How do you make back the investment of developing a video game? Sure, the cost of selling said game helps to make back some of that development cost, but if a customer buys that game their money stops there. Is there a way to get more money from the loyal customer who didn’t buy the game at resale, paid full cost on day one, and is likely to enjoy your game for years?
Well, you could reduce the development cost a bit if you hold back everything from the game’s initial release. Then, reduce the number of staff that developed the game. Then you announce new post game content, use the reduced team to churn it out, sell it at a price that isn’t unreasonable for the customer but also nets a huge profit. Still not enough? Okay, well remember how we used to have cheat codes in games, or when gameplay rewarded the player with new content? Don’t do any of those things, just charge for them!
That’s how you make back the development cost of a video game in 2015. Well, for the last ten years or so at least.
I’m being a little exaggerative of course. I know nothing of the costs to develop a game, nor of the process. I know that it has become increasingly expensive to do so, and that it is a business where the goal is to make a profit.
From the consumer end of it however, it has become really obscene. We’ve become adjusted to it, as it has become increasingly pervasive in the medium. When we combined the internet with video games, the idea behind downloadable content was exciting. What if six months or a year after the release of a game, after your excitement has died down a bit and you’ve completed the game 100% more than once, there were more content coming out? Brand new content that would expand the world you’ve come to love and put hours into.
It was exciting. A lot of it was new maps for multiplayer games that would change the way we interacted with the world, and even more were starting to add story-based content that would continue threads from the core title. Even prior to DLC as we know it, we were comfortable with this concept, as PC games often had expansion packs that would add something new to the core game after we had tired of it.
However, like most things, DLC started to get ugly. It wasn’t just gameplay-based expansions that were being offered, but trivial items like costumes or character skins. We’re guilty of course, because we spoke with our wallets. “If I give you $1.99, I can make these characters look like they did in 1992? Here you go!”
We did this repeatedly, and taught the publishers that we were okay paying for these things. Thanks to them offering, and us accepting, it got worse. Earlier this year, the release of Mortal Kombat X showed me that nothing at all was sacred. Yes, we’ll pay to make Sub-Zero look like he did on the Sega Genesis. Yes, we’ll give you money to play as Mewtwo. Yes, we’ll trade a couple of dollars for that one little house to shoot each other in. But now you want us to pay for fatalities?
Again, I’m being a little harsh, but it’s there in the game. When I was a kid, playing Mortal Kombat for the first time, I won the match and was eager to skip to the next fight. Some random string of buttons that I magically hit caused my character to rip my brother’s character’s skin off and burn him alive. I learned that this was a thing that I could do, and in the days before the internet I bought a magazine that had a list of Fatalities printed in the back. They were tricky to pull off, but we would practice them for hours until they were committed to memory and we could show off the gruesome finishing attacks to our friends.
It’s still that way, and fatalities in the new game are complicated and take some time to learn. Unless of course you have money. Then you can hand it over to Warner Bros. and unlock easy fatalities. For a couple of bucks, you’ve got yourself a one-button solution to something that we used to pride ourselves on.
It really took me aback, and made me put all of this under a microscope. We used to buy a game once, and we had an expectation that that game would have a beginning, a middle, and an end. If we did something weird or collected the right amount of coins, we would be rewarded with something special. Today, we have the same expectation going into a game, but we’re given the extra things by paying extra money. Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, what we pay for often isn’t anything substantial. I spent money to unlock enough energy to play through the Injustice mobile game, so that I could buy a gold pack of cards and unlock a Batman card, so that I could pair my Warner Bros. ID with the console game in order to unlock a skin for Batman that made him look like Terry McGinnis from Batman Beyond.
Again, I chose to do this. It was not necessary and doesn’t add much to the game. But it is cool, and it is an option that the publisher and developer put into the game. For the same game, I was excited, legitimately excited to hand over money for new characters as they were released. I’ve done the same thing for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, and often the characters I’m paying for aren’t equal to their counterparts that were part of the original roster. In Super Smash Bros. specifically, DLC characters does not come with the ability to customize the moveset, like the other characters in the game.
I assume by this point, you might be wondering why I mention Street Fighter V in the title, and spend almost a thousand words rambling about some nefarious habits of the video game industry.
Last night, as EVO 2015 came to a close, Capcom made a significant announcement. There are three points that were made that are important:
- The initial release is the only disc you will ever need to own
- All balance and system adjustments will be available for free
- All post-launch gameplay related content will be earnable for free by playing the game
I focused on some other franchises throughout my rant above, but Street Fighter IV was riddled with ways to capitalize on the player. Street Fighter IV, was followed by Super Street Fighter IV, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, and Ultra Street Fighter IV. Each iteration brought character balances, new characters, new stages, and new gameplay aspects.
The price that each new version was offered at and the amount of changes in each were reasonable enough to make the upgrade if you are a dedicated fan. However, this new announcement regarding Street Fighter V changes everything. Where before, the road to more of what you love was lined with your money, now it is all offered for free to the player.
I was looking forward to Mortal Kombat X after loving 2011’s Mortal Kombat. I held off initially just to save some money, but a friend was nice enough to show up one night with a copy in his hand to surprise me. We popped it in, excited to play and almost immediately I was disappointed. Not with the game, because it still felt and played as I expected it to.
Two years prior, developer NetherRealm Studios released Injustice: Gods Among Us with an equal number of characters on the roster and the promise of new characters to be released in the coming months. Mortal Kombat X launched with Goro locked behind either a preorder for the game or an extra $4.99 on day one, with more characters on the way.
Four years ago, the same studio’s Mortal Kombat, launched with twenty-five characters, one more than both Injustice and Mortal Kombat X, and included two characters unlockable by playing the game. It too included post-release characters at a paid cost, but launched with a bit more inside the box.
Slowly, we’ve been trained to rethink how we play and pay for our games. I’m incredibly excited to see Capcom and PlayStation coming together to agree on this new strategy and a return to a mentality that so many games haven’t seen in quite some time. It is launching with sixteen characters, as opposed to Mortal Kombat X’s 24, but Street Fighter IV also launched with sixteen characters initially.
I hope that this is a trend that more games will begin to take, and I dream of a day where we can pay once for everything that a game will ever have. CD Projekt RED recently announced that all DLC for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt would be free for players who bought the game, and many indie developers do the same, such as Yacht Club Games bringing all content to Shovel Knight for the core cost of the game.