The Myth states that because there are so many games to download, because so many of them are free and because it’s so easy to pirate them, there is no point in charging for the game itself. Instead a developer should expect to recoup their development costs through “added value”. Added value includes things like access to on-line leader boards, community forums, additional premium content, access to on-line servers for multi-player support, merchandise that sort of thing. The central tenant of this philosophy is that there is no point trying to charge for the game because Gen Y expect free stuff and if it’s not free they’ll pirate it anyway.
But I think there is a flaw with this argument. As an indie developer I don’t want people to feel that it is the on-line aspect which gives my games value. I want them to pay for my games because they like my games. If they are playing the games because they like them why do I have to finance the making of those games through superficial content which I don’t want to develop and my core audience aren’t really interested in? Sure I could make that on-line content essential but then doesn’t that mean that time and effort that can go into the game itself is reduced? That’s a simple law of economics I’m afraid. Cash is a finite resource. A developer has a finite amount of effort to put into a project, regardless of whether they are independent or AAA. If effort starts to be diverted away from the game into other aspects of the experience then the game has to suffer.
Taken to it’s logical conclusion we can predict a grim future for games. If the game is free and the on-line content is what users are paying for, shouldn’t the bulk of the developers effort go into the on-line content? Why put any effort into the game at all? Surely it’s in the developers interest to put the minimum into the game so the users are forced to buy stuff to make it a fun experience? Isn’t this exactly what the much maligned Zynga have been doing for the past few years? It seems to me that Zynga’s business model is the logical extrapolation of this myth and it also seems that few people in the game industry like it.
My personal opinion is that, as demonstrated by Zynga, this business model is unsustainable. That ultimately we have to see a move back to a more traditional business model where consumers pay for the products they use. My hope is that the current glut of games on IOS and Android will eventually dry up. That many of the current crop of developers see games as a business opportunity and a quick way to get rich. Once these developers realize that they cannot make a profit they’ll move on to other business opportunities and then, once the gold rush is over, developers who genuinely want to make games will be able to start making a reasonable income from selling quality products again. I admit it may be a forlorn hope. But it’s the only one I have and the only way I can see the industry ever becoming viable as a business model again.