Brad Wardell's site for talking about the customization of Windows.

gc-citizens

This is a response to the excellent article over at one of my favorite sites, Explorminate. In the article, author Oliver Kiley laments on what he sees as the current unpolished state of the modern 4X market.

[[..]]

He defines what he defines what he means by polish:

Before going further, I should clarify what, in my mind, a “polished” game has:

  • No major imbalances or exploits in the game that undermine its intended gameplay
  • No major bugs – particularly the obvious and game breaking sort
  • No major performance issues (late game lag, memory leaks, poor optimization, etc.)
  • No underdeveloped mechanics that leave you thinking that something was only half-implemented
  • An iteratively refined gameplay loop and an engaging overall game pace

I agree that the above is a good start to what would constitute polish. But the devil is in the details.  For example, I would argue that Galactic Civilizations III: Crusade was unpolished at release yet it it would have passed this definition by most standards.  Thus I would also add:

  • Gameplay systems are intuitive and highly usable
  • Documentation is complete and easily accessible
  • The tutorial is both informative and inviting
  • The game has no obvious "how could they miss that?" [typos, missing assets, etc.] bugs

So why are so many recent games having a hard time delivering a polished experience out of the gate?

The short answer is: cost. People pay for gameplay, not polish.

Crusade_players_spend_hours_just_in_the_custom_civ_builder

Galactic Civilizations III: Crusade shipped hundreds of amazing features including free-form ship design..and then misspelled "infidel"

 

Offworld Trading Company is an excellent game that was extremely polished upon release.  And yet, many players balked at its initial price point of $39.99 even though it's an excellent game and one of the few economic RTS games on the market. Polish is very expensive and generally undervalued.  Whether we like it or not, people buy games based on feature checklists and not polish.

Budgets vs. Sales

Now, let's have a cold, hard look at the game industry.  Galactic Civilizations II cost $600,000 to make.  Sins of a Solar Empire cost $800,000.  By contrast, Galactic Civilizations III cost 5X as much as GalCiv II and not only has the market not gotten bigger but price pressure is greatly increased. 

For example, Galactic Civilizations II sold over 3 million copies during its lifespan (over 700k on Steam where it wasn't added until it was over 6 years old).  That's more than all the current crop of space 4X games combined.  We're a long way from the days of games being on the shelves of Walmart and Best Buy and Steam has not filled that void completely yet (especially given its discoverability issues).

 

Patron_and_the_Patriot_Pirates (1)

Stardock's popular, MULE-inspired RTS, Offworld Trading Company is loved by many...but frequently down-voted over its price.

So what is the answer?

Each game has its own unique story. 

Galactic Civilizations III, when it first came out, had nearly half its budget consumed by the development of a brand new, multi-core, 64-bit, engine.  That meant throwing out all of the GalCiv II source code base (in multicore, you're not even supposed to use pointers to give you an idea of what's involved).  So the design was a lot more conservative than it otherwise would have been. 

Galactic Civilizations III: Crusade is outstanding and only cost $400k or so to make because its focus was purely on innovative gameplay additions.  It wasn't nearly as polished as I would like it to be but it does mean there's hope in the future (I felt GalCiv III need a lot of gameplay additions and I chose to sacrifice polish for more features) to being find a better balance between polish and innovation.

2017-04-01_13-27-06

Stardock is hoping that modding, rather than DLC, is the future.

 

Which brings us back to the question: What is the answer? Fundamentally it involves an understanding between developers and players about the strategy game market:

  1. No, gaming is not "big business".  Let me put this right out there: Endless Space 2 + Stellaris + GalCiv III combined will almost certainly never make as much money as Start8.  Enterprise software is big business.  4X strategy games (outside Civ) not so much.  There is a huge disconnect between players and developers on this issue.  I see the term "money grab" regularly used in response to a $4 DLC.  Do these same people give their barista this kind of grief? In an age where Steam Spy exists, there's no excuse for people not knowing that niche game development, especially today, is not a get rich scheme.  Developers make the games because they love making them.   
  2. Understand the trade offs. I am not privy to the budget of ES2 or Stellaris or MOO or what have you, but I would bet that the budgets for each of those were well over $5 million.  If you want to know how much a game makes, take the list price, divide it in half for the average price, then multiply it by 0.7.   So imagine a game with a $5 million budget. Let's say its list price is $40 and it has sold 200,000 units.  That means it is only about half way to breaking even on the development cost (let alone marketing, etc.). 

    The new Master of Orion game has sold about 200,000 units.  Wargaming.net paid $2 million just for the trademark.  Or put another way, the game hasn't yet sold enough to pay back the cost of the trademark acquisition let alone the development budget.  But as anyone who played it can tell you, it was very polished at release and relatively in expensive.  The criticism directed towards it is that it wasn't ambitious enough.   Would the new MOO have sold better if it had been less polished but more ambitious? I think so.

    The point being: Developers have to be very careful where they invest their resources.  
  3. Understand why timing matters.  Have you noticed that May is the new release date for many games? That's because in the Steam universe, if you don't release your game by mid May, you have to wait until September. June is the Steam sale month and July and August are dead months effectively.  If your studio has a $500k per month burn rate, you are asking them to lay off employees to delay.   I delayed Sorcerer King until August specifically for polish (and it's one of Explorminate's favorite titles).  But polish hasn't made Sorcerer King popular. It's sold only around 60,000 units on a $2 million budget.  Instead, Sorcerer King would have been better served having a lot more depth and features rather than going smaller and more polished.  Thus, if you have a game that is basically done but could use more polish and your choice is to release it in May or wait until August and polish it, then you should release it in May (we waited until August and had to lay people off when it didn't sell as well as we hoped -- if we had released it in May and sold the same quantity, the studio wouldn't have had to lay anyone off).
  4. Patience.  As an industry, we are migrating from a 32-bit, single core code base to a multi-core, 64-bit code base.  It's worth noting that the most "innovative" game the author calls out is the one that hasn't begun that transition yet and thus could take advantage of a mature code base.  But ES2 and GalCiv III both had to make that transition and it's non-trivial.  It just means that the next set of games will be much more polished.  Going from from single core to multi-core is very hard.  All that code where you're passing around pointers? Yea, that's gotta go for the most part.  That's a really bitter pill to swallow.

 

So the good news is that I think players will see a substantial improvement in polish going forward as the transition from 32-bit, single-core to 64-bit multicore is completed.  But in the meantime, we had to pick between gameplay, cost and polish and we can only pick two. 

Crusade_Resources

GalCiv III: Crusade. Some argue this is what GalCiv III should have been.  But many of those players never played GalCiv II (the base game) but rather started at the Ultimate Edition.

I really enjoyed Mez's article. It also highlights the core disconnect between gamers and developers.  The best way to think of those of us making these games is that we're gamers who happen to know how to code.  We aren't in this for the money.  We're in this because we love the games and the gaming community.

Cheers!

-brad


Comments (Page 4)
on Jun 12, 2017

I go back to Dungeons of the Slyn for semi-regular flings.  I even forked over a whopping $3 for the paid version on my computer.

on Jun 12, 2017

Interesting article.

 

Why don't you try offering a subscription model for a game? Ie pay an initial cost ($40), then subscribe  $5/mon in exchange for regular new development and polishing etc.

 

That way you can scale up or down team size based on game popularity. For example if galciv has 20000 paying subscribers, at $5 per month, then you would have maybe 50k per month to spend on salaries to build galciv. This could then be scaled up or down as required.

 

Recurring revenue is amazing from a financial perspective as well

on Jun 12, 2017

To be clear - I would happily pay a recurring fee if it meant the game regularly got new content balancing polish and features

on Jun 12, 2017

Another option is to become like dota2 - try and build an artist driven model. Let us sell ship designs to each other and take a clip

on Jun 12, 2017

Jeremy_Mac_Donald


Quoting ZombiesRus5,






Quoting Alstein,



I think the reason you're seeing the expectations of consumers of games (largely millenials and younger) becoming tough is a combination of higher competition on Steam, and the effects of late capitalism.  Simply put, the public is so squeezed financially that $4 is a lot these days.   Add to that most folks do have 100 game backlogs they can go back to at any time, and you really have to come up with something new in order to gain sales.



This is a load of socialist BS. 



Annoying.

If you disagree with Alstein that is cool - but tell us why you think he is wrong instead of just calling him a commie liar. 

Ok, fine... You should "Get a Job". If you can't afford a luxury item then make a budget. If you still can't afford a luxury item, get better training. If you still can't afford a luxury item, continue to work harder and improve. Trying to attribute "the public is so squeezed financially that $4 is a lot these days" to some flaw in capitalism is fundamentally dishonest and expecting some redistribution of wealth to solve your ills is also fundamentally flawed.

on Jun 12, 2017

ZombiesRus5


Quoting Jeremy_Mac_Donald,






Quoting ZombiesRus5,











Quoting Alstein,







I think the reason you're seeing the expectations of consumers of games (largely millenials and younger) becoming tough is a combination of higher competition on Steam, and the effects of late capitalism.  Simply put, the public is so squeezed financially that $4 is a lot these days.   Add to that most folks do have 100 game backlogs they can go back to at any time, and you really have to come up with something new in order to gain sales.




This is a load of socialist BS. 




Annoying.

If you disagree with Alstein that is cool - but tell us why you think he is wrong instead of just calling him a commie liar. 



Ok, fine... You should "Get a Job". If you can't afford a luxury item then make a budget. If you still can't afford a luxury item, get better training. If you still can't afford a luxury item, continue to work harder and improve. Trying to attribute "the public is so squeezed financially that $4 is a lot these days" to some flaw in capitalism is fundamentally dishonest and expecting some redistribution of wealth to solve your ills is also fundamentally flawed.

 

You need to stop. Seriously, exit the thread. It's off topic, doesn't address the points, and contains sentiments being steadily debunked in economic journals currently. 

on Jun 12, 2017

adamb1011

Interesting article.

 

Why don't you try offering a subscription model for a game? Ie pay an initial cost ($40), then subscribe  $5/mon in exchange for regular new development and polishing etc.

 

That way you can scale up or down team size based on game popularity. For example if galciv has 20000 paying subscribers, at $5 per month, then you would have maybe 50k per month to spend on salaries to build galciv. This could then be scaled up or down as required.

 

Recurring revenue is amazing from a financial perspective as well

I don't play games where I have to subscribe and pay regularly. Then I would feel forced to play even if I have not so much time or appetite to get an exchange value for my money, and that would kill the fun for me. Perhaps there are others who share that sentiment ...

on Jun 12, 2017

tid242


I've never played Spaceworld Ho, but it sounds to me like it'd be a great game for $8 ... but not one I'd ever spend >100 hours playing.
 

Correct. Spaceward Ho! was  a downgraded Master of Orion with some funny ideas, I didn't play it very long. Still I have some romantic memories ...

on Jun 12, 2017

lyssailcor


Quoting adamb1011,

Interesting article.

 

Why don't you try offering a subscription model for a game? Ie pay an initial cost ($40), then subscribe  $5/mon in exchange for regular new development and polishing etc.

 

That way you can scale up or down team size based on game popularity. For example if galciv has 20000 paying subscribers, at $5 per month, then you would have maybe 50k per month to spend on salaries to build galciv. This could then be scaled up or down as required.

 

Recurring revenue is amazing from a financial perspective as well



I don't play games where I have to subscribe and pay regularly. Then I would feel forced to play even if I have not so much time or appetite to get an exchange value for my money, and that would kill the fun for me. Perhaps there are others who share that sentiment ...

 

I'm yet to be convinced by the 'games are a service' approach being pushed by the likes of EA, etc. I will ask you this -- some people argue that Paradox's DLC model is a quasi subscription model, where the stream of DLC funds continued development. Is that something you would be on board with?

on Jun 12, 2017

TheFunMachine


Quoting lyssailcor,






Quoting adamb1011,



Interesting article.

 

Why don't you try offering a subscription model for a game? Ie pay an initial cost ($40), then subscribe  $5/mon in exchange for regular new development and polishing etc.

 

That way you can scale up or down team size based on game popularity. For example if galciv has 20000 paying subscribers, at $5 per month, then you would have maybe 50k per month to spend on salaries to build galciv. This could then be scaled up or down as required.

 

Recurring revenue is amazing from a financial perspective as well



I don't play games where I have to subscribe and pay regularly. Then I would feel forced to play even if I have not so much time or appetite to get an exchange value for my money, and that would kill the fun for me. Perhaps there are others who share that sentiment ...



 

I'm yet to be convinced by the 'games are a service' approach being pushed by the likes of EA, etc. I will ask you this -- some people argue that Paradox's DLC model is a quasi subscription model, where the stream of DLC funds continued development. Is that something you would on board with?

If the question was for me, I'd say that I could live with the Paradox model since it's not about the absolute amount of money I have to pay but in a subscription model to be forced to pay for nothing if you have no time or appetite to play. With a DLC model I could at least determine myself when I pay for what and would only buy the DLCs if I really can and want to play.

on Jun 12, 2017

lyssailcor


Quoting tid242,


I've never played Spaceworld Ho, but it sounds to me like it'd be a great game for $8 ... but not one I'd ever spend >100 hours playing.
 



Correct. Spaceward Ho! was  a downgraded Master of Orion with some funny ideas, I didn't play it very long. Still I have some romantic memories ...

Hah! romantic memories are allowed...  

 

lyssailcor

I don't play games where I have to subscribe and pay regularly. Then I would feel forced to play even if I have not so much time or appetite to get an exchange value for my money, and that would kill the fun for me. Perhaps there are others who share that sentiment ...

 

I have to agree, I'd rather just buy  the game (and the $4.99 DLC here and there if I were so inclined).  I think some other AAA companies ruined the idea for me, honestly.  Besides, it sort of becomes a job at that point - "I'm paying $10/month, so I guess I have to play it to get my money's worth"  Really makes it un-fun.  It's really strange, we know that this specific quirk in individual behavior exists, why in the hell would a game company (Blizzard's WoW, for example) decide to go this route (they don't have anyone that took micro-econ 101 working there?).  But maybe they don't mind having a playerbase primarily of kids spending their allowance money on it, and addicted and depressed adults spending their money on it..

At some level, I feel like this works for passive entertainment (Netflix, for example), but a lot less well for active entertainment (like games). Unless you wear white sleeveless sweaters and eat cake at the country club I guess.. 

I mean this is what Humble Bundle is doing with their monthly model - anyone know how that's actually selling?  (as a corollary, these guys would be the competition).  

Ima gtg, have to buy a whole large pizza and feel like I have to finish the whole thing because I paid for it..

cheers

on Jun 12, 2017

TheFunMachine

You need to stop. Seriously, exit the thread. It's off topic, doesn't address the points, and contains sentiments being steadily debunked in economic journals currently. 

Typical. The topic is about cost. So no... I don't think I'll exit.

on Jun 12, 2017

Brad, you've mentioned on several occasions that games represent an insignificant percent of SD revenue. If that's the case, why does it seem that you have a chip on your shoulder regarding them. In a short period of time you've posted twice about GC3....

If making games is the hobby you claim it to be, just make them and be happy.

 

Fwiw, I think GC3 is going in the right direction.

 

on Jun 12, 2017

Auramagma

The point IMHO is not only about small games design, but coherent one with different systems interlinked on many levels and working together. Endless legend and endless space 2 and civilization 4 are not small games, but all are very well designed. And I think people are buying them.  

The original article I was responding to was about Endless Space 2 not being polished.

It's not whether a game is well designed or not.  I agree that the games you mentioned are all very well designed and people are buying them.  Which is the point: If a game is well designed, people will buy it even if they are not well polished when first shipped.

on Jun 12, 2017

Borg999

Brad, you've mentioned on several occasions that games represent an insignificant percent of SD revenue. If that's the case, why does it seem that you have a chip on your shoulder regarding them. In a short period of time you've posted twice about GC3....

If making games is the hobby you claim it to be, just make them and be happy.

 

Fwiw, I think GC3 is going in the right direction.

 

I think you're reading too much in to my posts.

There is no topic too trivial that I won't argue to the death about it.

Think about how many people argue politics on Facebook and yet they probably don't make a living via politics.

 

Meta
Views
» 65754
Comments
» 97
Sponsored Links