The cost of games

Raph Koster going to town.

People don’t get it. This is not about being right or wrong about business models. This is about sustainability, the most important thing for just about anything you care about.

First Raph demonstrates that yeah, games are cheaper now. And yes, they cost more than ever to make and we are reaching market saturation. I know, a lot of companies are profitable and the market is still growing. But that’s a short term, under-a-decade view. The long term is way more grim (people already have forgotten about the dozens of studios closed in the past years, just on the US west coast). A few more years and we are done, we will crash hard. So we should, we have to reduce costs, right? Especially when we know that the correlation between production value and success is not that strong anymore. In fact, it’s never been weaker.

Raph argues on Twitter: Consumers demand more; more sells graphics cards and computers; new tech comes out and it’s cool; pubs need to compete with other pubs… there’s lots of reasons to keep upping the ante.

The thing is we’re reaching saturation on hardware too: Moore’s law is not driving prices down and performance up like it used to. We’re struggling now. This is good! CPUs and GPUs from the past three or four years are powerful and under-exploited. Raph talks about servers being under-utilized, we can say the same with a lot of hardware in people’s homes.

All of today’s most successful games are not the most demanding games. When Ultima 8 or Wing Commander II came out you really needed the top of tomorrow’s machines. Today you can play LoL or PUBG or GTAV, Minecraft, The Sims on $700 laptops and will have fun. This is great.

If being technically more advanced than competition used to work, it doesn’t anymore thanks to hardware stalling and game engines being the same everywhere. So where can we or should we differentiate ourselves and how to grab those players?

– Community and multiplayer

As Raph says, this is costly and not easy at all. It also means certain types of games are out.

– Systemic content instead of static content 

I would argue that fine-tuning systemic content on a large scale might cost as much as creating static content, with much less predictability of said content “working”. Procedural audio for example, is quite tricky. Still, it should be used in game development as much as possible and we’re not doing a great job at that.

– Revise our game habits

I think this is a viable option. We need to loosen up. We have a tendency to follow a strict monoculture. Take bosses for instance. If you make a metroidvania, you automatically have bosses to fight. It’s a convention. Maybe some people would play your game, enjoy it and want to finish it without having to stress out about a boss battle. It’s the kind of things where we are legit stubborn. Let it go! If that means a lot more people will play, then embrace the change. Player customization is becoming the norm, demonstrating that it does bring more people to try a game out. We need to carve an experience that most people will enjoy, from mechanics to aesthetics.

– Much better accessibility

Playing games is still a nightmare in terms of logistics: do we have enough controllers? Is the system up to date? Let me configure those sixteen buttons to fit my playing style. Let me re-configure those movements on the keyboard and I need my inverted y axis on my mouse, etc. It’s a pain in the ass to play new games. I think operating systems should get on that and integrate gaming a lot more. I should be able to log in and have my game input preferences saved and ready for me to use. Regardless of the hardware I’m using. No, consoles don’t cut it because they’re fixed hardware and tend to destroy interoperability, a crucial and essential need in technology. Agnosticism, all the way.

Accessibility is a very tedious and annoying problem but streamlining gaming more would benefit our medium so much. People wouldn’t stress out the technical details of having fun. Login, grab your favorite controller, done.

There’s so much to do.

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