Games are Both Products and Art

This week I visited EB Games for the first time in a long while. It occurred to me that stores like this are very similar to what we experienced when we were younger, before digital downloads changed the whole market. Shelves and shelves of new games, used games, refurbished equipment begging for a minute of attention. Then something occurred to me.

The prices of games and consoles haven’t changed much from when I was a kid.

Prices are Lower

I remember buying Nintendo 64 games for the same price Wii U games go for today. When you factor for inflation, we are paying way less today than before, otherwise these titles would be double the price or more.

But the question remains – why are we still paying $60 for new games?

Bigger Games, Bigger Expectations

Would a game like Super Mario Bros be successful if it were to launch tomorrow? Modern gamers expect bigger, more in-depth experiences. Game studios have responded by increasing the scope and scale of games to the point where they rival film productions in size. Grand Theft Auto V is said to have cost over $230 million to make, with expected revenue 4X its budget.

That’s a far cry from the ten-man development team that created Super Mario Bros.

Like their film counterparts, games today are expected to compete by being bigger, shinier, louder and more realistic every year. When you think about it, keeping them at the $60 mark is a pretty amazing feat.

The Business of Art

Knowing what goes into creating these massive games, I’m a lot less critical than maybe I ought to be about studios botching SimCity or Assassin’s Creed launch days. I understand the business reasoning behind trying to quickly push out a sequel to last year’s successful game. When you’re fielding armies of programmers and artists you can’t afford the luxury of experimentation – a failed launch means hundreds or thousands of people out of work.

It’s easy to criticize the big companies for abusing their workers in the lead-up to a launch, for milking franchises held dear by fans, and for failing to innovate.

It’s harder to admit that business can only make money this way if we the customer continue to purchase sequel after sequel.

The Indie Niche

Where does this leave independent developers? How are small teams able to create games in a world dominated by giant publishers?

The barrier to creating games is lower than it has ever been, but this leaves indies in the position of needing to build their own marketing platform to reach their customers. They don’t have the benefit of mainstream audiences. So how can they afford to sell games for half the price and stay comfortably in business — in short, smaller overhead.

We’re All In It Together

If you see giant publishers as a bane on the industry, the obvious solution is to take your money directly to developers who about creating content you want to play. It isn’t easy; it requires us to take responsibility for our purchases and seek out games ourselves.

Hopefully sites like CouchLounger.com are able to guide people toward those games. We don’t care if they come from indies or big publishers, we’ll say when a game is good and when we think it could be better.

(iVincent by JD Hancock on flickr cc)

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