Devaluation of a product

Lately I’ve been checking the PC game section on my local stores. It is hard to find any good physical releases of games nowadays as bulk of them require Steam linking, but here and there I might find a game that doesn’t require the digital console. If this is the case, then the game wants me to use Origin or uPlay, which are essentially the exact same thing from another company.

The main reason, outside it being a digital video game console on a PC, is that it devaluates the products, i.e. games. I was linked to Puppygames’ developer blog that outlines one developer’s struggles to make money with his products. It would appear, at least according to this developer, is that the games they develop and get publish on Steam do not make money, that a game that should go for $20 fetches only $1. This is problematic albeit understandable. Steam is an environment where there is no trouble of finding games. There are people who sit on hundreds, perhaps even on thousands, of games and never really play them. They hoard them simply because they are cheap and come in bundles. Putting $5 into five games doesn’t seem to be so bad, but the reality is that those games most likely should fetch more.

The situation is further stricken down by the Humble Bundles or whatever they are called nowadays. The model they have drop the value of the products further as the customer can freely decide the price he pays. Naturally, the more you pay the more games you get.

This is disastrous for the industry. The value of the product plummeting means that the developer gains less from their work, which then is reflected on the further quality of the products. The dynamics of electronic game industry, both on PC and on consoles, has changed so that it is not enough to sell high number of units of software or hardware; it is the profit that is gained. SONY announced that ten million units of PS4’s have been sold thus far, but in modern dynamics that means nothing if we aren’t told how much profit these consoles have brought in. In console market the consoles have never been the thing to bring in profits anyway, that has been the job for the software. In SONY’s case it’s apparent their wholesome profit is less than the numbers would suggest, as PSN+ seems to give games away free all the time as well as drop prices even further than what they normally drop.

The industry has become an insane economy, where we’re offered high amount of products for basically nothing. The market is being oversaturated by titles that can’t sell alone.

Then again, the quality of these titles is highly questionable as it is.

If you check the devblog, you notice that their attitude towards the customer is as follows; we’re worth $1 for them in current market. That is, to put it simply, the wrong way to see things. The customer has no value limit. We are the lifeline of those who serve us. It is their products that have no value, and this is something many developers have a hard time to accept; the job you have done is worthless. In this developer’s case, Puppygames, we see that they are basically a dime in the dozen developer. Every game they have put out fall into the gray mass of faux-pixel graphics and mediocre gameplay. It’s actually hard to distinguish the illustrations from their games from each other as they look the same. Their games look like something I would try out in an arcade for 20 cents, and then move onto the game next to it because it has done the same thing but better. It’s absurd to think that a product should fetch certain price despite its quality, and I can clearly see why these games need to be put together in order to actually sell.

That leads us to another question; Why are they putting their games on sale in a place that they know will only drop the value of their games? If they truly are an indie developer, then they should also have an indie release. Independent, as the word is. As they now are, Puppygames is very dependent on Steam and whatever bundle they sell their games in. There are other outlets for these games, like GOG or even selling them via their own system. Hell, offer to sell your game on a disc for people who wish to have a physical copy.

This developer’s attitude is not a healthy one. It is an understandable backslash from the frustrating market they are in. However, the customer can’t be faulted for using the market to its fullest extent for his own benefit. This regulated devaluation of products is done by the industry itself and developers should realize how twisted it has become. Giving their games practically free is not good business. Making your games worth one dollar willingly is nobody else’s but the industry’s fault. It has been a conscious decision to not make profit.

Then again, much like during the Second Video Game Crash of the 80’s, there are so many games out there that people don’t even want to buy for a dollar. The same applied to the First Crash at the end of the 1970’s, which only Atari managed to survive.

The indie developer fallacy has gone too far nowadays anyway, where most developers don’t even code their engines anymore. For example, more than 50% of Spelunky’s code has been written by somebody else than the developer himself. This is far from being independent. Much like from developers that are not ‘indie,’ I would expect them to code their own games from bottom up. It is very disheartening to see the same engines used over and over in modern games. Often there are points that you could even see how the games act similarly because of the engine. Indie developer automatically create a power structure with anyone they associate with in developing and releasing their games. Valve Corporation seems to dictate prices and some releases, and thus has a large control over the indie developers they work with. They both influence and control the developer to some extent, which in turn causes the developer to do compromises. Insomnia has few good points on the indie fallacy, and rather than referring their contents while juxtaposing with mine, I’d recommend reading them afterwards.

I would also address another point in Puppygames’ blog. Phil Fish is used as an example of a developer who made his mind clear on the customers and the industry. I think he made a game that sold reasonably well for a time, but that’s beside the point. The point is that he put himself into a position of a rock star where there was no such position. Even if you’re one person in a company, that company needs to be your face. The customer, especially in the internet era, doesn’t need to see your face or hear you. If you position yourself in a place where you are easy to be shot down, and give valid reasons to be shot, don’t be surprised when you find yourself riddled with bullet holes.

The comparison between Fish having large amounts of money and the customer cleaning floors is also a good example how delusional worldview these people have. If I would working a restaurant and cleaning the floors when Fish steps in, of course I would call him sir. That is the proper etiquette. However, when I am purchasing his product he would be obligated to follow the exact same line of customer service as I would. It is often a two way street, and one person you service can often be a person who will be serving you somewhere else. Pissing off possible customer anywhere is far from a good idea.

Then again, cleaning restaurant floors is far more valuable work than developing a video game in the grand scheme of things. It’s sad to see this frustration and anger being directed in wrong way.

Puppygames also have forgotten the Rules 1 and 2.

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