$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.

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clok1966
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I must add (I was out of

I must add (I was out of town, you all got a break from my horrible spelling and rants :) ) I make it sound like phone games are crap.. I in no way think that... there are several that Impress the crap out of me. As some stated here Angry Birds.. while I dont have any hate for it (actully like it) I am sorta suprised its such a hit. But that should really indicate where the market is... I dont see or ever see the phone market bing like the console market.

I guess my whole VERY long winded reply should hav just said.. there are more then a SIMPLE games market.. there are phone game players, console players, pc players, etc... and they are all stealing shares from each other.. the days os specific markets ruleing are gone (errr maybe not i can see Phone games being the biggest draw)

the guys making games and analizing markets are all looking for reasons... it seems so simple to me.. 25+ years ago when we where 12-15 we had TV/ MOVIES/consoles and a few of us had PC's... Nowdays..... tv, movies on tv, Movies in cars, consoles, handheld consoles, phones, social networking (face it, its bigger than games really with teens) cars (how many teens dont have one nowdays? when i grew up it was about 50/50, now everybody has one) entertianment is EVERYWHERE, you carry it in your pocket...

many many more things competeing for your money.. simple.. its not 2-3 things ist 50 things you can play with now.

And I still say GLUT the same game with new graphics is not NEW...

Rowdy Rob
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Newest tech is changing the game!
clok1966 wrote:

But that should really indicate where the market is... I dont see or ever see the phone market bing like the console market.

I used to think the home console market would never be like the arcade videogame market, and certainly didn't foresee consoles effectively ending the arcade scene, but it pretty much did!

The newest portable consoles (PSP, 3DS, NGP, etc.) offer (arguably) console-quality games in a pocket-sized system! And as for smartphones, the capabilities are certainly nothing to sneeze at! Heck, I remember reading the first reviews of "Dead Space" on the iPhone, saying it was DARN NEAR CONSOLE-QUALITY!!!!!

clok1966 wrote:

I guess my whole VERY long winded reply should hav just said.. there are more then a SIMPLE games market.. there are phone game players, console players, pc players, etc... and they are all stealing shares from each other.. the days os specific markets ruleing are gone (errr maybe not i can see Phone games being the biggest draw)

I think the major stumbling block of portable gaming devices, particularly smart phones, is the size of the screen. Simple games work very well on small screens, but deep RPG's, RTS's, or other more "hardcore" games generally need a much larger screen to display all the necessary information. Heck, the C64 could pump out "Elite" or "D&D:Pool of Radiance" style of games, but even though today's smart phones are hundreds of times more powerful, you'd have to squint or use a magnifying glass to play such games on a small screen! And something like "World of Warcraft" on a phone? No way!

BUT(!).... if PICO projectors or (better yet) some form of wireless standard was introduced to allow phones to seamlessly display audio/video to a TV screen? I think that would put a TREMENDOUS dent in the console market!

Smart phone tech is still in its infancy; it can only get better and more powerful! If console tech is coming close to topping out (where else can they go? More polygons?), then why not have a nearly-as-powerful console in your pocket? Sony may be playing it pretty smart by segueing into the smartphone market with the Xperia system.

clok1966 wrote:

many many more things competeing for your money.. simple.. its not 2-3 things ist 50 things you can play with now.

And I still say GLUT the same game with new graphics is not NEW...

It may be a perfect storm. New tech, easy digital downloads, and a poor economy that makes smartphone gaming so attractive. I can have a fun game on my phone for $5 or less, but Nintendo wants $40 for their games. For casual gamers, the choice is a no-brainer, and for smaller development costs, the cheaper game makes a profit through volume sales.

This does not bode well for the "major league" studios. We may be losing a lot of the blockbuster-mammoth developments of the big-budget titles. I cannot see a small studio pulling off a game with the grand scale of a "Grand Theft Auto" or the high-tech wizardry of the upcoming "L.A. Noire."

Matt Barton
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It might end up being like tv

It might end up being like tv (casual) versus the movies. There is room for both as well as a healthy overlap.

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clok1966
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interesting
Matt Barton wrote:

It might end up being like tv (casual) versus the movies. There is room for both as well as a healthy overlap.

room for both, for sure... but that is the problem too.. Alot of people look at gaming as ... well gameing, entertainment. With so much to entertian us nowdays its hard to justify a $60 game you never play. A $1 game you play once or twice is not a huge dent in the pocket book. But there is where the percived value part ends for most. A game is a game is a game.

What it really gets down to is time, fun, and how much you want to spend. lets take a MAJOR PC/console game (two actually).

Moderen Warfare (pick your version all sold well).. most have a singel player game lasting as short as 4-5 hours (MW2 im looking at you) or more. cost is $60 for most releases.. most singel player fans wont play throuhg it again after they have won, some will crank the difficulty and do it. the real value in the game is the Multiplayer.. it provides hundreds of hours of "new" gameplay... us humans all do strange and wonderfull things!

Or lets say Just Cuase 2 (i like this one, insert GTA if you prefeer, same game almost, just less blowing stuff up!)... open world mindless fun blowing up stuff. it has goals, mission and.. yes achivements (i think everything does now) while Im not a huge fan.. i tend to be an idiot and spend 20-40 minutes trying to find that last thing to blow up to get the "cleared" acheviement on the bases.. so i have maybe 40 hours into the game and Im not even 30% done and Im still enjoying it...

So then we take Angery Birds- i finished it in a few hours.. all in 3-10 minute spurts. a level or two every few days/weeks... I also put a few hours into the diablo Clone (forget name, Dungeon Runner?) its a pretty impressive game for a phone... looks alot like Touchlight to me (less cartoon more diablo) and finished it as far as you can. I also like Orcs & Elves (old school RPG which I LOVE) but it was short also.. So far most if not all my Phone games have cost me nothing (angery birds on Andorid) or about $5.99 (orcs &elves II) or $9.99 (Dungeon ?????) all the really good games i have have been $5-10 for my phone..

So where is the better value? Again.. i think that is more depnedent on the user. I prefer a couple hours of game time ina deep RPG with a good combat system that keeps me thinking. but I alos loved the quick play of AngeryBirds or Orcs and Elves.

I HONESTLY think most the people buying a Phone game (not all) would look at MW2 and Angery Birds about the same way.. both are games.. why one costs $60 and the other is $1 that is the real difference to them... Me I see a HUGE difference in amount of play i will get out of it and the requirement of my skill/enjoyment.

I hate to say I agree But I think the big game devs are a living DoDo Bird in a world full of thriving cockroachs... the cockroachs are going to win. (and no thats not a play on phone/casuel games)... I just tried to think of a common thing that wont go away).

Rowdy Rob
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Yeah, Clok. Too many options!!!
clok1966 wrote:

Alot of people look at gaming as ... well gameing, entertainment. With so much to entertian us nowdays its hard to justify a $60 game you never play. A $1 game you play once or twice is not a huge dent in the pocket book. But there is where the percived value part ends for most. A game is a game is a game.

I think you're on to something here, Clok. With so many "entertainment" options available, it's very easy to get "ADD" when it comes to full-scale games, especially if you're an adult! Heck, look at us here! We're here typing away at each other on the Internet, rather than playing an in-depth game! Then I can click away and watch a movie, read a news article, check my email, work on some computer project(s), and maybe get in a Flash game before I go to bed.... Uh... what about that RPG I was playing a couple weeks ago? Oh yeah, I better get back to it, but wait! A new game for sale cheap on Steam!!! But first, I gotta see the new Youtube videos in my subscription list!

We really didn't have all those options when we were younger. It was either videogames, TV (with only a few channels!), go to the theater, or talk on the phone if you wanted actual interaction with someone from home!And if you wanted to "role play" back then, you did it with dice, and not a mouse or keyboard!

Yeah, $60 is a lot to pay for a game you'll probably never take the time to fully get into or pursue to completion, especially if it's more complicated than clicking the mouse a few times or swiping your finger across the screen. You don't really have time for more than that between checking your Facebook wall or your text messages! Yeah, for those people, a 99 cent game is probably enough.

At least the general populace seems to be gaming, though. It's better than the way it was - basically just young males. Cheap smartphone, Flash, and Facebook games may have "mainstreamed" games more than we might suspect!

Matt Barton
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ADD
Rowdy Rob][quote=clok1966 wrote:

I think you're on to something here, Clok. With so many "entertainment" options available, it's very easy to get "ADD" when it comes to full-scale games, especially if you're an adult! Heck, look at us here! We're here typing away at each other on the Internet, rather than playing an in-depth game! Then I can click away and watch a movie, read a news article, check my email, work on some computer project(s), and maybe get in a Flash game before I go to bed.... Uh... what about that RPG I was playing a couple weeks ago? Oh yeah, I better get back to it, but wait! A new game for sale cheap on Steam!!! But first, I gotta see the new Youtube videos in my subscription list!

I must respectfully disagree on this point. I think it's just a sort of half-thought that we have about "information overload" and selective memories about the past. Let's face it, there has never been a point in any of our lives where we were limited to a single entertainment option. Even back in the 1800s people our age had hundreds if not thousands of activities to choose from. I can hear one of those gents now: "My, my, there's just so much entertainment. I could take in a show, play cards, ride my horse, visit my friends, plant a garden, read a book, hear a lecture, play my banjo," the list goes on and on to infinity. Take away the TV, radio, internet, etc., and there's still unlimited entertainment options. If all else fails, we'd start making games up, like pencil war and paper football, dots, MASH, etc.

Do you remember this shit? Don't tell me kids didn't have just as much to keep them occupied or distracted then as they do now. :)

What people generally mean with all this is just a complaint about lacking the discipline to force themselves to do something they don't really want to do. That's old as dirt. Indeed, that's why you have to go to such great lengths to get people to do things they don't want to do. It's been argued that all of school is designed primarily to get you used to doing a routine and not just wandering off to do whatever.

I'm not even sure anymore that the internet is as big a deal as people make it out to be. A typical library might have had less information, but at least you knew that a considerable chunk of it was good information. How much stuff on the internet is actually worthwhile? Once you take away the crap, I bet you'd be left with something equivalent to all the libraries in one state.

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clok1966
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yes we have alwasy had

yes we have alwasy had options, but not so easily attained. I could always play a Arcade game, but when I was young I had to ride my bike far enough that it was a descision i never made spur of the moment. (ok bad example, its harder to find a video game nowdays then back then :) ) My tv had 3 channles (cable was new and only in major towns then (im in ND.. so even in the 80's only a few had it, to small a market to spend time on back then), nowdays I CAN ALWAYS find something to watch that will hold my interest if Im bored. Back then I had 1 console (ok 3 or 4, but my 2600 ruled the others back then), now I have 3 not counting the 30 that came before it... A PC? I didnt have the $6-8000 it took... and when they finally got in the $500 range I was almot a teenager. Now I have 4 or 5 PC in my house in every room, doing stuff like playing any TV show I like, any episiod I like, as many as I like. Back then I had a Bike, all my friends had bikes, we all rode and it took time to get anywhere. Nowdays i live in the largest town in ND in a sub of it (so to speak) and If i work outside in summer if i see 2 kids on bikes Im suprised.. they all have cars and can go ANYWHERE, no limitations. back then I had 1 movie theater that showed 1 movie on weekends at one set time, now I can see 20 different ones, 5 different times everyday.

I do know what your saying Matt, we make our own fun, there was a million things "to do" back 100 years ago... but I really do think we have to much to easy.

one easy way I see this. When i was limited on video games (so to speak) I went to the major towns arcade with a few bucks, I savored every minute of play, I tried so hard I would get blisters on my hands (pacman, I hate you, even if i could play till screen split in old days). now I have a PC with ALMOST every arcade game made before 99... some fantastic games, but i play for a few seconds (not even minutes) and I want to look at the next one I havent seen... I have so much to do, deadicating the hours (heck year?) it took to master Pac-Man back in the day of no internet guides (much less guides at all, you did it yourself back then) makes me feel like Im missing something else. I want to finish Crysis 2.. but I just got Shugun Total war 2 (side note, guy on anandtech has gamecards for $21 for it, awsome deal) oh, and Mount & Blade warband... ehhh Enslaved for the 360 too!... and I cant forget to get in my daily game of L4D... Ever since i had a PC (or two) several consoles, cable tV, a car etc.. I havent had the time to dedicate to anything long term.. i ahve to many things to check out.. but back in the day.. I spent months on pac-man... I didnt have anything else ... no car, no tv (worth watching) no other console..

Matt Barton
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I know what you're saying,

I know what you're saying, Clok. I have the same issue--I am always in the process of several games at once now, usually playing one for awhile until I get bored, then switching to another one. It takes something really special, such as a new Civ to really get me hooked for days. Even Portal 2, as good as it is, has me playing in spurts of 15-30 minutes, tops. Same for Arkham Asylum, Donkey Kong Returns, and Crysis 2. I like them all, but love? No.

But to refer briefly to another post about mimesis, one of the pleasures we get out of games is that they model (make more real) a lot of what was happening strictly in our imaginations back in the day. They're like toys in that way.

Let's take a kid back in 1950. We could go earlier, but that's a good year. You can browse through any Christmas catalog from a major department store from back then and see lots and lots of epic toys (better than we have today in my opinion). Here's a good site to check them out: Wishbooks.

Now a kid without any toys would just have to use his imagination to picture these things. Maybe he just has to hold his arms up and pretend to be a plane, etc. Or a rock becomes a spaceship, etc. Once you get the toys, though, that pleasures you because you're able to see and touch something that before was only abstract. Still pleasurable, but abstract only. There's just a pleasure we get when that pleasant imaginary thing becomes a little bit more tangible. Now a game takes it a step further in some ways and backward in others. It goes further because now we can add in realistic movement, physics, interactions, game rules, etc. It goes backward because we can't really touch or hold them anymore like a toy; we're just looking at it on a screen and controlling it via remotes.

I'm not saying that having toys or games makes the imagination do less work. I don't think anything can make your imagination better or worse, and there's certainly no need to try to force kids to use it, whatever that means. That's because the kid playing with rocks (and pretending their planes) is not more imaginative than a kid playing with a highly detailed model of a plane, or a kid flying one in Microsoft simulator. There's still a lot of imagining going on, and even if he were flying an actual plane, it's still a highly mental activity.

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