On “Too Many Games”

Talkback IconTalkback is a feature I use for cross-blog dialoging (where one blogger writes an article and response articles are published by other bloggers). Join the conversation with your own talkback article if you’re a blogger or hit up the comments section of the participating blogs.

EC recently made a video about the barrage of video games players find themselves buried under these days and he made the point that having this number of overwhelming choices is always better. I don’t think more is always better. In fact, having fewer games is probably a good thing.

A while ago I saw a TED talk by Barry Schwartz where he talked about the paradox of choice. In fact, he has a book by that title where he proposes that having a lot choices isn’t better. He doesn’t really doubt that in a general sense, it’s good to have options. However, having too many can cause paralysis and in the long run make us unhappy about the choices we make (because we’ll always think there were better choices).

I had a sense of this before I heard his talk but hearing him explain it really confirmed it for me. I don’t know if having more is always better, but that seems doubtful. The analogy he used during the talk was going to the store for a pair of jeans. We all know the dozens of different kinds of jeans one can buy in a store and Barry compared this experience to how it was in the past. He’d go to a store and they only had one or two kinds of jeans. H’ed pick his size and go home. Today, he has to know so much more about jeans to even know what he needs.

It feels like we miss something important when we’re bombarded with too many choices. How many things can a human reasonably consider? Surely there’s a limit to this and if there is, then that means that there’s a point at which having more choice is bad for us.

We can have too many games. I already think I do. And what its done is ensure I spend less time on any one of them as I spread what time I have across the lot of them. Consequently it’s difficult to know every development studio behind each game and therefore difficult to know as much about my games as I want to. There’s a trade of for having too many choices it seems.

Do you believe there’s such a thing as having too many games available on the market?

Games that Get PvP Right

So we’re back and the Talkback Challenge 2014 has kicked up a lot of dust in the community. The topic? PvP vs. PvE: Do they Mix?


I think it’s interesting, and totally predictable, that most of us in this conversation think PvP has problems and that it can ruin the gaming experience when mixed with PvE. I also think it’s interesting that everyone of us believes that PvP itself can be done right. So how about we look at some games which do it right?

Obviously, the games below are just my own personal list. But for the sake of discussion, you should take a moment to think about games you think gets PvP right as well.

Demon’s Souls

First of all, this game gets a lot of things right. It’s just extremely well designed and well thought out. So it’s no wonder the PvP is also a very fine addition to what is otherwise a pure dungeon crawler. To quote myself:

One more feature that has a really ingenious implementation is the multiplayer aspect. If you turn on the game while connected to the PSN, you’re automatically in multiplayer mode. This allows you to see phantoms; ghosts of other players across the network. You can’t communicate with them, but you can see their actions which may help you figure out what’s lurking around that corner. You’ll also see blood spatters on the ground which indicate where a player recently died. Touching the blood allows you to see the last few seconds of that players life before they died, giving you clues as to what killed him. Players can also leave short messages scrawled on the ground which can either tip you off to dangers or send you bumbling to your death. Lastly and most deadly is that players can invade each others worlds. If you need a body, you invade the world of a player who has one …and if you can kill him, you can take his body.

Players can invade the world of other players. They want to enter your game for two reasons. One, they need your body (lawl). In DS when you die you return in spirit form, which means you play with only half your health until you recover your body. You can do that by collecting the orbs I mentioned earlier …or you can invade another players game and slay them, taking their body if you succeed. The second reason is for the sheer adventure of it. Either way, if you’re just there to slay dragons you get to do it with the added suspense that your game can change at any moment. It’s a bonus that the PvP encounters are short — you’ll be back to your dungeon crawl within minutes.

The multiplayer feature is really interesting and definitely unique overall. The PvP twist is just icing on an awesome cake. While there are always players who are abusive, DS manages to make it not worthwhile. Players get to rate each other and in a game where skill is everything, players are more likely to give each other accurate grades than to grief or lash out. By making combat meaningful and limiting PvP by designing it to enhance PvE, the game strikes a perfect balance between the two.


I know this may seem non-obvious, but MOBAs are another perfect balance between PvE and PvP. The fact is players can play a round of DOTA 2 or League of Legends without ever fighting one another. It is optional. But no one plays this way, because PvP combat is very meaningful to winning the PvE map. And let’s not forget that it was a pure PvE strategy game that spawned the entire genre (Warcraft).

Still, this is what it looks like when a game gets the PvP and PvE mix correct: you can’t even tell the two are separate.

How hard is it really to mix these two elements? Why do MMOs seem to get it so wrong? I think the hard bit for MMOs is the open and persistent world. To an extent, players must expect open world PvP because it’s an open world. This makes it seem like PvP and MMOs simply don’t mix, because what other way can they co-exist? Battlegrounds and arenas will probably continue to be the primary means for official PvP in the genre, but I still think there must be something designers can do to make open world PvP fairer and therefore more consensual.

For starters, just make it meaningful. Why would players want to PvP? Which elements encourage players to strike a balance between fighting and negotiating? EVE Online shows us the ways that devs have come closer to balancing this, but it fails because it rewards belligerence.

Will there ever be an MMO which gets this right? I think so. I just hope I see that game in my lifetime.

On Fantasy, Reality and Voyeurism

Recently, I paid my good neighbor Mr. Murf of Murf Versus a visit and found an article about a Tweetersation he had with fellow blogger Syl. It was a very thought provoking piece that I tried to leave a comment on. Then that comment got too long. I managed to narrow my thoughts from the piece into a few keywords that I feel set-up the essay and really defined it: voyeurism, empathy, and realism. The latter was mostly brought up in the comments, but really helped encapsulate an underlying theme of the article.

agotAt first read, it was very easy to relate to his experience of fantasy. It reads like a story and transforms into confession as it closes. It raises questions about voyeurism, empathy and realism, things that gamers talk about all the time, but less deliberately. A Game of Thrones was what inspired the discussion on Twitter originally. It’s the most gory, violent show to hit television in a while. It’s very depraved and if you’ve never seen it be warned that the content is extremely abrasive.

Full disclosure: I read the books long before anyone knew it was TV material! I still think this is one of the best written fantasy novels of my generation. Still, I always stop short of describing it as enjoyable or “good” or with like terms. There are a lot of sick things in the book that I don’t enjoy and which I don’t find entertaining. I don’t actually view the books as entertainment, though that’s what I was looking for when I bought them (who doesn’t enjoy a good medieval fantasy?). I experience them as trauma, not drama.I think the book offers something of value, but that value is lost when taken as entertainment. The series tells tales many authors wouldn’t dare and I think it does a fair job of not glorifying violence — this is why I think that it’s value isn’t as entertainment, though it is undoubtedly, overwhelmingly seen as such. It’s unapologetic and uncompromising in it’s pornography of tragedy which ranges from genocide to torture. Where it’s value lies as a work of fiction is an important question to all of us who watch and who read.

In fact, a friend who helped me edit this immediately compared the value of AGOT to something like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU), which is a good comparison. SVU does a great job of taking serious things seriously. The crimes that occur in each episode are there to make us uncomfortable, and to make us think about them. That can’t be said of AGOT TV series most of the time. It has it’s moments, but it’s largely there to dramatize horrible events for entertainment. Many shows do this, so it’s not like it’s particularly surprising, but AGOT goes much further than most other shows. This show has managed to make at least half of the “sex” scenes about rape.

Voyeurism, empathy and realism …I had a personal revelation about why the article felt so easy to read and relate to. These are 3 things gamers commonly put together. It makes perfect sense. Gamers are experience enthusiasts and it happens to be what makes the medium unique, the interactive delivery as an experience machine. For anyone wanting to step into the shoes of another character, only games give you that. From there feelings of empathy and realism may arise. That’s where the piece got interesting for me. It attempted to make the lonely, impersonal experience of the voyeur an avenue to greater emotional intelligence. There’s a very wide gap to bridge between voyeurism and empathy, but its one that gamers try to navigate all the time. I can relate to what he said, but I also struggle to reconcile these opposites.

Voyeur: One who looks

spyAt base, this is what we’re dealing with on the topic of voyeurism. The most obvious elements of voyeurism are the watcher and the watched. Voyeurs look, they don’t interact. Empathy is difficult to discern because it’s too intertwined with the voyeur’s projections onto the subject, which replaces it’s subjectivity. Without interacting with the subject, all voyeurs can do is project their own feelings. Voyeurism is about the watcher, not the watched. Empathy is about the watched.

When you’re a voyeur you stalk your subject, enjoying hir without their knowledge. You can’t connect with a person via voyeurism because of this and since empathy acts precisely to connect us, this is the dilemma. So the idea that voyeurism can lead to empathetic experiences of the other is questionable. It seems like there’s something else going on emotionally. If voyeurism is about the watcher, then how we can we empathize with ourselves?

This is why “My voyeurism leads me to walk in these people’s shoes,” is a strange statement and it’s why I used the term illusion earlier. A voyeur doesn’t seek to walk in another’s shoes and doesn’t do it to empathize with them either. Empathetic experiences transcend the egocentricity of voyeurism. The voyeur watches to entertain hirself. A voyeur learns about their subject by circumvention, not by connection. The act of imagining walking in someone’s shoes is to erase them from their own shoes and put yourself there (the subject is a living, breathing person — you don’t need to put yourself in their shoes, but to be transported through the subject’s experience; the act of replacing them is an act of erasure). This is less empathy than an escapist adventure of some sort, one which the voyeur finds entertaining — because that’s why the voyeur is a voyeur. They get satisfaction from secretly watching others, imagining what they want about those others. And it’s this language – imagine, entertain, escapist, erasure — that is common to gamer experiences. They describe how we connect with ourselves, not others.

So …Empathy

Feelings derived from reading something as graphic and tragic as AGOT can be powerful and moving, but the more we find the misogyny, racism, violence and rape entertaining, the less we’re empathizing with any character who endures it. I can’t be entertained by torture and empathize with the tortured simultaneously.

In closing, he states:

“I don’t apologize for it. I won’t. Mostly because I believe in my ability to separate fact from fiction. Even if I take pleasure in it, I do not believe for a second that these depictions are changing me to be more violent, more misogynistic, or more rapey.”

The thing is, voyeuristic sadism in games or movies isn’t about causation, but revelation. The point is not what they will make us into any one of those things, but what it says about us that we find them entertaining. In this sense, what we consume and how we consume it reveals who we are, not makes us who we are.

On Realism

It was implied in the comments that realism was the justification for Martin’s depictions of sexism. The gist of it was that the sexism is a major part of why the series is so interesting and successful. I said in a previous article this year:

… through this lens these social ills [racism, classism and sexism] cannot be defined as problems at all. The sexism, racism and classism are [claimed as] part and parcel of the construction of the fantasy, whose authenticity is lost when those things are absent. Men invested in these fantasies feel entitled to have them and history is used as the reason this should be so, creating a virtual space where men escape from reality and to reality as Kimmel pointed out. This glorification of the medieval and warrior value set becomes much more worrying when we acknowledge the relationship between our fantasies and our personal longing. The fantasies we enjoy often betray us. — Read More …

McCloud-iconMy point is that history is unjustifiably used as justification for the bigotry paraded before us in the name of entertainment.

Martin’s world is fiction. It did not happen. It’s not a historical piece. It has no obligation to “stay true” to any events of the past, because it’s not attempting to recreate events of the past. It offers no historical perspectives – it borrows the trappings of history. It’s a romanticization — a very intriguing and powerful one — of a dark period of history, a fantasy, a caricature of it. It’s not realism. That this is being interpreted as realism is indicative of the problem with ahistorical thinking.

In the U.S., the opposition party in our congress tweeted just this past February that Rosa Parks, a major Civil Rights leader of the 1960s, helped to end racism. The tweet was rightfully mocked and critiqued — he made the statement as though racism had actually ended. The tweet was later edited to reflect the reality: she merely helped in the on-going battle against racism. Its a good example, of how ahistorical thinking skews the past to render the present. There’s nothing necessary or essential about the violence Martin choses to create in AGOT.

From Here

I don’t think voyeurism allows us to walk in someone else’s shoes. I think to “walk in someone else’s shoes” is a phrase that means we should try to empathize with others. But I think there’s common misunderstanding about what it actually means to empathize. It’s not just replicating someone else’s feelings based on our own perceptions. Imagine a spectator visiting the roman Colosseum and stating that the reason they bought the ticket was to experience empathy from those fed to the lions, that the spectacle is a vehicle that helps them to foster their emotional intellgience. It may be true, but do you see how this is a very roundabout, even strange, way to expand our emotional range of experience? This is one area I think games will soon dive deeper into, and in fact the topic of Empathy Games came up at this year’s Game Developers Conventions. Can media be a tool in expanding our emotional experiences, making us more emotionally intelligent? I think yes. But I think that media cannot be delivered as entertainment if that’s the goal.

So what does empathy really look like? I’d provide you with the ultimate guide if I had one, but I lost it. However, I read this article a couple of months ago on a blog I stumbled upon that I think is good anecdote. It’s called “She Wasn’t Being Rude” and it relates the story of how the author, a veterinarian, saved a dog’s life despite his less than cultured client, whom his staff described as rude. It’s a good story to read and the moral of it was that the dog’s owner had a very unpolished demeanor (low education, street-speaking, common folk). In the end, he counseled his staff that the woman wasn’t being rude and he focused instead on her needs. He listened to her and helped her. I think this was a good instance of what empathy looks like in action.

Empathy has at least two directions, though. While a connection to others is necessary, how can we tell when that connection is about us and when it’s about the subject? When is empathy about me?

Always and never.

If my family and I were on a sinking boat, I might have to save myself in order to save them too. It’s both a selfish act and a selfless one. In this sense, empathy is partially a recognition of your responsibility towards others. It’s not just an experience. It’s a realization you couldn’t have made without experiencing someone else’s experience. Voyeurs might seek to feel empathy, but the act can’t transcend it’s egocentricity in order to achieve it. Of course, the sinking boat is just an anecdote, but I think it gets the point across. Empathy is not for the sake of feeling. Not if it matters. Empathy is supposed to encourage us to act.

Does any of this make us evil for engaging in voyeurism? For seeking to empathize? For mistaking reality in our entertainment? For enjoying AGOT. As I said before, these things reveal us not make us who we are and I think no one evil for it — that’s for us to decide for ourselves. If we live in societies that have trouble with these issues, then we’re enmeshed in them as well whether we like it or not, know it or not, want to be or not. There’s nothing evil about that. I know I have a reputation for raising controversial questions, but there they are. To me, it seems that the importance of this exercise is to question why we enjoy problematic things (and yeah …we all enjoy problematic things). AGOT, as a work of entertainment, is one of the most problematic works in the medium right now. It’s inspired many hot debates for years for it’s content, but that’s exactly is where I think it’s true value lies: Inspiring debates about it’s controversies.

Scree Tags: #morality #gameofthrones #entertainment

Talkback: The Fallacies of the End Game

Talkback IconTalkback is a feature for cross-blog dialog (where one blogger writes an article and response articles are published by other bloggers). Join the conversation with your own talkback article if you’re a blogger or hit up the comments section of the participating blogs.

Settle in for a long read. This talkback began with a recently published article here titled “Better Gamers for a Better Community”. One response came from Roger at Moderate Peril who seems to agree with the thrust of my article, but disagrees with it’s delivery.

J3w3l penned a really nuanced response yesterday about her personal experiences and understanding of what it means to be a gamer confronting the toxicity. She made a strong point that when she’s blogging about games, it’s often the time she uses to get away from abuse or to take a break from activism. I think she’s right that many game bloggers feel this way. I completely agree and I just want to say I think that’s a totally valid stance to take. It was the stance I took when I created T.R. Red Skies (and subsequently why I have changed blogs). We all have to take care of ourselves first and championing your favorite cause cannot be a 24 hour affair. It’s emotionally, psychologically and physically draining. In the original article, I called strongly on men to get more involved but I do want to make it clear that I understand and agree that we’re not duty bound to be on patrol 24/7. I think for my part, I just want gamers to not go quiet in the face of abuse and I still think more participation from men in the community is sorely needed.

Then there’s the response article from Tobold, ever the champion of strawman arguments, extremism, distortions and omissions. He wants to change the topic of discussion to that of political correctness and use ideological framing because, depending on whether you’re a “ultra-liberal” or a conservative all bigotry is/is not a problem. Apparently, speaking up in the face of abuse and bigotry is vague and fascist. I’m satisfied that there has at least been active engagement by bloggers on the topic, many of whom have responded thoughtfully, even when they disagree. This was not the case.

I’ve discussed in detail this year the problem with such terms as political correctness and the purpose it serves for those who use it. As I’ll discuss here, that’s just an argumentative fallacy. It conveniently shifts conversation to something respondents are more comfortable with. And it’s OK, we all get uncomfortable. But derailing discussion isn’t helpful. Political correctness is a coded phrase we use to dismiss each other’s experiences and concerns. It’s not useful to throw this around and you can read this article for details about why I think so.

The end game for all of us should be addressing the issues that plague our communities. I would think this is something we can all get behind if we believe change is required. Change is the end game.

Cognitive Dissonance

The general concept of cognitive dissonance is that we ignore, assimilate or accommodate conflicting information in ways that affirm our beliefs and behavior. Pointing out that there’s something wrong with our behavior causes our minds to work to decrease the dissonance, make it resonant with our current beliefs and actions (or else block it out and ignore it). We all experience cognitive dissonance. In order to mediate the dissonance, we have consciousness. Without consciousness, we are slaves to our psychology.

Consciousness is awareness. It doesn’t mean we will act on information, but that we are capable of being self-aware. Think of consciousness as a way to monitor your own thoughts, beliefs and behavior.

Awareness is part of the solution to cognitive dissonance. Another part is personal will. When it comes to activism, I see my role as a source of awareness for those unaware of the issues I work on. My role is not to effect change, but to make change possible by increasing awareness of problems in my circle of influence, problems the people around me may not otherwise see or understand.

“Moral Superiority” Fallacy

The “moral superiority” claim against those who point out or who want to discuss those problems is a textbook ad hominem fallacy. It’s consequence is to circumvent or dismiss the subject by refocusing discussion on the person bringing it up.

I write from experience. When I write about bigotry, it’s because I’ve been a bigot. When I write about sexism, it’s because I’ve been a sexist. I’ve also been a racist and ableist. I’ve been a silent bystander and it seems overwhelmingly likely that I have been part of every kind of bigotry (I’m not immune to socialization). Anyone who knows me would never, at any point in my life, have described me as any of those things but my behavior has spoken for itself on those matters, despite my beliefs (dissonance). I write because I am now aware of the harm I have done to others (experience) and the harm I can do (education). All of these experiences make me more like everyone in my communities, not less like them (superiority).

We’re all products of our experiences and education. Our growth is based on our willingness to change and striving to do better while inviting others to the same is NOT an act of moral superiority. The moral superiority response is an attack on the character of the speaker and is a tactic used to silence, discredit, and derail. We should, as the saying goes, attack the content not the author.

“Sugar Coating” and Vanity

Something else I have to deal with often is being told that my message isn’t sweet enough. Somehow, I’m the reason others will not listen about problems or change. Somehow, the “actual” problem is the messenger. I’ve noticed that we sometimes have a tendency to externalize problems, to distance them from ourselves. This is why awareness of the problem alone isn’t enough. We have to be willing to change. And that requires a desire to listen deeply and think deeply, to entertain the idea that you could be part of the problem. If we’re not willing, there’s nothing to talk about. 

When we think that it’s the task of others to “sugar coat” their words in order to make someone willing to listen, we propose two things which I think are harmful and counterproductive to addressign the real issues. The first is pandering. Pandering to the vanity of the audience is disrespectful to that audience. It implies that they must be lied to in order do what’s right, that they should be manipulated by the speaker, that the audience cannot cope with the raw information. Pandering is patronizing breeds contempt of your audience.

The second problem is that “sugar coating” puts the onus on the speaker to inflict change on their audience. The person speaking becomes responsible for whatever happens (or doesn’t happen) next. This is where pandering is usually proposed as the solution. This shifts ultimate accountability for the resolution of the problem to the messenger. Ordinarily, we’d call this scapegoating but in these instances it becomes magically appropriate.

Individuals have to change themselves and this task cannot be assigned to the speaker in any way. If a person’s willingness to listen to issues or their willingness to change hinges on superficial pandering; if they’re waiting for a message that makes them feel good about themselves in order to act, then they’re not committed to change in the first place. They’re committed to something else that only they can interrogate through self-awareness. Accountability for change begins and ends with the man in the mirror.

Interrogating Our Beliefs

The unexamined life is not worth living. – Socrates [1]

I am aware that my articles may feel harsh to some. I’m always grateful for constructive criticism. I sometimes vet my articles by fellow readers and bloggers in order to take that feedback to heart and action. I think my readers have seen me evolve my writing style the past 5 years. I’ve come a long way. I strive to improve every time I sit down and write. I’ve kneaded my messages, moderated their tone, modified their vocabulary and learned when and how to use pronouns best when speaking to an audience. I do my very best each and every time. But I equally understand that the message itself isn’t usually the problem. For some in the audience, it is the fact that I deliver it at all.

You can imagine how tricky it is to navigate such an audience who is ready and waiting to conclude that the message and it’s messenger are the actual problem. I have to balance my decisions to speak out with the knowledge that some listeners have no intention of discussing the subject on it’s merits. They prove it every time by leaving the message unexplored while they deconstruct what they think is wrong with me and my approach. To an extent, I get it. It can feel personal and like we’re under attack by social calls to action. But at the end of the day we must understand that that kind of reaction is about YOU (individuals), not the messenger or the message.

Even messengers have to heed their own advice, walk their own talk, and do their own work. Instead of imagining the messenger as shouting from a pulpit, see them instead as doing their best with their own personal struggle to heed their own message (I can’t ask you to speak out if I don’t). I work and care very hard. The extent of the work I put in precedes and supersedes this blog. I’ve been participating in consciousness raising and support before I decided to include my blogging in it. Usually by the time I publish something here, it’s after I’ve had a related experience with the subject matter in the real world.

The end game is personal change. It’s commitment to change. If we’re really concerned about tact and pleasant experiences, then let’s turn our discussion to the issue at hand and away from one another. Let’s talk about all the nuances of our ugly problems, the research involved in their resolution and the outcomes of our efforts to make a change. Wouldn’t that be more pleasant? Wouldn’t that be the end game?

Scree Tags: #gamerscandobetter #gamertalk #activism

Talkback: Paying it Forward

Talkback is a featured series for cross-blog topics.

What’s a good price for a game? Personally, I won’t pay $60 for a game any more, even though I used to pay $100 back in the 90s. Everyone has their limits. I guess age has made me a penny pincher. Or it could be my increasing poverty …

All the same, developers have to eat. Gamers want cheaper games and are increasingly unwilling to pay more than $40. How do I know this? I think the trends in free to play gaming and presence of micro-transactions show that companies need to lower the barrier to entry significantly if they want large crowds to pay for their games. The greatest barrier to entry is the price of a game. Yet free games and those with item shops have dubious quality. Even though we might download that free app, the advertisements which make it possible can be very intrusive and even ruin the experience.

So what do we do? How do we demand better games and ensure that those developers are around the following year to keep making them?

A recent report on GamesIndustry.biz discusses how the console wars have resulted in more expensive games than last generation’s. The report mentions that games like Forza – a great example of a gaming replacing the intrinsic value of its features with monetization – are giving you less game for $60 while making features formally included in the box price available as DLC. This isn’t the first time we’re hearing of this  either: Mass Effect 3 did the same thing almost a year ago. While Steam seems to be walking the opposite end of the price spectrum by birthing the sales model of Outrageously Under-priced Games, gamers and developers are getting mixed messages about what this next generation of gaming should cost us. I think digital should be cheaper in most cases.

There’s some research that has been conducted on whether our games are cheaper today than they were yesterday, but they tend to focus on costs and price. They don’t look at value (what you actually get in terms of gameplay fulfillment), which can, admittedly, be difficult to measure on a game to game basis. I think DLC is one tool developers use today that chip value from our games even as they’re only intending to add value. Where a game may have usually come with 10 levels, now they come with 8 and 2 are sold as additional map packs.

There’s also the fact that technology isn’t just getting better thanks to Moore’s Law, but also getting cheaper each generation. The relatively stable price of video games makes it seem like the games are cheaper, yet compensating for inflation we can see that console prices are pretty stable. They should be decreasing if our games are cheaper, so why are they getting more expensive?

One reason might be the huge development teams behind AAA titles. Teams 400-700 developers have been par for the course. As technology gets better, the need for ever more specialized experts to wield it increases. Or at least that seems to be the case. Destructoid published a piece last year questioning whether more developers actually made for a better game. In two examples in the article, the author pointed out that the games with large development teams suffered from inconsistency which negatively impacted the gameplay experience. More cooks in the kitchen did not a quality meal make.

Years ago I predicted that MMO games would go toward niche markets in the future. At this rate, all games will. The AAA mega hit is clearly little more than game snobbery – the Bugattis of gaming, if you will – and are priced for people who make enough money such that they can afford not to care about prices, or who scoff at them while they blow hundreds on pixels in the item shops. The rest of us get Steam, GoG, and Humble Bundle sales. There’s a strong portion of gamers out there who simply don’t have $60 to throw around, and most of those gamers are people who have been consuming games for decades. Gamers like me. Current pricing trends seem to price entire demographics of gamers out of the market. Going forward, I think there’s a few things happening in the industry which gives the poor gamer something to look forward to.

1. Indie Development

While more risky than the typical 9 to 5, indie development allows developers the maximum professional fulfillment. They get to make the games they want to make and decrease publishing and distribution costs. This has really taken off in recent years as digital media continues to evolve and become more accessible each year. Where in the past developers relied more on the PC markets to thrive as indies, consoles have really improved their platforms for digital distribution and as a consequence indie development has been brought into the mainstream. The fact that gamers are widely aware of such a thing as Indie Games is clear proof of this phenomenon. The bottom line: the bottom line (100% of money goes to the developer).

2. Indie Distribution

Stores like Humble Bundle and GoG help new developers by providing an additional distribution channel and it helps that they are usually DRM free. While most games featured at these stores are older, they are still a mainstream way to make these games visible to the most people. Indie developers know that the best marketing they can get is putting their games into as many hands as possible. Decreasing the cost to make a game through such channels is roughly equivalent in value to saving on billboard advertisements, so while the game has a lower price, almost every cent goes directly into the pockets of developers. These distribution methods typically also provide the option to distribute the money between the devs and charities. It’s the optimal win for all involved. Players get to name their price AND determine who gets the money. It’s a wonderful thing and I patronize these shops as much as possible these days.

What else can we do to make sure we’re giving enough money back to developers without completely stripping them of their ability to charge the fees they need to develop the games? This generation, through globalization and digital distribution, is bringing the cost of everything down to Free, but not with its own unique risks. It creates an industry in which only the richest companies can afford to compete. A perfect example of this right now is the development of Everquest Next as a free-to-play MMO. Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) has massive resources to pour into a AAA quality game while also charging players nothing to play it. Indie developers looking to join this market will find it near impossible to compete with such a behemoth. Free to play doesn’t always translate into fair and healthy economic activity.

Over the past year, I’ve made the decision to buy more independently developed games. I figure I can at least be sure I’m paying developers for their work while also supporting games which are considered outside of the mainstream market. I also make it a priority to purchase things in free-to-play games if I enjoy the game. Nothing is truly free. If I can afford it, I support the developer in any way I’m able. I figure I can help keep the game free for gamers who truly can’t afford to pay.

What do you think: are constantly declining prices for games good for developers?

#f2pgames #indiegames #gamertalk