This is a transcript of the above video blog.
Hello. My name is Barry Scott Will and this is episode four of my video blog, “Go Game, Young Man.” I’m recording this Saturday, February 17th, and I already have my tickets to see Black Panther tonight, so you’ll likely see this video and my review of Black Panther posted to YouTube about the same time.
Speaking of Black Panther and movies in general, I’d like to make some comparisons between films and my favorite entertainment...video games. Specifically, I want to talk about cost, and the general finances of the video game industry.
You see, I think games are too expensive, and their expense is an integral part of some of the issues in the industry and with triple-A games, issues like the ones I discussed last week in my review of Horizon: Zero Dawn. Why do developers fill their games with so much fluff to stretch out the playing time? What difference does it make if it takes you 20 hours to finish a game versus 60? Or 100? The answer is value-for-time. The problem is, games aren’t going to win that “competition,” no matter what, so why try?
Here’s the basic comparison:
You go to a movie. It costs $10. You get two hours entertainment. That’s $5 per hour.
You buy a game. It costs $60. You get 20 hours entertainment. That’s $3 per hour. A better deal, right?
Sort of. Yes, it’s a better deal per hours of enjoyment, but you still have to pay $60 up front compared to $10. And that’s only compared to going to see a movie in the theater. Compare $60 for a game to $8 for a month of unlimited movies on Netflix, … and, games can’t compete on a value-for-time basis. So...developers pad their games. They offer 60 hours or 100 hours or more of entertainment because they: 1) have to convince people to cough up $60; and, 2) they are trying to get the cost-per-hour of entertainment down closer to that Netflix level.
And there’s where we start getting into the weeds. No matter how hard developers try to make their games a better “value” than movies, the audience for games is much smaller than the audience for movies. Let’s take a popular superhero film from 2017 as an example, Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman has grossed about 820 million dollars at the worldwide box office. At a (very rough) average of $9 per ticket, that’s around 91 million viewers. And that’s just movie tickets. It’s grossed another 100 million in disc sales and who knows how much from digital streaming.
The hugely successful Grand Theft Auto V, released FOUR years ago, has managed to sell around 62 million copies. But that game is an extreme outlier. Horizon: Zero Dawn that I reviewed last week and is considered one of the big hits of 2017? Less than 5 million copies sold.
True, not every movie is as successful as Wonder Woman just as not every game is as successful as Grand Theft Auto. But Wonder Woman was not an outlier. Four movies released last year grossed over 1 billion dollars. Another twelve grossed over 600 million.
To gross 600 million dollars a game would have to sell, at $60 per copy, about 10 million copies. The number of games that sold 10 million copies in 2017?
The closest was Call of Duty: WW2 at nine-and-a-half million. And I don’t know what the average amount the publisher gets from each sale, but it’s probably not more than about twenty bucks. How can a game like Horizon: Zero Dawn, at 4.5 million copies sold, recoup a 6-figure development and advertising budget?
And game development budgets is why I’m comparing the game industry to Hollywood. Triple-A game budgets are hitting 100 million plus, and I don’t think that is sustainable at the sales levels for even the “big” hits.
But, publishers can’t raise their prices. Not counting inflation, game prices have been static for over a decade. Factor inflation into the equation, and game prices have been in a steady decline. Add in the “Amazon effect,” where pre-ordered games get an automatic 20 per-cent discount, and games go on sale within the first month…Is it any wonder publishers are releasing collector’s editions and filling their games with micro-transactions, and pushing multiplayer where they can sell loot boxes, day one DLC, and every other method to try to boost actual income because individual sale units are not going up.
There are a few studios out there that are producing some monster hits--i.e. games that easily sell over 10 or even 20 million units. But most are scrabbling for every dollar. And gamers aren’t helping because, let’s face it, we’re cheap. As I said last week, I did not rush out to buy Zero Dawn until I could get it on sale. I paid 20 bucks for it. The current economy of games is not sustainable. We’re going to see more micro-transactions in games. We’re going to see more studios making mobile games or online games. The only thing we’ve gotten from Bethesda Softworks since Fallout 4 in 2015 is a mobile game and a MMORPG. Yay.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I would like to see big, AAA-quality, SINGLE-player games continue to be made. I want another Elder Scrolls game. I want another Fallout. I want another Dragon Age and Mass Effect. I would like a sequel to Zero Dawn. So, what needs to happen?
I don’t know. But, here are some suggestions, and I have no idea if any of these would actually work.
First, release games are a lower price. If games released at 30 dollars, would they sell twice as many copies? Maybe. I would be a lot more likely to buy a game at release if it were 30 instead of 60.
Second, reduce game budgets. Tighten them up. I would like Zero Dawn just as much--maybe more--if the game world were smaller. I would like Skyrim just as much if there were not quite as many things to do. Every extra, meaningless step-n-fetch quest; every extra square mile of empty space, is extra time and money on ephemera.
Third, and I really hate to say this, but it’s the economics of the industry, take some of the bigger side tasks, pad them out, and release them as DLC. Maybe an initial release of 30 dollars, followed by multiple 5 and 10 dollar DLC packs is a better model? It sure works for the LEGO games.
And fourth, and this one I reeeealy don’t want to bring up...maybe it’s time to scale back from “realism” and concentrate on content. It certainly has not hurt Nintendo to not have real-life-looking graphics in their games. Maybe that results in smaller teams to make the games? I’m certainly not wishing people to lost their jobs, but if studios close because their games don’t sell enough to justify their price, people are going to lose jobs anyway.
I know smarter, better economics-educated people than me are working on this problem. At least, I hope there are. I like small, indie games, but if that’s all we end up with...I might be going to the movies more often. Or watching TV.
Anyway, sound off in the comments. Hit the Like button AND the Subscribe button. Check out bettysterlingbooks.com for some...old-fashioned entertainment in the form of my two fantasy novels. And check me out on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram; links in the video description. By the time I record this, I will have already seen Black Panther and I will be spitting out some verbiage about that very shortly. Next week...I haven’t yet decided on a topic, perhaps something will suggest itself in the next few days. Until then, go game, young man.