Cliff Bleszinski is the famous developer behind the likes of Jazz Jackrabbit, Unreal Tournament, and Gears of War. To say he’s outspoken is a bit of an understatement; just check his Twitter if you don’t believe me. Never one to mince words, Cliffy B made waves this week with an editorial in Kotaku defending game developers in a climate that’s supposedly turned hostile toward anyone trying to make money off games. Mr. Bleszinski is quick to remind us that “the video game industry is just that” and they operate “first, for money, then, for acclaim.” “To produce a high quality game it takes tens of millions of dollars, and when you add in marketing that can get up to 100+ million,” Cliffy B tells us.
Here’s the thing, Cliffy B: for as much as I appreciate what you’ve meant to the industry, you’re fucking wrong. It doesn’t take “100+ million” to build a high quality game. Have you played Journey? Braid? FTL? Not a single one of those games cost that much money to make. It can be done if you focus on what makes gaming good: gameplay and narrative. To hell with progressively nicer graphics that cost far too much. And screw the marketing department; if your game is worth a damn, the community will do a better job promoting it than your supposedly highly trained schills ever could.
The cost of producing games is a hot button topic these days. It’s driving many things that affect we consumers, including the war on used game sales, the advent of microtransactions, and the prevalence of DLC. It’s all about new revenue streams; the games we love cost a lot to make, so the developers have to find more ways to both recoup those costs and turn more of a profit.
You know what I never hear any of the developers or pundits talk about? Fiscal responsibility. If production of a game is so expensive that it has to sell several million copies to break even, guess what: that’s not a bet any respectable company should be making. Stop it. Look at last year’s sales charts. Consolidate that so that titles released on multiple systems aren’t counted separately, and the number of games that sold more than two million copies is cut down to a whopping “not many.” Do developers deserve to get paid? Sure. But they need to keep in mind what we’re willing to pay them. This is a two way street, not a guided tour down a motorized sidewalk that spits money at people just because they did things that cost way too much in the first place.
And that, I think, is one of the things Cliffy B forgot about in his article. How much money has that dude made? $60 isn’t jack shit to him. To you and me, that’s some change. Granted, video games are luxury items; they are unnecessary fun, and so they should cost more than your average turnip or pair of pajama pants. But you know what? If you want to maximize your revenue, you find the sweet spot where the number of purchases multiplied by the price is maximized. Given the the popularity of used games, Steam sales, and generally finding ways to pick up games on the cheap six months after they come out, I’m willing to bet that $60 ain’t it. Attempting to subsidize that $60 price tag by expecting gamers to shell out for DLC and microtransactions is even dumber.
And the math works, too; according to this site, the average American hourly wage for January 2013 is $23.78. Given what we know about the distribution of wealth in this country and the fact that the unemployment rate was 7.9 percent for that same month mentioned in my previous piece of data, it’s probably safe to say that the average gamer makes significantly less than that. Say you’re pulling in $15 an hour–after taxes, that’s under ten bucks. That means it takes six hours of your hard work to pay for a new game. That’s basically a day’s labor, and it gets worse the lower your hourly wage. Healthcare costs are up. Food prices are high. Renting an apartment? Don’t even get me started. 2011 saw the highest poverty rate in 20 years at 15 percent. 15 percent! That’s more than one out of every seven people. You want to make more money, Cliffy B? Well, that’s simple. Rather than nickel and diming us to take the most money possible out of our wallets, lower your costs so the money we have to spend on games can actually make you a profit.
No one ever said that the gaming industry isn’t an industry, Cliffy B. No one ever said you shouldn’t make some serious bank in exchange for all of the hours you and your compatriots have provided us, all of which we are damn thankful for. But we also never said we were willing to bend over and spread ’em. You want us to understand your plight? Fine. In exchange, we expect you to understand ours.