A shift in thinking

There are so many video games getting released nowadays it’s hard not only to keep up with everything you want to play but also finding the money to pay for them all. The two solutions to this are both frowned upon by developers for taking away potential profits. The first, renting, sees only a handful of games bought by a distributer but never the same as if those who rented actually went out and picked it up themselves. Second is the pre-owned market, a practice loathed by many publishers. But ceo of Saber Interactive (makers of Timeshift), Matthew Karch, believes the industry has only itself to blame because the cost of retail releases are far too high for the average consumer. To him, digital distribution is the way forward because the £40/$60 price tag becomes an immediate barrier for entry, especially if you’re spending a few hundred quid on a new console or PC.

“People in our industry are in a panic about used games, but honestly, can you blame people for playing a game and then trying to get some value back out of it? The only way for many gamers to currently play multiple AAA games is to shell out quite a bit of money and that definitely limits our consumer base.” I agree, paying full price for a game can be hard to justify but Karch’s comments to CVG come on the same day that EA announce how last Friday’s release of Crysis 2 has become the publisher’s biggest UK launch so far, beating Dead Space 2, Dragon Age II and Bulletstorm. While some may feel like trading the game in after completion – or even before – the £40/$60 price wasn’t enough to put those consumers off in the first place.

Karch adds: “If you want to reach an audience that is not accustomed to spending or can’t spend that kind of money, then you need to give them an alternative. I think this also applies to our core audience. Smaller, high quality digital downloads are a great way to do that. It not only provides people with games that they might actually finish, but it also enables them to play a variety of titles.” The target audience in question is quite important to the argument. Referencing those who aren’t accustomed to spending the normal price for games aren’t necessarily the kinds of gamer who are hesitant to spend vast sums of money to fuel their habit. It’s become an accepted normality to pay around 40 quid for a game and has been for the core market for a good number of generations. I remember paying £60 for Mortal Kombat II on the SNES back in the 90s so for me, games have come down considerably in price while offering a great deal more in terms of longevity.

But Karch does point out the powerful draw of the sequel due to such high development costs. He states how expensive it is to make, manufacture and market a game can be resulting in less innovation from developers who are keen to pump out the next Call of Warfare, Modern Shooter. Karch hopes that markets like XBLA and PSN begin to see more “high end” games that are smaller in size and cost to the consumer. It’ll be interesting if this does indeed happen because the downloadable space has been very profitable for a number of publishers though still the debate about a game’s length is called into question. Limbo was chastised by a small number of people for being “only four hours” and costing around £10/$15. I believed Limbo was worth every penny.

I don’t know if the future of games, more specifically triple A shooters, will become smaller, cheaper downloadable releases. With all the competition from mobile Apps costing a little as 59p, full retail titles are still incredibly popular with publishers announcing record-breaking numbers seemingly every month. The numbers may indeed be falling but there are various initiatives in place to counteract the fall including preventions to buy pre-owned games and strong advertising campaigns. If anything, I’d be more likely to pay full price for a game that gives me value for money be it a superb single player campaign leading onto a full featured multiplayer mode or just a lengthy adventure RPG. I’d be reluctant to only have shorter, easily absorbable experiences even if it does save me a lot of money. I think Karch does have a point that games need to offer more in order to stay in gamers’ houses but I’m not sure if this is the way to do it.

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