Does Take-Two’s Bioshock Delay Presage Greater Quality?
July 14th, 2009 by worldblee

One of the most frustrating things about working in the gaming industry is the focus on quarterly results. Time after time we’ve seen games that needed more polish released to fit their slot in the quarterly revenue queue. When one title gets pulled in to ‘save’ one quarter, another game has to be accelerated to fill out the next quarter. And so the vicious cycle goes.

It’s not a phenomenon unique to games, of course. The corporate obsession with quarterly revenue, which drives stock prices that drive executive compensation, crosses most industries. And that’s to the detriment of customers and the long-term health of the companies and their workers. The true worth of any company is in the quality of its products and the strength of its relationship with its customers. Neither of those factors is represented in short-term economic returns.

The mark of quality?

The mark of quality?

If there’s any upside to the economic downturn it’s that gaming companies are taking advantage of the fact their quarterly and annual revenue in 2009 is going to be down anyway, so why not look to maximize titles for 2010. Take-Two got into the act big time yesterday, delaying not only the highly anticipated Bioshock 2 but Mafia II, Max Payne 3, and Red Dead Redemption until calendar 2010. EA has also made noise the past couple years about increasing product quality and shipping games ‘when they’re ready’. (That’s quite a different philosophy than I experienced when I worked there, believe me.)

The sad truth is that the economy won’t be picking up anytime soon. While press reports endlessly hype ‘green shoots’ and any positive data they can turn up, the fundamentals don’t support any true recovery. A lot of government money has been pumped into the banking system but it’s not reaching consumers. Unemployment continues to rise, wages are decreasing, and consumer wealth has decreased by a whopping 13 trillion dollars since the latest bubble began bursting.

For game developers and publishers this means you need a quality game to succeed in the marketplace. The old hype machine and channel stuffing won’t get the job done. Having their rose-tinted glasses removed by economic reality is making game purchasers ever savvier. Whether they actually read game reviews, hear from friends on Twitter and Facebook, or just ask the GameStop salesperson if the game is any good, they’re demanding good value for their hard-earned dollars before they commit to a game. And if they want it, they may wait until they can get it used—or just rent it in the first place. Only if they really want to play it longer than a weekend will they pay $60.

Sales numbers, which are expected to be down substantially when the new NPD report comes out tomorrow, are showing publishers the stark reality of this. And if it means that games get a proper gestation cycle for development then it might, just maybe, be worth it. These days you have to look for positives where you can get them.

4 Responses  
  • Mari (GenericWit) writes:
    July 14th, 20093:19 pmat

    Plus it feels like there’s a rise in people trading games rather than buying new ones. While Gamestop might buy back a game for 10 bucks, they turn around and sell it back for 45, and gamers seem to be okay with getting ripped off because that extra ten dollars pushes them over the edge to be able to buy another 45 dollar game. It’s happened to me, too, at some point when incredibly strapped for cash.

    I used to walk into a game store and be able to buy any game and feel alright with it. Now I ask people and read reviews and watch demos, something which I used to do before but not nearly as much as I do now.

    I think a big problem is the price of games. Sixty dollars for a new game is ridiculous, imo. And then I feel ripped off even more buying a used one a week after release for 55. And then I feel even worse about it when a month later I see it on ebay for 20. It’s not just about price, imo, it’s about mentality. The worse gamers feel about buying games (and I feel bad just about every damn time), the less gamers are going to be buying games.

  • worldblee writes:
    July 14th, 20093:47 pmat

    Sixty bucks for a game is too high. That’s like watching six movies in the theater or buying three DVDs or four or so books. And after paying that price most people don’t finish the game. But even at $60 publishers are not making money on most games. Like movies, most games never earn back the investment it took to create them. The industry makes the bulk of its money on the small number of games that are really profitable–either because they became big hits or they were cheap to produce.

    So what’s the answer? The number of gamers has to increase so the pool of revenue can grow while the average price per game drops. Developers need to be efficient when making games, of course–even with a lot of work being outsourced to low cost countries (a practice I don’t endorse because of the inherent exploitation and the jobs lost locally) there’s still waste caused by poor communication, changing specs, and changing designs–but that’s not the only answer. More companies need to follow Nintendo’s lead and see if there are ways to reach people who are not already core gamers. Not by making crappy, copycat Wii games but by making games that are fun, approachable, intuitive and are created with their audience in mind. Women, kids, older people–there are tons of areas that have not been fully exploited or have been only poorly executed.

    I believe in the thirty dollar game. That’s an entertainment purchase people can afford and it approaches a price point where more people will be willing to participate. You’re a super dedicated gamer and if you’re feeling bad about buying games then the industry is in trouble. I remember when we moved the price point for frontline games to $40 and we weren’t sure it would stick at the time. It’s like the price of gasoline–they’ll move it up as high as they can until people push back.

  • Mari (GenericWit) writes:
    July 14th, 20094:11 pmat

    Right. I understand that they need to make money back before they start seeing a profit, but I think 60 bucks a game isn’t the way to do it. If they made games 45 bucks but 10 times as many people bought them… well, I can’t say that on a large scale since each game has a different budget to produce, but I think for the most part, it can be done. I’m friends with gamers who don’t buy games anymore because they’re too expensive. They borrow until the price of them goes down. I have a friend who spends about 75 bucks a week on PS2 games.

    I think you’re right about games needing to reach a wider audience, but I just hope it’s not done at the expense of hardcore gamers. Project Natal, for example, scares the shit out of me that they’re pulling a Nintendo. Isn’t there a compromise in there somewhere? Affordable games that draw a crowd? Indie game developers are doing it. Look at World of Goo. Ten dollars. Perfect game.

    The industry needs to buckle up and figure something out because I’m loosing faith. I’ve already completely lost faith in Sony.

  • worldblee writes:
    July 14th, 20094:22 pmat

    Hardcore games won’t go away. As long as there’s enough of an audience to make them profitable companies will keep making them. Core gamers do have higher standards to a certain extent but they’re also more predictable because they’re the audience we know best. Moms? We have some ideas but we’re still in uncertain territory.

    MS won’t drop everything to focus on Natal games. (I’m pitching one this week, BTW.) Natal is an avenue to reach people who aren’t already buying and playing on Xbox more than a way to reengage people like yourself. I’m big on motion games, but not as a replacement for Halo. Motion games are a way to engage people who want entertainment along with a fun way to move their bodies and perhaps get some exercise.

    I love indie games and am a huge proponent of indie developers, but like indie music it’s not enough to keep the industry in business. It’s the space where I like to live but it would be a pretty small industry if that’s all there was… To return to the fuel analogy, it’s like bio diesel. A great idea, I love it, but there ain’t enough used cooking oil for everyone to power their cars with it.

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