Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Gamer Entitlement Issue (IGES Part 2)

Side-note: Last weekend, Jake and I attended the Penny Arcade Expo up in Boston.

While there, I attended many interesting panels and discussions on video games, yet one struck me as incredibly interesting -- the one titled "It's not the Length, it's the Mirth (Game Length Versus Value)." This was exactly what I had covered in the first part of the Indie Gaming Essay Series.

During this interview the panel discussed many things that I will bleed into my later essays. One thing they mentioned was an event called the "Size Doesn't Matter Day," a day where many indie bloggers took to their text editors to argue for or against whether the size of a game is valuable. Here is a link to Chris Hecker's (an indie influence of mine, who happened to be at the panel -- an unexpected but welcomed surprise!) blogpost on the subject: Size Doesn't Matter (Chris Hecker). There are links to other blog posts on the subject towards the bottom of Chris's post, and I implore you to indulge in them fervently.


Let's take a look at a recent incident within the League of Legends community...

Riot Games, the developers of LoL, provided absentee registered users to return to LoL with the gift a free character that the majority of people had to pay for (or get free with time). What happened?

A humongous backlash of fury from the community came forth. They accosted Riot, exclaiming how unjust it was that disloyal subjects of their kingdom were being rewarded while the loyal players who contributed to the game were being left in the digital dust.

The strongest amount of negative attention Braid received was about its length. Consumer's felt the price was unjust for the "short" length of the game.

One of the problems here is price standardization.

Take a look at other mediums to see how price standardization works.
  1. Music CD's - $12-$16
  2. Digital Music CD's - $10 on iTunes
  3. Individual tracks - 99Cents - $1.29
When a consumer spends $10 on a CD, he/she has length expectations. These expectations are usually delivered upon by the producer (30 minutes to an hour of music) and no one comes out irritated. If a producer provided only fifteen minutes of music for $10 the consumer would question it, and be irritated. A certain + or - area is allowed, but when it goes obviously beyond the boundaries set by standardization, the consumer raises an eyebrow curiously and furiously.

How do these price-points come about? I'm not really sure (probably some sort of supply/demand situation), but I DO know that the industry is stalwart about they're price points. They do not bend them. The music industry sets the price points, and then the public gets familiar with the cost/content relationship.

"AAA" video game companies have used the $50 or $60 price point for consoles, and $30-$40 price points for mobile games.

The problem I see with video games is not centrally standardization, but cross-platform or continuous standardization. The fact that indie games on the PC, XBOX, and the iPhone all cost varied amounts of money is confusing to a consumer. The consumer doesn't really know what he's getting into and can become increasingly frustrated as he tries to create a pattern for himself.

Solution? The industry needs to set standards. XBOX Live is already on this track, with polished indie games recieving a 15 dollar tag, but that's about as good as it gets. The iPhone price market is all over the place and steam sales continually mess up a consumers thoughts on buying games and the inherent value of a game.

I think depreciating value of games over short periods of time lends to this confusion. If steam can cut the price of a game in half for a day, how do I interpret the value of the product?

This argument is a little loose, so here's some glue: gamers are confused. The prices of other mediums are pretty static and provide us with a mental foothold for the value of those mediums, and video games fall short here.

So back to entitlement. From what I see, gamers tend to under-value games. Unlike a physical thing you can hold or touch, video games lack the image of "work" behind them. Consumers don't grasp how long it took for your team to code one feature of your game, and they definitely don't understand how much time and effort it took to make the product. This then leads them to believe that they deserve more than what they are getting.

Remember the League of Legends thing I stated earlier? People were outraged by Riot's behavior. Are you aware that League of Legends is completely free to play? I have personally never spent a dollar on it and probably spent more time on it than any individual wants to admit.

My argument, then, is that gamers are confused about the value of games. Failure to have standardized pricing (which leads to understood value) and failure on the consumers part to understand how much work goes into video game production are the reasons that gamers feel so entitled to content.

Edit: I would like to add this to the argument...

The pirate culture skews digital value even further. I know a few people who never dare spend a dollar on a song, album, or film because they can just download them for free. When people start getting these things for free, they become desensitized to the value of digital products. To some of my friends, one dollar is too much (something I find completely ridiculous).

What about people who simply like the product, regardless of anything else? Take a look at how Radiohead sold their album "In Rainbows." You could download it for free (or maybe a penny) or pay as much as you wanted. Up to you as the consumer, to assign value to the product you were about to purchase. What was the result of this? They averaged slightly above average sales.

If a consumer likes your product, they'll buy it regardless. It's the iffy-ones that need to be convinced of value.

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