Business in the Video Gaming Industry – Smoke and Mirrors or Necessary Evil?
Pre-order bonuses are nothing new to the video game market, in fact these days they are pretty much the standard operating procedure for most major releases. However Arkane Studios took this concept one step further last week by announcing a slew of
retailer-specific pre-order packages for Dishonored, its upcoming supernatural, steampunk actioner.
Each package in the range consists of a specialized selection of extra in-game abilities unique to that retailer. The idea, Arkane claims, is that a player can choose the package that best suits their playing style. Considering that from the outset, Arkane has been keen to emphasize the replayability of Dishonored – stating that there are numerous ways of completing the campaign – it seems strange that they are in essence asking a player to commit to a certain style of playthrough, months before the game is even released. This seems even stranger given that this is a totally new and unknown IP; how can consumers make a truly informed decision about a game they have never played?
The sticky issue of multiplayer map packs and day one DLCs springs to mind again when considering whether it is right that consumers are having to chose at all. Shouldn’t the full range of bonuses be included for all pre-orders regardless of where they are bought?
From a purely business standpoint this makes perfect sense because it allows Arkane to cut a deal with several key retailers, giving each exclusivity on certain content without leaving any of them out in the cold. On the flipside, these packages – which are meant to secure sales and commit consumers to paying new-game prices – seem like the latest in a line of questionable tactics employed by the gaming industry aimed at getting consumers to part with their cash.
There is no denying that times are tough and like any business, the gaming industry has to adapt to survive. If a developer isn’t making money, then it will go out of business and where would we gamers be then? We’d all have to get hobbies, go outside, and interact face to face with other members of the human race. Perish the thought.
With claims from the industry that the used gaming market is eating into profits, along with the toll being taken by the ever-present and costly problem of piracy, there is no doubt that game companies need to be business savvy to remain in the black. But when does sound business strategy start posing a danger of snuffing out the flame of creative freedom?
Few examples can illustrate the reality of this risk than the debacle earlier this year over the ‘Retake Mass Effect’ campaign and the subsequent capitulation by creator, Bioware. The decision to distribute a fourth alternate ending smacked of a boardroom-influenced reaction borne of panic in the face of consumer outcry. What about artistic integrity? What about standing by your product and having faith in the story you are trying to tell? Surely it cheapens the experience for such material alterations to be implemented after the distribution of the game. It is tantamount to the developer agreeing with detractors that their product is sub-par, enough so that such changes were necessary.
To see the negative impact of shackling the creative process to the anchor of corporate demands, one need only look at the turgid malaise Hollywood finds itself mired in at present. The movie industry has been for the most part relying on CGI effects and big names rather than plot and substance for years. Creativity and originality have nearly vanished as studios have succumbed to the money-making lure of an almost mass-production method of movie making.
It is a fact that the creation of modern games requires ever-increasing amounts of manpower and equipment, both of which cost considerable amounts of money. It is no wonder therefore that there has been a shift in the dynamic between Publisher and Developer with the former, keen to safeguard their investments, becoming more involved in the process of creating videogames. This is all well and good, but when profit is the primary motivator, the danger of producing shallow, forgettable gaming experiences becomes all too real.
Written By Kyle Percival