Something very strange happened this week: EA announced that it would drop real-money microtransactions from Star Wars Battlefront 2. And while I am the first to cheer for a big company like EA being forced to back down from predatory monetization schemes, this event is just a chapter in a larger story about how much people “should” pay for their entertainment.
Now, I’m no expert in the field of game development, but from what I understand many games are sold at a loss and the publisher needs to recoup that money through other avenues, such as subscriptions, DLC, or microtransactions. This is because the price of games hasn’t risen much for quite some time now, while the cost of making a AAA game has skyrocketed. Now, many developers are tight-lipped about their internal bookkeeping, which is understandable, but there are a few examples which are illustrative. Take the original Fallout (1997), which in today’s dollars cost a bit over $4 million to make. To me, $4 million is quite a bit of money, but that’s chump change compared to modern titles. Sticking to the RPG genre, Skyrim (2011) cost about $90 million, whereas The Old Republic, released in the same year, had a budget of a $200 million.
To make matters worse, an enormous chunk of that money often goes to marketing, not to the game itself. For example, The Witcher 3 (2015) cost $81 million, but a full $35 million of that was for marketing. So it’s not just an issue of needing more detailed art assets, professional voice acting, larger worlds to play in, and the other game features which have become more expensive, now publishers need to sink millions into advertising the game as well due to market saturation.
In other words, there are too many games which cost too much to make and the consumers aren’t able to foot the bill for them all.
And to be perfectly honest, I’m part of the problem. I don’t buy games when they come out, let alone pre-order. I wait for the sales to pick up a title I want for 1/10th of the original price, ignore the microtransactions, and only purchase the DLC if I really like the game. I’m one of the customers who is making it so that the industry struggles to be profitable.
To make matters worse, I’m also one of the customers who wants quality single-player experiences and doesn’t care much about (most) multiplayer, which is where the money is for most games. I would buy the newest CoD or Halo if it offered a great campaign and never dip into competitive play. And, frankly, that makes what I want out of the game industry largely unsustainable, at least for AAA titles.
And maybe that’s okay. I’m not the person who the industry can make money off of, so why should they make the type of games which I like? Sure, you’ll have the occasional developer in it for the art or the rare studio like CD Projekt Red, but most people who play (and pay) for games do not look like me. I wish it wasn’t the case, but I’m no longer the target demographic for most game companies, even if I was 15 years ago.
Maybe that’s why I’ve been playing more indie and retro-style games lately–titles on much smaller budgets who can live off people like me while delivering the type of content I want. Maybe I’ll never get into the mainstream game scene again save for the odd title which tickles my fancy. And while that’s very sad for me, I can’t blame the industry for looking toward greener pastures. I’m okay only occupying a small niche in the industry, even if I miss being able to enjoy the mainstream with the rest of the community.