Monday, September 19, 2011

The Problem with Annual Video Game Releases

top video games 2011
Every year the E3 convention seems like deja vu. While there are plenty of new and original games that emerge, sequels are the prominent trend. People love sequels, and this is not an argument against them, but many gaming publishers feel the need to release these sequels annually. This is especially true of sports franchises like Madden NFL football, NBA 2K basketball, MLB 2K baseball, and FIFA soccer, and there are problems with this release model.

Timing Is Everything
Game development has never been an exact science. It combines elements of Computer Science with elements of Art, Literature, Film, and many other disciplines. For big production games, there may be hundreds of people involved from the start of development to the final release.
Because of the varying factors that go into development, the time it takes to produce and release a quality game may also vary. We have extremes like Duke Nukem Forever, which took nearly forever to finish (12 years), and the Madden NFL series, which is finished in less than 12 months. As games have become more complex and gamers have come to expect better quality, the development cycles continually shrink.

Quality Over Quantity
If you ask someone what the biggest incentive for buying the next version of a Madden football game is, he or she will probably mention roster updates. This is unfortunate, considering EA sends roster updates throughout the year and could continue to do so for several years, if they wanted to keep customers playing the same version of the game.

Instead, they cut off users after a single season and expect them to pay full price for the next version of the game. In order to not completely slap gamers in the face, they must also find new features to add. They can only add so many graphical improvements with consoles that do not get upgraded each year, and often times the gaming features can go either way, better or worse, which inevitably leads to mixed reviews from loyal customers.

With a longer development cycle, even two years instead of one, the developers would have more time to iron out bugs in new features, fix long-standing problems with recurring features, and improve the overall polish on the game.
EA Games

The Online Cash Cow
There are some who would argue against longer development cycles because it would mean less revenue for the game companies, but when you look at the growth and change of the franchises, that does not seem to be a legitimate concern.

EA, for example, has found ways to cash in on its games from multiple sources:
  • Online Pass - Rather than allow anyone with a game to login and play online, only the original owners have online pass codes. If you buy the game used, you must purchase a new pass code in addition to the price you paid for the game itself.
  • Exclusivity - For the Madden franchise, EA has an exclusive deal with the NFL, meaning it does not even have competition with other gaming companies. If you want an NFL football game, there is only one option.
  • In-game advertisements - You already shell out $50 a year for the game, but that is not enough. Game companies now also include in-game advertising. NBA 2K11 and Madden NFL 11 both have painfully obvious advertising, beyond simple product placement, and other games often include billboards with ads and real-life products integrated into their virtual worlds.
A Better Model for Improvement
Game companies want to keep making money beyond the initial sale of their games, but rather than releasing an entirely new title with only a few minor changes from the previous version, they now have the technology and resources to release smaller frequent updates.

For example, you buy a game in 2011 for full price. In 2012, you pay $5 for downloadable content to extend new levels or other updates to the game. In 2013, you may pay $10 for more downloadable content. Finally, in 2014, a new version of the game is released with new features that is truly worth the full price. With this model, the game companies continue to keep the gamers hooked, and gamers get more for their money.

Author: Tavis J. Hampton is somewhere in between a casual and hardcore gamer. He has several years of Linux server management experience and recommends clustered hosting company for excellence service.

1 comment:

  1. I am always for quality over quantity but sometimes I think level of expectations for video games is higher than any other industry standard. I mean let's say you pay $10 for a 1.5 hour movie ticket and it's a bad movie, or you buy a $15 DVD for a 2 hour movie that you like.

    A $50 game gives an average of 20 - 40 playtime hours, this in itself makes it far better bang for the buck than almost any other entertainment medium. However, things get forgotten and competition is stiff, people can see 2-3, 4 movies per week and games are "commitments" presumably because more time is invested and fewer can be played in a given year. The developers are compelled to keep fans of one genre coming back next year as they need to keep revenue incoming and prevent people from jumping on a competitors game in similar genre or scope and losing them to another company.

    I think making games in smaller playable chucks for less time and selling them in sections isn't necessarily a bad thing ($10 or $20) for X chapters, then paying to unlock additional chapters. As long as the price is low enough to justify the initial investment. This way you can release new content monthly like an FPS system that is finished months in advance with all bugs removed yet the fan/gamer is constantly getting new content.