Matter, Energy, and Life of Michael A. Castello.

Gaming’s Bigger Picture: Correcting Tim Buckey

I may not be the biggest fan of Tim Buckey’s opinions or comic, but there are so many things wrong in his latest post lambasting the “sense of entitlement” among gamers that I was compelled to respond. I can always rely on Tim to roll out some of the most rampant industry fallacies, so deconstructing his post gives me an excellent opportunity to examine them. Let’s go!

Tim kicks it off with a statement voiced only by industry critics of free culture:

The general (vocalized) attitude these days seems to be one that suggests we shouldn’t have to pay money for anything.

Tim Buckley, “Holy soapbox!

It bears repeating that nobody is saying this except folks for whom a free culture threatens their business model. It’s a strawman argument, set up because it’s so easy to knock down. Of course everything isn’t going to be free, of course businesses want to make money, of course it costs money to make things. Instead, market forces have priced some things at zero cost because of their extremely low cost of reproduction, something that I think forms the basis of much of gamers’ dislike for tacked-on fees.

A great example of this is your typical MMO, where you are required to shell out $50 for a game that is one hundred percent useless without a subscription fee. They are selling you infinitely reproducible bits that are essentially a client for a paid service. Tim is being disingenuous when he says:

The concept of “shelling out cash to use stuff we’ve already bought” is nothing new…

Tim Buckley, “Holy soapbox!

Every one of his examples involves physical objects. When you buy a car or a DVD player, you are getting a real physical object with a real marginal cost to produce. It’s easy to make the distinction between the vehicle and the gas to run it, or the DVD player and the discs.  Not so with an MMO client. Sans subscription fee, you have useless bits taking up space on your hard drive. You can’t tear it down and use it for parts, you can’t sell it to a friend, you can’t do anything with it. Being frustrated that you are double-charged like this is entirely legitimate.

It’s a sentiment easily undercut by a small change to the business operation: Give the client away for free. Making copies of it costs nothing and fans of the game will happily do it themselves. It becomes clear that the benefit comes from the subscription, not the software, and people won’t feel like they’re being ripped off. Besides, you want more people playing the game, and what better way to increase the player base then removing a $50 barrier to entry?

If a game is asking for a subscription fee…it’s because there are larger costs associated with running the game.

Tim Buckley, “Holy soapbox!

This is always the excuse for why MMOs need to charge subscription fees, but it’s based on the flawed reasoning that because this business model requires servers, customers are required to pay for their upkeep. Games like Counter-Strike and Team Fortress 2 get around this by allowing players to host their own servers. But for MMOs, wouldn’t this allow users to “enter the world of hacking and mods and exploits?” Sure. But again, this is a problem easily combated in two ways: First, by providing an incentive to have your server play by the rules; second, by designing your game in such a way that shortcutting to the top isn’t necessary.

In fact, having people self-host would probably reduce the amount of cheating on “rule-following” servers. The folks who just want to jump to Level Max and play the endgame can do so, while players who want to grind it out the hard way can do that too.

I find it amusing that people will go out of their way to block every single advertisement headed toward their consciousness, throw fits about the companies sending them that way, and then still sit and drool over trailers for new games, etc.

Tim Buckley, “Holy soapbox!

The difference here should be clear. The best advertising is quality content that people want to view, and for many people game trailers are just that. It’s something they can share on YouTube and talk about how excited they are for the title. Advertisements “headed toward your consciousness” are a nuisance. I doubt Tim turns up his radio to hear the commercials, enjoys pop-over flash ads, and makes sure not to skip anything when he records a TV show. People not liking that kind of in-your-face advertising is entirely legitimate; the idea that you can use advertising to provide a lower-quality experience people want to pay money to improve is ridiculous. Mocking people who resent such a model is even more so.

Finally, there’s DLC. Again, the anger comes from feeling like companies have deliberately left out parts of the game so they can sell it back to you (and for some games, this is exactly the case). That’s not an “alternative source of revenue,” it’s money-grubbing. If you’re going to do DLC, it needs to feel like it is a true addition to the game, not a missing part of the experience. Better yet, throw the typical DLC model out the window in favor of something truly innovative: Promote the DLC, get people excited for it, and take pre-orders. When orders reach a predetermined monetary amount, the content is released for everybody free of charge. The fans are paying to release the DLC to the world, and by setting an amount beforehand (and accepting donations afterward) the company gets paid to do the work.

Stop pining for the days of video games where you paid $50 and you had a whole game. Those days are gone.

Tim Buckley, “Holy soapbox!

When people get upset about subscription fees or DLC, it isn’t because they think “everything should be free,” it’s because they feel like they aren’t getting value for their purchases. Expecting to get a complete product for a purchase is not at all unreasonable, and if those days are indeed gone, it’s the game companies who lose. You can get a complete game for a single purchase price of $0 right now, and the number of people utilizing this deal is only increasing. You need to give customers a reason to buy, and saying “but this is how our business model works” doesn’t fly.

I’m tired of people like Tim signing on to thoughtless consumerism and mocking gamers who dare oppose the poor business model decisions of game companies. As filesharing continues to flourish, game companies are going to need to actually innovate, not simply find more ways to erect toll booths on the experience. Your business model should never be about keeping things away from people; not giving customers what they want is never a good business model. If giving them what they want breaks your business, don’t mock them—fix your business.

You may also enjoy…

6 responses to “Gaming’s Bigger Picture: Correcting Tim Buckey”

  1. Andrew Avatar

    Well said. I think you managed to rebut most of his points pretty well, and I’d be interested in seeing how Tim would respond.

    Also, thinking about it some, Tim seems to get beta invites and possibly free copies of games pretty frequently. That sounds to me like he’s more of a corporate mouthpiece than anything these days, getting paid off in games to defend the industry.

    I also think it’s odd that in his comics, Ethan runs a videogame store and is trying to change the way retail works, by having a game and offering incentives for people to come shop there and buy physical copies, yet Tim seems to be against business models having to adapt and change.

    1. SteelWolf Avatar

      Good points. The bit about getting paid for reviews brings to mind this Penny Arcade comic. An actually smart marketer doesn’t actually want that. They’re better off supporting somebody’s objective efforts, knowing that when they do something well, the recommendation will be worth more (plus, when they don’t do so well, they get honest feedback).

      The ongoing story about Ethan’s gaming store is definitely interesting. It seems to highlight the kind of connect with fans/reason to buy model businesses should be moving toward. With a bit of tweaking, that metagame model could probably exist even without physical copies of games being the primary source of revenue.

      I wish more influential people like Tim realized these things instead of repeating arguments that feel like they came from an industry press release.

  2. Tim K Avatar

    Evil gaming companies making you pay for gaming content… check!
    Gaming community threatening to boycott gaming companies… check!
    Gaming companies winning because gamers are stupid… …check!

    1. SteelWolf Avatar

      Wow, that’s embarrassing. Even so, with filesharing becoming easier and more convenient every day, game companies are going to have to realize that ignoring what their customers want is terrible business.

  3. Tim K Avatar

    Naw, thats my point. MW2 totally ignored everything “gamers” demanded (and by gamers, I mean the people that were vocal about it) to the point a boycott was started.

    What was the end result? $310 million on opening day, surpassing the previous largest opening day GTA 4 — and a “controversy” article on Wikipedia.

    Yes certain folks in the gaming industry are blatantly ignoring and ripping off their customers. But aside from bad reputation, it doesn’t look like they’re suffering for it.

    Point being: yes the gaming industry is stupid. Customers are stupider. Until they wise up, they’re going to waste a whole lot of money.

    Not that I have a ton of sympathy for them.

    1. SteelWolf Avatar

      Yeah I see your point here. It’s just the kind of business decision that doesn’t work in the long term. It’s the whole “consumers versus customers” thing. We’re never going to be able to convince people to “vote with their wallets” as long as they’re consumers, but ultimately, we don’t have to.

      The kind of company that completely ignores what its customers want requires physical sales to keep going. When you take that way, they don’t have the connection with the fans that they need to maintain a truly viable modern business model. The MW2 guys are the ones getting “devastated” by filesharing, because tricking people into buying mass marketed product is the only thing they know.

      Is it working now? Sure, just like millions of people are buying into the iPad. But these products represent the kind of short-sighted business plans that are unsustainable in the long term.

Want more? Keep up with the hottest content.