Beautifully explained. Why most big games take the safe choices, the budgets for different game categories, the way the pipeline can amplify problems and punish exploration. Very interesting stuff. All explained with the help of going through a hypothetical concept of a dragon for a game.
I’m quite excited. I am truly excited! No, I am deeply excited! There is a progressive shift that is happening in software sales’ model that is going to affect a lot of people: affordable or subscription-based licenses, for high-end, professional creative software in particular. I won’t go too deep into the criticisms and caveats of this shift today, but I’ll rather try to explore how it may affect the creative community, if not every creative person, in a positive manner.
More affordable, centralized, accessible tools
When Epic introduced their subscription model for the 4th generation of their Unreal Engine, I… actually could believe my eyes. But, I was facing an example of an incredible shift that’s happening in software nowadays: an engine’s source code that used to cost a million bucks was now available to anyone, for 19€ a month? If game creation in general was already accessible, with this new software generation, it is now high end, very technical creation tools that are at every single person’s fingertips.
And it’s not only Epic! On mobile devices and Mac, productivity tools and entertainment apps have shared affordable prices for a couple of years already. But more recently, this movement has started affecting the whole PC world: Steam, a mainstream gaming platform, now features professional grade creation software! It promotes innovative tools that are used on big productions like Substance, Sonar or even 3d Coat. Even the CryEngine was added to the list lately. New tools released there tend to be [relatively] cheap. And not only that, but they generally offer ergonomic User Interfaces. In other words, we’re getting strong tools, smart tools, and cheap tools centralized in a common marketplace.
I like that compact kind of environment, as it brings the developers and users closer together: Steam provides forums, articles, a newsfeed, and links to get in touch with the software authors rather quickly. In other words, we get the benefits of the social functionality of the platform. This facilitates bug reports, feature requests and other kinds of feedback.
Now, don’t get me wrong on this: Steam is far from being the best platforms for software. I would love to see the Steam Workshop and Guide features used more often to share tutorials and resources among users for example, just like it’s done in games. Content presentation isn’t always structured in the most efficient way for professional users as well, who will often favor the tool’s official website. But I do think that this broader diffusion of software represents a solid step towards open tools, accessible tools, thus smarter tools.
Subscription-based models or the promise of faster release cycles
This trend is a more recent one: to ensure user loyalty, regular revenue, and to prevent piracy, the creators of various tools are choosing more and more to use subscription-based licensing. Adobe product users have made some noise when they got forced to rent their software for a monthly fee (that rattle started in 2013, as Adobe stopped to deliver definitive licenses for all of its tools, increasing drastically licensing fees for many firms and individual users). Microsoft already does this with the Office 365 suite as well.
First of all, I do think that the accessibility in terms of pricing is once again synonym of broader communities. Those tools aren’t priced far less than before though: it is a matter of entry price point. Because the subscription is billed monthly, the cost may feel easier to handle. Only a little amount of money is being charged at a time, and the user can cancel after a month or a year if the toolset just doesn’t fit. The cloud-based licensed tools do come along with nicer packages as well: some cloud storage, a limited access to a subset of companion products… even if those features are meant to retain the user within the brand’s environment!
I do think that the steady flow of income the firm gets from it is not only healthy for it from an economic standpoint, but it forces the development team to accelerate the tool’s release cycle. We can already see it with the Adobe tools, which get a couple of features added every 4 to 6 months (there was only a release per year before). However, I guess that users deserve to have the choice between subscribing and buying a definitive license, which is still too often not the case. But this is a topic for another article!
Did this trend in software sales affect the way you use your computer? Did they permit you to get new tools to express your creativity with? Don’t hesitate to share your experience with us and everyone in the comments below! We are always glad to get in touch with you.
Well, there’s a lot of reasons I’ve been rather upset on EA in recent years, mostly for shamelessly spamming you to to use their online stuff even after you bought their games, but I just stumbled onto a debate about it’s Origin service Eula. Apparently it relies on nobody reading it to say that if you install it you give it full authorization to send a lot of data about you.
You agree that EA may collect, use, store and transmit technical and related information that identifies your computer (including the Internet Protocol Address), operating system, Application usage (including but not limited to successful installation and/or removal), software, software usage and peripheral hardware, that may be gathered periodically to facilitate the provision of software updates, dynamically served content, product support and other services to you, including online services. EA may also use this information combined with personal information for marketing purposes and to improve our products and services. We may also share that data with our third party service providers in a form that does not personally identify you. IF YOU DO NOT WANT EA TO COLLECT, USE, STORE, TRANSMIT OR DISPLAY THE DATA DESCRIBED IN THIS SECTION, PLEASE DO NOT INSTALL OR USE THE APPLICATION.
Some interesting discussion on the subject on “The Escapist” forums:
with some quite upset reactions:
Dirty Hipsters :
Well ok, not really, but EA’s Origin does watch everything you do on your computer.
If you read the End User License Agreement for Origin it states that by installing Origin you’re giving EA the right to monitor your PC and to make a profile of you, including what programs you have installed (and whether you have any illegally downloaded material), what websites you use, etc., and that EA reserves the right to share or sell this information to third parties.
Why have I heard NOTHING about this yet? Where is the outrage? Is it just that no one actually reads the EULA, or is it that in the age of facebook no one cares about people monitoring everything they do?
and some more here with some steam discussion thrown in for the mix:
and an article here:
PS: one good thing i have to say about Origin is that they recently got onto the humble bundle wagon and I might actually be able to buy Dead Island Riptide on it while Steam gives into the bullying of the German regulators.
I’m somewhat skeptical of 3 characters just like I was in Mass Effect though hopefully you’ll be able to just choose one. Anyway, I find it interesting that it seems it’s the highest budget game in history, $265 million estimates are around. With only a pirates of the Carribean movie topping it. It shall be interesting to see if they make it both financially and in terms of game experience. (for me the key is rpg elements, if it don’t has them at least gta 3 level it’s not good :P ). Some wikipedia details:
Grand Theft Auto V was envisioned to exceed the core mechanics of the Grand Theft Auto series by giving the player three lead protagonists to switch between while playing the game. Vice president Dan Houser opined that the primary motivations to include three protagonists were for Grand Theft Auto V to innovate open world storytelling, and to prevent the series from feeling stale by not evolving the core structure of the gameplay. “We didn’t want to do the same thing over again”, he explained. The vision for three interconnected protagonists was first conceptualised during the development of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004), but the team felt they did not have the technical capabilities at their disposal to realise it. After the release of Grand Theft Auto IV, the team developed two episodic content packages for the game, The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony (both 2009), each of which introduced a new protagonist. The positive reception received for having three intertwined stories solidified the team’s confidence that building Grand Theft Auto V around this model was an innovative decision. Benzies opined, “This is something we touched upon with the intersecting stories of Nico [sic], Johnny and Luis in GTA IV but we have now made this integral to the structure of the gameplay as well as the narrative”. Houser therefore felt that Grand Theft Auto V is their “strongest plotted game because the characters are so intertwined”, and that the “meeting points [between the character’s stories] are very exciting”.
The central theme to the story of Grand Theft Auto V is the “pursuit of the almighty dollar”. The mission content is structured around the lead characters’ efforts to plan and execute complicated heists to accrue wealth for themselves. The team’s decision to focus on money as a central theme in the game was in response to the 2007-08 financial crisis, as the effects of the crisis on the main characters are the catalyst for them to attempt these heist missions. “We wanted this post-crash feeling, because it works thematically in this game about bank robbers”, Houser explained. The team developed the story around the heists based on the positive reaction they received for the “Three Leaf Clover” mission in Grand Theft Auto IV, in which an elaborate heist was coordinated and executed by the lead protagonist Niko Bellic and accomplices. Houser felt that while the mission was well-received, the team hadn’t captured the thrill of the robbery sequence to the best of their capabilities and wanted to focus on achieving that in Grand Theft Auto V. “We wanted to have a couple of really strong bank robberies. […] It felt like that was a good device that we’d never used in the past. Repeating ourselves is a fear when we’re doing games where part of the evolution is just technological,” Houser explained. There are six such heist missions in Grand Theft Auto V, and many of the missions in-between them revolve around the efforts to coordinate the job and assemble a team.
By 25 August 2013, development of Grand Theft Auto V ceased as the game went gold, with the final copy of the game being submitted for manufacturing. The game spent four years in full development, by a team of an estimated 250 people. Media analyst Arvind Bhatia estimated the development budget for the game exceeded US$137 million, and The Scotsman reporter Marty McLaughlin estimated that the combined budget of the development and marketing efforts exceeded £170 million (US$265 million), which would make Grand Theft Auto V the most expensive video game ever made.
Feng Zhu’s latest video, this time a colaboration with Ben Mauro about the process of work based on 3d and back to concept art (which in turn will probably end up back in 3d in a movie or game form :) ). I’m always so excied whenever he puts out a new video.
Hmmm, that sounds bad for games and to be honest pretty creepy. Especially keeping in mind the recently leaked info how MS has been a top helper to the governments in giving data about it’s customers since like 2007… it took 6 years for that information to leak and of course it’s still contested, so probably by 2020 people might find out that indeed has been filming everything going on in your house and sending that stuff, and monitory for many more keywords than that… just in case you’re a fulltime gamer and part time terrorist, you know, of course all this… “according to the law”. But even if all of that stuff happens to be proved untrue (why would they not use such an opportunity ?) the whole complex set of rules and micromanaging smells very much like old school central planning the Soviet Union style, where they dictate from the top where/when/how people may use their console and their games, instead of letting people figure out the best ways for them. Here’s a written description I found that might (or might not) explain (some) of the complexity of their micromanaging of people.
(conference starts at min 32)
The Sony conferences are generally pretty good, and though this one isn’t my favorite, the moment with real ownership and internet connectivity is just priiiiiiiiiceles when it comes to the public’s reaction :)))))
A fascinating article has recently been published analyzing the very real lessons to be learned from the recent hyperinflation in Diablo 3’s virtual currency: http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-05-21/diablo-3-case-virtual-hyperinflation
From the article:
The combined effect of heavy bot activity and insufficient sinks immediately impacted the gold markets, and inflationary pressures were soon apparent. An exasperated player complained in August 2012:
I purchased most of my gear for around 5 mil [gold] early on. I’ve been farming for awhile [and] have saved around 30 million gold [but now] I can’t upgrade the gear I have … Where is all this money coming from? Why is everything so expensive?
And as in real world economies, the price effects of money inflation often arise unevenly. With gold prices falling, prices began spiking in certain goods.
It’s fascinating that this virtual world experiment went along very familiar lines to those with a knowledge of real world situations and historical experiences, including the traditional measures of interfering with the pricing mechanisms via artificial price caps and floors, and even the real world tradition of redenominations:
The RMAH had minimum and maximum dollar amounts for in-game gold transactions: $0.25 minimum, $250 maximum. Market participants were also limited to dealing in increments of a certain size, called a “stack.” The “stack” was initially set to 100K gold. But as gold prices fell owing to rapidly building supply, the stack size was changed in August 2012 to 1 million. This practice, known as redenomination, is a fairly standard (if cosmetic) method of addressing inflation, but was viewed by some players as tacit devaluation.
To be clear, at the time at which the redenomination was introduced, gold was still trading above the floor rate. But being artificial, caps and floors not only prevent markets from clearing, but give black markets a target to undercut, to say nothing of offering players an opportunity to avoid the 15 percent fee — another intended gold sink — levied upon transactions within the auction house. Another player predicted,
[T]his [change] will likely have 2 effects … [it] could kill the private 3rd party market for gold and hopefully discourage botting … [but] because the real money price of gold is decreasing on the RMAH … [g]old will become cheaper as botters flood the market in an attempt to unload their massive surplus of gold before it becomes absolutely worthless. … This decision will further destabilize the economy [as in the gold auction house] prices shoot from 100,000 gold to 1,000,000 gold … [or] 10,000,000 gold to 100,000,000 gold. … The same would happen if the [Federal Reserve] decided to suddenly release a flood of currency into the U.S. economy[.]
It’s also interesting how even in this virtual case we had a mirroring of historical reality as in the case of hyperinflation the masses easily get confused and miss the cause instead going onto witchhunts:
If historical cases of hyperinflation — real, and now virtual — have one thing in common, it is the instinct among its victims to blame the symptoms rather than the disease. The Austrian economist Hans Sennholz noted that during the German hyperinflation, “intrigue and artifice” were believed to be at work. Similarly, a handful of Diablo 3 players, frustrated about the decimation of their purchasing power, expressed increasing suspicion of manipulation and conspiracy theories.
It’s particularly ironic how in a game where the money is named Gold to take from the real world credibility this virtual asset then is so devalued that people run into $ for protection against that inflation :))
By his definition, the Diablo 3 economy appears to have entered hyperinflation between February and March of 2013, when the black market price of gold fell from $0.20/million to $0.05/million — a decline of over 75 percent in a few weeks. At around that time, a player commented that he was
watching the markets collapse and gold become worthless. … So you feel rich that you have a billion or two in gold[?] … [W]ell guess what, you aren’t … there is nothing you can invest in to hold value. The only thing worth anything has become $$$.
With a sardonic irony that markets sometimes display, real world currencies had assumed the role of commodity gold, and virtual gold had gone the way of all flesh and fiat currencies.
In the end I hear the currency in Diablo 3 was saved (after the losses, of course) by very hard and unpopular dictatorial measures taken by Blizzard, the kind of stuff that often didn’t fly in the face of majority democratic politics… or maybe it would. Maybe in the future a game will even simulate democracy, maybe Diablo 4? :)) It would be quite interesting to see interest and lobbying groups forming around the game world to try to get special perks and monopolies from the game governments. Maybe limited looting rights to some regions of the game world in exchange for tribute/taxation? Aaa, we sure do live in a fascinating world, with worlds within worlds :D (anybody seen the movie “The Thirteenth Floor” ? ).
This is quite a fascinating experiment into human behavior. So much love is put into the game design of such a game world, and it’s so interesting to see humans in action, even in such controlled environments. With so many sources of learning, and such experiences, no wonder people playing such games may bring into the real world knowledge and attitudes that show a level of maturity that may surprise many. Who would have thought that virtual games may give such learning experiences to a young generation who unlike their fathers may not have personally lived through such times… maybe this kind of stuff will help people lear. Yeayy for yet another bonus for games!!!!
Not too long ago I posted a video with somebody arguing very interestingly how the series has been dumbing down. Here is a reply, also made by somebody in the know. Very interesting knowledgeable arguments versus a nostalgic aura.
Wow! something huge happened these days. Something so big I almost forgot how many years I’ve been waiting for: Steam started supporting Linux. This is epic big. This kind of stuff I could only dream of when I was a graphics writer for a Linux magazine… so all those of us who like that very special operating system will now have a new level of fun on it! I’m thinking mostly of the chain links due to this too, that more pc developers might support the platform more too now that such a big game delivery platform is there. Yeayy!
Now I should mention that I don’t agree with all the author is saying, and I have a much better opinion about appealing to more people, however I do believe the author mentions some very valid points. I quite loved Oblivion, but indeed am quite disappointed with many shallow elements in Skyrim: 3-4 dialogues options with an NPC, no branches, no choices of consequence, and yes, it is silly that in an attempt to make everything accessible items and locations/difficulty have no value anymore. Still, unlike the author I am more optimistic, I think deeper games will come, Morrowind pioneered, Oblivion & Skyrim consolidate and prove that there is a demand (shown by purchases) for such content, this will I believe open the gates for more developers and eventually the deeper more immersive content will not only re-emerge but do so on a much higher level of content value (for example I love my audio content spoken in various languages).
PS: obviously I’m saying all this stuff and caring about it because I looooove the elder scrolls games, and I hope with all my heart that more companies will make open world first person rpg games… I’m just hoping they’ll remember the depth we’re looking for.
PS2: yes, indeed there’s a certain magic to navigating a world without a compass, if the world is interesting (and not recycled models), a good example would be the Gothic 2 world.