Take a look, it's in a blog, So That Happened!
This week we dwell on some complex issues with our friends from around the internet. But the issues are far from just academic, since those at the heart of this week's selections have probably already affected the games and game makers you love. For example: is the ecosystem of frequent, deep Steam discounts ultimately harmful to developers and their fans? What do crowdfunded developers really have to worry about other than making the games they promised (hint: it's a lot)?
Also, there's a gripping tale of escape and revenge told through the perspective of a cat, presented in what I am officially dubbing an interactive diptych. Try to read the other stuff first, though.
Why Rampant Sales are Bad for Players
"Your fans love your games and eagerly await your next release. They want to get your game as soon as it comes out, at full price. But they are foolish to do that, because a sale is right around the corner. Even in economic terms, the extra utility of playing the game early, at release, is not big enough to offset the extra cost for most people . It makes more sense to wait, unless they love you and your work so much that they're willing to throw economic reason out the window. It's nice to have fans that love your work that much. And these are the fans that you kick in the teeth when you put your game on sale."
Jason Rohrer, the creator of Passage, Sleep is Death, and the soon-to-be-released Castle Doctrine, argues that the culture of frequent Steam sales is actually harmful to both players and developers in a blog post (opens in new tab). He postulates that a much more favorable model for both sides is the Minecraft system: early players get the deepest discounts instead of those who wait for sales, and future buyers must pay more as the game becomes more widely known and better supported.
It's a compelling argument, but it's incomplete. Charging latecomers higher prices is just as punishing as reducing prices after fans have paid in full, even if the psychological impacts differ. Organic growth is so important for lower profile games that launch on Steam. Players see their favorite streamers talking about games, or notice friends playing them, and they will remember that the next time a sale comes along--instead of being discouraged outright by a permanently high price.
Now we own you: Another caution for crowdfunded content
"Many game developers have always wanted freedom and a closer relationship with their audience, but didn't expect the extent to which they'd have to add community management and public relations skills to their resume--and fast--when they took to crowdfunding. When developers needed more money, quietly sought funding from multiple sources, or had to change the scope or direction of a crowdfunded project, intense public criticism was often the result."
When the Double Fine Adventure began, it seemed the quirky little San Francisco studio could do no wrong. Fans of founder Tim Schafer's LucasArts adventure games stampeded to support the plucky campaign (including me) and eagerly waited for the final product to drop into our hard drives. Then Schafer admitted his studio had made too much game for the (quite substantial) money and split it into two halves. Then the studio (briefly, naively) tried to embargo coverage of the first part after it was released to 80,000 backers.
Eegad! How could this happen? Plucky underdogs aren't supposed to do stuff that makes us mad! But as Leigh Alexander observes in a Gamasutra essay (opens in new tab), removing publishers from the equation means not just creative freedom but also some unfamiliar--and probably unwelcome--obligations. Double Fine's come out of the process pretty well--I don't anticipate many grudges, considering the quality of the product (opens in new tab) so far--but its bumps along the way have proven crowdfunding isn't just pennies from heaven.
As eSports booms, journalists struggle to find acceptance--and paychecks
"The disparity between what is expected of this demographic and what is accorded to them is enormous. ESports journalists are frequently expected to possess not only encyclopedic knowledge of the scene but also of the game itself. They work around the clock breaking down matches and unraveling player histories, analyzing and expounding on the eccentricities of each new game update. Yet, few would bat an eye at working for free."
At what point should you expect your work of passion to produce a living? A tough question, but at least one box to check is whether it provides value for a substantial number of people. Writing informative, timely articles about eSports should definitely get a check mark, right? It's one of the fastest growing sectors of entertainment today, with teams competing before hundreds of thousands of spectators and taking home hundreds of thousands in prize dollars.
But Cassandra Khaw finds that eSports writing rarely pays in her Daily Dot (opens in new tab) feature. And those who make it past "enthusiastic volunteer" to "paid correspondent" find their efforts troubled by eSports personalities who would rather handle all their own press than let external parties into the loop. Should writers bother? Would the eSports community prefer teams took care of themselves without independent writers paid to dig up stories and analyze events? I hope not, but at this point it remains to be seen.
The power of weakness: You can't save everyone, nor should you
"Paula's character design isn't as memorable as Elizabeth's. I don't remember what her sprite looks like, or any of the few lines of dialogue they gave her. But I bonded with Paula because of what we'd been through together: The process of incrementing a handful of numbers created a relationship that would stick through the rest of the game."
When I played through the Mass Effects, I generally tried to avoid reloading to redo my decisions unless I'd seriously misunderstood the context. But when I played through Mass Effect 2--spoilers here if you haven't finished it--and I let Thane die in the suicide mission, I couldn't stomach it. Sure, Ashley croaking in the first game was a shame, but her or Kaidan had to die. Thane didn't. It was my bad judgement that put a lone wolf in charge of a fireteam. I reloaded.
Chris Dahlen eloquently illustrates how these smaller choices lead to the most compelling moments in a column for Polygon (opens in new tab). For him, the simple act of having to protect and empower an underleveled Paula in Earthbound or choose who to spend his time with in Persona 4 Golden made connections leagues stronger than those he found in the elaborate, heartstring-plucking storyline of BioShock Infinite. You probably can't see this, but I'm agreeing with every muscle in my body right now.
Interactive Diptych Part I: You are a cat cruelly locked in a carrier (opens in new tab). You can use only that which is in your immediate surroundings to escape. Sure, your plight may seem like a pretty typical room escape game, but it's full of personality and very short--which is my kind of room escape game.
Interactive Diptych Part II: You are a cat cruelly locked in a bedroom. (opens in new tab) Leap about the place, swatting down row after row of books, DVDs, and knickknacks in a helter-skelter bid to assert your right to stride free around the house, carriers and locked doors be damned!
Now you know
Knowing is half the battle. But the other half is sharing what you know, and I know you all know plenty, y'know? Read any interesting articles recently? Anything that informed your understanding of the wide world of video games? Maybe you made it yourself? Be sure to give it a link in the comments below.