Content at Launch

Content at Launch

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  • Post category:Game Design

Today’s post was inspired by Fig, a member of the Keen and Graev Community who wanted to know my opinion on the whether or not games are releasing with less content, or if we’re simply consuming it all faster than ever before.

The answer is, “YES.”

Games, when considered as a whole and not cherry-picking exceptions, are most definitely releasing with less content. For years, developers have used tactics like the dreaded DLC, Season Pass, Episodes, Bonus Content — whatever the heck they’re calling it now. It’s basically an excuse to make a game then filet it into pieces they can sell to you one bite at a time. Breaking a game up into pieces also extends the news cycle. MOAR POSTS ON THE NEWS SITES!

Somewhat related, games are also still releasing in an unfinished state. The epic rise of the “early access” model has fueled this fire, but it started back in the days of McMMO WoW clones. Remember those days? The Vanguard, WAR, Aion, etc., era?

We’re also blowing through content at breakneck speeds, but this issue is way more complex. Here are a few reasons we’re beating them faster.

  1. We’re trained and more skilled. There’s an element of knowing what to expect and being good at it because you’ve done it before. I know that I’m definitely better at console games because I’m better at using the controller after the past two years.
  2. Games are homogeneous. We really have played many of these games before with different skins, stories, etc.
  3. Games are easier. I booted up my SNES Classic and was rofflestomped by the AI in a matter of seconds. Older games were way, way harder.

I’ll toss in another point that I think goes hand-in-hand with these topics: Gamers lose interest faster.

The reason we have less content and we beat the games faster has to be indicative of how quickly we move from one game to the next. As kids, Graev and I would rent the same game from Blockbuster over and over. We spent months and months playing Donkey Kong Country. We spent YEARS playing The Realm, EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, and SWG. Heck, even in the older Call of Duty games (shout out to CoD4!) I’d clock a thousand or more hours. Now? I bet most people average playing a game for 2 weeks before moving on — whether they beat it or not.

The Streamer culture proliferates this problem. The “Variety streamer” as they’ve been dubbed play the newest, coolest, most popular games and will literally drop that game the VERY NEXT DAY when the next game that’s popular comes out. I have literally witnessed it happen. The bigger streamers will play a game for ONE DAY and the next day a game comes out again and they play it. I literally saw it this past week as we had a huge wave of launches. It’s absolutely insane. It makes people feel like they’re not cool when they aren’t playing the latest titles. This epidemic deserves its own post.

As always, your thoughts on these points to drum up conversation and debate are welcome.

  • It’s mostly not the games or the business models. It’s mostly the players and it’s a choice. In the years I’ve been reading and commenting here you have documented your ongoing struggle to find an MMO you can stick with on the kind of timescales you stuck with EQ or DAOC. Over the same time period I’ve had no difficulty whatsoever retaining the same degree of commitment and interest to specific MMOs while also experimenting with many more.

    For example, I’ve played GW2 pretty nearly every single day since it launched in 2012. I have three accounts (four counting the free one) with well over 10,000 hours played across them. I have also played EQ2 continually throughout the same period, bought all the expansions and completed all the content in each that interests me.

    What’s more, in both of those MMOs, I could name dozens of players I see every day or at least every week, who have also never stopped playing. And in the case of GW2, sores more who come and go with breaks varying from a few weeks to a year or two. These aren’t the players who go on forums or write blogs about how bad the game is or how much they miss the old days. They’re just regular players who’ve found an MMO they like and are sticking with it.

    I think that’s a very under-represented demographic in the gaming media because “plays game every day and enjoys it” is not much of a news story.

  • I agree with everything you’ve said here, both from a development and player perspective.

    To play devil’s advocate a bit, one thing that’s relevant to this discussion is development costs. Yes, games are shorter and more expensive to play (with DLC), but they’re also significantly more expensive to produce. The expectations people have today in terms of graphics, animation, music and voice acting make AAA game development very expensive. Even adjusted for inflation, I’m sure Donkey Kong Country cost a lot less to make than, say, Uncharted 4.

    With ballooning budgets developers need a way to keep games profitable. This is where we as consumers come in. The market seems to have settled on DLC, micro-transactions, and loot boxes to make this happen – they sell them, and people seemingly are happy to pay. One alternative would be to just raise the upfront cost of a game and do away with all the rest – but how popular do you think the new AAA release would be if it was $150?

    A complicated topic to be sure.

    • Gonna say, its been well documented that the increased AAA development costs are largely bunk. People call to this but they fail to neglect other factors in that games also reach player bases SEVERAL times the number they did back in the day. Additionally, development costs arent the ones that have largely ballooned out of control, it’s marketing costs. Many publishers throw ABSURD amounts of advertising dollars out the window to market a game thats development cost is maybe 50% of the cost at BEST. Additionally, many of these games include practices such as DLC and microtransactions, goty editions, collectors editions etc etc to squeeze more than the 60+ dollars out of you. Here in Canada at least, games dont even sell for that price, its 70-80+ dollars for the base game now.

      The upfront cost of the game doesn’t need to go up, the amount publishers spend need to go DOWN and they need to focus on developing an engrossing experience. (See Nier Automata)