Games Today...The Marketing Struggle Ahead
Where Did it All Go Wrong...
Not since the late gaming market crash of the 1980s did we ever come across a time where games as we know it was at risk. NO, I'm not referring to any dilemma of financial success and stability; in fact, the opposite is true. The Gaming Arena (or Gaming Industry to most insiders of the field) has long surpassed the Billion Dollar Club in terms of revenue that can and will in the foreseeable future make.
However, the issue no longer involves just public interest, nor of financial stability but of questionable business practices and corporate/shareholder monopolies. The business of game design/marketing/publishing has now become a messy and sometimes unethical practice that only the few that have been benefitted.
The Corporate Problem of the Gaming Business
How the modern gaming landscape has come under disarray...
To Prey or not to Prey...that is the Question.
This is the most noticeable problem is that companies are looking for ways to prey on customers for as much money as possible. When I use the word 'prey' in this context, I am referring to how companies target users to purchase additional content that may have been removed prior to the release of the game or preloaded into the game and locked before payment is provided.
The problem in this methodology is that it gives companies the excuse of creating substandard experiences while increasing revenue from unsuspecting customers. These types of practices usually entail the selling of cosmetic additives in terms of character creation, but now because of the oversaturation the market faces, they are selling entire gameplay mechanics that will give an advantage over other players.
Overwhelming Hype, Underwhelming Value
How Companies Play Customers...
The Corporate Media Blitzkrieg
We've seen this before; a game that is on the verge of release or a press conference involving the latest bits and baubles of information. Blitzkrieg is the best apt analogy in regards to how corporations in the Gaming Arena have used media and information for these games, which will ultimately make them less impressive. A forced rush of new screenshots, demos, and videos to overload the senses. However, corporations are existences of habit and predictability in that this tactic has been and is the only method they know of.
Therein lies the problem; stalemating tactics. After been disappointed by this methodology, it's now seen as overcompensation. If a business has to go to such lengths to bring a product to a feverish pitch to purchase, in most cases, the product will underperform. But as time has proven in their favor, the masses willfully accept this and continue to purchase under such methods. This is losing its effectiveness as corporations continue to create underwhelming products while overwhelming the hype.
This leads up to the next part of this discussion...
Corporations have now enticed the market of the Gaming Arena to such a degree that alpha builds of games are considered 'feature complete' in the eyes of the customers. To those uninitiated, I wish to provide the following terms to add to your own personal knowledge base:
- Alpha Build: A version of the game with only the core mechanics and gameplay rules that are needed to establish how the game is supposed to work. Any additional features are tested and added at later periods and subsequently referred to as 'beta builds' and under 'beta testing.'
- Beta Build: A version of the game that has a 'complete' Alpha Build with various added features, leading to a 'feature complete' build or 'Gold Master' build.
- Beta Testing: The process is known as 'quality assurance testing;' checking on the stability and function of a game in order to minimize potential glitches and irregularities that would hinder or ruin gameplay experiences on the customers' end.
- Feature Complete: A status in which all applicable features of a game are provided to the player, giving them a full understanding of what the game is capable of providing in terms of being playable.
- Gold Master: A Gaming Arena term simply labeling a game product as 'complete' and with limited functionality irregularities/glitches. This DOES NOT MEAN the game is with no flaws; it simply states that the game is stable enough to be played from start to finish with little to no incidents under standard player interaction.
While this may seem daunting in regards to terminology, the truth of the matter is that this applies to all disciplines of creativity and industry, in some form or fashion. Where companies and corporations have been complacent is that they are disregarding the discipline in creating Gold Master games and instead refer to Alpha builds as 'Gold Masters.'
Worse still, is the next problem that has created this substandard method of design, with the overuse of Downloadable Content (If it's even that at all).
Downloadable Content means exactly that. Additional gameplay content that is downloaded onto your machine (be it Personal Computer, PC, or a gaming console) that was not available upon the launch of the game itself. As is most often the case, this content was planned to be provided to users post-launch with the original Gold Master being the 'base' of the game and these DLCs a means to continue player interaction in the foreseeable future.
While the intent was noble, providing players the means to further expand their playthrough experiences in that particular game, the execution and oversaturation have made this practice questionable at best. Many of the Fighting Game Community (FGC) are aware of Capcom being notorious in this regard alone, further ruining the value of DLC and some still remember the 'Disc Locked Content' debacle of Street Fighter x Tekken.
However, corporations have changed the narrative in that DLCs have been normalized as a necessity, to such a degree that the game itself is made INCOMPLETE in order to push DLC sales...and nothing has been more egregious than that of...
Microtransactions and LootBoxes
The Worst-Case Scenario Made Reality...
Make no mistake, for there is no 'surprise' to these 'mechanics.' You are not acquiring a sense of 'Pride' and 'Accomplishment.' Loot boxes and Microtransactions, at their core, are simply DLC providing smaller portions of the game at greater frequencies, to the point that the player MUST pay in order to get the full experience of the game.
To put it into perspective, it is equivalent to paying for the ability to walk a set amount of steps, only to be stopped and pay again for another set of steps. This is where corporations/companies are currently working towards and making sure this particular goose keeps giving them as many golden eggs as possible; with some going so far as to make 'players into payers.'
The manner of how loot boxes and microtransactions are provided, along with the designation of cosmetics or gameplay mechanics in regards to loot boxes and microtransactions, is entirely irrelevant to the overall problem of creating an incomplete experience which is ruined by having to provide ADDITIONAL funding to a game that may have been fully priced.
I must also include games that are 'free to play' and 'MMORPGs' with this questionable means of sales as they should have provided a base price and stuck with it. The fact that businesses must force additional payments that are not tailored to the upkeep of equipment such as servers (in the case of MMORPGs) or to the benefit of their employees as compensation for additional work provided, proves they are hemorrhaging money judiciously and have no intention of properly investing in their company nor their employees. Thus, substandard development continues.
Greed and Gluttony would be the apt description as to how far these companies are willing to see this muddy income stream through, regardless of public opinion or concern. They will create substandard experiences, they will overwork employees and underpay them (if they are paid at all), they will skirt around the governments of the world, just to get the revenue of a few unsuspecting victims by having them spend thousands upon thousands of dollars in unchecked storefronts. Games themselves are now TAILORED to this practice; undermining the quality of gameplay over quantity of payout.
So What Now?
What Can We Do...
The Painful Truth
The truth of the matter is that we have a lot to clean up in regards to how we should make games moving forward.
First, we must address that Corporations have no intention of changing their business practices, so support businesses that do not heavily rely on DLC content, especially microtransactions and loot boxes.
Second, support businesses that offer complete experiences with their games. This includes a proper beginning, middle and end. SHOULD DLC be free of charge and it is an addition that is independent of the original game and not a part that was removed, THEN it is acceptable..but it will put that business on notice.
Third, to businesses that want to continue these deceptive practices, the only way to change them is to speak with your wallet and don't purchase their products. Naturally, they will respond by saying they'll have to cut back on employees when they can't reach their sales goals; only they will do that ANYWAYS, so that is an empty threat.
Finally, for those working in these questionable businesses, know your worth. Know the product you are creating. And if there is concern that such practices are detrimental to the company and the product, and if you are ABLE to, stand up for the quality of product that will protect yourself and the work you built.
These will not guarantee success overnight or over several years, but like the tides, you can make the shift happen. You just have to stay diligent.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Michael Rivers