Jul 9, 2010

[We Are Not the Customer Anymore]

  Even though the RealID blowup is over, I think it's brought to the foreground a fact about the relationship between gamers and their game developers that I think most people (especially those with an emotional attachment to a particular game) find disheartening.

  It began after this post brought to light the timeline of developments after the Blizzard-Activision merge, which put into a larger context the attempt to integrate real identities into the forums (no, it was never about just 'stopping trolls').

  For insight into the character of the man that the CEO of Blizzard has to report to, here are some choice quotes:
"The goal that I had in bringing a lot of the packaged goods folks [people not part of the gaming culture] into Activision about 10 years ago was to take all the fun out of making video games."
"[Y]ou know if it was left to me, I would raise the [game's] prices even further."
  And in response to why Kotick got rid of several popular Activisiion game franchises:
"[They] don't have the potential to be exploited every year on every platform with clear sequel potential and have the potential to become $100 million dollar franchises. ... I think, generally, our strategy has been to focus... on the products that have those attributes and characteristics, the products that we know [that] if we release them today, we'll be working on them 10 years from now."
  And finally, Escape Hatch sums it up nicely:
"We, the players, are no longer the World of Warcraft's customer base. Advertisers are."
  In the past, when MMOs were a niche geek hobby, the gamer WAS the customer. This connection between dev and player was reflected in how loyal people got to a certain company, how invested they were in the game's wellbeing and success. But it was only a matter of time before the businessmen saw this attachment as the potential for huge profit. This is why you have Robert Kotick bragging about taking the fun out of making games, of how he wants to turn game-design into an assembly-line of franchises and sequels churning out products filled with as many microtransactions and advertisements and profit-expanding features as he can get away with. Because he doesn't give a crap about the players. To him, we're just geeks whose emotional attachments to our games and the devs that make them makes us vulnerable to being exploited by guys like himself. To be fair, it's not all this one guy's fault, but it reflects the kind of attitudes that start cropping up when a company quickly shoots up into becoming worth billions of dollars like Blizzard did after it made World of Warcraft. The bean-counting vultures start circling.

  However these kinds of guys control future of the 'modern AAA MMO'. This is the kind of guy dev companies have to impress to get initial funding, to survive (i.e. get MILLIONS of players as fast as possible or else be labeled a 'failure'), and to be considered 'successful' on the business side of things in a world where having 'only' 3-500k players is considered 'not profitable enough'. However I think for many of us, this change from 'small tight-knit company to mega giant' is a sad one, especially if you've been in MMOs a long time and remember when things were smaller and more personal. It's the price we've payed for embracing the MMORPG 'going mainstream'.

  This is why I'm starting to prefer the smaller F2Ps, and indie games. They're lower budget, sure. Not so shiny as the 'big games', rougher around the edges. But a lot of times, when things get bigger they don't always get better. And I think we've finally crossed that line in the MMORPG sphere. Sure, it means bigger budgets, flashier graphics, bigger expansions and tie ins, and more prestige. But I think the MMORPG as a genre has lost a part of it's soul; a part that had originally appealed to many players in the first place.


Anonymous said...

Kotick's quotes pretty much sums it up. It's no longer about making games for gamers anymore, it's about making the bottom line.

I have to applaud Blizzard for finally coming to their senses though, but I don't know if they actually "listened" to their fanbase so much as they probably freaked out over the number of canceled subs in the last couple of days. I'm also unlikely to trust them again, after how they so blatantly tried to push this Real ID thing through under false pretenses. Like you said, I don't believe it was EVER about stopping forum trolls either.

Pai said...

Yeah, I really -want- to believe the best of Blizz (because I AM one of those overly-invested emotional geekgamers) but my rational side is not really letting me buy that it was all some 'honest mistake'.

Brinstar said...

Those quotes and links certainly shed some light on the motivations behind some of the public moves recently.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me a lot of the history of Science Fiction. It started out as a small community ('it is a proud and lonely thing to be a fan'), where fans could communicate with writers, and writers would riff off each others stories (before the Golden Age). Now, it's big business, with millions of readers, NYT bestsellers, blockbuster movies, and the top authors making millions. As one commentator said, when you get that big, you can't have a conversation with people any more, you can only market to them.

Anonymous said...

Ahem... Guild Wars is an excellent example of a F2P MMO that has the shine, luster, and finish that P2P MMOs have, and it has sold 6+ million copies at this point.

Suffice to say, you don't have to be a soul sucking (read: money sucking) harpy like Kotick/Activision/Blizzard to be successful. ArenaNet continues to prove that with what they have shown thus far with Guild Wars 2.

Anonymous said...

Come on, you can't seriously believe games were ever for gamers. Every company is the same, it's all about making money. I mean really what's the point for a company to make a game if not to make money? Blizzard is a little more forthcoming with how they regard their customers, but I assure you it's the same at any of the big name companies they just don't let that information get to the public as it causes bad PR. They do have an interest in keeping you thinking they care about the players in that it builds brand loyalty and you form an attachment.

The only type of company that truly "makes games for gamers" is the kind of company that is small and/or independent. That's not to say all those companies don't treat people that way but its more likely that a companies primary motivation is to make the game as great as possible to please and reward the fans.

But then again what's even the point of that? So they will buy their next game. It's all about money. It's too much work to make a game for your friends in your mom's basement purely for fun. If you do happen to make a small game that's actually good, there are many resources to get published and make some money like steam or even independently. Once you start making some money then the question "how do I make more?" comes up.

Anyways I guess this comment does seem a little bitter, however, it's the harsh reality. You are just a statistic to these companies and as long as a game is bringing in the money they have reason to keep making additional content and support it. At least if you're aware of it you can plan your purchasing decisions more accordingly.

Pai said...

Thing is, if companies are not making products for the customers, they won't MAKE money. The whole industry has been in decline lately because of that fact. A lot of game devs seem to take for granted that there will always be a market for what they put out -- which is a very foolish and backwards way to think.

Pai said...

When I say 'for the customers' I meant they should make games that the customers want. Too much focus on making money hurts game companies -- just look at how many good devs EA has destroyed by trying to run them like moneymaking machines.