On the Ball: AAA Extinction

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It's all for the better. Free markets lead to free people.

Economies shift, new players step in, but power always finds a place to rest its head.

Yes, I drew inspiration for that line from Modern Warfare 2.

well if u payed $10 for a 2-3 hour experience, how do you justify to the consumer to fork over 6x that money for the other half of the game? That in it self is mind blowing. u pay for a big demo. which is more or less 1/4 or 1/3 of the game and u still expect them to pay $60 for the rest? ludicrous.

Still good luck getting me to pay for the full game if this does come to fruition. 10$ for a 2-3 hour experience is a good deal. say if u charge me $20-$30 for the full game than we are talking business. $60 to see the ending, EA would be out of their minds.

Digital distribution seemed like a good idea years ago but the reality is so annoying that I'm sure that many of us want discs and carts to stay around for ever. For every company that gets it right like Gamers Gate there are twenty that try to do some crazy psychological marketing bullshit on you with pricing and DLC, or try to implement some unbelievable DRM scheme.

I'm sorry, but I just feel the need to point something out. The reason EA's finances are in the red isn't because their games aren't selling. It's because they do ass-stupid things like spending $800 million dollars buying two studios (Bioware and Pandemic), then closing one of those studios down soon after (Pandemic). It's simple maths. You don't spend the equivalent of $400 million on a studio, then shut it down a year later. Or alternatively, if your company is feeling the pinch, you don't go round spending stupid amounts of money acquiring studios, full stop! Focus on the devs you've already got, use them to make some genuinely exciting new games! And stop shafting gamers with new half-baked schemes to make more money.

Enjoy half made games and expect decent games that dont sell as expected be dropped to the wayside.

Unfortunately all this prototyping is utterly unnecessary. If you want to know if something is going to be an expensive money sink or a commercial blockbuster just play it for a couple of hours. If there's a single inventive or original feature then it will tank, if not then millions in profit await.

I fear this will finally be the step that leads publishers to realise good games just aren't profitable.

I love this new premium dlc idea, we pay you to make sure you don't loose millions. I find the very idea laughable and have decided to only buy games from these companies second hand because I would rather gamestop profits than EA. I can wait for a new games release for in about a week there is always a used version, sure it is only like 5$ cheaper but the profits don't go to the pricks charging me to test their game.

Anyhow great Article Deam as usual, I find myself agreeing with you more and more and tend to use you as a reference point when telling people about some new idea like this. Oh and I enjoyed the dinosaur bits wish you could have gotten more in.

Eclectic Dreck:
I have to say that I don't agree with the closing point - that this extinction has already occured. Given the enormous mass of AAA games released of late or slated to ship soon, we are at best looking at the final generation of such things and that's painting it in the worst reasonable light. What's more, the actions of a single publisher, even of EA's stature is hardly indicative of the trends of the industry as a whole. While the core logic holds up just fine (it does make sense to not invest tens of millions of dollars into a game if it can be avoided afterall, especially given the success rate of games in general), there is no evidence of a trend beyond a single entity in a sea of several equal players and as such, asserting that the extinction has occured when the evidence presented offers no support is simple hyperbole.

That said it did make a catchy closing sentence.

My point isn't that the extinction has already occurred; it's that the event has already occurred. The dinosaurs didn't all die off the moment the asteroid hit - it likely took years of climate change for natural selection to run its course. Similarly, AAA games didn't die the moment the internet came into existence - instead, digital distribution has gradually reshaped the development ecosystem to the point that AAA games are simply less viable than they were 10 years ago.

The reason EA isn't doing so good is that they are missing the essential truth that:

PUBLISHERS DON'T MAKE VIDEO GAMES.

THEY ONLY BANKROLL THEM.

Studios, tight groups of VERY talented people who live on the cutting edge of technology, art and innovation at the one who ACTUALLY determine how good a game is and ergo how ell it will do.

To illustrate, a movie director from the 1970's would more or less fit just as well in making a film in 2010, that would be almost IMPOSSIBLE with video games. Hell what happened to the top Video game developers of 1999? By 2009 most of them are gone or have changed so much they are unrecognisable or shovelling out crap.

Take Call of Duty, it isn't good because of anything Activision does or the name, or the setting but because of Infinity Ward, a studio that is only 7 years old is a DAMN GOOD team of developers, but now it's been torn apart as the Pioneers have been laid off in bullshit power plays.

Publishers need to realise that they are not all that important, all they are doing is effectively betting on horses! All they can do is put money into the studio and how you put it into a studio that will do well.

But imagine if a yelling horse pundit could ACTUALLY tell the jokey what to do? Go faster here, slow down there, I don't care if you're dying just push harder!

This is why EA is going to fail in this, because they are not moving in the direction of becoming another great Publisher and replicating the successful management of other publishers but rather the opposite direction.

More games of lower production value is moving in the direction of shovel ware. If EA is losing money while they get studios to make games every 24 months at $60 then the temptation is to "work their horses to death" i.e. design and print a new game in 12 months, sell for $30. This will FAIL!

People want GOOD games.

Dead Space was all right, but it just came across as Corporate box Ticking exercise, some non-gamer EA executive probably ran the numbers and noticed a deficiency in alien-space-shooter and "survival horror" and Visceral Games is just the good little stooge developer that won't make they game they want, but just the game that the numbers want!

Maybe that's why Activision fired West & Zampella and bought on Visceral Games, Visceral being a studio that are good little corporate stooges that will do as the money men want.

I have no problem with money men, I have a problem with the money men thinking they HAVE A SINGLE FUCKING CLUE about what it takes to make a great game.

EA, if you want to do well, just find more talent and let them do their thing. Your JOB is to facilitate their ART!! no bullshit release windows, interfering and other crap, you may "own" them you may have a "right" to tell them to do whatever you want... but that doesn't somehow mean that you are somehow qualified to make creative decisions like what should be in a game or when it is done.

Samurai Goomba:
In a way, it's almost, almost a dream come true. I've been saying for a long time that games need to get cheaper until gamers can feel comfortably in the black again. With a 50 or 60 dollar game, a lot of people can't afford and won't buy it. The Internet and used game stores (not to mention digital distribution and Steam sales) make it a much more attractive option to spend between 5 and 25 dollars on a title instead, so it only makes sense EA have been losing big.

But as I said, it's almost the right thing, what EA is doing here. The problem is they are still thinking of taking big budget productions and reducing their length to reduce the price. What they should be doing is releasing full-length games at lower prices and just not packing them with as many fancy visual effects or big-name VAs. And I think eventually we'll get there.

Big-budget games can be great, but right now I don't know if the market can bear to have so many of them. It'll be sad to see some games never get proper sequels maybe, but you can only sell what people will buy. And I think when EA finds that most people aren't willing to pay full price for the "rest" of their game, they'll realize that.

Or not. This is EA, after all.

I think it would be more of the industry's dream come true.
With $10-15 games, they will be able to attract more customers and expand the market.
Gamers have already established that they are willing to pay upwards of $60 for each game. Some are even willing to pay that ammount months before they actually get the game.

I doubt I'll be interested in this scheme however, as I mentioned in the comments of this week's Going Gold, I only buy dlc when I consider the game to be a AAA title. I'm not going to buy dlc for a game that may not even ever launch, unless that playable portion is going to hold up on it's own.

I think the fix would just be looking back and saying, "Hey, what were we doing when we were actually making money? Let's do that again."

GonzoGamer:

Samurai Goomba:
In a way, it's almost, almost a dream come true. I've been saying for a long time that games need to get cheaper until gamers can feel comfortably in the black again. With a 50 or 60 dollar game, a lot of people can't afford and won't buy it. The Internet and used game stores (not to mention digital distribution and Steam sales) make it a much more attractive option to spend between 5 and 25 dollars on a title instead, so it only makes sense EA have been losing big.

But as I said, it's almost the right thing, what EA is doing here. The problem is they are still thinking of taking big budget productions and reducing their length to reduce the price. What they should be doing is releasing full-length games at lower prices and just not packing them with as many fancy visual effects or big-name VAs. And I think eventually we'll get there.

Big-budget games can be great, but right now I don't know if the market can bear to have so many of them. It'll be sad to see some games never get proper sequels maybe, but you can only sell what people will buy. And I think when EA finds that most people aren't willing to pay full price for the "rest" of their game, they'll realize that.

Or not. This is EA, after all.

I think it would be more of the industry's dream come true.
With $10-15 games, they will be able to attract more customers and expand the market.
Gamers have already established that they are willing to pay upwards of $60 for each game. Some are even willing to pay that ammount months before they actually get the game.

I doubt I'll be interested in this scheme however, as I mentioned in the comments of this week's Going Gold, I only buy dlc when I consider the game to be a AAA title. I'm not going to buy dlc for a game that may not even ever launch, unless that playable portion is going to hold up on it's own.

The most I ever spent on one game was about $45 (for an import title that came with a piece of software required to run it on my console). I hope to never ever spend $60 on a game. When you consider what you're getting for that price, it's usually not fair value for money. I'll agree the DLC move they're doing now is no good, but hopefully enough people just won't buy the DLC at all and they'll have to scrap that idea and just make cheaper games in general.

1) strip out DRM. This reduced development times and royalty costs
2) fire a good amount of upper management.

If EA is selling millions of copies of over 31 games and still losing money it is not that the games are not worth enough, but their operating costs are WAY TOO FUCKING HIGH. If the CEO needs a 70 million dollar paycheck maybe that's the first place you should be looking for where money is going.

3) Make your games worth it. There are a FUCKING LOT of AAA games out now. There are amazing developers left and right. If you put out a game that is only "okay" why do I care? 10 more fantastic ones are going to be just around the corner. If your game isn't that great, you'd damn well best price it at such a level. What if you could sell 1 million copies at 60 dollars but 4 million copies at 30 dollars? Ever think of that? you'd be making a lot more money.

By and large now a days I just don't feel the games are WORTH their money. I would buy Dante's Inferno for 30 dollars, but not 60. It's too short and too bland. As an example, look how much PS3 sales skyrocketed when they cut it to $300. Steam games sell THOUSANDS of percents more when they're half off. Am I the only one who notices this?

Games are like music now. What is the perceived cost of a song? With p2p and itunes a CD just seems like an unholy rip off. Likewise with games, when I can get fantastic indie games, DS games, or even a fuck load of free abandonware, flash games, old games all for anywhere from $0 - $20 you'd have better give me an AMAZING reason why I would want to spend 60 dollars on a new game. just because they might not look as great doesn't mean they aren't as fun or even MORE fun than new ultra blockbusters, and often I'm looking at "how many hours will I get out of this game vs. another".

squid5580:
I don't get how anyone "wins" here. FOr there to be this premium demo there has to be a game. For there to be a game there has to be a team working on said game. So said team needs to be paid regardless if the game sells 1 or a billion. So making games isn't going to get much cheaper if things stay the way they are now. And releasing a demo for a price is not going to help get a gauge on if the game will do well or not. Alot of people aren't going to be happy playing the same levels twice. Alot of people are going to say ehh I'll wait until the full game comes out (afterall why pay 10 bucks more for the same experience?). And what if the demo doesn't do well? I mean the game has already been worked on. Wages still need to be paid. So you intend on scrapping the whole project because a demo wasn't well recieved (which has little to do with the game itself) and this will save money?

I think the idea was, once a design document is approved, instead of working on a full game right away the team would work on producing an hour-ish long smaller game (not a demo) with the same core concepts. After a few months of market time, the publisher looks at the sales and reviews,and decides whether to put the effort into a full game.
Which doesn't seem like a terrible idea, honestly. It puts more hands in the power of us, less strain on the publishers, and would add more variety and experimentation into the market.

Thorvan:

squid5580:
I don't get how anyone "wins" here. FOr there to be this premium demo there has to be a game. For there to be a game there has to be a team working on said game. So said team needs to be paid regardless if the game sells 1 or a billion. So making games isn't going to get much cheaper if things stay the way they are now. And releasing a demo for a price is not going to help get a gauge on if the game will do well or not. Alot of people aren't going to be happy playing the same levels twice. Alot of people are going to say ehh I'll wait until the full game comes out (afterall why pay 10 bucks more for the same experience?). And what if the demo doesn't do well? I mean the game has already been worked on. Wages still need to be paid. So you intend on scrapping the whole project because a demo wasn't well recieved (which has little to do with the game itself) and this will save money?

I think the idea was, once a design document is approved, instead of working on a full game right away the team would work on producing an hour-ish long smaller game (not a demo) with the same core concepts. After a few months of market time, the publisher looks at the sales and reviews,and decides whether to put the effort into a full game.
Which doesn't seem like a terrible idea, honestly. It puts more hands in the power of us, less strain on the publishers, and would add more variety and experimentation into the market.

That frankly is a far worse idea. SO they release the demo, wait a few months to see the reaction, then decide whether or not to make the game. First off I am not a hostage and refuse to be blackmailed. And that is the exact predicament this is putting me in. If there is a game I really really want like say FF13. If I don't buy the demo the game might never be. So if I want to see a full retail release I will have to lay down my money for the PD and hope everyone else does the same. Only to rebuy it a year later (if we are lucky).

Now what if I buy the PD but intelligent gamers see this for exactly what it is. And only a handful of gamers buy it. Game never gets released and I spent 10 bucks that could have went towards the price of a finished game. For a demo of a game that will never exist.

There is also a dark side that no one seems to have brought up yet. Who is to stop them from just making crap demos with cool titles? With no intention of ever making a full game of the crap demo. With a title and a brief description as the only marketing it is far to easy to make a game demo that sounds fun. And when a million people buy it bam an easy 10 mil to line thier pockets. Which leaves them more than enough to shut down the company, make another and rinse, repeat.

@squid5580 I rather doubt franchises that were widely successful before this system would adopt it. You still have a point that if you want an impressive new IP to succeed you would feel forced to buy the premium DLC.

If a majority of people refuse to buy any premium DLCs then the system fails and developers would revert back. This would have the obvious downside that those more willing to buy into this would shape the future market, when they would probably be the sort looking for a shorter experience than a full game in the first place.

I guess for the third point that I don't see how that's different from the current system, release shovelware with a catchy name and grab as much cash as you can. I would assume that if this system does take over reviews would still be relied on to avoid such cash ins.

If I were an EA Stockholder, and I heard that Pachter was very impressed with the companies new direction, I would be concerned.

I mean, this guy seems to live in opposite-land when it comes to profit predictions.

You know, these low priced extended demos would be great if you could pass them around to friends after buying them. You could share the experience! In fact, that would be a great name for it... Shareware!

In all seriousness, this isn't really a new concept. Half the games that I could buy when I was a teenager were 5 dollars on a diskette, and it wasn't a full game. Just half of one, or 1/3, or whatever. True, if I had internet access, I could have gotten it for free... but then this was 1993-94, and if I could barely afford 5 dollars for half a game, how could I possibly afford 30 dollars for 10 hours of internet time + 2-5 dollars for each hour after? At 14.4 speeds!

The only way I see this taking off is A) you can pass it to friends, even if it's a limited number, say 2 to 5, and B) the initial cost goes towards 1 full copy of the game. So if it's 60 dollars for the full game, and you paid 15 for that extended demo, you pay 45 to unlock the rest. Otherwise, there's a damn good reason that those 5 dollar diskettes of my youth went away: The internet got cheap enough and fast enough for people to download free software on demand. I stopped paying money for demos when I was 17. I don't see any reason to start up again now that I'm 31.

I don't think AAA Extinction is inevitable. I think it will slow down, but it won't truly disappear. If a game is a total hit and a sequel is on the cards, the chances are is that it will truly be a AAA game. (God of War 2, Mass Effect 2 etc) This is what I would call the Alien Sequel effect. (The first one was brilliant, but the second being a classic which warranted the extra funding.)

J-e-f-f-e-r-s smacked the nail square on the head when he mentioned EA's lousy business model. It got greedy, and lived beyond it's means and bought out two high priced developers then started interfering with the creative side of the game making process.

As a result, the games tanked and EA didn't get enough profit to sustain it's new corpulent self and had to close down Pandemic Studios which it had acquired a few months before resulting in a lot of lay-offs.

All this is doing is alienating the gamers and the devs alike and now game sales are down because the publishers are essentially acting like a mafia. Buying out the competition and laying them off, when the devs kick up a stink - they have the goon squad set upon them. (Like Infinity Ward.)

Dropping $60 on a AAA game is a risk, but I think it's a risk we are all comfortable with because at least we get the full polished experience. This idea of "Pre-DLC" will give you a fraction of the game, at a fraction of the price, with the risk that the money you threw at it originally will never be finished. Who wants to play the first few hours of the game and then never get to the climax and conclusion of the story and experience? This strategy may work with some games but most I feel it is just going to screw the consumer over.

It sounds like they just found a way to make us pay for demos. Ah well, i guess what works will stay and what doesn't will go, eventually.
Shame about the Dino methaphors, though...

j-e-f-f-e-r-s:
I'm sorry, but I just feel the need to point something out. The reason EA's finances are in the red isn't because their games aren't selling. It's because they do ass-stupid things like spending $800 million dollars buying two studios (Bioware and Pandemic), then closing one of those studios down soon after (Pandemic). It's simple maths. You don't spend the equivalent of $400 million on a studio, then shut it down a year later. Or alternatively, if your company is feeling the pinch, you don't go round spending stupid amounts of money acquiring studios, full stop! Focus on the devs you've already got, use them to make some genuinely exciting new games! And stop shafting gamers with new half-baked schemes to make more money.

I agree, that and the fact that they keep on relying on the same cash-ins(Madden and the other EA sports titles) for their steady stream of revenue.

KDR_11k:
Meanwhile Nintendo is making unholy amounts of money by making their games much cheaper (dev cost wise) than the rest of the industry by stripping away the parts that aren't really necessary (like 50 million $ worth of graphics) while polishing the core parts to perfection. How much could Wii Sports have cost to make? Yet it was the biggest killer app this generation despite or possibly even because it is much less technically demanding than, say, God of War 3. The polished core allows the game to remain relevant even when the graphics and story are long obsolete and chewed to a tasteless mass, the peripheral elements impress once and then the game goes back to Game Stop, the core adds longevity. Mario Kart Wii still sells at full price, what super expensive AAA title can claim the same?

Other companies would do well to take note (and PROPERLY take it, not just scribble "cheap games = money" on a piece of TP, the quality is the central piece of the puzzle) and stop pretending that Nintendo exists in some alternate dimension that makes their games operate completely different in the market. Somebody needs to beat the notion that quality (which includes how much fun the game is a few hundred hours later, running out of steam after 10 doesn't qualify) is important into the brains of the publishers, preferably with a sledgehammer. Nintendo didn't become known as a high quality software developer by being appointed by some higher authority, they earned it and you, too, can earn it if you'd stop spreading sewage all over your company name by releasing quick cash grabs.

That... I just played some old NES games on the Virtual Console and I almost forgot how fun they were, even if they look ugly today, they're just as fun today as they were back on the day.

What I'm trying to say is, this guy's right, Nintendo made it's fame not for technology or fancy graphics, they always had good and fun gameplay that adds TONS of replayability and they're still very fun, even 20 years later.

008Zulu:
So the world is now gowing to be filled with micro transaction games where you are paying $300 or so just to unlock all the good stuff and get a complete game?

There is a darker potential future: subscription based gaming.
(Beyond the usual anti-game MMORPGs, which work by stimulating the instinctive positive response people get when they accomplish a task or long term goal. They certainly don't sell because of great gameplay or social interaction.)

Eternal rentals for consoles. Wherein the customer pays a monthly/individual fee for temporary access to a game. Episodic gaming could very well fit this profile. In fact, there's only one thing standing in the way: ACTUALLY SELLING IT TO THE MASSES.

So long as the average customer does not buy into these things, they will fail.
Even the monolithic giants like EA have weaknesses.

Atmos Duality:
Eternal rentals for consoles. Wherein the customer pays a monthly/individual fee for temporary access to a game. Episodic gaming could very well fit this profile. In fact, there's only one thing standing in the way: ACTUALLY SELLING IT TO THE MASSES.

These kinds of games, they will have to be perfect, and do everything right. If there is so much as one flaw then people will reason that they are not worth the money. If current industry models are to be followed, they are incapable of making the perfect game.

Hmm.

I like the idea in theory, mainly because as my often espoused views on DLC of any kind will remind people, it means other people would be testing my game for me, meaning I would hopefully only reap benefits from this system (as long as the end result was a full copy of a game which had been thoroughly approved by effectively a board of my peers)

But, people on the whole are herd following mindless animals, and the minute anything new or innovative got released it would undersell, perform badly and the publishers would return to making generic bland boringness. This future being predicted is one in which nothing new is ever created, or even attempted, because at least when a new and innovative game fails nowadays, they went the distance to see if it could work, rather than running a hundred metres as a test of whether they could run a marathon.

Some games only work in the absolute, and this has to be recognised, releasing DLC which doesn't reflect the entire nature of the game is a very, very bad idea for anyone who likes newness.

If you love generic though, good on you, I hope you enjoy the next rest of gaming future.

008Zulu:

These kinds of games, they will have to be perfect, and do everything right. If there is so much as one flaw then people will reason that they are not worth the money. If current industry models are to be followed, they are incapable of making the perfect game.

And I am glad because of that. However, there is this nagging feeling that keeps bothering me; when I see this sort of subscription model applied to say, something like Half Life 2 episodes (ignoring that it's an effectively dead project now) I can actually see it working.

For multiplayer games, you charge admission for pro-circuits and services, but for single player games, you design it in such a way that it would be ideal to play through it no more than twice while keeping it fun; like designing a semi-interactive action movie that you rent out for a weekend, play, and return.

Hell, most of the new games I've tried have horrid replay value, but would fit that profile nicely. Nearly every shooter released in the last two years qualifies for that, with the blathering, predictable stories, cliche character design and purely-gimmick levels.
The sole major reason to even own most of these games is the multiplayer access (which I'm not a fan of anymore, but that's beside the point).

Atmos Duality:
For multiplayer games, you charge admission for pro-circuits and services, but for single player games, you design it in such a way that it would be ideal to play through it no more than twice while keeping it fun; like designing a semi-interactive action movie that you rent out for a weekend, play, and return.

In theory it works, but you have to take in to account the fact there there are technically qualified people out there who can reverse engineer a game's code unlocking all the hidden stuff and allowing for play outside of the official servers.

008Zulu:

In theory it works, but you have to take in to account the fact there there are technically qualified people out there who can reverse engineer a game's code unlocking all the hidden stuff and allowing for play outside of the official servers.

Of that I am aware. IP tunneling services and "privateer" (bad pun) servers have been available for well over the last decade.

And yet, the console market still manages to utterly stomp the PC market in sales figures for the multiplatform launches, despite both being pirate-able. Why is that? Well, I suspect that most of the market, by far, isn't aware of the potential black market for these sorts of things.

I concede that the likely backlash against a subscription market would probably push an even greater portion of the consumer base to looking for those alternatives. In fact, I hope that's what would happen because "eternal rentals" are not acceptable as ethical business practices in a PRODUCT-centric market. In any other product-market, we call that a SCAM.

Didn't demos used to be free?

I'd say AAA are not extinct and aren't going to be extinct any time soon. You argue that EA lost a billion dollars (surely partly due to a $300 million acquition of a casual gaming company). I argue that a single triple A game made Activision a billion dollars. Maybe AAA games will become less, but Microsoft and Sony sell consoles at a loss because the profits from these games are so good. It's a risky business but the rewards will outweight the loss and do outweigh the losses year on year.

For that matter don't MMO's count as triple A? Because I doubt Blizzard feel that their market is in trouble?

And speaking of Blizzard, triple A games aren't even necessarily a risky proposition. Count on one hand the number of AAA Sony/MS inhouse games that have gone bad. Count the number of Blizzard games which haven't become best sellers. When did Final Fantasy not make a bundle or Madden not sell well? What you're seeing is the danger of breaking into the market, of trying to claim the peak, yet for people who are already established and have the support there seems to be very little risk.

Times are changing, but the truth is record sales are being recorded more and more frequently for AAA games, and whilst the prize is there people will seek it. Excuse me if I don't think making a crud load of money signifies the end ^^

Sounds like you have to PAY to beta test!

They could in theory send out this 'demo' game, receive feedback and never release the 'full' game because the feedback would have made the game 'not commercially viable'.

Even if the feedback is constructive and a 'full' game is released it means that the dedicated players would have to pay AGAIN for the full version, and most likly play through the same content they had before (lets be honest, no game studio is going to scrap 'demo' content when the full version is released - probably just change a few things and give it a new paint job and hope no one noticed :P)

Why don't they use the money and properly play test games and get honest feedback rather than release stuff that they 'hope' will sell?

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