Brutal, honest thoughts on this whole debacle
Of Sony vs MS/Used/etc..
Before I get into this subject, I need to lay a few ground rules.
First off, making deep or well outlined arguments in 140 characters is nearly impossible, especially with a subject as complex as DRM and used games.
Second off, yes, I’ve done well over the years and I enjoy sharing my success with the community. I remember seeing pictures of Romero’s Ferrari as a teenager and it MOTIVATED me to make my own kick ass games. I hope that by having fun and sharing things with the community I may motivate someone out there to do the same. If you throw the fact that I like sharing pictures of my cars and what not close this blog right now and go back to whatever other site you were reading before this.
Third, I’m pro developer. I do, at the heart of it, believe that you can be profitable and pro-developer while being pro-consumer…if you’re careful with how you message things. I’ve been in the trenches for many years alongside brilliant peers and I’ve heard stories at conferences of talented people getting fucked out of money they deserve. Families lives put in peril due to layoffs. Families forced to move to a strange new city; kids who have to change schools and find entirely new sets of friends. (And don’t give me that First World Problem bullshit, because what I just mentioned sucks no matter who you are.)
Fourth, if you think this is back-peddling understand that I firmly stand by everything I’ve said. I’m writing this to give a surgical explanation behind some of my more…inflammatory posts on Twitter.
(And if you refer to Microsoft as M$, wow, you’re totally blowing my mind man. How creative of you.)
This console launch is the most unique in the business’ history. Even last time when we did have the internet it wasn’t as vocal or amplified as it is now. Giant Enemy Crab, anyone? (Sony’s terrible showing at that e3 proved to not really matter as the PS3 went on to do well in the long run.) What bothers me is the internet pitchfork mob who can only see 6 inches in front of their face without thoughtfully analyzing a situation. Any idiot can go to quickmeme.com. Try writing a fully thought out article on a subject, like the folks at Polygon, Giantbomb, Rock Paper Shotgun, or Kotaku do. (Sorry Gamespot, back of the bus.)
Microsoft tried to and ultimately couldn’t have it both ways. You can’t still have discs and then expect everyone to embrace digital. And, fundamentally, if you take something away that a consumer has been used to without some seriously smooth handling they’re naturally going to get upset.
I love community. I always have, going back to the Unreal/UT days. (Remember Ownage?) I used to love hanging out in the UT chatrooms late at night. My interest did wane a bit in the Gears days as I was frustrated with our mistakes that were made in that era and the negativity that came out of it. But now I see the positive aspects of places like Reddit and GAF (not the negative) and I recognize that community is the backbone of any entertainment experience in 2013 and beyond.
What I hate is the knee jerk dog-pile mob mentality that hit. I realized that not all Internet Memes are truthful or make full sense when I saw this one.
Ha ha, fuck the airlines, right? I mean how obvious is this. The plane can carry a FUCKING SPACE SHUTTLE and the mean anti-consumer airline wants to bill me on luggage fees?
Anyone who actually stops and thinks about this situation would realize that it’s about fuel costs. With Americans weighing more than ever and with fuel costs skyrocketing the airlines were forced to charge fees on overweight luggage so when you’re transporting your dumbells for vacation on muscle beach the cost is passed onto you. This is a business decision, albeit one that wasn’t handled the smoothly when it came to messaging, but my gut is telling me that running an airline is probably as hard as running a game development studio. Richard Branson, the ninja entrepreneur responsible for Virgin Airlines is famous for saying:
"If you want to be a Millionaire, start with a billion dollars and launch a new airline.”
Now, the other day I tweeted “I mean, I want developers to get money on every copy of their game over Gamestop fuck me right?”
There’s a story behind this. For years Gamestop was a good partner for retail and console games. And then they started looking at their numbers. (And don’t believe what they say about what % of their profit is new to used, believe how they ACT at every single store. Basic life lesson there folks.) And they realized that shit, we keep all of the money from giving someone five bucks on a game that they paid $60 for and we can then go and undercut NEW by reselling the used copy for $55 or so.
Profit. I’d then wager that an executive order came down to rewire every manager to push used whenever possible. And that’s part of the problem. They claim to developers and publishers to want to come to the store for new but when you’re there what is the staff taught to preach? Buy it used!
I’ve said it before, when I was younger and had $42 to my name I traded games all the time and would have bought the shit out of used. Just because I’m successful now doesn’t mean I’ll ever forget that feeling of not knowing how I was going to pay my bills or how wonderful Ramen tasted.
A few years ago Microsoft asked me to go to the Gamestop Manager’s show in Las Vegas. I was knee deep in development of Gears 3 and had already had a ton of press related travel, plus, I fucking hate Las Vegas. (You want to see anti consumer, hoo boy.) But my Microsoft marketing guy told me it would go a long way. He reminded me that it’s a big fun event for the managers who would love to press the flesh. So I flew out there, came on stage, shot a T-shirt gun at the crowd (so fun) met the managers, and did my best to not remind myself that I was in a city that I really don’t like.
Next up was the big exciting midnight launch for Gears 3. Exciting stuff; Big Sean played the event in NYC, the fans were stoked (sent over a few dozen pizzas to the fans in line as a goodwill and fun PR stunt!) and I got to show my future in-laws how amazing this business can be. Cut to flying home and people start sending me pictures of the extremely well put together finely printed leaflets at the Gears 3 launch that said “Trade in this game by November 6th and get more than you normally would on your trade in!”
Motherfucker. We had done a lot of work to keep the disc in tray, but those retail practices are deliberately set up to create a revolving door of game trade in. Folks say “Yeah, but Gamestop helps out a lot of games by pushing them!” to which I quote Chris Rock “Yeah, they’re like the uncle who paid for your college…but molested you.”
Capitalism? Sure. It’s a free market and they’ve got every right to do this. I accept that. However when I see studio after studio closing and the aforementioned alluded titles failing I know something’s got to change.
But Cars and Movies and Books haven’t had this problem, why are games different?
Watch this video, and then come back to this blog, please.
Now, I know only blaming used games really does come across as a whiny answer. There was a brilliant post on GAF that was quoted on Kotaku saying “We didn’t ask for increased budgets, or phoned in sequels, or tacked on multiplayer.” It was incredibly well worded (and I can’t find it in the mountain of e3 news now so someone link it to me and I’ll update this blog with the link.) It’s up to the developer and the publisher to find a way to solve these problems. (And yes, by voting with your dollars, the consumers have shaped where we’re at to some extent. In the AAA space there is a certain graphical fidelity required and rich feature set expected that are causing costs to skyrocket.) Add in the fact that there’s more things than ever in 2013 competing for your dollar and you have to have 8+ figure marketing budgets to run ads and what not.
So here’s what’s going to happen now that Microsoft has largely matched Sony’s (well played) move at E3. The shift to digital is still going to happen (FOR BOTH) but it’s going to be slow and subtle. Suddenly more DLC will be made available. More microstransactions will appear. And Day One Digital will (hopefully) be cheaper and will have so many added bells and whistles that consumers (with reliable enough bandwidth) will have a hard time refusing the tasty downloadable edition over the disc based one.
But you know, none of this shit matters if the GAMES AREN’T FUN AND FANTASTIC. And if they are? No one seems to mind throwing money at them. (Zynga, this is your problem now, btw.)
I’ve said before if I worked at Microsoft I would not only POSITIVELY motivate users to go digital but also offer their own trading system in which they give you MORE money for your game than Gamestop and sell the used games for LESS than Gamestop. Include a Netflix style mailing system and move along your merry way by engaging the customer as opposed to treating them like criminals.
Years from now college courses are going to be taught in proper messaging and they’re going to use Microsoft’s E3 delivery as a worst case scenario. I’ve known many of the folks over there for years, and folks, you know better. Before any presser you’re given a booklet that only says “Here’s what you should say if asked X.” They also brief you on the journalists you’re about to meet with “This is the guy from Giantbomb. He’s smart but has been good to work with in the past. He also likes Hot Pockets and long walks on the beach.” With the stakes this high those executives should have memorized that book and not have been rope-a-doped by savvy journalists who laid a trap for them to walk right the hell into. (Fuckin’ Keighley strikes again)
When users were complaining about changes to Gears’ multiplayer my (bad) answer was often “If you don’t like it, play the previous game you liked so much!” (Which is a thinly veiled Fuck You to the customer, honestly. Holy shit I just admitted I was wrong.)
Microsoft was trying to sell well lit houses that require a fully intact electrical grid to a world that doesn’t have that yet. Nothing made this more obvious than the fact that our servicemen and women of the armed forces are often in poorly connected places. Even Gears had a HUGE military following. And nothing looks worse than saying “forget the troops” because hey, your ass isn’t getting shot at or dealing with IEDs, are you?
I’ll admit, the once every 24 hour check was pretty silly. Customers can smell from a mile away when you’re treating them like children, peeking your head into their bedroom on a regular basis in an attempt to catch them doing something. Here’s the thing about Steam. It doesn’t FORCE you to be online. The ecosystem of Steam is so brilliant, from the community, to the summer sales, to the indie games, that you WANT to get online.
My money is on the PC, mobile and tablets for the near future. I wandered around E3 looking at (too many) fantastic games shaking my head and worrying about how many are going to be deemed a failure due to the fact that yes, it may have sold 4 million copies, but it cost too much to make and market, so it was a wash. (Do your homework, several very high profile games have had this issue and no, I’m not going to call them out here.)
At the end of the day I suppose it’s a beautiful thing that so many gamers actually give a shit and are willing to participate in the debate. Just remember one of the (positive) aspects of Capitalism is that it encourages competition. You don’t want one system to “win” because what happens is that the “winner” then becomes fat and lazy and the consumer has no choice. That choice is what often forces a business’ hand. (Look at the mess that is cable right now; many markets only have one choice so you could wind up fucked with Time Warner.)
By the way, Apple may be the ones who wind up “winning” this entire thing now.
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