Greedy Goblin

Friday, June 30, 2017

The market for lemon games

For long I ignored MassivelyOP, because I considered it a collection of publisher advertisements as posts. It is, but now I'm looking for a game, so ads at least inform me of their existence. The amount of "content" is overwhelming, like a dozen PR pieces posts every day.

No, not various posts about a few games, they are about bizarre amount of games (click, really!). I heard of more titles in the last two days than years before. And after wasting some time looking them up, I can't blame myself for ignorance. Most of them are utter crap. Like "on Steam for a year and has 300 players" crap.

At first this title creep seems to defy economics. Games have large fixed costs but small per-customer costs, so they should go large. An already large game is in much better position to catch another customer than a new one. The same is true for content: creating a new WoW dungeon for Blizzard is much-much easier than for a new studio to create a game with that one dungeon, since WoW already has characters, spells, engine, graphics assets.

Yet there are no few big games, but awful lot of smalls, most in early access. The solution for this nonsense is the Market for lemons. This economic theory says that if the customers can't evaluate the quality of products before purchase and some of the products are crap, they respond with decreasing the money they are ready to pay "hey, if they sell me crap, at least let it be cheap". While this is logical, it means that good products disappear from the market, since selling those for cheap is loss. By good products disappearing, the average market becomes worse and the buyers pay even less. We reached this equilibrium in gaming: there is nothing here but early access rubbish.

Now I could preach what the government could do to stop this nonsense (enforce warranties, blacklist developers who developed failed games and couldn't even pay refunds to the customers), but you aren't a government. What can we do to end this? The most important is not rewarding lemon produces for producing lemons. I made a big mistake giving Crowfall and Albion money before they even published the game. I rewarded crappy development. If everyone stops giving money to early access or even pre-development games, the only way of game development will be getting investors or joining a wealthy studio. The investors and studio bosses have means to separate peaches from lemons due to extensive experience on the field. No investor would have given $150M to a merry band of daydreamers to develop Star Citizen, the masterpiece of this era (still no release date despite 2014 Nov release promises on Kickstarter).

It's hard, because I currently see no games that would fit in the following criteria:
  • Not rigged/broken: the game actually does what its description says. Please note that "rigged" and "broken" cannot be separated without inside information. I can't be sure if Ghost Training in EVE was placed there purposefully by corrupted devs or created and ignored by incompetent ones (I can guess though). But I can be sure that in EVE the game behaves very differently than it should: gave out trillions of ISK worth of skillpoints to players who didn't even log in or pay a dime.
  • Performance matters: good play produces different rewards than bad play. Not a bit more of the same. WoW battlegrounds fail right here: if you just idle in the corner, you still get honor points which you can use for gear.
  • Rewards matter: the rewards aren't cosmetic but affect power. "Power" is defined as "can do what lesser players cannot". There goes BDO with all its TET gear that helps you kill the same zerged bosses and maybe pwn some newbs who just shrug and respawn.
  • No welfare: rewards can't be gained just by waiting, logging in. There goes WoW PvE: while in mythic raiding and even high key dungeons performance matters (if you suck, you wipe and get no loot) and the rewards matter (loot makes your performance better), but if you just log out and wait a patch, better loot will be dropped by LFR.
  • Not APM: the "good performance" doesn't simply mean clicking faster. This is personal preference and I do not dismiss APM games, I just don't like them. If you have fun doing SC2, the more power to you. I prefer using my brain than my fingers.
However I no longer request anyone to suggest me some obscure game that might be good. Instead, I'll stick to high-playerbase games (including ones with early access badge) because they are either good, or at least have a strong studio with strong marketing behind them, giving them the chance to become good.

That doesn't mean I won't follow some awesome looking projects wishing and hoping. I've just found something really great... looking. But I'll be damned if I give them a dime before they actually publish and prove that they can deliver their promises by getting traction. I'll post about them soon, because the concept itself deserves attention.


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, "a collection of publisher press releases as posts" describes a lot of the modern magazine and online "press," not just gaming.

IMO, "on Steam for a year and has 300 players" is better than a lot of these Kickstarter/EarlyAccess games will achieve.

I don't understand your aversion to WoW resets. A couple of times a year, there is a patch and it is esentially starting over. WoW PvP season is a hard reset; PvE is more of a soft reset. A game by a for-profit developer needs new players. Unless it is tiny, it has to catch them up or start over. How is what you did in WoW 7.2 has little difference in 7.3 any different than in other games what you did in Season X has little impact on season X+1. WoW is not a sandbox. While sandboxes get a lot of support from commenters, sandboxes are mostly just the tiny and EVE. ( And $kill injectors are the catchup mechanism there.)

Part of the problem is that you and Massively have been looking at MMOs. Gaming is a hundred billion dollar a year business, successful and growing rapidly. MMOs are in decline; there was a stretch when GW2, SWTOR, FF XIV, TESO, and Wildstar launched. I can't recall any Western AAA MMO on the horizon. Will there be a new AAA MMO before New World launches, probably early next decade?

Gevlon said...

@Anon: many early access crap won't even see the light. But 300 players is still bad.

Resets destroy old content and your old efforts. Which is the selling point of an MMO. If I wanted clean slate every 15 minutes, I'd play CS. New players can start their journey at the beginning of the content. Skill injectors (except for Ghost training) are "boosting": old players give their own advantage to the new one.

Cathfaern said...

Would you consider WoW PvE ok if it would be the Vanilla / BC modell? New expansion invalidates previous achievements, but there is no in-expansion reset.

Gevlon said...

@Cathfaern: that's an acceptable compromise, though I'd prefer no reset ever.

L Papay said...

Two things here.

One, some people want to play MMO, and they are looking for a new thing since existing games seem to be running downhill. Given that that audience seems to be 30-40ish with some disposable income (and not shelling on facebook games), they are seen as cows ready to be milked. So for every nostalgia-driven legit-project-with-inept-devs you have 5 low-effort cash grabs, and is bit hard to tell which is which. Given that game dev time (assuming competent team/leadership) is about 5 years, we are yet to see just how many failures/plain cash grabs are out there.

Second thing is WoW skewing the perception of MMO should be. As it is, it is single player game with some mmo-like features, and you see people doing similar things as you do . Content wise, raid is biggest player concentration of players actually interacting in any meaningful manner (but even then mostly not). How many % of people that are playing/played WoW are there to actually interact? 2%?

Looking at WoW numbers without realizing that, means market potential is really overestimated.

With EvE being more of actual MMO, ~20k concurrent players avg, out of that 10% that are actually seeking engagement with other people? I would say 2k-10k "concurent players" so 20-100k sustainable accounts is realistic expectation of what any MMo can pull. You are looking at monthly revenue stream of 0.25-1.5M$ ..

Compare that with say, Star citizen pixel ship sales generating 1.3-2.6M$ /Month, not even mention sales( .. so really, why bother? As long as there are people gullible enough to throw some money at you?

(plus, 100$ for someone from Central/Eastern has different meaning than for someone from West, so there is also the "spare change" factor .. come to think of it maybe looking at what kind of people spend money on MMos would be interesting?)

Ulrik said...

No reset ever means a single player game. If everybody starts from the same place, always, the (few remaining) players will eventually be scattered all over the power curve, and you will always either boost or be boosted. This is why WoW even has an endgame - at some point the game has to have the players at roughly the same power level if you want them to play group content.

Gevlon said...

@Ulrik: WoW has 5.5M players. If you split them into 100 tiers, you still have 55K per tier. There is tech for megaserver already, so it would be easy to just phase out everyone not on your tier and offer those who are on it to play with.

Slawomir Chmielewski said...

I think you are forgetting the human factor, in your normal Goblinish fashion.
Why are people playing the games in the first place?
Some do it for the company just so they have something to talk about with their gaming friends.
Some do it because they genuinely like the intellectual challenge.
Most do it because they want to win. I'm not exactly saying all gamers are losers, though. People with mediocre, boring lives need to win. We have it in our genes. We need to compete and win with other men otherwise we get depressed, the serotonergic system has been in the genetic pool for 350 millions years. It's older than trees, for comparison.
If gamers want to win the product selling best is not games, it's wins.
Look at a typical WoW raid: if you win you get an awesome weapon. If you wipe - nothing happens. You rinse and repeat and, most importantly, it was someone else's fault that wiped the raid. They are the losers, not you.
What better way to be a winner than Star Citizen? You get awesome ships, weapons and skins and you never have to play (which would show your inadequacy as a starship captain).
What better way than playing some obscure MMO with weird rules? You just have to play it for a few weeks and learn those weird rules, then you can own everybody who didn't spend the time. If it was a good game, with fair and intuitive rules, there would be no reason to stick to it. Why do you think Eve has so many decade-old players? They just pwn noobs with one of the million ways of ganking without any risk whatsoever. Eve is advertised as "free pvp heaven" but it is not that at all. There is NO fair pvp in Eve, it is always a gank.
Games are not made to be played fair. That doesn't sell at all. SC and SC2 are the fairest games of all times: 1v1 in a very balanced environment with great matchmaking and ladder. Total world population: 200k.

Anonymous said...

A wealthy studio tries to maximize playerbase of their MMO game because their goal is better sales. So they tend to throw away "performance matter" and "no welfare" to attract more casual players. That's why you have no games with such criteria and large number of players.

And "rewards matter" sometimes also fall in that category - for example, if you had a few months long hiatus from WoW raiding - there's no point of returning before the next expansion, because you fall behind too much. (Although this may be solved by LFR welfare in modern WoW, i quit long ago). Guild Wars 2 is designed in such way that "rewards do not matter" everywhere, probably for the same purpose - to attract returning players.

Better sales is not the only reason for that - any PvP game need constant influx of new players, or else it will be slowly dying (like QuakeLive and BloodlineChampions did, where strict "performance matters" made the game too unfriendly and unforgiving for new players)

Shalcker said...

@Gevlon: "Resets destroy old content and your old efforts. Which is the selling point of an MMO."

Maybe you should check out GW2 just to see how alternative to WoW approach in successful MMO looks like, to see with your own eyes all positives and downsides of that? GW2 has no resets at all (you get to ascended gear, you're "done" as far as gear goes - you might need a keep a few different stat sets to keep up with meta changes though), minimal inflation (extremely minimal by MMO standards), old content still somewhat relevant, new contents get added as new maps or weaved into old content.

And it's F2P now too (with restrictions to money-making, obviously).

Gevlon said...

@Slawomir Chmielewski: I've already noticed that Star Citizen is a "perfect" game for pay-to-win: there is no game at all and people keep throwing thousands of dollars on it.

@Anon: that doesn't explain why there are dozens of small MMOs. If all players just want welfare, than there should be one big WoW with no challengers.

@Shalcker: there are two things to do in an MMO:
- change the World (if possible at all)
- get as good gear as possible (if the World is static)
I don't know about World-changing in GW2 and you claim that after a point gear can't be progressed. So what's the point?

Hanura H'arasch said...

Would a non-rigged LoL clone count as "Not APM"?

Ryanis said...

At the moment, you have the choice between two options:
1) Pay and play for a known studio who only published the same remakes of well-known and appreciated games without any imagination/news.
2) Choose between the hundreds of indie games, pay for the development of a game that may be or may not good in the long term and prey.

Not the kind of choice I want to make... but as long as player will pay for it, nothing will change. Don't ask me why I stick to something else.


Gevlon said...

@Hanura: hard to tell. My LoL games were always about someone being utter feeder. I can't tell how a game would be between equals. Lasthitting is surely APM though.

Tithian said...

You'll be very hard pressed to find one such game, as studios aren't making them any more. Reason being, they are too niche for them to be profitable. So you either have typical themeparks where the world is static and you have gear resets (WoW and FF14 being the more polished ones) or Sandboxes where a target group is monetized to hell (i.e. EVE selling injectors to the whales by the thousands) and you can expect unwanted dev "interaction" when you'll try and pester their prized customers with your pesky projects.

Wanting to have impact on the game-world is something I can understand, but I think your new project should be one that has an impact on the playerbase itself. Your old WoW projects did that fairly well, without any sandbox elements attached.

Gevlon said...

@Tithian: my old WoW project were all used the fact that players wanted gear. Now they just say "meh" and wait for next reset.

Bruno Bouvier said...

Ever thought about some Dofus action ? If people get beyond the looks the game is actually challenging.

Anonymous said...

One MMO you definitely did not try that's very different:

Project Gorgon.

It's sadly also in Beta, but it is free. Or you could look at some old ones, like Anarchy Online.

Gevlon said...

@Bruno: ??? I see some 20 players!

Bruno Bouvier said...

That's not really a steam game.
Stand alone been around for years.

Gevlon said...

@Anon: Project Gorgon is an exploring game, not competitive

@Bruno: if a game is out for years and I've never heard of it, it's probably not so relevant. But if you link a review, I read it.

Caldazar said...

@Gevlon regarding: 'my old WoW project were all used the fact that players wanted gear. Now they just say "meh" and wait for next reset.'

Gear resetted as much back then as it does now. Nothing has changed in that regard. People still want gear.

Baelnor said...

What a bizarre list of MMO's. even Hex, which I thought had been out for years but is apparently still in beta? Odd.

NoGuff said...


Do you think that recent monitization schemes have had a large effect on how many "bad" games are being developed now?

Anonymous said...

"Resets destroy old content and your old efforts. Which is the selling point of an MMO." If you only want to look for Sandboxes, then you can stop looking; there is EVE (in decline) and some small ones and lots of opportunities to donate. "Sandbox" and "old-school" are great selling points to get a million or two from Kickstarter. They are not viable to make a large MMO. People want to play with friends. Which is why almost every MMO offers a boost to start-of-expansion level so no potential customer is left behind. They can all start the new expansion nearly equal.

So WoW resetting at 8.0 is acceptable but also at 8.2 is not? This seems quite illogical; Wow expansions are taking longer, so they can't wait for a new expansion to help people catch up.

"Now they just say "meh" and wait for next reset." NO! This may be how you and some others would react but in Legion hundreds of thousands of players have run hundreds of dungeons or world quests each. WoW may not be as big as it once was, and WoD did not get good reviews, but claiming the gear grind/impetutus has gone away is simplely not true. The most dramatic reset in WoW was when your World Best raid gear was replaced by Outland greens and that was a decade ago. Regardless of your emotions, it has not had much of an effect on many others.

Anonymous said...

AO and AoC were relevant in the sense of having an impact on MMO development and evolution. But AO is in its 17th year and in maintenance mode.

Gevlon said...

@Caldazar: no. To go to Black Temple, you couldn't just start when it was released, run some dungeons and be ready. You had to do Hyjal and to do that you needed SSC/TK and to do that you needed Kara.

Even in WotLK this scheme remained, except the content was so easy that you could literally run Lich King in blue gear.

Now, 7.3 is just out. I could start a very new account, use the free boost to lvl 100, level to 110 in an afternoon and then use only 7.3 content (LFR, dungeons) to be ready to 7.3 raiding which would be in less than a week without any external help. So those who raided 7.2 on the highest level would have about a week advantage over me.

@NoGuff: Pay-to-win actually supports hard and competitive games, just give a shortcut for payers. Like in EVE you lose your ship if you suck, but if you pay, you can rebuy it instantly. The crap spreading is mostly on Kickstarter and Early Access. After Star Citizen shown that you can get $150+M without even a playable beta, why would anyone bother to develop a good game?

@Anon: players are playing with "internet friends". They can find such on every level, assuming there are players there. WoW resetting only at X.0 is bad, but acceptable since it happens every two years which is a long time.

Lots of players fool around in WoW to spend time no doubt. But there is no motive to play competitively, so there is no reason for anyone to care about any project. ArthasDKlol is RIGHT to say now "I play as I want, have fun and STILL get just as good gear as you"

Cathfaern said...

"but claiming the gear grind/impetutus has gone away is simplely not true"

The problem with WoW is not that you can't grind gear, of course you can. The problem is that the only reason to grind gear is to grind gear. In previous expansions (until Cataclysm) if you wanted to see the content you had to grind gear because catch-up mechanism was no present or it was not enough for the last content. But with the LFR the "You need to be this tall" level is so low and gives so good catch-up that as Gevlon wrote if you want to experience the latest content you can do it in a few days with a newly started character. What's the point of grinding gear then?
And if I want to grind gear all time I just play a game where it's the main feature (like D3 or PoE), because it's way more fun there.

Anonymous said...

Shrug. There are demonstrable reasons to grind gear in WoW: millions of people have sufficient reasons to spend hundreds of millions of hours grinding gear in WoW. Those reasons are not compelling to you. You can argue they are bad people making bad choices. But you can't argue there are not reasons. At the end of the day, I think most of society would consider 40 hours grinding gear in WoW, 40 hours being competitive in your next niche game, and 40 hours watching American sitcom TV as being equally non-productive pursuit of entertainment.

Ironically, the Mittani's effort seems like less of waste than grinding in WoW or your project. Some day, WoW, EVE and your next game will all be shut down. But the money he has extracted from his sheep will still exist.