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I'm Reaching My Limit
by Benjamin Quintero on 08/26/14 05:26:00 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.


For quite a while now I've felt like video games are as much an art form as a billboard on the side of the road.  The answer depends on how you feel about billboards.  Free-2-Play is really taking off and not showing signs of slowing down.  In that hit-driven lottery, the science going into monetization is getting downright scary.  Thank goodness for indie games... Thank goodness for...  Nintendo?!

Worse than a Box with No Prize Inside

42271_franchise_icon0009.jpgI remember games of my youth as having some semblance of dignity.  I'd put Mario or Zelda in the console and the game would just play.  I'd install 7th Guest or Quake or Warcraft 3 on my PC and it would just play.  Don't get me wrong, we had Sonic ice creams and Mario cereals, but that didn't infect my play experience, it was just Mario's face on the same compressed flakes of sugar I had always been eating.  There is a difference.  Injecting artificial content into the game mechanics would have been like picking up a box of Frosted Flakes and getting Colon Blow inside; it's not the same!  Though I'm sure I could have pre-ordered a box and gotten a limited frosted edition. 

These days video games are unsurprisingly like going to the theater.  You can't get to the restroom without crossing the arcade or the food stand.  You can't just buy something without being asked to buy more or upgrade "for just $0.25 more".  You can't just enjoy the movie before watching a series of TV commercials that are bordering on being longer than the movie.  You can't even enjoy yourself because there are more interruptions than that guy with a small bladder who insists on sitting in the middle of a crowded aisle with a 120 oz diet coke.  It's important to remember however, the distinction of the film itself from the experience built around it.  A movie can still be great, even if the theater sucks.

You Mad Bro?

monaI get upset when the topic of "games as art" comes up.  I want to defend it, but I honestly can't.  I want to say, "Look!  Games like The Last of Us, GTA, Red Dead; heck Mario and Zelda, prove that games can be compelling!" but the reality is that games like those are the outliers.  More and more, they represent the exception to what a video game is today.

Honestly, a younger me would be screaming right now.  I would be pulling my hair out, trying to understand where exactly it all went wrong.  There is a younger generation that is more accepting of this however.  They've grown up their entire lives with banner ads being pushed in their face; it's amazing at how quickly these young kids have learned to hit X on the popup ads without even blinking.  Now games have resorted to corporate sponsorships and clinical trials of addictive gameplay.  We've moved beyond the question of, "is it fun?" into the psychology of, "how much can we monetize this?".

Maybe I Was Wrong About Nintendo

I look at a company like Nintendo and I just don't know what to think anymore.  I was just as angry as the next Nintendo fanboy at how they've been treating their brand lately.  I kept expecting them to do something wild and different from their steady path, to follow more closely to Microsoft and Sony.  I wanted them to stop recycling their franchises.  I wanted them to grow up a little.

In looking back at it all now, I feel like I may have been horribly wrong.  For as much as people lambast Nintendo for being, "behind the times" I don't know that I've ever had to stop playing one of their games to dig around for my credit card.  I bought their game, put it into the console, and it just played...  The Wii was like this, and I'm told the WiiU is very much the same.  They may be slow to adopt modern ideals, the shareholders may hate Nintendo's stoic reaction to the mobile gold rush, and they may be working at a snails pace to catch up to Xbox LIVE, but that stubbornness is also what has kept them from completely destroying what made gaming special for my generation.









I think it's cool that we can live in a world where A Link Between Worlds is rated on the same scale as Assassin's Creed, but at least Link didn't need to pre-order Exclusive pants to make him run faster...  I may be adding a WiiU to my Christmas list.  I think I'm finally ready to accept that it's okay to just have a little fun every now and then; the kind of fun you put into your console and it just plays...



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Greg Wondra
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My sentiments exactly

Ben Sly
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Movies have ample room for both Citizen Kane and Cars 2, books have room for both Don Quixote and 50 Shades of Gray, and paintings have room for both Picasso and paint slopped onto a piece of paper by a three-year-old child. I see no reason why games do not also have room for such widely varying levels of artistic merit. I simply see a medium which has not been stable long enough to create works widely regarded as masterpieces.

Benjamin Quintero
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It's a stretch for me to call marketing an art form. It's closer to psychology than free expression. This isn't about the quality, craftsmanship, or tonality of the content; it's about the way that content is presented for the sake of squeezing another $0.10 out of it.

I'm just tired of the nickel and dime being pushed as the new future for games; what's wrong with just buying something? I'm willing to put down my $60 if it means getting the full game, no strings, no held DLC, no passes or subscriptions (outside of service games), no SimCity train wrecks, no preying on people and act like you are doing them a favor. It's not my fault that Publishers are trying to spend their way out of the hole they've dug. I didn't have a problem with games when they only cost $1M-$20M to make; those were still great games. Who's fault is it that it cost $200M to make a AAA today, and then need to leach those pennies out of the consumer through false validation.

It just doesn't make sense... Bioshock was a $15M game.. BIOSHOCK. Gears of War 2 was $12M. These were not chump games; $15M is alot, but it's not $150M. The id Software games (outside of maybe Rage) I don't think ever broke $15M. It can be done. A game can be made and simply enjoyed without trying to bleed the rock.

The problem is in the logic of public companies. If you are failing, you are failing. If you are stable, you are failing. If you are growing, you are stable. If you are growing uncontrollably, you are growing...

Sean Perryman
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I do agree that it seems a little outrageous that there are games that crest the $200M mark for a budget. Almost makes you wonder if the AAA studios have been silently bought out by the US Government, and are being made to use $50k keyboards to write code in VIM.

I can see a game like WoW taking an exorbitant amount of money to create over its lifetime, but the game is over 10 years old at this point and still expanding. To say that a game like LA Noire took $50M to make is LUDICROUS. Granted, the game is enjoyable, but not more so then Bioshock; and certainly not for 4 times the budget. GTA 4 is another good example, with a budget of $100M. The city is huge, I will give them that, but it's not like you can walk into every single building and see different environments. I just don't see it taking that much to make a game, but then again, I am just some no-name JO from the US. What the hell do I know?

Benjamin Quintero
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Much of the development budget in today's games go towards visual production. Engineering cost has escalated fairly linearly, but art has exploded exponentially. It's about hiring 200 artists to work on expanding the world, developing a wide variety of characters and NPCs, modeling thousands of tiny props from crates and barrels to toothbrushes and coffee cups. Game worlds are getting more dense and larger because of how we consume that content as gamers.

Think about your average Call of Duty mission. 95% of that mission is someone cattle-prodding you in the back as they scream, "come on! let's go!". You are literally sprinting past countless nooks that probably took a platoon of artists 3 months to put together. This has become quite the normal experience. The problem is that screenshots still need to look amazing; screenshots are not cattle-prodding through the environment, and expectations continue to rise with each generation of hardware.

On top of being content driven, there is the cost of trying something new. Games aren't exactly like movies. We can't use the same direction tools/philosophy we always have for the last 100 years. Films are about the story, cinematography, and brilliant editing. Games do that and more; just changing the story, or retelling the story with a new play mechanic would get destroyed by the critics. Gamers want the same, but they want it different. Finding out what that means costs a lot of money when you have 300 people on staff at ~$10k/month.

The solution is more but smaller projects. The issue is that research suggests that less but larger projects are riskier with 10x the payoff of a bunch of small projects combined. So publishers spend huge rolls of cash on a handful of games because they all think they are going to be the one with the winning lottery ticket.

Publishers are embracing F2P because they see $$$ and think there is gold in those hills. But the cost of making a F2P game is making your HUD look like Time Square, with tickers and banners and ads, or like a slot machine that pays out less than it makes off of you and/or others.

All of the pre-order garbage and exclusive deals for platforms and retailers are just ways for the publisher to front-load some cash into the project. They want guarantees on the game's success and there is no easier way than to get Microsoft to pay a game off before it ships, or to get GameStop to push your game by signing them up for exclusive content. It is marketing, but it's also a complete lack of trust in the product you are about to push out into the public...

Monetizing has just gotten complicated; the days of putting money on the counter and getting a complete product are over. All of the crap I just mentioned are really kind of an excuse, not a solution. Instead of changing the development model, we spend more to keep that model. We instead find ways to get one gamer to pay $5k/month in virtual goods to keep the old system afloat. This is Vegas baby! =) Get your chips at the door.

Chris Melby
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I view Nintendo as the only console maker now days -- at least in a traditional sense, as they truly provide a game-play experience that differs from my PC and is uniquely their own. Their games are the few I'll go out of my way to buy and replay. I like that I can always expect a high level of quality, fun, of course familiarity, and that it has not taken a back seat to publisher's greed.

I avoid all of these F2P games and day-one releases on AAA titles. After feeling ripped-off by large publishers and their DLC crap, I'm now super cautious about what I buy on my PC and if it's a game I want, I'll just wait for the ultimate-everything edition at discount on Steam or Amazon.

I own a Wii U and have been really happy with it. It's a great console and just that, as it's not trying to be a slot-machine or BS-cloud-service.

Eric Harris
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Finally Benjamin you have seen the light. Get that Wii U. I am a very proud owner of one, and I can tell you it plays real video games. You are completely right about what you have said. The prices of AAA are inflated, and you don't need to spend that kind of money to make a really good game.