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Bazaar Behavior
by Benjamin Quintero on 07/10/14 01:07:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Below is an older post I wrote on my website some months ago (remastered).  Recent comments have gotten me thinking about this again.  So I figured I would dig up old anxieties for old time's sake.  Ultimately my thoughts surround the simple question, "How long can the industry last, making games purely for the love of it?"

"There's no magic bullet. ...everything is a grind, especially in the game industry.  You have to have amazing press, and get the feature spots, and get huge VO, and have amazing polish, and then you do... okay.  But if you didn't have any of that stuff you'd do horrible." - Justin Bailey, said with a nervous smile.

"I honestly think the $60 console game market is going to continue to become silo'd. [...] In the console space, feels like COD, AC, Halo, Batman, etc... and that's it. And they're all trying to out market each other with hundreds of millions of dollars." - Cliff Bleszinski, Reddit AMA

----

In the fashion world it is a very tough pill to swallow when you are looking at your collection of $4000 original boutique hand bags that are about to be mass produced and tossed in a bin for $250 at your local Walmart.

One of the interesting aspects of trading down is what happens to the brand.  The side effect of an expanding market is the devaluation of those goods.  The overall sum of the parts adds up to a much greater number on paper, but the consumer’s invested interest of each part declines to a point where profit margins are counted in pennies not dollars.

As a crude example; the average $49.99 NES/SNES game sold in 1985 would likely be priced somewhere between $100-$110 today.  The market was smaller, the cost of production was more expensive, and games were not as plentiful.  The high prices and limited options cultivated a breed of gamer that was almost forced to wade through the rough edges of a game and find an appreciation for it.  I could imagine most kids in those days getting 1 game for Christmas with the understanding that another game wasn’t coming until maybe their birthday.  It’s easy to see how those of us who grew up in that time would start to take each game we own very personally.  Obviously, things are different now.

Creating low-bar video games has gotten easier, much easier.  We have tool kits like RPG/Game Maker all the way up to AAA engines like UDK.  We have free asset libraries available for download and free asset creation software for making anything from 2D sprites to fully animated 3D models.  It seems like anyone with an idea and the motivation can at least get a guy to move around on the screen.  The mobile market and deep Steam sales, coupled with free-to-play, have made games available to anyone with a digital screen nearby.  Even affordable fixed-priced games with infinite gameplay like Minecraft are molding game designs of the future.  So, how does all this awesomeness threaten video games?

This low barrier to entry approach to creating games and selling games is something of a mixed blessing.  For a small niche group out there, they are perfectly fine tinkering with tool kits; reducing their buying habits.  For others, the markets are splintering across:Yeah, I went there =)

  • 2-3 mobile phones
  • 3-4 home consoles
  • 2-3 handheld consoles
  • Very wide array of PC + Steam Machine configurations
  • Mac
  • tablets
  • micro consoles, including Ouya as well as Rasberry Pi, Arduino, and some homebrew handhelds being manufactured.
  • Soon-to-be Amazon’s console
  • and possibly more that I haven’t listed.

More is always better, until it’s too much.  If internet culture has taught us anything it’s that moderation is a lesson seldom learned.  This is exactly why many people will argue that we haven’t gone far enough; that fragmentation is good, and low barriers for both developers and consumers can only lead to some kind of strange and fluid equilibrium.  This abundant acceptance of all things techie is exactly what has allowed Japan to experiment with almost quarterly iterations of their electronic devices, knowing someone out there is going to buy it.  I can only assume that it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows however.  I wonder if Japan is suffering a bit today because of the steady changing flow of iterations, fragmentation, and overt experimental products.

With such a massive growth in people creating games but the relatively steady progress of people consuming them, there are sure to be some gems moving forward.  But the industry is sure to pinch out a lot of turds as well.  And even if those low-bar games don’t see much traffic, they do add to the overall noise.  This leads me to the Bazaar realization.

"I just wanted to find something that reminded me of my childhood and came home with Battlefield 4.  It doesn't even run in my Xbox thing (original)."

- Disgruntled Casual Gamer

It’s getting almost too difficult to find the games that speak to you when everyone is screaming for attention and you only have so much to give.  I find myself falling behind each day, or completely missing out on an experience that is only on 1 of the 10 or so platforms, hearing about some game that a niche of gamers have been following for years.  I sometimes play games that climb to the top and wonder how they got there.  Video games are starting to look more and more like a 3rd-world market square, with merchants shoving their produce in your face and throwing their fabrics on you without asking.  As a buyer, it’s easy to see why casual gamers do not engage fully into the gaming ecosystem.  As someone who follows and is actively involved in the industry, it’s impossible for me to keep up with the flood of content that blows past my feeds.  I can only imagine that, for a casual gamer, it must feel much like I feel when I stare at a stock ticker, wondering if “closing in at 16.82″ is a good thing.


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Comments


Christian Nutt
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I think Japan is suffering for a lot of reasons, but that is one of them -- if by "Japan" you mean "the Japanese console industry." I don't think experimentation/iteration/finding the fun is a problem for the best Japanese devs. I think the majority of mid-tier Japanese devs worked in a very regimented way that relied on heavy paper documentation, however.

Benjamin Quintero
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Yeah I was referring more to hardware; consoles, phones, knacks. Some of the issues in software is actually the opposite, I'd argue; stagnation that only now seems to be turning a corner.

Benjamin McCallister
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I see a lot of complaints about saturation, USUALLY from developers. But not a lot of solutions. I think a bit more stringent guidelines to be featured on steam is a start. Requiring a demo to be sold is another good step, etc.

I think starting out developers should have to go through a slightly more rigorous vetting process than people who are established.

Or, you could just say, no one needs to do anything, because the internet figures out what the internet wants and good content will float to the top naturally.

The problem is, even after you cull the clones, the asian rip off imports, the shovel ware, etc, you still have a lot of games. That is because a lot of good, decent folk, some of them even ok developers, all want to make a game. And they all want their attention. And they all claim the market is too saturated. But its only saturated by EVERYONE elses stuff.

Sorry world, a lot of games are mediocre. Make a good game, and it'll sell. Make a bad game, or worse, just an ok game, and it probably won't. Them's the brakes in this brave new world.

Benjamin Quintero
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duh? =) Of course developers are the ones complaining. Gamers complaining would be like going to a buffet and yelling at the manager that there is too much food in the line. The restaurant owner is the one tossing the 5gal bucket of chow mein out the back door when no one eats it, not the customer. The customer is the one regretting his decision to eat there after he's paid and eaten.

Besides; your #dealWithIt response is driving home the point. How long can it keep going; big franchises getting bigger, more silos, deeper investment gambles, an explosion of white noise over the last decade, and indies picking up the scraps for unlivable wages. At some point you have to ask yourself; do you keep beating your head on that wall because you genuinely believe it will get better or because you simply don't know how to do anything else...

Honestly, I don't propose an answer because I'm not sure there is one. You can't stop script kiddies from pumping their stuff onto the web. You can't stop the flood gates of content on mobile. Curation cost money and takes time and the platform holder's don't care because if you sell 1, 100, or 1M they make a cut. The one thing that stops cow clickers and fart apps from getting onto consoles is the one thing that also stonewalled Minecraft until it made so much money that they didn't need consoles.. THEN they were courted through the gates. Pick your poison.

Christian Nutt
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I don't complain about it directly, but what bothers me about saturation is the almost sense of RELIEF people seem to derive from writing off a game for purely superficial reasons -- I even find myself doing it, but if I do, i try to stop and think a bit about why.

And it seems to lead naturally to factionalization and nastiness on social media, it's a contributing factor to us-vs.-them stuff.

Benjamin McCallister
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I see a lot of complaints about saturation, USUALLY from developers. But not a lot of solutions. I think a bit more stringent guidelines to be featured on steam is a start. Requiring a demo to be sold is another good step, etc.

I think starting out developers should have to go through a slightly more rigorous vetting process than people who are established.

Or, you could just say, no one needs to do anything, because the internet figures out what the internet wants and good content will float to the top naturally.

The problem is, even after you cull the clones, the asian rip off imports, the shovel ware, etc, you still have a lot of games. That is because a lot of good, decent folk, some of them even ok developers, all want to make a game. And they all want their attention. And they all claim the market is too saturated. But its only saturated by EVERYONE elses stuff.

Sorry world, a lot of games are mediocre. Make a good game, and it'll sell. Make a bad game, or worse, just an ok game, and it probably won't. Them's the brakes in this brave new world.

Adriaan Jansen
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For better or worse, I think it's just a matter of time before some smart shop owner bundles some of the best stalls together to create a store.
Also, consumers are mostly interested in the extremes: The best, the cheapest, the highest value, the trendiest etc. There can only be one of those. The supermarkets and shopping centers will attract 80% of the costumers with their select selection, while the bazaar will have to do with the remaining 20% looking for something else.

Will Hendrickson
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Well-put! At this point, it's the platform holders, portals, advertisers, and store curators that ultimately will decide the fate of the vast majority of titles.

If you want to succeed as a studio, you are going to need to make some friends.

Daap Lok
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Even in the most crowded bazaars everybody passes by and most everybody stops to see the extraordinary and the spectacular and the sensational. This is the nature of things. Our job is always the same. Make great games. Thanks for your insights Benjamin.

Eric Harris
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Actually, this saturation is mostly fantasies playing themselves out. There are a bunch of people making games who have no business making games. I mean, people who do not sit down and think about game mechanics, and player experience. Some of these games are developer firsts from people who have small amounts of experience in their roles. Think about someone like Shigeru Miyamoto. Would he stand out in a bazaar? Yes, because he makes a unique player experience. He actually defines genres with his games. You wont make it big using RPG maker because there is no game play there.

Retail will always have an impact, but they need something to sell. In addition, good products can dictate to retail outlets. What you are seeing in Steam and the industry is: bad marketing, lack of professionalism in game design, and unrealistic expectations from lazy developers.


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