$60 Games Endangered: Doom & Gloom from Epic's Mike Capps

Matt Barton's picture

Mike Capps, president of Epic Games, has grave doubts about the games industry as we know it--specifically, he's worried that the ubiquity and popularity of cheap iOS apps are making it impossible to sell big-budget games (like the next Unreal): "If there’s anything that’s killing us it’s dollar apps,” he said. “How do you sell someone a $60 game that’s really worth it? They’re used to 99¢. As I said, it's an uncertain time in the industry. But it's an exciting time for whoever picks the right path and wins." My take on it? Boo f**** hoo.

There's so much wrong with Capps' statements that I don't know where to begin. Perhaps I should start with the simple observation that a game's "value" has nothing to do with how much money it took to develop it. You can spend millions and end up with a crap-fest that isn't worth a damn dollar. These guys are spending tens of millions of dollars polishing their turds. Indies, on the other hand, can't fall back on pretty graphics and have to actually design a game worth playing.

It's like there's some kind of mental insanity going on at the top of the industry. The meetings must go something like this: "We gotta push more polygons. We gotta get that FPS up. We gotta have cut scenes that are like movie trailers." Then some dumbass in the back raises his hand: "What about the gameplay? Isn't this just the same game we've been shipping for ten years?" Who let that idiot out of his cubicle???

Now there's perhaps something to be said for budget games interfering with big budget titles. That's why we saw the great videogame crash in 83/84, as you'll recall. David Crane summed up nicely--Dad can buy the kids one Activision game for $60, or eight rip-offs and clones lying in bargain bins for $20. Dad's gonna be the hero!

If I'm going to pay $60 instead of $1 for a game, it needs to be $59 more valuable to me. Superior audiovisuals are worth, at best, $19. So that leaves me $40 in the hole. What would be worth that extra $40? Hmm...how about a fantastic (and big) single-player campaign? How about novel gameplay concepts and bigger skill trees? How about more terrain types and fun areas to explore? How about more characters who are fully developed and worth getting to know? How about more and better minigames? How about better dialog options, combat systems, customizable characters...

Oh, forget about that crap. We'll just make the explosions look 10% awesomer and the boobs 10% bouncier and everybody will be happy. What??? Sales our down??? Those damn pirates! I told you we needed tighter DRM. Oh, and those 99 cent apps are killing us...Boo hoo.

Comments

Bill Loguidice
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It's just old ideas dying

It's just old ideas dying hard, like with the music industry and .99 songs. Those used to the old models need to adapt and find a way to make the new reality work rather than bitch about it. There are enough consumers to go around for everyone, and at various price points.

Angry Birds is a perfect illustration of my music industry analogy. If you want to be a blockbuster music act these days, you need to make the big money outside of straight up singles and albums. You need to tour, make personal appearances, etc. Angry Birds is now heavily merchandised, there's a cartoon in the works, innovative (if a bit icky) add-ons (the Eagle) were introduced at .99 for yet another revenue stream, additional platforms have been rolled out onto, etc. All that from a .99 starting point on initial launch and "just" being a quality game that happened to resonate with people...

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Matt Barton
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It seems to me that these

It seems to me that these older generation of developers still see videogames as a sort of luxury/leisure activity, like flying first class.

I guess it'd be like going into a smoke shop and only seeing $40-60 fine imported cigars when all you're after is a cigarette. People are coming to view videogames less as something you do for 4-6 hours a stretch and more like a quick fix--grabbing a quick smoke on the walk between classes, etc. All the stuff that takes a long time, such as story, exposition, etc., just gets in the way (and is arguably not necessary in games; we have movies, books, etc., for that).

Videogames are becoming digital drugs, nothing more, nothing less. In fact we're heading back to the arcade era, where you popped in a quarter for a 1-3 minute fix. In a few more years the idea of a game that takes 40+ hours to complete, with an extensive story and so on, will seem as quaint as FMV games do today.

Videogaming is moving from a passion of the elite to a habit of the poor, much like smoking moved from a high-class luxury activity to a stinky, unpleasant thing engaged in by people with poor education and values.

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Soulgotha
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Joined: 09/06/2010
Not A Chance

That's like saying nobody is going to buy the $150 Nikes because the Payless down the streen has a $15 tennis shoe. The problem with that is that the cheap games might be fun to play at the bus stop and on your breaks at work, but that's where it ends for most. Just a casual game to help pass the work day and whatnot. On the other hand, those $60 titles with superb graphics, intricate story lines and huge online campaigns demand to be played with intense focus. The guy who wrote that article needs to look past his 3.5 inch cellphone screen. There's a whole world of gaming beyond that.

Carmine
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Joined: 09/05/2010
defining quality
Soulgotha wrote:

The problem with that is that the cheap games might be fun to play at the bus stop and on your breaks at work, but that's where it ends for most. Just a casual game to help pass the work day and whatnot.

I agree with Soulgotha here. Something to pass the time at the bus stop isn't quality in the gaming world to me. It's too low an aspiration. I could be missing some huge games out there, but when it comes to top notch phone games I think of Angry Birds, which I found to be insanely boring. If I want a physics game there are plenty of better alternatives that come to mind (ie Portal, N+, etc...). The fact that I can play it "on the go" makes no difference to me. Portability doesn't make up for shallowness. If we end up in a world where Angry Birds is the game of the year and LA Noire or Deus Ex 3 is regarded as a waste of time then I'm simply not interested in gaming anymore. That's just me though, and I'm not sure how large my share of the market is.

clok1966
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Joined: 01/21/2009
I think $59 are bunk, its

I think $59 are bunk, its well know only a few titles make money the rest all eat up that profit, hence they are passing it on to us. It not my fualt it was a turd. I have complained to no end about the 360 being all FPS and 10 other games... dont get me wrong the whole console market it like that. SImple, the blockbusters are FPS, the few that are blockbusters.. why wouldnt they try replicate it. But you take 100 FPS one stand out above the rest as great, even the good ones dont make money, its simple, we call it GLUT, to much of something makes even the good games seem crap. But its so much easier using one of the 5-6 good FPS shooter engines then developing something new.

As for Phone games... I have played more than my fair share, but I'm sorry as a gaming experince they cant compete. 99.99999999% of them are games i play on the web for free, heck most are copies of some freeware game. There are some excellent ones, but (if you dont include puzzle games) I chalange you to show me 25 games that have as much content, control, and such as say... a Console flop like Alan Wake (yes it was a flop, and I dislike it, but its got far more gameplay than almost every single phone game i have played). $50+ more, probebly not...

Pretty much every huge Phone game is Puzzle, and find me one of those that isnt free already. of the top ten only 1 is not a puzzle game. Its a stunt snowboard game with about 2+ hours of levels.. Also about half ar $.99 and half are $2.99.

I do agree 100% phone games are killing the market, but not becuase they are better, its becuase they are with you, you can play at any time, sitting in a car, on a bus at your office, in a boring movie... ANYWHERE

If my phone played Left4Dead as easy as a mouse/keyboard, and cost $50 i would buy it.. but it will never happen, phones have control limitations, size limitations.

I think its far more than $.99 games.. its a combantion of GLUT of the same game type, it works on phone cuz i can by the smae puzzle game 50 times for the price of one on a console.. People on the go more, i dont htink they prefer phone game, they are just easier to play as your phone s with you. It far more than the price, but that is a big part of it...

Matt Barton
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I keep thinking back to David

I keep thinking back to David Crane's story, though. Let's face it--if this were 1982 or 1983 right now, we'd all be buying the best games from the best developers regardless of cost. Keep in mind that games back then tended to be $50 or $60 or even more, and that's not adjusting for inflation. If you do that, you find that the typical Activision game would have cost $120!!!

Now imagine that there's a huge bargain bin full of games that cost $5 or $3 a pop. Even if they suck, it's hard not to imagine--damn, I could buy so many of these for that price! Nevertheless, we would have bought the best games, because we'd know they were worth the extra cash. How many parents or grandparents would have that knowledge or make that distinction? They'd just say, "A game's a game. The cheap one is just as good." I don't think my grandpa has ever paid more than $10 for a pair of shoes. Even Payless is a rip-off in his book.

I think the 99 cent thing is misleading, though, since many (most?) of the really good iOS games are $4, $5, etc. I actually caught myself balking at a $3 game on there--I kept thinking, man, it can't be worth that. $3!!! I can see how that kind of habit would grow on you and eventually extend to other platforms. Hmm...I can either buy the top twenty games for my iPhone, or one game for my 3DS...Hmmmmmmm.....

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Carmine
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Joined: 09/05/2010
I'll never play a phone game.

I'll never play a phone game.

It just feels wrong to go so far backwards in gaming quality. I'm not really sure where the industry is headed. I really have no idea. On the one hand I hate companies like Epic just churning out games with production value and nothing else, but on the other I hate games like Angry Birds dominating the market and reducing everything to such a low common denominator. I just want the 90's back OK! Planescape Torment... Deus Ex.... is there any way it'll ever go back to games like that being made? Production value but also artistry and vision? I'm really starting to doubt it. Japan has already been taken out of the equation and the Japanese have always made tons of great, passionate games.

Bill Loguidice
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Joined: 12/31/1969
That's a shame, Carmine. Just

That's a shame, Carmine. Just like any legitimate platform there are some major phone games and some minor phone games. There's no drop in gaming quality whatsoever. In many ways, smartphones are superior to some current platforms.

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Matt Barton
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I haven't really explored the

I haven't really explored the iPhone game library at all, so I can't really speak for anything but Angry Birds and Shadow Ranch. I've tried a few others that were free trials, but nothing has really blown my socks off yet. I'm curious about some of the big budget games for it.

I don't think you'll ever see another Deus Ex or Planescape:Torment coming from any major developer. Anything like that will most definitely come from an indie or minor developer, and probably in a non-English speaking country. There's some wonderful stuff going on in South America and Eastern Europe in particular these days, for instance.

The big publishers aren't willing to take the risks necessary to achieve anything great. They're just going to continue milking their franchises until the cows come home, to mix some metaphors. However, I'm sure if a minor house does churn out something new with mainstream appeal, the big boys will subsume it. That's basically what's happened to Microsoft--any "new" features you see in their products are just licensed, copied, or downright stolen from others.

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Carmine
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???
Matt Barton wrote:

There's some wonderful stuff going on in South America and Eastern Europe in particular these days, for instance.

This is really interesting. What games are you talking about?

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