The sadness and ethics of the gaming industry
In a few days I will release my first big downloadable game on Steam.
I’ve been making free browser games for the past 5 years and this is the first time I am releasing a non-flash game on Steam that is also not free.
After playing games for the better half of my life, I’m writing this article as a snapshot of the gaming industry. A snapshot encapsulating the sadness and the ethics of this industry, as well as my worries that come with releasing a game that means the world to me in this day and age. I’m about to see the results of many of my biggest decisions that I’ve ever had to make, and this will pretty much decide my future.
Releasing your own PC game in this day and age is no easy task…
The age when games about clumsy surgeons, glitchy goats and pieces of toast stumbling around get more attention and press coverage than games that actually deserve it. Developers pouring their hearts into their projects crafting amazing universes are shadowed by titles specifically designed for YouTube celebrities to play in front of their audience in order to generate an exaggerated reaction. Made to be bad on purpose in order to get people to talk about them. Games that are merely weeks, some even a few days worth of development time become insanely popular because they are outrageous and unfinished to the point where bugs and glitches are used as marketing material. That, is fucked up.
The age when aspiring developers that haven’t started working on their first title yet are more excited about making money than they are about creating a good game. Where the initial push to start developing is money, not quality. The same excitement that later turns into a constant chase of profit, fundamentally changing the way games are developed. That, is fucked up.
The age when people give you weird looks if your game is not free-to-play. When most developers think it’s insane to release a game with the old school “pay for it and it’s yours” model. That, is fucked up.
The age when people learn to wait for a sale or a bundle before buying a game. The same game that will only grab the player’s attention when it has a -75% tag next to it. When people pay less for a game bundle than they do on a soda, a game bundle that offers tens of hours of entertainment that resulted after many designers, programmers, artists, musicians, writers and various other developers worked for years combined to develop the titles in that bundle. That, is fucked up.
The age when in-app purchases (micro transactions) are more popular than ever, resulting in games specifically designed to incentivize the player to pour money into them in order to progress. Games that have their difficulty curve and pacing altered on purpose to maximize profit out of selling deus ex machina items… Some time ago, these small handful-of-minutes-worth-of-fun were known as “Cheats”, now they require real world money. The age when people can’t afford to play free-to-play games… That, is fucked up.
The age when downloadable content is mandatory in any big title. When games are unfinished, broken/unplayable on release and you have to pay for the missing parts, all this while their in-app purchases are perfectly working, or course. Where an update is now considered DLC that requires you to get your wallet out, and what was known as “Expansion Packs” are now separate stand-alone titles at an even higher price. That, is fucked up.
The age when people rush to throw money at big titles before they are released because they were convinced to do so after seeing the carefully crafted cinematic announcement trailer. Titles labeled as “coming soon” making it to the “top sellers” charts because of hundreds and thousands of players being gullible to the marketing material without waiting for the title to be release and seek information about it’s quality. The same people that are ignorant towards the game companies previous releases and overall track record even though it messed up many times before in the exact same context. Players unable to boycott. That, is fucked up.
The age when getting genuine information about a game’s quality is harder and harder. When press articles about certain games are sponsored by the same developers and publishers of said games. When the people behind a title mislead the public and sometimes outright lie about it in order to drive sales, to the point where the press gets hand-crafted-cherry-picked demos of the game that only showcase the polished bits. When You Tube reviewers and “let’s players” have to respect contracts from publishers in the form of not showing bugs in their review or talk about certain topics. Topics that the publishers know would cause an outrage if they become public, so they have to prevent that in order to ensure that the game has a spotless reputation before people pay for it. That, is fucked up.
The age when games are measured in time rather than the quality of the experience. When people complain that a game was short, therefore not worth it’s price, even though the experience they got from it is on a whole separate level compared to the everyday grind in games that offer “weeks of gameplay”. That, is fucked up.
The age when people in suits get on stage at gatherings and conventions talking about “user retention”, “bounce rates”, “user acquisition”, “monetization” and about video games in general as a business rather than an awesome form of media. When loyal players that invest big amounts of money into games are referred to as “whales”, spending their income on yet another re-skin or clone of a popular and addictive type of game, one of the tens of mobile apps published daily by certain publishers in the hopes of striking gold eventually. That, is fucked up.
The age when people ask you when your game will come to mobile based on the fact that it has a simplistic art style, even though it was never designed to work on touch screens. When developers port their titles to mobile with emulated on-screen controls instead of developing with mobile in mind from the beginning. When people think that you can’t be successful if you are not on mobile. That, is fucked up.
The age when people that pirate games often times get a better experience than those who legally buy them. When DRM methods punish the loyal customer with extra hoops to jump through, hoops not present for the pirates. To the point when sometimes, players are forced to constantly stay connected to the internet in order to play a single player game. That, is fucked up.
With each fucked up thing pointing towards extra chances of my work being lost in the sea of tens of games being released daily that can potentially render my past 2 years of work, rather useless.
I try my best to keep my game away from the things that bother me in this industry, I try to be the developer I’d support as a gamer.
The age when the only thing that keeps me going are the amazing people supporting me and my game. The positive comments, awesome emails from excited people, and the smiles on their faces at conventions when they get their hands on the controller! It’s the reason why I make games.
I hope there are others that share my thoughts out there, releasing your major game for the first time is both exciting and horrifying…
Fuck this industry <3
Nicolae Berbece (Xelu)