Not too long ago I remember feeling a slight discomfort when thinking about casual games. Not because I hate them or because they "aren't real games" or anything like it. No, it was because seemingly everybody was proclaiming (and some still are) that the rise of the $0,99 app meant certain doom for the kind of rich, complex and engrossing single-player games I love. While I never really felt the threat was real, and by any objective measure it is complete nonsense, I did feel slightly uneasy at the thought (the fact that the kinds
I like the most have long since faded from the spotlight probably didn't help matters).
That was then. Now? Much to my surprise, I find myself wishing AAA publishers really, really felt threatened. Allow me to elaborate.
We gamers are a passionate, enthusiastic lot, willing to fork out top money and to put up with a lot of crap (perhaps too willing) to enjoy our favorite hobby. But that goodwill is being abused, and I for one have had enough.
The big problem is that AAA publishers these days are going out of their way to make our gaming experience as expensive and inconvenient as possible, while social games thrive on making the consumer's life as easy as possible. Let's use mobile phones as an example. I don't have a smartphone or a tablet and the only ithingy I have is an ipod touch that is apparently too old to run games, so correct me if I'm wrong, but as far as I know any itunes app is purchased and accessed the same way. The price is the same anywhere in the world, fierce competition drove prices to rock bottom and you can buy every app from anywhere in the world. All you have to do is log in to your itunes account, pay, download and play. That's it. Simple, easy, convenient.
Now compare that to what we put up with to play the latest and greatest core games. For starters, there is price. No, I don't think games AAA games should cost $0,99. Heck, I don't even think they are "too expensive". In fact they are cheaper than they have ever been, and if anything only $60 for something like Skyrim is a bargain. Not to mention I'd happily play $80 for Baldur's Gate 3!
What doesn't make sense is having virtually no competition on price because every retail game costs the same, much like a cartel. We are told games cost $60 dollars because they are very expensive to make and are sold to a niche audience (sorry folks, core games are still niche, albeit a big one. Even Call of Duty), and we accept that. But how come every game, irrespective of production costs, has the same price? For instance, I'm playing El Shaddai now, and I love it. It's beautiful, it's fun, it's original, it's psychedelic... and there is no way in hell I'd pay full price for it. I have no idea how much it cost to make, but the production values are clearly a fraction of those found in the likes of Mass Effect 3. That doesn't diminish the game in any way, and may even enhance it by forcing developers to think creatively in order to cope with a limited budget, but it does mean it is not $60 material. Who knows, perhaps it would have been a lot more profitable had it been released digitally for $20 or $30.
Even worse, consider the latest game to get a 1/10 from Destructoid, Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir
. Look at those screenshots, then look at some Infinity Blade screens. Of course graphics are only part of a game's costs, but it's a big one. I could be wrong, but I have no doubt in my mind that Epic spent more to make Infinity Blade than Tecmo did on Spirit Camera. How much is Epic charging for Infinity Blade? $7. Worldwide. So far that has translated into a cool $30 million in revenue, enough to make even many core console games profitable). How about Spirit Camera? That's $40 in the U.S and a lot more in Europe, Australia and Brazil (if it is released in those regions). Why? Because we are stup, er, I mean, because that's the "standard price" for traditional handheld games.
But that's okay. After all, things are really hard for the publishers, right? I mean, merely manufacturing a game and getting it to stores is a 6-digit expense. Then those evil platform holders take a significant chunk in royalties. Worst of all, wicked, disloyal gamers buy used and deprive publishers of significant revenue. Surely if the poor publishers didn't have to contend with manufacturing and shipping costs, royalties or cannibalization from the used market
they would pass on those savings to us. Right? Right?
And then there are all the unnecessary inconveniences and outright lies we are sadly familiar with. Region-locked devices? Check. Region-specific digital stores (seriously, it doesn't get any more absurd than that)? Check. Online passes that don't work? Check. Publishers lying to our faces
? Check. Draconian DRM schemes that punishes paying customers and reward pirates? Check. Content chopped from the main game and sold as DLC? Check.
Core AAA games these days are selling far more than they ever did before Facebook and smartphones existed, so the market is definitely there, even if other markets are potentially bigger, so I don't worry about core games disappearing. But more and more, rather than fear for the future, I find myself wishing for the day when free-to-play, mobile games and the industry's own short-sighted practices will drive the likes of EA, Ubisoft and Activision into a hole so deep they will have no choice but to adapt or die, much like the music industry did. Alas, I don't see that happening anytime soon.