The High Price of Entertainment

July 22, 2006

Although the title may appear to be metaphoric, I am really not that deep. Instead, I’m actually discussing issues relating to the exploding cost of game development, in terms of both the developers, producers, and consumers. I’ll try to cover some of the criticisms here, but feel free to add thoughts.

Developers: The price of creating a game has skyrocketed faster than any artform in known creation. Players want more interactivity, better graphics, and greater freedom in their games. To keep to schedule, developers must hire more contractors, especially in the fields of art, tool, and physics creation. This outsourcing of talent leads to a wider spread in the original vision of a game. The designers may not work with the programmers or the artists, causing choppy work.

Some may argue that players desire more content sooner, perhaps citing the release of episodic content such as Half Life 2 Episode 1. To satisfy this desire, developers must hire more and more employees, completing the product faster. To this, I must respond that good, memorable games usually aren’t created by throwing “man-hours” at them. Games need a unity of design that can easily become bogged down with larger developers. Consider America’s Army, a hit when the developer was still budding. As more versions were released, the Army decided to change development teams, expanding the developer size considerably. Now ask yourself, when did America’s Army start sucking?

Producer: Producers spend millions of dollars financing developers, choosing games they hope will become hits. Producers, as many have noted, will therefore make safer choices, passing up oddities such as Crazy Taxi to finance the next “Quake” (What are they on? 5?) and creating a sea of the same. Look at PainKiller, Driv3r, and True Crime. None have even the resemblance of a vestigial bone of originality. This doesn’t even mention the endless march of sequels and licensed games. These games don’t sell well because they are more of the same. I don’t think gamers want to play another 20 floors of Wolf3d; I know I don’t.

I understand arguments that gamers want more realism, leading producers to request larger teams that can handle “photorealism,” but I disagree with this point. I don’t think its essential for a game to be insanely realistic, or even 3D to be a best seller. Consider Viewtiful Joe, a fine game in its own right and a side scroller! How about The Sims, a game where the characters rarely have distinguishable faces? Graphics don’t make the game. Sometimes they even hurt it (think of the steep requirements on Doom 3).

Consumers: Oh how long gamers have complained about buying the latest $60 flop. Heck? They complain about buying the latest $60 triple-A title. Games cost too much money, plain and simple. The industry is screaming to attract new gamers, but how can we if the price of admittance is so high? Many have complained that used game sales are killing developers, but isn’t it possible that the reason games focus so hard on used games is that new games are so expensive? I’m not able to buy any game until several months after its release, when they’ve reduced its price.

Tell me what you think. I dare you.

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