Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Erosion of Value in the Video Game Industry

One of the depressing things that came through the Twitter feed today was a link to an article on TouchArcade appropriately called This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things: One Star Reviews Flood Monument Valley Following Paid Expansion Release.

Basically, the makers of the excellent Monument Valley, encouraged by all the positive press and universally high reviews, decided to sit down and make a bunch of new, beautiful levels for their game.  And they had the audacity to, you know, want to pay their artists and programmers and sound designers to get that work done, so those levels are a paid update.  Two dollars, half the price of what people paid for the original game.  They're good enough that they could have easily just released them as Monument Valley 2.

...and a brigade of people have taken it upon themselves to downvote Monument Valley into oblivion because they wanted those new levels for free.

In my previous blog post on "experience games", I specifically called out Monument Valley as a good example of a game that delivers a finely-crafted experience.  It should come as a shock to absolutely no one with a brain that delivering an experience like that takes hours and hours and hours of work.  Not to mention expertise, creativity, and vision.

These are all things that we ostensibly value in our games, but we (as a society) appear to be increasingly unwilling to pay for.  And worse, now we appear to be the type of people who try to run developers who want to be paid for their work out of the App Store entirely.

It doesn't take a crystal ball to know where that misguided vindictiveness will lead us if left unchecked.  You reap what you sow.  Do you want developers to not release new content for their games?  Because this is how you get developers to stop releasing new content for their games.  Do you want developers to stop making games that require expensive individual crafting of levels to make them excellent experiences?  Because this is how you get developers to cut corners and not take chances.

And more to the point, if you liked Monument Valley enough to care about the new levels, that means you were one of the people who they made the game for.  If you care about the price of the new levels, that means you want to receive the new levels, because you enjoyed the original levels.  They made a game that you liked.

Do you want developers who make the games that you like to go out of business and stop making games that you like?  Because this is exactly how you do that.  "Yup, the business model of crafting excellent, thoughtful, high-quality levels and selling them doesn't work.  Remember Monument Valley?  Don't make the same mistake they did!  Let's just go back to selling virtual currencies to speed up Skinner box timers.  A bushel of Smurfberries for $49.99!"

Out of all the things it took to make the new levels of Monument Valley - time, expertise, care, artistry, composition, testing, animation, drawing - the one thing that trumps them all is bravery.  It takes guts to put your livelihood in the hands of a fickle mob of entitled knuckle-draggers.  It's scary, and it's risky.

I can't imagine the mood at ustwo today.  Rolling out this offering for their fans that they toiled over for months, trying to make it excellent and beautiful and fun...only to have people say how dare you.

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