Electron Dance
1Feb/12Off

Resistance Is Futile III

In 2010, Resistance Is Futile commented on the birth of the backlog, the side-effect of mean-spirited internet penny sales.

In 2011, Resistance Is Futile II bemoaned peer pressure, specifically the fear of spoilers (aarghnophobia) and the internet's inability to keep it's digital mouth shut.

In 2012, it's time for the climax. Who will win? The selling Sith or the jaded Jedi?

Dear Emperor Palpa-

Screw it. I see your pet Vader, weaving about in the mirror. You are wondering why I shipjacked this Tie Fighter and why, right now, I'm hurtling down this trench looking for a dinky exhaust port. It's over.

When I was young, I saw many, many games on ancient media, both cassette tape and floppy disk. I was marked for Sithhood even then, for these were pirated games. All games were expensive and so all were copied. We filled our boots with booty and promised that one day, we would play them all.

That day never came because there was always the new and the better and the more charismatic and the better designed and the sleeker and the more fabulous and the greater. Such colours, such graphics, such sounds - such intelligence. Why would I continue to play Spelunker when I could challenge myself with Spelunky? We left the ancient media to rot in forgotten closets and abused cardboard boxes. The damp claimed them and we didn't care.

I reformed and played only what I could afford. And so I was there at the beginning, when the Republic greeted the first sales with open arms. They literally threw their money at their monitors, desperate to catch a little love on the cheap. And then there was another sale. And another. With the Empire promising joy at such low prices, the people walked away from the Republic with its antiquated economics. No longer would games be the preserve of the priviliged few. All could enjoy the many. The Empire won its battle for the hearts of the people without firing a shot. (After we slaughtered a shitload of Jedi but, as per Imperial custom, we don't do body counts.)

The people did not expect these sales to become as common as your average redblock Wookie-whore.

And it did not take long for the participants in the Imperial Market to realise that sales were commanding all the attention. Every participant needed to offer their own sales. Eventually the broadcasts were filled with nothing but discounts and real prices were just noise to be ignored. The people forgot they could purchase games any other way. The new price was no price at all. And the developers become even more worried, and began to band together to escape the jackboot of the Imperial Stormtrooper, forming collectives to sell bundles. They even started giving profits to charity, practically begging for coin.

And the cycle is complete. Once it was called piracy, but now it is called the internet sale. The people have filled their boots with booty and promised that one day, they would play them all. We have made an empire of slaves: homeless developers who code in dark alleyways and consumers who do not even know why they purchase any more, perhaps more defined by what they have not played. #valueisdead #warningsigns

 

April 17, 2012 | Track Position 00:31

 

I have reformed and play only what I can afford with my time. I already own a backlog that I am unlikely to see the end of for years. Sales no longer own me because they are legion. Why care about today's sale? There's always one tomorrow. And so I can reveal that last year, contrary to the Imperial Code, I did not participate in a single sale.

I am not the only one to realise this. A game that cannot be played today does not need to be purchased today. If every citizen did this, would they crash the current system?

I feel it is my duty to end this enslavement, this denigration of play: I will find your Achilles' hole and fire my missiles down it.

Your sincerely,
Harbour Master (Dr.)

P.S. You can try to stop me, but you'll never take me ali

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  1. Very nice point. But the Star Wars colouring made me vomit a bit on your rug, sorry about that.

    I like sales though. Not primarily for financial reasons, but because they are a weapon. It’s a form of protest I use when I want a game, but it’s authors are being unreasonable. Don’t have a demo? I’m not paying full price. Don’t have dedicated servers/extended graphics settings/control remaping/insert-reasonable-demand? I’m not paying full price. Lousy console port? I’m not… you get the point.

    You could say I buy discounted games out of principle.

  2. Ketchua, apologies about the Star Wars overload. I wasn’t intending to make it a series back in 2010 and perhaps I should’ve just dropped the thematic skinning! Anyway, please console yourself with the fact there will be no further Star Wars fetishisation here. I’m well over Star Wars myself which happened around the time I was sitting in the cinema watching The Phantom Menace. And it’s alright, it’s a self-cleaning nano-rug.

    I’d argue appropriating discounts as a weapon doesn’t work as most customers aren’t doing the same. Any indie who operates these promotions gets far more sales during a discount period than they do at any other time of the year. Rob Hale said (I may be misquoting, but it was something close to this) Waves generated more sales during a Steam sale than he had achieved since launch.

    Mobile/Facebook freemium models are taking off at the same time as digital promotions are becoming popular: both are driving prices into the ground and you only win if you can make a high number of sales. It’s getting harder to survive without discounts and bundles are fast becoming commonplace, norm rather than exception. I have a lot more thoughts to explore here and, you know, I will.

  3. We may talking at slightly cross-purposes here. When it comes to AAA, they still see a lot of full-price revenue. Sales there are just milking for more cash. Your weapons may work better there. Some indies, on the other hand, are living off sales.

  4. I probaby should have mentioned that I mainly use the sale-as-a-protest methods with AAA. Indies are approachable. And they’re more prone to honest mistakes. If you’re not satisfied with someones work, you talk to them. I’m not saying the big studios don’t value feedback, but as Ken Levine said, in a sea of criticism (and noise), you’d have to be in the same room as him for your appeals to be considered. Also, they may just not give a damn. So letting your money do the talking is a good way to send a message.

    As for bundles, I’m pretty sure they’re going to collapse as a model soon-ish. We’re getting oversaturated, having this much of them, and having them so often. They’ve already used up all the “blockbuster” indies, and are going through good games at an alarming rate, so you start seeing bad games getting thrown in the mix just for the sake of numbers. Also, I think it’s ominous that HIB is selling World of Goo and Osmos once again, under the guise of Android.

    As for freemium, it is a peculiar beast. And I’m talking multiplayer games, since I’m not acquainted with mobile/Facebook games. It’s probably safe to say that, in a few years, there will be no paid-for multiplayer game. MMOs set the bar (Rift didn’t even last a full year without a free mode), and Team Fortress 2 has pretty much put the nail in the coffin. I’m not sure this is a bad thing, though. They obviously make a lot of money from selling cosmetics, so with some careful planning, I’m assuming they can get by without being pay-to-win.

  5. Yeah, I kinda realised the disconnect between your comment and mine soon after posting and tried to sort out the distinction in my follow-up =) Maybe I should’ve just deleted and started again!

    I’m still assembling my thoughts on the whole freemium thing. It does make sense, but part of me rejects it in terms of game design, meaning and consequence. It’s possible bundles will auto-destruct but they support the concept of flatland prices. Low prices will endure beyond the possible death of the bundle: are we looking at a massive shakeout of the indie space? Or massive churn?

  6. Definitely, the problem of low prices will outlive the bundle. And a certain reorganization of how the indie scene works will probably happen. I thought that niche titles could survive with relatively high prices (compared to insanely low sale ones), and always used Jeff Vogel as an example. But then he put Avadon on Steam, and it’s discounted rather often, so I guess even he had to go with the times.

    Some time ago, you had to get your game on Steam in order to present it to an extremely large base of potential users. Today, that’s not enough. In addition to selling through Steam, you have to get onto the daily deal bandwagon if you want any kind of decent exposure. Dark times…

    I’m quite curious about how much money (in relative terms) are freeware developers making through donations. It’s a kind of utopian business model that is very close to my heart, and I’d like to think it’s viable. But I guess that’s just asking too much.

  7. Re. this: “I’d argue appropriating discounts as a weapon doesn’t work as most customers aren’t doing the same.”

    I completely agree. You may interpret such as an action one way but there’s absolutely no way that anyone else could be relied upon to interpret it similarly. Whereas refusing to purchase something, even if it is similarly just a drop in the ocean, might at least make publishers stop and think “maybe more people would have bought this if we’d put out a demo?”

    On the piece as a whole, I have a lot of sympathy for it and at this point, as a PC gamer, I find that time is often of more value to me than money. I don’t have much more to say at this point, but I will point readers the way of this: http://ruthlessculture.com/2012/01/24/why-do-people-buy-books-they-dont-read/

    It approaches a not dissimilar concern from a different angle and reaches a quite different conclusion. Again, I don’t wholly agree with it, but I have a lot of sympathy for it.

    I suspect my own opinion lies somewhere between these two, but where exactly I’ve not yet worked out.

  8. I’d keep playing Spelunker whenever I felt insufficiently athletic. I always find solace in knowing that I wouldn’t die from a two foot drop.

    That’s one advantage older consoles have over most computers- your choice is ultimately limited once a system’s lifetime has passed. Even then, I’ve still got years of PS2 and PS1 games to get through (and with no demos, I couldn’t even tell if they’re any good without buying them outright). But having an endpoint that’s at least knowable is… good? I guess?

    That bag of games is a total bitch to move, though.

  9. @Ketchua: We still have Vic Davis as the champion of the non-discount! The trouble with all of these “new models” is that they are predicated on a misunderstanding. The first people onboard do extremely well, because they are swept up in the “we were first” fanfare. There’s no competition in the model’s market. Steam used to be the go-to place for customers because there were few titles (and sales) on the network. Now, everyone is there and you can’t be seen in the crowd. A la App Store. I’m sure the same was probably true of XBLIG/XBLA. And bundles: the Humble Bundle sold incredibly well and was big news on every site. Now there are bundles all the time. No one takes every one of those as seriously as #1. Once these models are in motion, they take over and become “the only way to get real sales” instead of being the attention-grabbing turbo-thrusters they used to be. The real effect is to convert indie talent into commodity. But then again, the indie community did that to itself.

    @ShaunCG: Interesting article but, like you, I have some problems with it. I actually bought all those games because I wanted to play and just didn’t have time. In my case, I can certainly see signs of trying to define myself (“I want to be the kind of hard-ass who can play AI War!”) in a lot of cases it’s genuine interest. I’ve stopped buying because it’s converting games into pressure, a sense that I am failing. There’s simply no point scooping up games in a sale unless you’re intending to play right now.

    @BeamSplashX: You might say that, but there was a different problem. Once those consoles “died”, no one wanted to play them. There’s a collapse of cool at that point and everyone else is playing new things. Not that I want to play up the social aspect but, if you enjoy games, you probably want to engage with what everyone else is doing. The death of a console was a death-wish for anything you hadn’t played yet. You were not going to go back.

  10. I suppose that’s true up to a certain extent, but it depends on what might hold you back. Interface and game design standards, especially by the PS2 era, was not terribly different from this generation’s design across all platforms (unless you’re thinking specifically of highly railroaded shooters or big open worlds).

    If it’s graphics that are an issue, well, let’s hope we can put an end to that thinking at some point.

    You’re right about the social aspect, but that only matters if you don’t play anything new (like I do for anything that’s not a retro indie PC game). The new Deus Ex is something I wish I could’ve stayed current with, but Assassins Creed: Revelations is something I’d easily wait on. In the interim, I don’t think everyone would shout “SID PLAY MORE LATEST GAMES FOR GAMETALK!” if I decided to play an older game.

    I imagine I’d get quite the opposite reaction if the game in question was Mass Effect.

  11. I haven’t bought any games since Dungeons of Dredmore on the Steam sale, so I’m “winning” at backlog. That isn’t to say I don’t want other games, mostly to try them, but a lot of times for me it really is about the “having” rather than the playing, and knowing I will get around to it “eventually.”

    Eventually may be far away. Right now I just want to finish Skyrim, which, I deeply enjoy, but all the same has become some sort of burden in its immensity.

    With indie titles, it’s kind of reaching the point where there are more games than willing players. Of course, since I like the Jam environment, I’m part of the problem. :)

  12. @HM: It indeed does look like a race to the bottom, but I’ve given the whole subject a bit more thought, and tried to look at it from a different perspective. If you were a dev, would you prefer that 10 people play your game priced at 10$, or that 100 people buy it for 1$? Truth be told, I’d opt for the second one. Maybe driving the prices down isn’t such a bad thing… If you have a good game that resonates with a certain audience, it will sell. But having a lower price will make it more affordable and attractive for those who are not your primary target.

    Case in point – Laser Cat. It doesn’t have a demo, but it costs 1$. If the price were more than 5$, I would have ignored it completely. I don’t care if it’s a masterpiece. But I bought it. Didn’t like it, but that’s beside the point. Cheap means accessible. If it’s cheap, people are more likely to buy it compulsively, and they may end up liking it. And so your user base grows, which is good.

    There is the other side of the coin, of course, and that’s the absence of equal opportunity. Good games can go undetected, and I think fixing this would make the low pricing problem a lot less serious. If there was equal opportunity for all, poor sales could only be atributed to your game either being too niche, or plain bad. If it’s too niche, you take a blow. You’d really be at a loss because you chose to sell at a low price. If it’s just bad… well, deal with it.

    So… sacrificing instant profit can lead to better results in the long run, perhaps? If and when the bundle model collapses, the people who sold their games for dirt will have an enormous userbase, and will be able to sell future work at a more suitable price. Or is it just wishful thinking?

  13. There’d be a partially elastic effect. Some people definitely would hang on the rails of a developer, and buy their future products, even if it does mean paying, maybe not chewed copper coin cheap, but shiny rock you picked up off the floor cheap. The rest of the people do just that, buy impulsively. I don’t know if a 50/50 split would be a good estimate; probably less.

    The other question though, is, how could they reverse this trend? Sure, indie dev’s might collapse en masse, but would this be enough for people to reset the market? The indie market is almost inexhaustible (from what I’ve seen), though not always of the best quality. What would prevent them from simply digging deeper and deeper into this bottomless pit of ‘meh’? After all, people go in with the assumption that it’s worth a dollar, so even then they won’t be as disappointed as they should be.

    Even if a petition went around, having indie’s set a fair price for the software, there’ll always be those rats/Fripp’s (Robert Fripp, a musician who so cared for his music, that he has often said that he would have toured for free. Not that he got paid much more than that.) who will get a job while the union boys are sitting in the cold. After all, that’s how the system got their in the first place.

    The only solution I could see is through the distributor. If Steam, and Microsoft (well, those assholes are already doing that. Why would anyone in their right mind pay 60 bucks, for a game that they’re already paying the shipping for, that has no actual production costs, and that they don’t even get to own? I mean, based on those three descriptions, you’re paying for the nothing that you’ve already bought), that EA thing (what was it called?) and all the others decided to band together and force a minimum price, everything would work out well.

  14. @Sid: But even for the most time-rich fanatical gamers, time is always finite. When new games are being pumped out every single day of the year, it’s difficult not to be carried along with the flood. Going back to something twenty years old just isn’t as appealing when Portal 2 pops through the door. That backlog may be a permanent feature that only surgery could excise.

    @Amanda: Agree! I think “Supply > Demand” is the core issue and I do want to talk about this at some point. But I have in mind something of much larger scope and wanted to focus instead on the smaller topic of personal abstinence. My backlog as a multiple of my available free time is simply so huge that my consumer spirit is broken.

    @Ketchua: That’s the normal way of looking at discounts, that they are great PR and low->zero prices encourage high sales. My argument is that at some point your future time is so prescribed in terms of games unplayed that your purchasing desire will begin to wane. Mine has. I want to play but buying is pointless unless I’m going to play right now (e.g. Waves, Scoregasm, Cart Life). Everyday I see more titles flashing before my eyes on RPS and Indie Games… and I’m wondering how I could possibly care any more. Personally I think we’re headed towards some sort of structural crash in the videogame market, rather than a pure economic one. I’m still working my thoughts out on that.

    @mwm: That’s it in a nutshell- there’s no easy way out of this place because there’s no shortage of people willing to fill the void at the bottom of the pricing market. There’s also no incentive for Steam or EA Origin to create an artificial floor because they make a lot of money right now: I can’t see the argument for those distributors to do anything other than carry on with BAU.

  15. @HM: Guess I haven’t really reached that point of oversaturation then. I have a backlog of 70+ paid for games (I’m guessing there’s another hundred free ones), and I still almost bought Shank 2 today, when it went live on Steam. Could be the age difference though. You’ve been raised on an Atari 2600, while I was raised on a Sega Mega Drive. You’ve had more time to grow tired of piling games up. The fact that I’m a hoarder probably helps, I do the same thing with books, movies, music…

  16. I suppose I should give a little history of my own gaming backlog. I’m putting the pirated games to one side because that was restricted to the 80s and everything since then I have bought.

    On consoles (Atari 2600/Sega Mega Drive) I played everything I had and mostly finished all of the titles; I can’t think of anything I didn’t offhand.

    I had stopped gaming in the late 90s but, after buying a PC to complete my PhD thesis in my spare time, I slowly drifted into PC gaming. I have games I bought in 1999 that have still never finished and often barely played: Outcast, Hardwar, Magic Carpet, Ultima Underworld, Fade To Black, Syndicate Wars. I actually never finished Quake (although Mrs. HM did and Quake 2). This was mainly down to time.

    When I became a footloose single guy in Japan, my PC gaming life went into overdrive. I didn’t have access to my backlog (although I made an exception to grab my copy of Thief) so I started buying new games. I got through everything I bought and decided I didn’t have to “play everything”.

    The recent surge in sales combined with parenthood has proved, however, a toxic combination: I’ve never had such an enormous backlog of games before. In addition, Electron Dance provides supplies its own injurious imperative to “keep up to date” because how can I keep writing about games if I don’t play anything modern?

    And so I’ve just given up buying new games unless I intend to play them straight away.

  17. You should still play Rogue Trooper though, it’s quite short and rather fun.

    Actually, there’s a thing: Is it better to play several quite-good-but-short games, or a single excellent-but-long epic?

    Nintendo tried to do the short games thing on the Gamecube with Luigi’s Mansion and Pikmin – I certainly appreciated it.

  18. I like short, compact, taut gaming experiences. I like lengthy games too, but if I’ve seen everything a game has to offer in, say, 4 hours of the 12 it might take to ‘complete’, I am going to think less well of the game afterwards. There are far too many games which I enjoyed well enough but played considerably past that point because, like a fool, I ‘want to know what happens’. And because videogame stories usually have shitty narrative payoffs, I all too often end up thinking less fondly of the game afterwards.

    To my mind the unnecessary padding of so many games is similar to other bloated corpses like the doorstop epic fantasy novel. More, as it turns out, is often less.

    Nb. to my mind it is no mistake that huge sprawling games and huge sprawling fantasy novels are beloved of teenagers. When you’re that age you have more time to spend with fewer things, thanks to lack of £££, and you’ve encountered fewer cliches in far smaller quantities, so you are far more tolerant of blandness, repetition and other unnecessary padding and junk.

  19. I suppose it requires a certain degree of being picky to be able to do it. I’m more interested in an outwardly generic military shooter on the PS2 than the same thing on a newer system usually, due to newer ones pulling from mostly the same blockbusters when they try to cash in.

    @Shaun:
    I agree about length being more in the territory of teens. I’m actually quite happy that part of my giant PS2 backlog is rental-length games that I own because that’s the only way to play them without an emulator (and thus, a better computer).

  20. Interesting that the Richard Hofmeier interview has had 5X more attention than this piece yet this one has generated heaps more comments!

    @CdrJameson: You know, I still want to play Novagen’s Damocles. In terms of Electron Dance writing – which unfortunately steers my gaming far too much these days – banging through short games leads to more article opportunities unlike a single game that takes months of my time. It’s off-putting that after spending six months on a single game that I might only be able to write a single article. (Also known as “Mass Effect Terror”.) I was fortunate that Mafia turned into two articles. Skyrim: not going to happen.

    @ShaunCG: I agree that the more you play, the more transparent games become in terms of padding and recycling. Thus anyone early in their gaming lifecycle is going to find everything fascinating. Plus, as you point out, there’s a lot of time to kill. That’s deliberate, of course. We want “young people” to spend their time growing and learning because once work hits, everything changes. And don’t get me started on having a family. Well, actually, I’m likely to write something about that soon.

    @BeamSplashX: I do agree that we can get excited about games that are earlier in the genre timeline. The rough edges of such games have not survived into the modern versions and it is often here where some strange, yet maddening, brilliance can be found. I love Zyrinx’s Red Zone but find it difficult to go back because it is so hard. Yet there’s something involving about its punishing difficulty combined with its open play. (I’d love to write something about Red Zone but really not sure what.)

  21. It would be interesting to read about how you fit in gaming and writing about gaming around a family, HM. Did you see the ‘Week in the Life’ series on Quarter to Three a fortnight or so ago?

  22. @ShaunCG: I’m not sure it would be that interesting especially as I don’t think I can come 100% clean about how the schedule works. It would be too obvious that what I’m doing is unhealthy and everyone would tell me to cut back. And that would be the end of this site. Fielding e-mails and doing article research takes up most of my “real” spare time and swallows a lot more besides.

    (The article I have in mind about “family” goes along a completely different track.)

    No, I didn’t see the series you’re referring to. Linky?

  23. Ah, fair enough. Well… see what you think of this series. I think the dude needs to play less League of Legends, but to each their own. ;)

    http://www.quartertothree.com/fp/author/j-p-lucas/

  24. Hmm. So, Shaun.

    I can’t help feeling he gets more gaming time than I do, but that maybe because I’m spending a lot of my time Electron Dancing. Like right now for example. Plus there’s an attitude laced through it which I’m sure is just the writing flair, but it doesn’t quite square with my own reality. End of line.

  25. Ha, yes. Though it is difficult not to stand in judgement on what effectively constitutes the heart of the piece.

  26. I started reading those articles on Qt3 but didn’t keep up with them. I too was a little surprised at how much time he put into LoL.

    This whole topic is fascinating to me and these comments have been every bit as interesting. I look at my backlog and wonder why the hell I’m still buying games (regardless of how cheap they are) but going back to what Amanda said earlier, I’m sure, or at least I’ve convinced myself, that I’ll play them eventually.

    I’ve changed in recent years from a staunch completionist to somebody considerably more impulsive. This stems from two things: time being much more valuable to me and most of the games I buy being affordable enough to not guilt-trip me if I decide to ditch them. As a result I’m almost always spending my time enjoyably, flitting from game to game if need be, which is ultimately all that matters. If a game’s short or I’m a stones throw away from finishing it, I’ll try and stick with it to the end to satiate the old hero in me.

    Having a pile of games I can just dip into depending on how I’m feeling is great though, but I do worry that some will never receive any of my attention. And I wholeheartedly agree with ‘supply > demand’ and I think that will forever be the case now.

  27. Gregg, I’ve dropped my completionist tendencies too, although my existing backlog isn’t going to be cleared for years. My available time contracted after becoming a parent and Electron Dance also screwed with it – so it has become pointless to keep on buying games for the year 2017. I don’t want to rush through games, I want to enjoy them. I’ve already ruined various works by getting impatient with them as discussed in The Second Game.

    On your last point, unfortunately the “stranglehold” of Electron Dance also means I can’t just dip in and out of games. I can’t write with authority unless I sit down and take a game seriously. With the weekly posting schedule, I can’t afford to dither too much: play or don’t play. There is no try.

    I admit this all sounds a bit negative, but it’s just to clarify exactly how far up shit creek I am with regards a backlog. It’s destroyed my consumer impulse. I don’t get excited any more when I fire up Steam and have a peek at the store. I also unsubscribed from Savygamer because I wasn’t reading it any more.

  28. “On your last point, unfortunately the “stranglehold” of Electron Dance also means I can’t just dip in and out of games. I can’t write with authority unless I sit down and take a game seriously. With the weekly posting schedule, I can’t afford to dither too much: play or don’t play. There is no try.”

    Ah, this was a point I wanted to raise myself but forgot mid-comment.

    I’ve written, or started writing, quite a few articles about certain games and on playing more have realised that most of my initial thoughts were redundant, incorrect and/or misguided so the piece(s) were abandoned. Being impulsive doesn’t work so well when committing words! For instance, my opinion of Dungeon Defenders has altered since my Games of 2011 rundown and while most of my points still stand I’m not sure it deserves a spot on there any more. I wrote about it after 20-30 hours worth of play so while it was hardly ‘impulsive’ it just shows how difficult it can be to gauge the amount of time required for your opinion to ‘settle’ somewhere. I think I was still climbing the Chick Parabola.

    Your consumer impulse might have been destroyed HM but just think, you’ll be the savyist gamer. And possibly the Log of Shame winner (or would that be loser?) :-S

    @ShaunCG: the Ruthless Culture link further up was a great read btw, thanks.

  29. You’re welcome Gregg, I’m a fan of Jonathan’s writing and like to recommend it so the pleasure is all mine.