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"It's Awkward Right Now:" What Some in the Games Industry Think of the Rise of the Loot Box in 2017

2017 was the year we opened Pandora's loot box. Here's what some in the games industry are thinking.

Feature by Caty McCarthy, .

Close your eyes. Imagine that it's the 1990s again. You're a kid (or an adult, whatever). Pokemon Trading Cards are the new hotness. You can buy them and trade them individually, sure, but the core of the experience comes in those enticing blind card packs. You have one in your grasp. What will you get inside? You linger on tearing open the foil as you hope for the best. Then it's a bunch of commons like energy cards. So it goes, and the process repeats.

Now open your eyes. It's 2017. You're playing a triple-A shooter—Call of Duty: WWII to be exact. You're in a grand social hub, not too different from trading cards in a local park. But you've seen this place before too. It's Normandy, the only locale of World War II that video games ever seem to remember. Only now it's crawling with others like you: emoting, testing out guns in the makeshift shooting range. Then a "supply crate" drops from the sky with dramatic flair. It's a loot box, virtual cards float in the air, erected from it with a glow. You remember, just for a moment, the feeling of opening foil trading card packs and being disappointed. You realize that feeling never dissipated. It's right here on the beaches of Normandy.

It's also in the intergalactic battles of Star Wars Battlefront 2. It's in the endgame grind of building Orc armies in Middle-earth: Shadow of War. It's sandwiched between the races of Forza Motorsport 7. It's buried in the menus of Assassin's Creed: Origins. It's in the Battle Royale-themed crates from a limited time event for the Early Access game PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. Loot boxes, frankly, are everywhere. And players sure hate it.

Overwatch only monetizes aesthetic, not power.

But beneath all the anger is an uncomfortable reality. Technology is developing faster than it ever has before in the past, thus making it increasingly more expensive to make games. With the fast-moving market, prices of games and consoles has stayed mostly stagnant. An anonymous studio director told GamesIndustry.biz that even with costs to make games ballooning, prices haven't risen with it. "Development costs of AAA titles are five to ten times the price they were in the '90s," the source told the site. "As technology moves forward, costs go up and teams get larger. Salaries also go up in that time both for starters and people employed for those periods of time. But sales and prices have remained pretty static—especially given the 'sale culture' nowadays."

Given the fact that triple-A publishers are relatively cagey about budget costs and the like, players have hardly an inclination to the real life cost of video games, only vague guesstimates. We only see the results when they don't do well: mass layoffs, or worse, studio closures.

Meanwhile, usually the publisher and top executives stays in business, and the developers are left to bear the consequences. Games are expensive, and in theory, microtransactions are the industry's way of trying to sustain themselves in the long term. Beyond the $60 base price that dips in the months after release. (Just look at this week's Black Friday deals, for instance, where games released just weeks ago are already 50 percent off.)

Before this year, microtransactions weren't really aimed at the average player, but what might be dubbed the "premium gamer." The ones with money to burn. The ones that throw hundreds of dollars at FIFA's Ultimate Team mode to feel powerful. The ones who own the "premium" console the Xbox One X for their 4K television that most people can't afford. They're who Phil Spencer of Microsoft might call a "discerning connoisseur of gaming." They're a minority, still. And while people complain, they still spend money. A lot of money, in fact. EA's Ultimate Team alone accrues $800 million a year. As the world says, money talks. And those figures speak volumes.

But the problem, seemingly, is that microtransactions aren't just an optional luxury for the player with a fat wallet anymore. They're starting to hinder the experience for the average person who plays games too. The ones without money to burn. And 2017 is the year of the reckoning.

"It's Awkward Right Now"

So it's a weird time right now in big budget video games as they try to find their footing, or rather, find the best route for monetization. The controversy of microtransactions this year has recently overshadowed the games they're in themselves, most notably stirring the pot in Star Wars Battlefront 2 and Middle-earth: Shadow of War. So yeah, things are awkward in the games industry. At least, that's what Jeremy Stein, Director of Product Management for the mobile game company Jam City tells me.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War is one of the worst offenders of the year.

Stein, a former developer on the Madden series (though long before microtransactions were as prevalent as today), has seen microtransactions from both ends of game development: triple-A and free-to-play. He understands better than most the high cost of development. But he's noticed one clear thing in console games of late: they're missing the point of making games fun for the players who don't buy anything.

Stein breaks down the difference for me. Free-to-play games, being quite literally free to download and play, monetize everything. They monetize power. They monetize stamina, or the amount you can play in a single sitting. They monetize aesthetic too, like cosmetic items. Everything is up for monetization. This is how free-to-play games operate and make their money. But the key to those games isn't in arbitrarily locking things behind paywalls, it's in making the game enjoyable for people who never spend a single penny too. The best sorts of free-to-play games incentivize you to spend money on it because you're actively enjoying your time with it.

"I think the smartest games are doing a really good job of making a great experience for someone who never spends money," says Stein. "In my game [Panda Pop], my mother-in-law is about level 825. She plays it all the time. She's never monetized. She's never spent a dime in my game, despite spending thousands of hours using our servers. And that's great. I want her to be, you know, part of the majority of players that keeps playing my game, and if I make choices or the people who work for me make choices that makes the game worse for her [because she doesn't] spend money, then I have screwed up. Because that's where [microtransactions] come into the game design part of it."

Like free-to-play games on mobile, triple-A sports games on consoles are no stranger to tedious microtransactions either. Modes like Ultimate Team across Madden, NHL, FIFA, and NBA Live gently prod the player to spend money on top of the game, to automatically craft their dream team of sports stars immediately in lieu of hours of grinding. This has been the norm for years now, but in Star Wars Battlefront 2 and Middle-earth: Shadow of War, the same principle is being embedded. For the general player who doesn't touch sports games, it's easy to see why it's such a shock. (Even if on the evening of November 16th, EA temporarily pulled microtransactions after backlash from Battlefront 2, noting that it will eventually return at some capacity. Even then, the grind exists solely via loot boxes, which is a problem on its own.)

Forza Motorsport 7 locks certain cars behind loot boxes.

When I reached out to a slew of studios to chat about microtransactions in 2017, Ubisoft was the only major developer open to the conversation, perhaps due to the laidback nature of their latest game Assassin's Creed: Origins' approach to microtransactions compared to other studios. Namely, the fact that microtransactions are hardly in player's face at all.

"For Assassin’s Creed: Origins, our philosophy as a whole is to respect our players and to make sure these transactions are entirely optional," live content director Bruno Guérin for Assassin’s Creed: Origins told me over email. "Our rule of thumb is that everything you can acquire from our store with Helix Credits is also attainable simply by playing. Every single quest or activity remains valid, meaningful and rewarding no matter how much money you invest in the game." Guérin noted that while there's still "time savers" for busier players to purchase if they don't want to do side quests, as well as sillier cosmetics (like a Unicorn mount), they remain optional and buried in the game's menus.

Pay-For-Fun

Long ago, video games inherently over-monetized enjoyment. Not in microtransactions, but in just as high of a cost. Adjusting to inflation, the Neo Geo would cost upwards of $1,000 today; the NES $441; the Sega Saturn $640. The only people that could play video games back in the day were people that already had money. Everyone else was stuck with arcades, or worse, nothing at all. The prices matched their technological advancements, but now that technology is evolving faster than ever before, the market can't keep up—and if it does, it risks alienating their audience again. (Not that microtransactions haven't done that already.)

Major games are teetering closer to that pay-for-enjoyment direction though. In Middle-earth: Shadow of War, loot boxes play out in the endgame; it's useless to get them any earlier. In order to attain the "true" ending in Shadow of War, players must manage and build up many, many Orc armies to overtake fortresses. This task takes time—a lot of time. But luckily, there's fancy loot boxes available for players to buy with real money, to help get those super strong Orcs with none of the grind. This was controversial, even after the developers behind the game insisted the experience was still balanced for the players who wouldn't buy loot boxes at all.

In an interview with Eurogamer, Shadow of War's design director Bob Roberts likened the implementation of loot boxes to managing difficulty levels. "In the game you earn resources at a regular pace and the systems are tuned to that so you don't need another option. At the same time, [microtransactions are] there as a player choice. It's there, from my perspective, for people who are protective of their spare time and scared when a massive game comes along that they're not getting to see the full experience," Roberts told Eurogamer. "It's the same design philosophy as us adding in difficulty modes."

Star Wars Battlefront 2 ignited the most ire from players this year.

Fast forward to a month later, with Star Wars Battlefront 2 releasing. Star Wars Battlefront 2 is a sequel to the 2015 game of the same name. The first game was a fairly no-frills arcade shooter: hardly any progression to speak of, with a paid season pass attached to dole out content. Players were upset about that. John Boyega, a.k.a. Finn in the new Star Wars film trilogy, famously tweeted that he wanted a single-player campaign in the game. In Battlefront 2, that hope was honored. As a result, all DLC for the sequel will be free. There's a single-player campaign stitched on. Battlefront 2 was seemingly taking all the right steps forward.

Except, EA needed to compensate on the perceived loss of offering its DLC for free. That's where loot boxes, and Star Cards inside of them to unlock things for progression, entered the picture. Fans anguished online about high costs to unlock heroes in the game—Darth Vader, for one, cost an astounding 60,0000 in-game credits. Players could spend actual money on in-game "crystals" to essentially speed up the process, netting them more loot boxes. EA ended up cutting those hero prices by 75 percent because of the backlash, but that doesn't make everything fine and dandy in players' eyes. In the wake of all the drama, a statement posted by EA on Reddit became the most downvoted comment in Reddit's entire history. This too, obviously, was controversial.

So they pulled the microtransactions entirely. At least temporarily. At the time of writing this, around its launch, it's officially no longer possible to pay real money to put towards in-game currency and loot boxes. Loot boxes now are only attainable through pure grinding. This will change, however. Microtransactions will be back in some form. EA sees this as a balancing issue between those who want to level up faster and those who don't pay anything extra at all.

Earlier this month, multiplayer producer Paul Keslin of EA DICE told us that ever since the anguish over the game's beta, they've been keeping a close ear on the community. "We also want to make sure that newer players aren't coming in and just getting destroyed," said Keslin. "So that's a bit of our matchmaking. But that also means that, as part of the beta feedback, we made sure to rank gate or progression gate certain things to make sure that people can't instantly grab top-end items."

Free-to-play mobile games, like the newly released Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, monetize everything. But the best free-to-play games make it fun for the players who never spend a dime too.

The microtransaction trend with these particular big-budget titles (in addition to Forza Motorsport 7 and many others) is that games are now monetizing power, just as free-to-play games do. Only with these big-budget titles, there's already a paid entrance fee. Games are neglecting to frame experiences that are fun for all levels of play—both the players that empty their wallets into it or only pay the entrance fee. Now, it's substituting tedium to incentivize spending because of annoyance, rather than incentivizing fun.

Virtual Foil Packs Forever

But there's another uncomfortable truth to be found in this mess: Microtransactions still make money. A lot of it. Nearly half of Take-Two's profits this past fiscal quarter were from microtransactions in the likes of Grand Theft Auto Online and beyond. Blizzard has amassed over a billion dollars with Overwatch alone, but won't disclose concrete figures. We're in an era where a Call of Duty set in World War II has loot boxes drop from the sky, as you run around acting out silly emotes with other players on the war-torn beaches of Normandy.

Overwatch can be attributed to at least partially popularizing the loot box trend in 2016, even though they had existed long before the game hit consoles and PC. Overwatch, much like MOBAs, is a game that monetizes aesthetic, and aesthetic alone. Players can't buy perks to make them better at the game; only fashion to make them look a little bit cooler when they're blasting away on that payload. Overwatch game director Jeff Kaplan even told Kotaku at BlizzCon this year that their game is one of the better examples, in his opinion. "I think on the big spectrum of loot boxes, between 'really good' and 'really evil,' I'd like to think we're more on that 'really good' side with what we're trying to do," Kaplan told the site.

What Stein currently sees in the gaming sphere in 2017 is something startlingly like deja vu: companies once again testing the boundaries for what they can charge players for, like the era of free-to-play mobile games years ago, before they learned their lesson of maintaining player retention.

Path of Exile, the free-to-play online-action RPG from independent developers Grinding Gear Games, have made it a point to try and be "ethical" in how they implement microtransactions over the years. The model's proven its worth: the company has scaled from just three people to over a hundred over the years, a large feat for an independent team. With a new expansion on the horizon, the game continues to grow steadily. When we spoke to the developers behind the game ahead of the new expansion's release, they attributed their success to something specific.

Path of Exile is a free-to-play game that's been wildly successful. The developers behind it attribute this to "respecting" their players, and their players' wallets.

"I personally think a lot of the reason [we're successful] is that since people feel like we're treating them with respect, they then respect us enough to give us money," said Jonathan Rogers, Technical Director for Grinding Gear Games. "Like, most of the time, when people talk about spending money on Path of Exile, they're talking about supporting the company. I don't think you see that attitude in a lot of free-to-play games."

Counting the outrage of Star Wars: Battlefront 2 and Middle-earth: Shadow of War's loot boxes, respect seems to be a key issue. The average player doesn't feel like their time, or their investment in the game monetarily, is being respected anymore.

So yes, to reiterate what Jeremy Stein says: it's awkward right now. Developers are trying new ways to make money after season pass sales have slightly dipped for multiplayer games as players expect free content (like what Overwatch offers), looking for new ways to keep people playing their games forever. When a portion of people who buy games only buy one or two games per year, triple-A developers are scrambling to be that one game. If you squint, it's like there's a virtual-IV for cash to slowly drip into games.

Some are seeking to ban loot boxes in the wake of all the controversy. Or at least to regulate them, as China has with showing loot box probabilities for players. On November 21st, the Belgium Gaming Commission of Belgium reached a conclusion that loot boxes were indeed, at least from where they see it, a form of "gambling." They are now seeking to ban them in both Belgium and all of Europe. Meanwhile, the state of Hawaii announced that they are also investigating "predatory" loot boxes, and will pursue legislation to ban them. Given the weight of these two decisions, the future of loot boxes, perhaps more so in the United States, has been thrown into question.

There are smaller developers, of course, working against the trend too. Clicker Heroes 2 announced this week that they're dropping their free-to-play model for the anticipated sequel, opting for a paid entry instead over "ethical" concerns. Last month, Phoenix Labs announced that their game Dauntless is dropping loot boxes altogether. They're now moving towards a monetization model closer to Path of Exile and others like it, where players can "choose the things [they're] purchasing," as they told PCGamesN.

Meanwhile, even some bigger developers, like the team at Capcom behind Monster Hunter: World, spoke up against the idea of loot boxes making their way to a Monster Hunter title. "You've already kind of got loot as a core gameplay aspect without having to shove a microtransaction version of it in," Monster Hunter series producer Ryozo Tsujimoto told GameSpot earlier this month. "We want people to have the experience that we've made for them rather than the option to skip the experience."

Even with those working against the model, after seeing the NPD sales numbers for October showing low sales for single-player experiences without microtransactions like The Evil Within 2 and Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, it doesn't seem like 2018 will be much better. The fact of the matter is that people spend money on microtransactions, whether they love 'em or hate 'em, and publishers are in that growing pains phase like free-to-play mobile was long ago. Just weathering the storm, figuring out what precisely they can get away with.

So long live the loot box, or at least some form of it I guess. The virtual foil card pack of our time.

Reporting concerning Path of Exile and Star Wars: Battlefront 2 was contributed by Kat Bailey.

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Comments 20

  • Avatar for KaiserWarrior #1 KaiserWarrior 23 days ago
    The difference being that TCGs, physical ones at least, were exactly that: Trading Card Games. If you got crap cards that you didn't want in your packs, you could trade with other players to get ones you wanted. You could go out and outright buy cards that you wanted from people willing to sell them directly. There's a thriving market around MTG cards, for instance.

    But GambleBoxes quite deliberately take that aspect out. They could easily implement inter-player trading, or direct item purchasing, but they do not, because the entire point is to take your money for a bunch of useless crap you don't want in hopes that you will spend MORE money trying to actually get something out of it. Comparisons to actual TCGs are disingenuous, at best. They could keep track of which items you have received and not give you duplicates, but they don't. Duplicates exist entirely to waste the player's money and try to get them to spend more. Everything about these systems is vile and exploitative.

    Games cost too much to make? Then stop spending so much money making the games. Minecraft is successful. Undertale is successful. Stardew Valley is successful. FNAF is successful. It is an inarguable fact that games don't need cutting-edge graphics and hollywood-talent voice acting to perform well in the market. That spend is not required to move units. Games are only expensive because developers choose to throw tons of money at them. They take that risk, and if they can't make their money back without abusing their customers, then it was a bad call.
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  • Avatar for dard410 #2 dard410 23 days ago
    @KaiserWarrior, this. Publishers spend so much on marketing for games, yet they fail to realize that making a great game is probably the best form of marketing. The gaming community is vibrant enough that gamers will learn about good games, either from gaming news sites or word of mouth. On the other hand, how many people are not buying Battlefront 2 or Shadow of War because of bad reviews, microtransactions controversies, etc?
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  • Avatar for CK20XX #3 CK20XX 23 days ago
    @KaiserWarrior I was going to say the same thing about game development expenses.

    You know... looking back, it's as if Nintendo's third-party strategy, starting with the N64, was to wait third party developers out until they all collapsed under their own hubris, then extend a hand to the next generation of third-party developers via "Nindies" and similar programs. It's astounding how well everything has been working out for them as a console manufacturer with a reputation for being absolutely clueless about the importance of third-party support.
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  • Avatar for ShadowTheSecond #4 ShadowTheSecond 23 days ago
    @KaiserWarrior
    The existence of a strong secondary market doesn’t make the TCG comparison any less apt. If anything, the monetary values and chance of getting a high value card to cash in on (or get more trades for) provides a more traditional “gambling” connotation. Both loot boxes and TCGs (and any “blind box” mechanism) have the key part of gambling and addictiction with their inconsistent reward cycle—sometimes you get great stuff, sometimes lesser, but you can’t guarantee you’ll get something of particularly high value every time (and I don’t count knowing you get a “rare” rank card in every pack of cards as “consistent reward” when different ones have different usefulness, particularly with a secondary trade market).

    Keep in mind that I’m not saying loot boxes are examples of “good” ethics and morals. I’m just discussing it from an addiction/gambling research perspective. I personally don’t have an issue most “blind boxes” (particularly not TCGs), but coming to a legal consensus that hits one side but not the other is challenging to say the least.
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  • Avatar for LunarFlame17 #5 LunarFlame17 23 days ago
    I would love to see figures on how much Breath of the Wild or Super Mario Odyssey cost to make, versus, say, Battlefront II or Shadow of War.
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  • Avatar for UnskippableCutscene #6 UnskippableCutscene 23 days ago
    @CK20XX I don't know if Nintendo even thinks that far ahead. NOA tries with these programs, but ultimately so long as Nintendo keeps making unconventional controls that work like magic for some R&D brainstorm, but are way too out of the box to bind to similar control scheme on other platforms, they'll always be second banana.
    .@KaiserWarrior
    "They could keep track of which items you have received and not give you duplicates, but they don't."
    That's misleading if not false. Overwatch and Dota 2 both use Pseudo-RNG to bias against giving you duplicates. It really is up to the developer to implement this stuff properly. Some people will simply avoid games with any manner of blind boxes, but in other cases you have games like Path of Exile or, for me personally, I've only opened about 170 Overwatch boxes and only paid for about 4 of them and I did that because I liked the designs of the seasonal event and wanted them to keep making more.
    The best system, at least for me, is the one where the player gets plenty of stuff they didn't pay for and feels alright paying a little to get a couple extra. That motivates me to keep playing AND to occasionally donate a few bucks. If you give me 12 free things, I'll probably feel compelled to buy 3 more. If you give me only 3 free things and expect me to buy 12, I'll feel like you're targeting whales and avoid it. (also good gravy I had to do a lot of editing on this sentence. "3 three things" SMH.)Edited 6 times. Last edited 4 weeks ago by UnskippableCutscene
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  • Avatar for Iambiz #7 Iambiz 23 days ago
    Pointing out that costs have increased while prices have stayed flat is missing a key piece of information to complete the analysis: volume of sales.

    For example, taking the studio director's numbers above, costs have increased 10x while per unit prices stayed flat since the 90's, if number of units sold have increased 10x then the developer is still making the same income on a per unit basis today as she was in the 90's.

    The video game market (as a whole) is definitely bigger than it was back in the 90's, I'm not sure if it's 10 times bigger, so without more information I can't complete the analysis. However, the point remains that the studio director isn't providing enough context to back up the argument.

    Edited: The econ major in me forced me to actually look at the numbers (I'm a finance nerd, I know it!). Using EA's financials as a proxy for the market as a whole their 1999 revenue was $1.2B ($1.8B adjusting for inflation) and their 2017 revenue was $4.8B so the increase was only 2.7x not 10x. Interestingly, if you look at the net income (finance-speak for profit) there was an increase of 6.2x ($0.15B in 1999 after inflation vs $1.0B in 2017) which means that EA is twice as profitable today then it was in the 90's, hardly the bleak scenario being painted by video game execs.

    This means if the studio director's 10x cost increase data is correct but the sales have only gone up 2.7x, then EA must be saving a ton of money elsewhere in order to achieve that increase in profitability.Edited 2 times. Last edited 4 weeks ago by Iambiz
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  • Avatar for KaiserWarrior #8 KaiserWarrior 23 days ago
    @UnskippableCutscene Overwatch is actually really illustrative of that point. It is only very recently that Blizzard cleaned up their act about duplicates in that game -- after nearly a year of their customers complaining, often and loudly, about the frequency of duplicates.

    They had control over that thing the entire time, but they chose to rip their customers off for over a year before they started fearing that their sales might be impacted if they didn't ease up on the "screw the buyer" lever.
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  • Avatar for RushDawg #9 RushDawg 23 days ago
    Even though this article depresses me, it was a great read.
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  • Avatar for moochan #10 moochan 23 days ago
    Real trading cards actually have a market value to them and can easily be traded and sold outside the publisher hand. Pretty big difference since we are still in this weird limbo of what does it mean to own something digital. Buy something on iTunes and there's a strict limit on what you can and can't do with that. As for loot boxes that's even worse since sooner or later the game is going to go away unlike Apple. The question on whether or not to treat loot boxes as gambling is a tricky subject but it really should be asked. Feel ESRB is finally at a point where they are now forced to deal with it and not just handwave it away like they tried doing a few weeks ago.
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  • Avatar for UnskippableCutscene #11 UnskippableCutscene 23 days ago
    @KaiserWarrior To be fair, I'd have to imagine 95% of Overwatch's boxes are freely given. I always thought the paid boxes should be premium boxes that didn't dupe at all.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #12 SatelliteOfLove 23 days ago
    They boiled the frog too fast, and reap the rewards for such.
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  • Avatar for chiptoon #13 chiptoon 23 days ago
    Deleted 4 weeks ago by chiptoon
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  • Avatar for chiptoon #14 chiptoon 23 days ago
    @Iambiz Thanks for that :) I've often thought about this issue, but never broke it down (not being especially into finance). Really useful to see those figures.
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  • Avatar for mobichan #15 mobichan 22 days ago
    @Iambiz are you considering the development cost increase? A team of 30 could make a Madden in the 90’s but now a team if 100 is required. Their salaries have also increased and there are outsourcing costs to consider. I don’t doubt it costs a lot more to make a product that a current consumer will see as worth $60. Also distribution is different now as well as packaging so the lost revenue associated with those aspects of shipping a game are now converted into more profit.

    Honestly, I blame the gaming culture that demands bigger, faster, better for the perceived need for higher production values and the subsequent development cost increase. I hope the indie scene can pull gaming back a bit into making fun experiences that don’t need to own your life for extended periods of time. Variety is a good thing.
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  • Avatar for KaiserWarrior #16 KaiserWarrior 22 days ago
    @mobichan That's the thing, though... does the gaming consumer base really demand bigger and better from their games? As I said... Minecraft, Undertale, and FNAF are some of the biggest success stories of the past few years, and none of those games is anywhere close to cutting edge on the graphics or tech department.

    Madden's been getting incremenetal updates for years, with the common joke refrain being that EA just updates the stats, possibly the roster, and then shoves it out the door. Would it really not sell as well if they didn't shell out for the absolute latest in graphical bling technology? Or would Madden buyers still buy the game because in the end, all they really want is the latest batch of names on their football game so they can follow along with the current season?

    It would be interesting if EA actually tried dialing it back a notch or three one year and seeing what the sales figures look like.

    Ultimately, though, the simple fact of the matter is that the market is flooded. There are too many video games vying for peoples' time and wallets. If folks in the industry want to blame "sale culture", then they need to take a good, long look at the reality of the market they're making products for. Steam Backlogs are a pretty universal joke in the hobby-base; pretty much every hobbyist gamer has a TON of games that they own but have not yet played, and even more that they haven't played fully. They didn't buy those games at full price. There are so many video games available, that even if you wait for months or even years to actually pick up a game when it's on deep discount, you STILL have plenty to choose from, plenty to occupy your time, plenty to spend money on. In that kind of environment, it just doesn't make any sense to blow a giant budget making a $60 game that has to compete with everything that's already out there.

    If you spend a boatload of money modeling every pore, every follicle on your characters' faces, every rivet and screw and snap on their armor, every tooth of every gear on every vehicle, and then hire Nolan North to voice the protagonist... is your game really worth more to me, in terms of entertainment value, than Freespace 2? Or Doom? Or any of the Final Fantasy games? Or Morrowind? Because those games still exist. I can still purchase them, and for a hell of a lot less than $60. That's what your game is competing with. To say nothing of all the games that I already own that I can go back to at any time and still have a blast with, because over the past 30 years I've purchased so many video games that I own perfectly good games that I haven't played in 10 or 15 years. They may not be new, or even new to me, but I've got so much distance that they're still viable options for my finite entertainment time.

    Perhaps it's time that developers and publishers started considering that market reality when deciding how to budget their games.
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  • Avatar for Monkey-Tamer #17 Monkey-Tamer 22 days ago
    @KaiserWarrior I'm interested in data in the "hype," or marketing budget versus the development budget increases over the years. The ad campaigns are getting ridiculous. Meanwhile, you can ask on a reddit for suggestions, and many will offer endearing classics that you named in your post. Endorsements like that are advertisements for free99. How many posts in 2016 and this year recommended Doom? The trouble with marketing dollars is they don't make the game any better, but are still part of the cost. On the other hand if nobody can see your game because the market is flooded you may not sell many copies.
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  • Avatar for UnskippableCutscene #18 UnskippableCutscene 22 days ago
    Having witnessed a Minecon in person, I would argue Minecraft does own some people’s lives. It isn’t as abrasively one-sided, but the idea of “I just need this game” certainly permeates the subculture.
    The current state of games as an ongoing thing is a reaction to distaste if annual sequels. It works better with people’s budgets, since throwing $20-80 on a game over a year for regular entertainment is a better investment than a bunch of $40-60 games that each last 50 hours.
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  • Avatar for docexe #19 docexe 20 days ago
    After all the news about government bodies intervening on the whole Lootbox scandal (and the possibility of legislation being passed on the matter), I have to give it to DICE and EA’s board of directors: Guys, it takes a special combination of greed, idiocy and incompetence to not only kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, but also start a fire that may raze the farm on its entirety. Yet, against any reasonable expectation, you guys actually achieved it, so bravo!
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  • Avatar for docexe #20 docexe 20 days ago
    @KaiserWarrior Mmmm… I think it’s important to not fall into the trap of painting the many different people who consume games with the same brush.

    The success of games like Minecraft, Undertale, Stardew Valley and the like definitely proves that there exist an audience for games that are not cutting edge in terms of graphics or technology. But the existence of that audience doesn’t negate the existence of another audience that demands games with high presentation values and cutting edge graphics. Indeed, the fact that AAA games like FIFA, Madden, COD, Assassin’s Creed, GTA, Uncharted and the like usually sell north of five million copies, should be proof of that. For not talking of the many debates and flame wars that still appear to this day in most gaming sites whenever a particular game doesn’t hit “1080p/60 fps” on any given platform.

    While I don’t doubt a certain overlap might exist between both audiences, I also don’t doubt that there might be some technophile gamers who only consume games with the highest possible production values. The problem I see, really, is that most major Western publishers have decided that said audience is the most lucrative one in the console and PC spaces, and have optimized their efforts to cater to them to pretty much the exclusion of everyone else.Edited 3 weeks ago by docexe
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  • Avatar for dr134 #21 dr134 18 days ago
    @Iambiz

    I agree with your points, but I think you fail to mention one major issue which seems to get overlooked.

    Risk.

    It is much riskier to develop a AAA game today versus back in 1999. Lay an egg with a game today, and it does much more damage to your bottom line than years ago. AAA game development has become a much riskier crap shoot. You may win (really) big, but you could also just crap out. Game designers/publishers need to win bigger with their hits to make up for some misses. This is why you don't see as many new IP's being developed at the AAA budget level as their once were (i.e. sequelitis instead of new concepts). This is also why certain games are considered "failures" despite selling loads and making a bunch of money. They were expected to sell loads more and make much more to cover other games that came up short or were cancelled in development.

    Looking at it from this viewpoint, I can see why they are looking to find new ways to monetize games. I don't like it, but I do understand it.
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