Friday, April 6, 2012

Risk Versus . . . Respawn? A Retrospective Look At Death Penalties (Or A Lack There Of) In Modern Gaming: Part 2

The Beginning

No, I'm not going to sit here and lecture anyone about the beginning of games.  Yet, everyone has to start somewhere, right?  Therefor I offer the following thought:

Everything, with the exception of nature, exists now because of one of the two following truths:

1 - Someone needed it to survive, or to make survival easier.

2 - Someone thought they could make money off it.

Lets take the wheel, as an example.  Using a wheel meant you didn't have to carry shit.  Meant you could migrate your entirety of belongings distances to avoid harsh seasons.  Made it so you could carry surplus goods to trade.  Basic and simple, we needed to carry stuff - we made it easier to do so, thus saving energy for other things we needed to do.  Survival 101.

Where's this going?  Truth #3:

Every commercially distributed video game you have ever played exists because someone thought they could make money off of it. Not because its enjoyable, not because you deserve epic loot, and certainly not because it's original and/or engaging and they want you to enjoy yourself in the 'sandbox' they created for you.

Today, Video Games exist because someone, somewhere has an idea that they think you're stupid enough to pay money for.  These people probably have dozens of resources at their disposal undergoing countless hours of market research to find out just how profitable their idea is, and how (if) they could make it more profitable by adapting certain conventions; ability cool-downs, character classes and races, familiar user interface, etc.

It's fair to conclude that these people feel the gaming population as a whole does not support high risk/reward scenario's; but instead favors a low/non-existent risk vs. high reward system. A repetitive one at that.  One makes them feel accomplished because they've memorized a series of sequences and reactions that have essentially turned them into a choreographed cyber dance team that prides themselves on being 'the best'.

Before I get too off track here - lets ask a question:  Eve Online is by far the most popular MMORPG that features a 'harsh' death penalty.  (harsh in quotes because its a relative term, yes, I know other games have death penalties.)  Eve's subscriber base has (at minimum) mostly sustained itself every year since its release in 2003.  In fact, most years it's not only sustained itself, its grown - through trial and tribulations, real-money trading scams, losses, employee revolt, and a ton of other mishaps.  In spite of all this the game is still slowly gaining a subscriber base.

How is it that Eve, which is notoriously known for its harsh game play, is flourishing in a over-saturated market of cookie-cutter MMORPG's that offer an abundance of no risk/high reward situations?  I mean all these companies did their homework before they delivered their product, right?   That's the most successful model they came up with?  I don't believe that for a second.  But what does a successful software project manager know?

Despite all this, I offer a simple answer -Eve is flourishing because people like a challenge.  People become committed to a challenge - and people are willing to pay to stay a part of that challenge once they've gotten a taste.

Sure, with its 400,000 subscribers, CCP (Eve's Development Company) isn't raking in the cash that Blizzard Entertainment is on World of Warcraft - but they're making money, steady money, and they aren't constantly in a struggle to maintain their dwindling subscriber base or to develop their next cash cow.  CCP probably isn't wondering if its game model is getting stale.  I'm sure Blizzard is, as only 1,534,389 games have copied their format since WoW's release, and they're all becoming more and more concerned about their dwindling subscriber base that begins falling off as soon as three months after the game hits the open market.

CCP also doesn't have China bolstering Eve's subscribers numbers.  Blizzard's World of Warcraft has more players on the China/Asian servers then it does anywhere else, current estimates put the Asian Region server population at 3.6 million.  North America is a close second, at 3 million - it tails off significantly after that.

Maybe all those guys in the conference room discussing loss models, death penalties, and risk have it wrong.  Maybe they shouldn't base their games on the initial rush instead of the sustained subscriber growth over a decade, and not worry about struggling to keep their subscriber base.  And just maybe, sustainability will become a much greater focus then delivering 'epic loot' to people with little to no time investment in their product.

Then again, what the hell do I know?  But now that we've got this out of the way, and we can all agree that:

A - People will pay and remain loyal to harsh risk/reward systems.
B - Games exist solely to make money. 

We can pick this up next week, where I'll dig deeper into games at both sides of the spectrum and provide a little more insight about who is doing what - and whether or not what they're doing is working.

Thanks for taking the time to read this - feel free to chat about it below and/or share it with your fellow gamer friends!


Post a Comment

Got something to say?