Tag Archives: Warning: Analogies!

In Search of the Thousand Dollar Video Game

Last night Keen saw fit to retweet this gem, which is the sort of statement than makes me shake my head in dismay.

There it is again, the false comparison between lattes and video games, with a game dev angry that people are not paying enough for his product.  Even the go-to comic from The Oatmeal to cover this is more than five years old now. (Clicking on the image will bring you to the full comic, complete with the coffee comparison.)

The comedic exaggeration of the concept

The argument here, salted with jealousy, seems to be that all luxury goods are equal, so your baseline for deciding where to spend you money should be solely factored on the value one gets in return.  In that world, the fleeting experience of a latte pales in comparison with the many hours of enjoyment a video game can bring.

Except, of course, that is specious at best and more akin to complete bullshit for most people.

The buying decision for a latte is never formulated as “What is the best value for my money today?”  In my experience the situation is more akin to, “I NEED coffee NOW!”

I don’t actually drink coffee, so I might not be the best person to make that assessment, but that is what it looks like from the outside.  I have seen developers get panicked and upset when they mislay their coffee mug and I am keenly aware how often we have to stop at Starbucks so my wife can get her favorite coffee beverage. (She prefers a “soy caramel macchiato,” which might as well be a magic incantation so far as I am concerned.)

Anyway, video games likely never come into the buying decision.  The latte experience is so different and so removed from video games that comparing the two is… well… I already used the words “specious” and “bullshit” didn’t I?  That.

So whining about people buying lattes instead of your video games is just a self-serving attempt to blame other people, including your customers, for your own problems in a cheap attempt to milk some guilt out of them.

And what are your problems if you’re a video game developer?  I think a lot of that has been covered elsewhere.  But then there is the video game market itself.

The video game market is overloaded with choices, most of which are uninspired imitations or direct knock-offs of worn-out concepts we’ve seen many times before hidden behind a series of horrible user interfaces that defy people to actually find the gems in the huge steaming stack of dung that is the video game market.

Imagine if Starbucks was run like Steam.

You’d have thousands of different lattes, each with a name that might or might not relate to what was actually in them, vaguely described, with mashed-up references to sub-genres of coffee drinks.  You would have to order them from a computer screen where you could only see 20 or so at a time.  Oh, and some of them aren’t compatible with your coffee cup, while others say they might be, but probably require you to upgrade your cup in order to enjoy them fully.

How is that for an analogy?  Let’s push it even further.

You can… slowly… look at latte reviews, but some of the positive ones are from people who were given a free latte, while some of the negative ones involve aspects outside of the latte experience.

Meanwhile, every previous latte you ever ordered from Starbucks is still available to you.  You can look in your latte library and see them all.  There are some in there you really liked, but probably a lot more that you barely even took a sip from.  Sure, you might be a bit tired of the ones you like, but they are reliable, certainly more palatable than most of your attempts to find a fresh new latte.

Oh, and then there is the Starbucks Summer Latte Sale and the Starbucks Winter Latte Sale, during which many lattes are marked down from 25-to-75%.  If you aren’t dying for that specific latte right now, you can wait and it will probably be cheaper.  Seems like a good idea, unless all of your friends are simply raving about some new latte.  You’ll buy that one right away.

I’m tempted to bring GameStop into the picture and examine the situation where you can return your latte for credit on a new latte, but I think I have pushed the envelope of absurdity far enough to make the point that comparing video games and lattes is an argument for the dim, desperate, or drunk.

While I too scoff at people putting down five bucks for a latte, connecting that to video game sales seems ludicrous.

Instead, they are a form of entertainment.  Video games are fun, not food.

As such, they compete with other forms of entertainment.  Here, the original tweet claims the entertainment value for video games should be $20 an hour.

That would make video games a pretty expensive form of entertainment.  My immediately to-hand similar comparisons:

  • Movies – $20-25 per person for 90-180 minutes of entertainment, including popcorn and a drink.
  • Books – $12 for a paperback, $30 for a new release hardback, 4+ hours of entertainment
  • Audiobook – Varies, but I just wrote about an $18 book that is more than 7 hours of entertainment
  • TV – Even being gouged by Comcast, probably close to a dollar an hour as much as our TV is on
  • Netflix – $12/month, used enough to be under a dollar an hour
  • On Demand – HD movie, 90-180 minutes, anywhere from $4-12, whole family can watch

At $20 an hour, the value proposition for video games doesn’t look so hot.  When you’re argument is undercut by Comcast, you’re on the wrong side of history.

Which is not to say I do not see the entertainment value in video games.  My Steam library runneth over, my history with them goes back more than 40 years, and I write a video game blog for Pete’s sake.  I love video games.

But if you think playing the bitter game dev, shaking your fist at your customers (and potential customers) and blaming them for not giving you what you feel you deserve, I have to say that you’re not doing yourself any favors.

And, after all of that, I have to admit that I did find a video game that hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people have paid over $1,000 to play.

It is called World of Warcraft.

I know I have spent more than that much, counting the base game, the expansions, subscription fees, and the occasional cash shop item.  Blizzard was just smart enough to not ask for all the money up front.

Of course, the Gods of Irony must be paid their due.  This shining example of a video game that many, many people are willing to spend that much money on… is the sort of game he disdains in a subsequent tweet.

So most gamers just give up and keep playing League of Legends or World of Warcraft and forget about trying to find anything new.

There is the problem.  It isn’t that we’re not willing to spend that much money on a video game.  It is that we’re not willing to spend that much money on the “right” video game.

I think somebody in the comments on the corrupt developer post made the music comparison.  A lot of people want to get into music, be a rock star, and live the lifestyle.  But there is only so much room at the top.  Likewise, in the video game business you get a few really successful games, and a few devs rich enough to afford to become space tourists, while the rest labor on, never achieving fame or fortune.

Anyway, cranky rant over.  I’ve been down this path before, more than once.  It is a pet peeve of mine.  Keen posted about this as well in his more optimistic tone.  You might prefer that.  I’m just too jaded to buy this sort of blame shifting.

The Malthusian Trap of HED-GP

I rolled over and looked at the alarm clock Saturday morning.  I had just enough time to get up, start up my computer, and get into one of the fleets headed for the battle over the timer in the system HED-GP.

Instead, I went back to sleep while something like 4,000 ships converged on that system in the Catch region.

I was tempted to go along.  I was in the staging system and I had ships ready. And I think it is pretty obvious by now that I don’t mind going on a big event like this, even if it has fiasco painted on the side in large neon letters.  But I stayed in bed while many of my comrades in arms… or foes… took up the battle cry.

The fleets clashed, and the result was a system lost and a great big red spot on the recent kills map of New Eden.

The red spot in Catch

The red spot in Catch

Kill charts from DOTLAN

Kill charts from DOTLAN

Like many others, I watched from the outside as the battle was streamed.  Twitter was alight with updates.  And on Jabber updates and calls for pilots, first to get into the system and then to cover the extraction of capital ships, went on for 10 hours.  EVE Online did not handle the battle… gracefully.

Null sec blocs are in a Malthusian Trap of sorts.  The performance improvements done by CCP back in 2012 allowed fleet engagements to be bigger.  And so they got bigger as the null sec blocs engaged in their own version of the race to the sea, with each side adding allies and piling on with more ships in order to win the important fights.

Up through the war in Fountain, which culminated in the giant battle at 6VDT-H, things held together.  There were warning signs however.  CCP fumbling the node management at Z9PP-H and just the general behavior at the peak of the 6VDT-H fight indicated that we were nearing another limit.

Waiting on 6VDT-H station

Waiting on 6VDT-H station

But since then, big fights have pushed nodes beyond their limits.  Nodes dying, or behaving badly, have become the norm.  The null sec blocs have expanded their operations to consume whatever extra room time dilation offered.  The spirit of Malthus is no doubt laughing happily that he has been proven right yet again.

Time dilation was a good idea, but it did also contain within it the seeds of its own demise.  Yes, we can harp on about drone assist and how that has sped up the problem.  Both sides have been profligate in their use of drones and show no sign of cutting back.  But I am pretty sure that if CCP turned off all drones in the game tomorrow that it would not buy us all that much time before we started hitting the node barrier again.  Time dilation slows down the area of the fight, but allows the rest of space to solider on at normal speed, so the ability for alliances to pile on while a fight is still in progress has been greatly enhanced.

And pile on we have.

Asakai, already a year old in EVE lore, was a prime example.  The allure of getting on a titan kill mail put pilots in motion all across New Eden.  Back in November there was the Long Guy Fawkes Day, where I was in a fleet that pretty much crossed half of space to arrive in time for the fight.  And crash the node.  And we have carried on, with node crashes, or at least performance degradation to the point of the game being unplayable, becoming more common as battles become giant pile-on affairs.

And so CCP sits in the middle, having tried to make things better, but ending up with nearly the same problems they had two years back, compounded by a few new twists.  The forums seem full of people either indignant that CCP hasn’t fixed this yet or very smug because they knew this was how things had to end up.

So CCP is in a bind.  If there was an easy fix, they would have done it already.  There are a couple band-aids they could apply.

Nerfing drone assist was on many lips even before this fight.  I am not sure how much that would change things for N3, which favors capital ships in general and carriers specifically.  They will still use drones either way.

They could put population caps on systems, as they have done with Jita.  Of course, that would just lead to both sides rushing to pre-fill contested systems in advance of timers.

Or they could just tell the null sec blocs to “suck it” for now.  Null sec players aren’t any sort of majority in the game.  But then CCP loves to use those big fights and changing colors on the sovereignty map for publicity.  Your low sec gate camp, your wormhole fight, your factional warfare gains, they do not get covered by the BBC.   Big fights in null sec get coverage.  And I am sure CCP is loathe to let go of that publicity.

So I suspect CCP will spend a lot of cycles looking into the problem, which will take time and pull people away from other potential features, which in turn will make nobody happy in the short term.

Posts with actual details or observations about the battle at HED-GP: