Microz and the Futurez?
This is a collection of “industry pulse” videos I’ve seen in the past month on the subject, some with what I thought were good points to think about. I had been meaning to make predictions video on the subject, so for lack of time I’ll just mix the predictions in here:
I also believe that this is a consumption of buildup credibility and there’ll be a to them surprising point where all the resentment will bubble up possibly in a surprising way.
Prediction 1: “increase in inequality”: I expect some will get away with it, those who also deliver a particularly good game anyway, but the consumers will build up a resentment towards the system. If you go out and pay 70$ for a game because it is unique and special in some way but reaaaly hate some parts of it, that part of the vote is not getting through, so it remains bottled up, looking for another way to express itself. The reason i make the inequality joke reference here is because big huge games will get away with it, while smaller games I expect will get the builtup sh** storm. Most people are getting the next Red Dead Redemption/GTA game even if it has them, because surely it’ll have great stuff in it besides that, but those same people might then spill a lot of hate on the next ones that try to do similar on a lower budget/expertise.
Prediction 2: “voting with your pocket will remain more important than words”: By this I mean that as longs as consumers will spend lots of money in microz the popular outrage will be irrelevant. This is in the past referenced by games which got bad reviews but great sales or the other way around, where I often found myself defending the great sales and criticizing the imo pretentious reviewers who expected the masses to buy based on their tastes or some moralistic aspect of games when the people, myself included, just wanted quality entertainment, (and not as dictated by the elite). Although from a design & incentives perspective this model Just like how one can easily imagine a vicious cycle for the model, where the devs make your game feel frustrating and incomplete to encourage purchases, there could be a virtuous cycle too, where a BIIIG game, say take AC Origins, in addition (not instead!!! this is the crucial point) to a big world offers also a “store” for other experiences/artwork. This could be virtuous in the sense of creating a financial possibility for great artists to be constantly developing new content. In this model the game itself would become like an “amazon store” for game content. This however is made somewhat unlikely by the incentives of human nature plus a question that i’ve been wondering about a lot for years but never got to write a full article about: “how much of the new-ness of a game experience is in fact ‘the programming’ as opposed to the artwork”. This would be solved if say an ingame store could actually sell you new ways to explore that world or interact with it, but this is borderline impossible on the difficulty scale. Anyway, back to the prediction, I think people will continue to buy great games, but this getting on their nerves will increasingly raise their expectations and lower their tolerance. Also this fits in with the fact that a free game will be more tolerated with this than an expensive one, where there’s the risk of people simply reverting to buying only the biggest titles and drying out revenue for the 2nd and 3rd best, making it a winner take all market like in P1 above.
Prediction 3: “it will become a bashing/bragging point”: I see microz (i’ll use this term to denote micro-transactions+lootboxes+the ecosystem thei incentivize) a similar credibility consumption of builtup past years, just like when govs after years of stability take the rational decision to “monetize” the accumulated credibility through inflation resulting in additional revenue streams: what they have in common is that they’re both rational on the part of the actors, and predictable in their incentives, make big outrage but have an evolutionary competition aspect to it where the actors in the end decide to do it. I’ve seen it also with softwares I loved (Winamp, Nero, Windows, Yahoo, … ) And as there here in games too I expect as one company decides to go this route another more entrepreneurial one will rise by being the new innovator advocating the desires of the customers and getting their praises even as the old titan for a while continues to get the bulk of the income and people. Thus I expect to become even more a badge of honor in some games’ hat when they don’t have microz, this getting them media attention and sales, while the old fans of the older ones will stick to those but slowly drift away. And then the cycle will repeat. I’m remembering here for example how I was very happy to support Good Old Games as a platform that just gives you the game with DRM, and as they were tiny they were a great deal but then as they grew I started to notice a tendency for them too to want to get people to use their own downloader… i see it as an eternal evolutionary competition, but unfortunately from what I’ve seen with countries rarely can a slope be reversed once it starts in one direction, instead it is more likely that some new actor comes in with a new mentality.
Prediction 3: “multiplayer focus”: I expect the issue will more strongly affect multiplayer games… but also for this reason tempt more and more singleplayer games into becoming “social” in some way (a possibility is like MGS5 did), for human nature reasons: you might or might not buy a purple star sparkly cloak for just you too see, but once there’s other viewers many will want to do the “conspicuous consumption” + identity thing. I expect the multiplayer side to get more income on this and thus push it stronger, while the spicy thing for news watchers will be that those same multiplayer players being so aware of social status will also be the likeliest to make very vocal cries of unfairness in a similar fashion to the general cries for social equality. This will be contradicting as the same people will be the ones buying the most to get an edge… but the push of our species as a social one might be very strong (i’ve even heard people advocating getting the state/laws involved on the arguments of regulating gambling or consumer protection). For this double edged reason we should see more PR trickery and spins as well as debuffing of those spins as they fall into disrepute after working a while.
Prediction 4: bad but also good design changes to support microz: This seems kinda obvious, but wait, I’ll actually get a bit more spicy speciffic. In some cases they’ll be obvious perversions, like when a game which should be a survival horror can lose it’s character by becoming pay to progress, however interestingly enough it’s the nature of producers trying to please consumers that even while asking for money they might actually satisfy little known consumer needs. For example in the past couple of years I’ve felt a huge undercurrent of people wanting “hard games”. This comes contrary to the previous decade or two when games got easier and easier in order to reach a mass market, but as it did some gamers wanted a return to “bragging rights games”. Interestingly enough with microz I see that as becoming a possibility. Take for example the last two games I’ve been playing Shadow of War and AC Origins: both are at times shockingly hard. And I don’t think this is accidental. The difficulty gives the dev an opportunity to sell “helping items”. So i find it a makes-me-laugh kind of paradox where a “consumer exploitation” direction will actually respond to a pretty deep consumer need. Suddenly again devs will make hard games.. which sure, some will pay their way through, but some will actually enjoy the challenge and take it as an excuse to spend more time and get more immersed into their favorite fictional worlds.
Prediction 5: good things will be done out of self interest : This one’s very Adam Smith-ian. Many people foolishly expect devs to make fantastic content for free, or appeal to a sense of morality and sense of quality, but until the west goes to full on central planning with games made and mandated by gov regulations and all the bad things that entails a more reliable expectation is related to the above. The most interesting element from that news is the pushback coming from Disney now, the worries of the backlash against EA hitting back on the Star Wars brand, something that on the one hand makes me happy as an advocate of “consumer protection via the ‘selfish companies’ ‘ own selfinterest, but also makes perfect business sense as you have wholly different thinking when you’re thinking of all the SW good will built up over decades vs the profits of a certain game licensed with the brand. I find that rational because similar to how i saw the Linux community being a very vocal very small minority on the internet should it happen for example that a new SW movie comes out and somebody googles that and instead of that hits the very vocal gaming community’s outrage… it could be bad for them. This became evident to me recently upon watching a “top disliked youtube videos” and i was surprised to see the top elements being ones which somehow managed to insult the gamers or game streamers.
There’s some more thoughts I had, stuff like P6: It’s a form of hidden reflection of the general monetary devaluation of the west or P7: it could pull more free-ness, audience enlarging even while changing types of product… … … … but i won’t get into more as the article already got too long… hope you found some of the thoughts interesting and thought provoking. What do you think? Any particular prediction that you particularly agree or dissagree with? One that you love or hate… or like me, one that you hate but see as quite logical?
PS: if you’re hungry for more videos/comments on the subject this post http://artsygamer.com/activisions-microtransaction-patent/ has two more interesting ones as well as a nicely heated comments discussion.
PS2: seems like I missed a reaaaly BIG one with the governments getting into the action. When the Jimquisition predicted this I thought it was just a gamer dangerous wishful thinking…