Recently I was on Kotaku, a place which I often try to avoid due to the content of their comment boards and editorials. Nonetheless I came across an editorial that just miffed me. This particular article was entitled “Stop Trying To Use ‘Companies Exist To Make Money’ As An Argument. Just Stop.”
This article was essentially a concurring editorial posted in response to an editorial penned by Jim Sterling, someone for whom I have much respect. The Kotaku op-ed itself was authored by Patricia Hernandez. Aside from the fact that 40% of the piece is quoted from Jim Sterling’s piece, what it succeeds wonderfully in doing is illustrating the most profound lack of understanding of the games industry by a ‘journalist’.
What do you mean by that, Connor? Well allow me to explain. The main thrust of Hernandez’s article, which is ripped directly from Sterling’s, is that game publishers are greedy robber barons. That these companies are leveraging their control over the market to charge an exorbitant price for content that should be free.
Alright, I suppose I understand your point. I mean I understand the point Jim Sterling made (and made it better), but I still get it.
Do I disagree? Not entirely, no. I admit I see products being pushed that are inferior quality and priced up to a premium. However I think the intent of this article is entirely misdirected and comes from a place of ignorance. It assumes that there exists no Downloadable Content (DLC), Digital Rights Management (DRM), or Microtransactions (MTX) that actually provide value. It goes on to imply that any person who says otherwise in defense of such systems is “stupid”, “spineless”, and “a fanboy”. Interesting. I’ll move past the insults and directly answer the first part by saying: there are surely some pieces of DLC, DRM, and MTX that have value. To suggest anything to the contrary is to discredit things like Steam’s DRM, MTX for games like Blacklight Retribution, LoL, or World of Tanks, and the DLC on games like Borderlands 2. I believe such a quality speaks for itself.
Continuing on that train of thought, if you are so offended by the implementation of such services, you could simply not involve yourself with them. Sterling’s article was much more clear about this, there is nothing wrong with being a happy consumer, and there is nothing wrong with being a disgruntled customer. I agree, you have every right to speak your mind about what you see as unethical or exploitative behavior. In fact I encourage you to do so! As a game designer, I see a baseline for quality. Your product must be of _this_ quality. I think that a company who falls short of that is not doing their job, and should be reminded of that. But I do not believe it is fair for consumers to rant and rave at companies who happen to make a product that users simply don’t like. I believe you have the right to expect a certain level of quality, information, and respect. I do not however believe consumers have the right to be entertained by every product. Often when I see people who attack companies for being greedy, it is totally misdirected at a publisher based solely off a personal dislike and not any real objective lack of quality. So I would ask Jim Sterling the same he asked of me. “I’m not telling you that you definitely have to support a company/product — but don’t tell others they can’t.” I would as for one more thing, if you are going to call a company greedy and exploitative, do it from a position of certainty and reason. Not just a the default reaction when your personal fancies are satisfied.
Moving on from that immediate context, I think this rant gets to a larger issue about game companies. The implication is that the products being released serve no end, other than the financial exploitation of consumers. Let me just squelch that fucking thought there. Are there companies that put out products so that they can profit from them hand over fist? You-fuckin-bet. Is that every company and every product? By no means.
I’m going to let you in on a secret. That game you love, the one that you’ve spent hours playing, the one that you love to chat about with people, and the one for which you recoil in disgust when people don’t recognize the name; yeah that one. That game lost money. I mean, that game cost X dollars to make, it made Y dollars, and Y is less than X. Long story short, the only reason that game is ever getting a sequel is because some behemoth of a blockbuster game was published. Between the retail and DLC the blockbuster raked in 400% of its investment. After that money was used: to recoup the enormous costs from development, pay employees, cut bonus checks, and saved away for the next iteration of that blockbuster; the remaining dollars were set aside to fund other projects. Projects like the game you love so much. What am I saying? I am saying that the success of other products and their monetization that you find so distasteful paid for the financial failure that is your favorite game.
What does this mean? How could this be possible? If these greedy capitalists only do things for money, how could they possibly make a sequel to a game that made no money? Because they give a shit. As much as it may strain the fabric of you tenuous argument, developers and publishers actually care. They create products not just to line their own coffers, they do it to provide entertainment.
And frankly, as someone who has in the past and will in the future worked at a publisher in the games industry: it not only offends me that you think so little of my motivations, but it just makes you sound ‘stupid’ when you characterize an entire organization off of your flawed understandings.
Financial viability means an awful lot in games production. If something can’t get its money back, its very difficult to get it made, regardless of its quality. That is just how things work. If every developer made every game they wanted, they would quite frankly go broke. Its very difficult to sustain titles that do not have broad appeal.
So what am I saying? The games industry is not black and white, no matter how much so called ‘journalists’ try to pigeonhole it. There are bad or derivative games that have a positive result. There are companies who disrespect their consumers. There exists quality DLC and MTX. Finally, there do exist limits to your entitlement as a consumer, you are in fact not always right. Especially for those who haven’t the slightest idea about the cost and commitment required to develop video game.
Disclaimer: I have worked for, and accepted a job offer from, Microsoft Game Studios. My views expressed here are my own and no one else’s. I represent myself.