Kotaku did something interesting yesterday. Which is not to say that they never do anything interesting, in fact, since Stephen Totilo took over, I’ve quite enjoyed the changes to the site, but yesterday’s event, in which they invited an anonymous employee of a major video game publisher to answer reader questions, was particularly interesting.
There were no huge bombs dropped, nothing scandalous announced, no earth shattering revelations, which is why it was so damned compelling. It was nothing but common sense answer after common sense answer, yet what I found so interesting about the whole thing, was how it appeared that the people asking the questions never thought of these answers themselves.
If you were to come up with a list of questions you would expect the readers of Kotaku, or any big gaming site, to submit to a big time video game publisher, chances are your list and the questions asked on Monday would be similar. People wanted to know why publishers do day one DLC, why publishers place DRM on PC games, why publishers don’t take more risks on new IPs. Now, I could have answered those questions myself without the input from the publisher person and they would have looked something like this: money, money and money. Amazingly enough, the “official” answers weren’t that far off of the mark.
Now, I’m not saying that publishers are always making the right decisions, but I simply can not fathom how the answers provided by this person are not blindingly obvious. Video game publishers are in business to make money. In many cases, these are public companies, beholden to shareholders as well as to themselves. They do what they do because they make money off of it. We can argue the merits of the long term effects of their current strategies at another time, but for right now, they’re looking to make money and their decisions are based on that goal.
Let’s take Day One DLC, for our first example. The question was basically “Stop making it, it sucks. Why do you do it?” The answer:
Then stop buying it.
Look, it’s simple. One team puts together a rough estimate on how much they expect the company to make from DLC. Let’s call that “A”. Then another team puts together an estimate on how much it will cost to develop that DLC. Let’s call that “B”.
If A > B, you get Day One DLC.
Seems pretty simple to me. But, let’s not cherry pick. Here (s)he is on new IPs:
You don’t spend your money on new IPs, at least not at this stage in the cycle.
I’ll say what I said earlier: you’re not buying new IPs. You may feel like you are, but trust me, I’ve seen the numbers, and with very few exceptions (which unfortunately get trumpeted in the media the loudest), you’re not.
My absolute favorite quote, though, had to be in response to a question about Call of Duty. Sorry for posting such a long question, but I think it’s important to read the whole thing:
How come there seems to be such a big gap between customer and publisher? It’s something that’s been bothering me for a while, but gamers voice their concerns when they get something they don’t like. Sure, they don’t always have good arguments, but a lot of times they do.
Call of Duty is the obvious example here, and I’m sorry for being ‘that guy’ and bringing it up. Sure, it sells like… I don’t know, something that sells really well, yet thousands of customers complain literally everywhere about how much they dislike the whole ‘let’s release the same game over and over’ (and let’s not trick ourselves, that is what is being done, regardless of how many times one makes a new story about nukes).
Why aren’t their opinions taken into consideration? I hear publishers saying that they are, but looking at the games they keep pushing out, it’s pretty obvious that no, no one is listening to the customers, or at least not the ones who doesn’t just buy the next game because ‘it’s the sequel to that other game I bought because it was a sequel!’.
Personally, this isn’t a big of a problem. I don’t mind CoD, and I can enjoy it. But what does bother me is that everyone is talking about how much the customer – the gamer – matters, yet absolutely no one is actually listening to what they have to say. Sorry for the whole novel-thing I’ve got going on, but that’s my question. Why?
Also if you took the time to read (and possibly also answer), thank you.
Ah, here is where you went wrong: on CoD, the customer is not necessarily a gamer. Activision constantly does research and listens to their fans. In fact, many of their decisions are guided by those reports. It may feel to you that thousands of people feel X, but the truth is, based on hard data, that millions of people feel differently from you.
It never ceases to amaze me how insular the gaming community is. We go on sites with other people who love games as much as we do and we all bitch and moan about the same things and wonder why, in most cases, our complaints aren’t addressed, never once considering that most of the people buying Call of Duty and Madden and “insert popular franchise here” every year don’t give a rat’s ass about DLC and story endings and what have you. They go into Best Buy or Walmart or GameStop, buy their game, leave happy and stay that way. Does that mean that publishers should ignore the dedicated gaming communities? Certainly not, but we shouldn’t expect them to change their plans specifically for us. They’re looking at numbers on spreadsheets and our numbers simply aren’t large enough.
If you haven’t read it already, you should definitely check the piece out. The person answering had a pretty good sense of humor about things, at one point answering the pointless question of publisher evil by remarking that they’re closer to the “don’t tip your waitress” evil than the “genocide” evil, and gave some other insight into things like piracy, the PC being the preferred target platform due to the lack of licensing fees, and going with your gut when it comes to pitches. The best line, by far, though, was this one, which hopefully (s)he will get to expand on in a future Q &A:
DO NOT GET ME STARTED ABOUT KICKSTARTER.
Now that Q&A ought to be a hoot.