Wednesday, December 07, 2011

This ONLINE PASS thing...

While it would be nice to take to heart the 'Jaffe's such a man of the people' well wishes that are coming my way from folks who usually dislike my virtual presence, I feel the need to clear up my stance on online passes.

In doing so, I’m sure some of my new ‘fans’ will call me an ass but at least I’ll be an honest ass.

Granted before they call me an ass I imagine some of them will talk to me about used car and used CD sales and on and on and on and on. Blech. Enough. It’s a junior high school debate team quality argument and you should know better. So moving on…

Point is this: I like used sales for customers. The customer should ALWAYS get the best deal they can. Been saying this for years and if you've followed this blog and my tweets, you know I've been unwavering on this view.

Now sure, while anyone who creates anything should always pursue and desire to create work that is so moving and so excellent that it creates a sense of loyalty in the customer, the honest bottom line is: the customer doesn’t owe us shit other than the cost we ask for to purchase the work we’ve done.  And we have to- as we should- work our ASSES off- with each and every new product- to earn the customer’s renewed desire to hand their precious money over to us in exchange for a product that- we hope- will bring them the promised effect (joy, entertainment, sustenance,etc).

But besides paying the cost of the product, the customer doesn’t owe us anything and I can tell you that when we put out a new game, we wait with baited breath hoping the customer will love- or at least like- what we’ve sold them because if they do, it means we may get a chance to do what we love once again.

But the core transaction is: we make something and (in my world) the publisher (who pays for that something) sets a price and the customer pays or doesn’t. And if the customer doesn't pay, then the publisher goes out of business. And the customer should not care. The customer should ALWAYS look out only for himself and should ALWAYS get the best deal they can and not give 2 shits if the publisher or the developer is making money or not. 

Now I'm not saying it’s not appreciated and nice when customers DO say stuff like ‘I buy my games new so the developer and publisher who paid for the game and bled for the game make the cash’…that fucking ROCKS to hear! I'm just saying those are nice surprises when we hear them, but we don’t expect that to be the general thinking and frankly, it should not be the general thinking. To me, the general customer thinking ideally should be: ‘Man, I love the games company X makes! They’ve made me so happy over the years and I feel like I’ve always gotten more value than what I paid for whenever I buy one of their products! Man, I just love that company and...Oh, what's that you say?!? They have a new game coming out? Well, it BETTER fucking good or those guys ain’t seeing a dime of my cash!’….  

So that’s my take on customers who buy games, used or otherwise.  

HIGH CONCEPT: I like used game sales for customers. Customer is always right. I get it and I like it.


I don’t like used sales for publishers and developers. I fucking hate what used sales do to publishers and developers. We make no cash at all when a game is sold used.

I wish retailers would cut us in on the action.

I get people don’t think we legally should be cut in on the action and they are 100% right. 

Legally speaking, I mean. 

Retailers don’t owe us shit other than what they promised in the deal that was signed.

We- or in my case, the game publisher- entered into a deal with the retailers and, far as I know, that deal didn’t involve publishers or developers making cash off the games the retailer sells to the customer used. I got no issue with that. It sucks, but hey, you live by the deal you make. Works for me.

Now, I do wish the retailers would cut us in as I personally like most retailers I’ve met and think they are honest and hard working folks as well and would like to see us all do well. But because the folks who pay to make the games are not getting a dime from a large (majority?) amount of sales the retailers do, I do think it’s bringing about digital distribution a hell of a lot faster than it otherwise would have. Which means sooner than later- just like record stores and soon to be book and comic book stores- those retailers (again, many of whom I like a lot) will be out of work.

And while I understand the point of view that used games actually help new games sell, and think in SOME customer’s cases this is totally true- we’ve seen way too much deterioration in the game business as of late for me to think that reasoning is pervasive among enough consumers that it counters the sales lost by publishers on used games. And so…

I do feel a large %  of that console software biz deterioration comes from the used game market cutting into the game maker’s ability to break even (let alone turn a profit).

Other than used game sales, I also get that another large % of the retail console software biz deterioration comes from the fact that MOST games cost too much to make and MOST games cost too much out of the consumers pocket.  60 bucks is a lot of muh-fukin-money for ANYTHING other that food and roof and shelter. No doubt. So hell yeah- at that price- customers are gonna be even MORE motivated to get the best deal they can. Why the hell not?!? So the games cost too much (to make and to buy...but I've seen the break evens and budgets folks...I assure you: there is not a lot of padding in these the cost of most 60 dollar games, break evens are close to 1 million units sold and often times that point the argument logically goes to: well SOME games sell amazing at 60 bucks so just make those! And to that I direct you here*)

Another big reason console game profits are falling is free and free to play games and less expensive download only games that- in many cases- are providing as much entertainment value as the big $60.00 games (again, I said ‘entertainment value’, not graphic quality or scope or similar experience as console gaming). Got no issue with this. If someone can entertain you for 99 cents good enough, why WOULD you pay $60 for anything OTHER THAN SIMPLY THE CREAM OF THE MUH-FUKIN-CROP, especially when that 'good enough but not great' $60 game will be $50 bucks used in just a few days...and 20 bucks in a month! So I get there are other reasons the 60 dollar game market is getting all fucked up. 

It ain’t JUST used sales.

And you know, that’s not even a bad thing.

Fuck it. If the traditional console market gets the shit disrupted out of it to the point that there are only 1-2 big budget games from 5-6 big publishers a year because that is what the free market decided, well then fuck it: that’s progress and disruption and it’s exciting and fun and I’m honored and privileged to be a part of it the biz at such an exciting time. Games have been around in some form or another for over 5000 years. We ain’t going nowhere.  So cool- bring change on. I’m in.

But RIGHT NOW we are still in the 60 dollar physical good space and that is space we are talking about. So…

…unless someone can show facts to the contrary (i.e. if there are facts out there that show that new games actually sell MORE because of used games, can you please provide a link? And don’t send me a link of the pres of some mega corp retailer just SAYING that…show us the figures, please…show us the stats)…but yeah, so unless you can show actual proof that used sales help new sales (and I don’t think you can, but I’m willing to admit I’m wrong if you can), it seems that a big % of the reason that it is feast or famine for the majority of retail console games is NOT because gamers actually feel the industry’s games are not worth 60 bucks, but it’s because the game you wanted that was 60 bucks 24 hours ago can now be purchased the day after release for a 5 or 10 dollar discount! Why would most people NOT WAIT the scant 12-36 hours it often takes for a BRAND NEW GAME to be sold used?   

And when the folks who make and/or finance the games don’t see a dime because the customer has been fiscally responsible and waited for a less expensive price for the IDENTICAL EXPERIENCE (which- by the way- is one of the big reasons ((but not the only one)) where the used car comparison breaks down), it becomes harder and harder for the folks who fund the games to break even, let alone profit.  

So why would us in the game biz try NOT to get some of that cash for ourselves, especially since there is truth when publishers tell you that it costs a lot of money to run online games and there are a large % of players playing these games for free and game makers/publishers should not have to take on the extra cost of maintaining the online game experience for those folks who have not paid us a dime.

*I get some folks will say, 'Well just make a game that I don’t want to sell back, you fucking idiot game maker loser greedy fuck'! And to that I say: yeah, fuck off. Actually I first say, ‘say good bye to story based games that last 8 hours (still a good fucking deal compared to a movie ticket considering you get to own the game and play it multiple times and a movie ticket lets you watch it a single time and then it’s a memory). And THEN I say to say goodbye even a lot of the long SP games cause those are getting hit as well...sure it may take a few weeks longer for a long game like Skyrim or Darksiders to hit USED but it'll get there, an it won't take long. So I say those things first. And THEN I say fuck off. And THEN I say, “show me something fun that never gets old and I’ll show you someone masturbating’.

And you know what’s funny? Besides that last line, I mean?

What's funny is: if used game sales for almost new games were selling briskly for 30 bucks less but barely a dollar more, then a message would be coming to us game makers loud and clear. That message would be ‘your products are wayyyyyy too expensive! We don't think they are worth 60 bucks or 50 bucks or even fucking 40 ass bucks!!!'....But a lot of used game sales are a tiny 10 bucks off. Usually less…like 5 bucks off! And they sell great! So you’re saying that SHADOWS OF THE DAMNED makes sense at 55 dollars but not 60?!? Or the brilliant RAYMAN:ORIGINS would have sold much better at 50 bucks but not 60?** Please. It’s a bullshit argument that really can only be logically made by folks who NEVER pay more than 30 bucks a game. 

So all this rambling is me saying these three things about the online pass:

-      -#1- I like the online pass for most games. I'm happy to be affiliated with a publisher that is at least TRYING to find a way to keep making big budget games that don't have to just be military shooters. Not that military shooters are bad, I love those kinds of games- they are great! But I also love that big publishers are willing- and currently able- to roll the big ass money dice on some titles that are more imaginative and unique (conceptually, IP wise) than military shooters. And if it turns out an online pass allows those publishers to keep rolling those dice on things like THE LAST GUARDIAN or LA NOIR or SHADOW RUN or BULLETSTORM or MASS EFFECT (on paper, that game- amazing as it turned out- could not have looked like a slam dunk, could it?!?) or NO MORE HEROES or yes, even TWISTED METAL and STARHAWK...then so motherfuckin be it. 

-       #2- I don’t like the online pass for TWISTED METAL but not for some 'man of the people/Jaffe really gets the customer and wants to stick it to the publisher/man' 'noble' reason. The ONLY reason I want Twisted Metal to ship without the online pass is because the big picture in my mind is to get as many folks trying Twisted Metal- even folks that we make NO money off of- so that if we ever make a part 2, our fan base will be much bigger and then on THAT game use the online pass. 

-      #3-I could be wrong about online passes. It could be true that making customers use online passes is actually hurting sales. Perhaps the vocal minority who say ‘they will never buy a game with an online pass’ is really quite a big ass group. And in that case- as I hope it’s clear by now- we should never do an online pass and figure out how- if at all- we can deal with the used sales issue that has significantly contributed to the drop in software dollars publishers (and thus developers) have been seeing as of late.  I’m all for letting the market decide and if the market says ‘we hate online passes’ then fuck it, you ignore your customers at your own peril and I don't want to play that game. Again, customer is always right. But I really don't think that's what is going on here.


** I enjoyed SHADOWS OF THE DAMNED and LOVE RAYMAN:ORIGINS (top 5 of the year, for sure) but I am just saying that if someone was willing to pay 55 bucks for RAYMAN, then they are willing to pay 60. I don't know if the number of folks who will buy RAYMAN:ORIGINS used (thus denying Ubisoft of any cash) is enough to bring them into profit (assuming they have not broken even- but I know NOTHING about that game's dev or cost...just using it as example cause I love it and it doesn't seem to have 'BIG 60 dollar hit!' written on it)...but no matter how much extra Ubisoft would make on that game if they got some of the used sales, at least it's SOMETHING they can add to get them closer to profit. Doesn't matter if you are talking a brilliant 60 dollar game that doesn't sell, a shitty 60 dollar game that does, or - best case- a brilliant 60 dollar game that flies off the shelf, the folks who financed it and made it NEED a cut from those used sales if the 60 dollar games biz is to survive in a form even somewhat resembling the current one. And again- if it doesn't survive- that's fine too. 99 cents, 10 bucks, 100 bucks...been wanting digital distribution and varied pricing tiers for years anyway! :)