists seem to overlook obvious shortcomings or put on their nostalgia glasses for certain franchises.

It is about time that we, as consumers, start punishing these rogue-like business practices by simply not going for the pre-order and waiting for some thorough reviews from trusted sources.


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Author
Robert Hein
Nintendo Nerd General videogame lover, full-time e-sports enthusiast, and part-time goofball.