Economics of Buying an EA Game

So, Electronic Arts (EA) has taken a lot of heat in the past weeks for its decision to go all in on Loot Boxes and Microtransactions.  For those not aware, the major controversy in the video game industry right now is the fact than an already (comparatively) expensive hobby like video games where you are expected to pay $60.00 upfront for the product (compare with a movie that is anywhere from 7.99-19.99, a novel that is 9.99-24.99, a season of TV 9.99-39.99, or a streaming subscription, 9.99-14.99, etc.) and then buy “additional” Loot Boxes for the chance of substantially improving your character (or “grinding” for a long time by playing the game in a monotonous way in order to earn the same chance improving one’s character).

Basically, EA is changing the nature of the game (pardon the pun), from playing the game to continually paying for the game (“games as a service”).  Unfortunately, not only doesn’t the gaming public like this, EA doesn’t realize this isn’t a sustainable model.

The Economics of Buying a Game

I’m not boycotting EA games, but there tactics make it clear that I can’t support their economics any more–especially after releasing a game that clearly needed more development time: Mass Effect Andromeda.

How so?

So, I’m rarely into multiplayer–yes, I’ll sometimes dive into the multiplayer component of a game, but outside of select titles (Burnout Paradise, CoD: Modern Warfare, Destiny, and a select few others, I don’t really dive into the multiplayer components of games for any real length of time.  So you can subtract $20.00 from the game value right there.  So, a game that EA charges 59.99 for, is really only worth 39.99 to me as I don’t really delve into the multiplayer.

Okay, so now we’re down to 39.99, right?  Well, you can subtract another 10.00 for the “grinding” in this “new” system.  I buy games for fun and for diversion, not to endlessly “grind” in order to complete the game.  So, you’re new system that you put into to make you more money in addition has actually wasted you 10.00 because I want to be engaged, not bored–so now that I know I’m going to be “grinding” and bored, I knock off 10.00 with what I’m willing to pay.  Now we’re down to 29.99.

Add to the fact that I have a backlog of games to play and there are more coming out from other publishers that have lessened versions of or no Loot Boxes/Microtransactions altogether and as such, seem like they’re going to be more fun than the current crop of EA games, so now I subtract 10.00 more for the game (I still need to finish incredible games like Metal Gear Solid 5, Horizon Zero Dawn, Final Fantasy XV, etc.).  Now we’re down to 19.99.

Give us Good Games and We’ll Give You Money

The equation is simple–the publishing (book) industry relies on a stable of good to great authors pumping out books on a consistent basis.  You don’t get “gimmicks” such a Loot Crates with Stephen King’s latest novel.  You know his books are going to meet a certain level of quality and entertainment value.  This is what EA has lost and must get back if they really want to connect with gamers.  Otherwise, they are going to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs and then where will there shareholders (and their dividends) be?

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As EA’s Value Rises With its Shareholders, EA’s Value is Plummeting With Gamers (especially me)

 

Okay, as you know, I try to have this blog reflect my diversity of interests and as video games are now were a lot of really interesting things are happening in Science Fiction and Fantasy (& one could say Horror, with the explosion of VR and non-VR Horror titles), it is safe to say that I devote quite a bit of time to video games on this blog.

However, some may have noticed that I’m not talking about some of the games that I profiled earlier in the year from EA even though two of them have been released: Need for Speed Payback Star Wars Battlefront II (2018). This is because EA has lost their focus as a company and I’m not really interest anymore in the product that they are producing.

Let’s Talk About Audience
So this is going to be about micro transactions, right? Well, yes and no.  EA has been trying to walk a fine line for a long time.  They want to publish video games and make a profit by having more people buy them than it takes to make them.  However, they’ve increasingly wanted to appeal to their shareholders with business strategies that are designed to get more money, but not through games.  They had a program called Project Ten for a while, designed to get customers to pay ten dollars more for “Deluxe/Enhanced/DLC/etc” for their games, before that it was Season Passes, and so on.  They were the publisher who partnered with Microsoft to make the original Titanfall game an X-Box One exclusive (even while the console was “going down in flames” due to its original “Always On” conception & restrictive used game policies).  In the past month, EA has cancelled a Star Wars game, shuttered a Studio, and included micro transactions in two of its flagship titles (one of which it has “temporarily” rescinded).  All of this is great news to shareholders, but horrible news for gamers–the people who actually purchase games.  Currently, EA seems to feel that they’re number one job is pleasing the shareholders and not their core audience.  Not a great move.

The “Mass Effect Andromeda” Effect
So, I realized what happened after I bought the game Mass Effect Andromeda for full price when it was first released.  I reasoned, “yes, the reviews are lackluster, but this is a seminal “brand” for them–they wouldn’t completely mess it up or they would destroy their fan base.  They would have the same care of the ME brand as Disney had for the Star Wars “brand” after they bought it from George Lucas.  We’ll, Caveat Emptor (let the buyer beware).  The game was a buggy mess that was mediocre at best.  Yes, it ran, but not well–from glitches, to frame rate issues, to a storyline that started strong, but meandered and filled with quests and side quests meant to pad the length of the game–it was a huge disappointment.  I linked to it before, but below is a video of a longtime Bioware/ME fan who quit the game out of frustration for such a disappointing effort.

Why did this happen, you might ask?  The answer was simple: the game just needed 6 more months of development time.  However, six months would have put it into the window of Star Wars Battlefront 2 (which is releasing now).  They can’t push that game because of the movie (The Last Jedi) which opens in month, but also they have Anthem coming down the line, and so they chose to release something that wasn’t ready and sell it at full price.

I personally finished ME:A–my completionist nature at work–but I decided that, while I would still buy games from EA, they would now receive the lowest consideration on my part, to be bought only when I bought/played all the other games I was interested in playing.  It will be at least a year based on school and other games in the queue before I get around to purchasing an EA game–and I’m okay with that–and that’s the problem.

Unholy Alliances
Between that experience and the micro transactions, EA has proven that they care not a whit about me as a gamer and as a consumer.  They prefer their share holders over me, so I’m content to wait.  The whole goal of a company is to produce products that an audience loves and will purchase again and again–Apple, anyone?–not to try to dig extra money out of your audiences pockets through tricks and manipulative schemes, so that your numbers look all rosy at the next Investors’ Conference Call.  You can’t make “moon-calf” eyes with the angel while dancing with the devil.

As someone who has bought games from EA, back when they originated (heck, I even remember when Trip Hawkins founded the company and have some of the company’s newsletters from that time period) and they produced games like: Starflight (the “original” ME:A back in the day), Skyfox, and The Bard’s Tale II from the company’s inception, all the way into adulthood, I feel that EA is missing the point by chasing the fickle investor who will dump their stock like a ton of bricks no matter what EA does the moment EA’s dividend doesn’t meet with their expectations.  EA needs to get its priorities straight and until they do, I’ll buy games from other companies that still seem to “get it.”

Mass Effect Andromeda, Glitches

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Image Source: Gamesradar

So, remember when I said that Mass Effect Andromeda has some odd design choices–well, it also has glitches.  I’ve seen the effects of rushed games before Assassin’s Creed Syndicate was particularly bad (the patches for Assassin’s Creed Unity, however, made the game quite stable and glitch free, but Syndicate was just as buggy and crash-prone as Mass Effect Andromeda.  Here are two fairly egregious examples:

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This glitch came about when I was on the ice world of Voeld (?) and I happened across to “Resistance” fighters who had been “fused” together into one animation rig (take a close look at the aliens head, arms, and legs).  They “phased” in and out of each other but had two heads and you could clearly see that their bodies overlapped one another to create a “Double-headed” character.  Again, with more time in development this would have probably been caught by the Q.A. testers and put on what’s called a “glitch” list to be patched out either before the game shipped, in a day-one patch, or in a successive patch released down the line.

Two-Handed

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The second glitch I want to highlight came about on the desert world of Kadara where a “raider” was supposed to be running at me firing her weapon.  However, this was kind of hard for her to do as neither of her arms worked correctly and were twisted out to her sides.  Her running animation also did not trigger, so she just “hovered” around the surface of the planet as if she had invisible skates.  It was both pretty funny and pretty painful considering that I spent the full asking price for the game.  Again, this is something, with enough time, that could have been seen and fixed before release.

EA, Anthem (another BioWare Game) and Quality Control

So what happened?  EA, the publisher of ME:A had another game by Bioware the company that made ME:A under development (Anthem).  Anthem is one that they are positioning to be a competitor to Destiny, a rival game from rival publisher.  This is where much of the focus went.  This new game was developed by a different “division” of Bioware, has a huge focus in terms of resources and talent, and more importantly was working towards a fixed schedule in terms of release date–2018.  EA also has another big game, Star Wars Battlefront II, in which they’ve invested a lot of time, energy, and marketing in coming out Fall of 2017.  So for EA to have done the right thing by consumers by delaying ME:A would have affected the publishing schedule of these two other games in the pipeline.  So they chose to release a game that was “not fully baked” because they didn’t want to impact the sales of these other two games.  So, in essence, EA sacrificed the fans of the Mass Effect brand in order to satisfy the fans of the Star Wars brand and to “win” (or at least make in-roads) against the fans of their rival in business (i.e., Activision and their game Destiny) having built up this fan-base all through the Playstation 3/X-Box 360 era of gaming.

Now I am a Star Wars fan, still a Mass Effect fan, (& based on the trailer) I will probably be an Anthem fan, but I’m no longer a fan of EA.  Doesn’t mean that I won’t buy EA games, but it does mean that I will be both more selective in the EA titles that I buy and I will be sure to wait both on reviews and patches on EA products.  I will probably no longer buy EA games immediately simply because I cannot trust EA as company to have my best interests as their customer at heart–ME:A proves that EA is more committed to sticking to their production schedule and releasing a game that isn’t fully polished just so they won’t risk cannibalizing sales of upcoming products–ME:A needed 6 more months of polishing, but that would have put it in and interfered with their plans for Star Wars Battlefront II and that is NOT the way a company should treat its customers.

Think I’m the only one who feels this way?  I’m at least committed to finishing the game.  Check out YouTuber gamermd83 take on why she “left” ME:A and why the game was such a disappointment to her.

True Story–Most People Don’t Finish Games

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Image Source: Gaming.Wikia.com

Recently, I’ve talked about games growing in scale.  Games are getting longer and longer, and games are becoming a “service” rather than a “product.”  Game publishers feel that this is the way to combat ballooning development costs/budgets and maximize profits, but right not, games are mostly a cinematic, narrative-driven genre.  Games, for the most, tell stories.  There are exceptions (a notable one is one of the most popular games currently out there–Minecraft), but for the most part games tell stories.  But there is a problem with this model.

Most people don’t FINISH the games that they buy.

Think that is an exaggeration?  I’ve recently put a lot of time with Mass Effect Andromeda and looking at the Trophy data (Trophies/Achievements) on their respect platforms.  As most games are narrative based, most games include data on the percentage (%) of people getting the trophies/achievements for the various story milestones and the data is more than surprising–it is almost shocking.  As someone who tries diligently to finish (see the ending credits roll) for the games that I buy, I’m always surprised by the low completion of the story modes in games.

Except for the earliest trophies in the game, which are usually anywhere in the 90-80 percentile, as you get deeper and deeper into the game, the percentages fall, sometimes precipitously.  For instance, ME:A has a trophy for completing what appears to be the middle of the game (Madera, the 4th major planet–the 3rd that you can put an outpost on).  The world before has a trophy completion rate in the 70 percentile range.  The trophy for Kadera is in the 30 percentile range.  This is a drop of 50%.  That means half of the people who bought the game stopped playing (for whatever reason) before the midway point.

Now here’s the problem, go to a Trophy Ranking site like PlaystationTrophies.org (or the X-Box equivalent) and you’ll find similar stats (maybe not as dramatic), but nearly every game that has a narrative, there is a decrease in the percentage of players earning trophies/achievements as the narrative progresses.

As games like Overwatch, Destiny 2, and now Anthem, embrace this game as “service” model, new narrative modes, or new ways of delivering narrative are going to have to devised in order to keep players attention and keep them invested in the game delivery platform.

Mass Effect Andromeda: The Little Shuttle that Could

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Image Source: Forbes

So, Mass Effect Andromeda (ME:A) has gotten its hooks in me again.  After a month long hiatus, I’ve pretty much binged the game over the weekend to the exclusion of all else.  The game is pretty much my kind of Sci-Fi, space ships, combat, and an intriguing storyline that traverses multiple star systems in the Andromeda Galaxy.   It is also a rather large game, with one major story arc and many, many side quests.  Each of the “major” worlds that you discover has a mission or two that involves the main quest and then a ridiculous amount of the side quests to fill out that world.  And even when you’re done, more side quests tend to populate on that world, so while you can “finish” the world, it is not uncommon to spend quite a bit of time on each world.

Now, while I appreciate long games, I’m starting to feel that many games are simply padding their runtime with useless side quests and other story elements just to 1) artificially inflate their length (gamers these days supposedly value a longer game rather than a shorter game) and 2) to make sure that you play only their game for long periods of time (hence you don’t trade the game back in thereby decreasing the “used game” market).  “Games as a ‘Service'” is an idea that is slowly gaining hold in the gaming community with more and more publishers trying to extend the life of their games to accomplish the two goals and the idea of paid DLC.  My concern is that this is coming at the expense of storytelling.

For instance, there was a mission that I just completed on ME:A that had me chasing a woman with a highly contagious disease and I needed to try to stop her before she reached a populated center.  However, in her delusion she had stolen a shuttle and left the station.  Yet, in a shuttle, she was able to traverse several different solar systems (quite far away from the space station) and was able to crash land the shuttle on a populated world.  Her little shuttle served the plot rather than the story.  There was no way, based on the fiction that the game had set up, that the shuttle she was in should have been able to fly as far as it did and cover as many systems that it did.  I could tell this was done for game extension and nothing else.  Even the ending of the mission was also off–I won’t spoil it–but the resolution did not match what the exposition was set up as when the mission was first presented to me.

This is a problem that I see continuing to happen as games get bigger.  Instead of stories that make sense, we will get stories that exist to simply fill out the story and make the world bigger and the game longer.  Instead of tightly crafted games, many games will become more diluted and and will have to rely on more and more visual aspects and less story aspects.  I wonder what impact this will have on gaming in the future as more and more games focus on length and breadth rather than story?

E3 and me: Beyond Good and Evil 2

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Image Source: rayman-fanpage.de

Bethesda’s E3 Conference this year left me disappointed; I have a wide range of gaming interests and nothing that Bethesda showed interested me or was something that I wanted to play, so it was up to Ubisoft to intrigue me and they did.

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Image Source: Kotaku

Beyond Good and Evil 2 (BG&E 2)

So this one came as a bit of a surprise.  The original game, Beyond Good and Evil, has become sort of a cult hit since it’s release in 2003.  Usually, I can say that I’ve played the game and have been awaiting the news of this long wanted/long awaited sequel, but in this case, I can’t.  I actually missed this one — how I don’t really remember.  I checked and according to IGN, it received a demo in the Official US Playstation Magazine (Vol. 78) and that was primarily how I checked out new games and decided if they warranted a purchase.

However, even though only a trailer was shown, the trailer for BG&E 2 is a very intriguing Sci-Fi trailer.  It looks very inventive and the universe seems to be a mash-up of the movie The 5th Element and the Mass Effect series.  Again, while no gameplay was shown, the creator of the series, Michel Ancel appeared on-stage (with another team lead on the project) and they talked a bit about the game’s development and what it would be like playing the game.  It seems, from their description, that it will be a lot like/play a lot like Mass Effect Andromeda, where a “multi-ethnic crew” will come together to explore new worlds while looking for a specific object.  According to the developers you will go to and discover new fantastical worlds during your search.

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Image Source: Trusted Reviews

This sounds truly epic to me and I hope that they are able to pull off.  This is what I’m trying to do in my own Sci-Fi stories and this is what I like to read/play from stories from others.  I’m cautiously optimistic about this particular game.  And if you’ll notice, they even put a spaceship in the promotional image above, and as I’ve said before, put a dragon or a spaceship on your cover, and you’ll pique my curiosity/interest level by 100%!

In case you’re curious, I’m including a link to the BG&E2 trailer.  However, this one has a personal warning from me about language.  They drop the “F-bomb” early and often in the trailer, and while I’m not usually okay with that (I generally take the “language” tone of Captain America from Avengers 2: Age of Ultron in my everyday life), I still feel that the trailer is so well done and so evocative towards the vision that I’d like to see more of in stories (my own and others) that I’m willing to overlook it and feature it on my blog.

So, personal warning out of the way, here’s Beyond Good and Evil 2’s trailer.  Hope you enjoy; I know I did.