Gaming has come a long way, reaching people of almost every age and background. Games touch many aspects of our social life, reaching smartphones, social media platforms and even our daily life in the form of edutainment, fitness games and geocaching. It’s safe to say that games are a big pushing force in developing new technologies as companies boldly venture forward to discover new markets. Amazing inventions like virtual reality or holographic displays are just a taste of the many things we can look forward to. In addition to that, big budgets result in high production values, spoiling our senses with photorealistic graphics and the orchestral soundtracks to match. Digital distribution also allowed many smaller developers to reach new audiences, allowing them to compete with the huge marketing budgets of big companies – simply by using word-of-mouth advertisement.
That all sounds really good when you just think about it. However, allowing yourself a second look you will discover despicable business models and questionable mechanics. In the following chapters I’ll try to reveal and outline some of the most apparent ones that struck me the most over my last 30 years of gaming. I’ll also try to explain how you can spot and avoid those games and their publishers, as the best way to show your disagreement is still by voting with your wallet.
Number 1 – Rest in Pieces
With new selling platforms and business models, developers have discovered that they can sell their game in small pieces, with people willingly buying small content that used to be free of charge earlier or included in a bigger (and better valued) expansion. This has led to quite disgusting ideas, like selling games with “exclusive preorder bonuses” and announcing “season passes” even prior to a full release. Audacious ideas like that can peak in re-selling content to you which was even included in your original copy to begin with, just as if the developer is trying to probe how much further he can go outside the “standard” retail price gamers came to expect.
Now don’t get me wrong here: Selling extra content for a game is nothing bad or even new. Older series like Starcraft, Diablo or Command and Conquer featured huge expansion packs which greatly added to a title’s replayabilty, sometimes even adding completely new mechanics that altered your game experience mostly for the better. Most of these add ons usually provided great value that sometimes even doubled or tripled the game’s original content. In comparison to that, modern “DLC” is selling you basically nothing worth mentioning for the same amount of money. To put in into numbers: Years ago a huge add on was in development for a year and sold for a fair 20$ – compare that with today and you get an “epic” skin or rare character within almost any game of your choice. That value!
How to deal with it?
Look out for games that get announced or come out with Day-1 DLC. Have a close look at how well-stocked and robust a game’s internal shopping system is when compared to the overall quality and experience you get out of actually playing it. Keep that in mind especially during an early beta phase and you might notice the foul smell. If you see the scale tip vastly out of proportion, you can be sure that the driving motivation of this game is to rip money out of your pocket with quality and user experience coming in 2nd or 3rd place. Also try to avoid “Season Passes” and preorder bonuses as you are never sure on what to expect later on. Also, you’re sending the wrong message here by basically telling the publisher that you’re willing to pay in advance for content you cannot even see or judge yet.
Number 2 –
Demo, Beta, uuuh: Early access!
I feel sorry for the smaller developers out there to say this but: Early access is a garbage business practice that needs to stop! You can’t tell me that a smaller game (with 1 or 2 people involved) can’t be maintained with your own until it reached an acceptable state to have people try it out. If you run out of money before that, chances are very high that you didn’t understand how to properly manage your budget or greatly overestimated the scale of your (first) game.Back in the early days, “Early Access” was simply called DEMO or BETA version – and it might be shocking to hear that those versions used to be completely free of charge. Games that went ahead and charged money for their Demo were usually laughed at or avoided in the best case.
And don’t think that you lost something by not charging money early enough – quite the opposite: By providing your early build for free you even get something in return: People play (say:”beta test”) your game for free, which means you get a higher quality result – or an indicator on which things not to follow-up upon. It also gets the word about your game out much faster, simply by not blocking people off with a first paywall.
How to deal with it?
Again, I want to put my earlier statements into perspective by saying that the general thought behind providing monetary help to a dedicated programmer is great thing – HOWEVER- paying the full price for an alpha build definitely isn’t. As a gamer, think about what you’re doing here: you spend money on a sub-par quality experience that has a high chance of never reaching the state you’ve expected in in the first place. Instead you are very likely to ruin your initial impression of the game, while having no leverage whatsoever to get the developer to implement the changes you’d like to see… that is because you already paid the person in advance.
I know that it can be hard to avoid buying that one great game you always wished for. And of course exceptions can be seen out there: promising games that already have a VERY high level of quality when reaching early access phase. Here are a few examples of such games (on which i still wait for their full release):
Number 3 – Release the game because I don’t know!
While number 2 was aiming at indie developers, this goes out to the AAA-publishers out there: DON’T-SHIP-YOUR-GAMES-EARLY! EVER! I know it’s very tempting to get that game out before christmas or any other arbitrary point in time you just made up. Don’t do it. Good games don’t need a season to be bought. It just means you get in competition with all other publishers that think the same way. Don’t just trust your marketing or business analysts! Instead trust your developers, testers and – if you hopefully had a beta phase – gaming audience! Sell quality, not content. Reduce the scope if necessary, but make sure that the end product is something you want to openly talk about a few years from now – because people will.
How to deal with it?
As a gamer it is best to inform yourself first. What did the developer produce earlier? Are their games reliable on release? Did they get pressured by the publisher? If you read about early production issues or “quite ambitious” feature announcements, be very cautious! Also, while release delays anger you at first, keep in mind that they are GOOD for the most part. They keep pressure on the developers and result in more quality assurance to be done so you don’t have to! Rockstar just released GTA5 after delaying it for several months, and it still runs with quite a few issues. Just think about how it would’ve gone if they released in 2014! Ubisoft did exactly that with Assassin’s Creed Unity, and we all know how well that went.
With very few exceptions the big publishers cannot be trusted anymore on providing a good experience. As I initially stated, huge games have big development teams behind them. These people inevitably make many programming mistakes which require many hours of playtesting. With this said, keep my points 1 and 2 from above in mind, then just try to remember the following rules:
- Don’t preorder – ever! Just don’t!
- Wait at least 1 week until after release and check the feedback of people and reviewers!
- Wait even longer and you might get the game mostly bug-fixed and maybe with additional content, for less money on a sale even!
- Being patient may result in you witnessing the object of desire turning out to be total crap. Congratulations, you just saved yourself a lot of money!