There hasn’t been a video game related story for quite some time that has triggered an emotional reaction in me quite like EA shutting down Visceral Games. I’ve been a fan of Visceral Games for some time now, I’ve written about my love of Dead Space recently, and I was eagerly awaiting the release of their Star Wars game which was spearheaded by former Naughty Dog writer/director Amy Hennig. With the closure of the studio, the Star Wars game is to be stripped and butchered from a linear single-player tale into what EA are calling a “broader experience” which is to be developed by a number of other EA studios. Now it’s possible that the game was indeed troubled and in need of a fresh take but changing the game from single player to what can only be presumed as being a ‘games as a service’ model highlights the real issue at play here: money.
AAA games are usually developed simultaneously by multiple studios worldwide that have to constantly upgrade their technology to stay in the top tier of the entertainment industry. In other words, they cost a shit ton of money. Increasingly often the profit made from a games release is not enough to recoup the cost of development and production and so games companies are increasingly reliant on all types of paid-for extras and DLC such as season passes or loot boxes and other microtransactions. Single player games often have no DLC and so, like what we are seeing with the Visceral situation, they are being left at the wayside with ‘games as a service’ titles taking their places. EA probably wants the Star Wars game to be similar to Destiny so they can continue making money on the title for years after its release with a range of DLC and costly loot.
Now I’m not supporting EA’s action here, I’m simply explaining their possible mindset. I haven’t been a fan of their commercial politics for quite some time but I’m not going to go so far to say I’m on the #FuckEA bandwagon. I understand there are, and will always be, single-player experiences; just this past year Sony has been killing it with great games like Horizon: Zero Dawn (which sold very well) and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, Prey might be my favourite game of the year and just this past week I’ve been enjoying Assassin’s Creed: Origins and Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus. To think single player games are dead is stupid, as fellow OutofLives scribe Dave definitively tells us here, but the financial issue will only become more apparent in the coming years with a big shift in what ‘paid extras’ accompany single player releases.
There is precedent for what EA is doing, we just have to look at Titanfall 2. Developed by Respawn and published by EA, Titanfall 2 released last year to critical acclaim but poor sales figures. It was the fourth best-selling game of its release week, selling just a quarter of what the first game sold in that time frame. It’s a real shame because I love that game infinitely more than the first. The multiplayer is vastly improved but also the single player component, which was missing from the first game, is truly superb. It’s one of the best FPS campaigns in recent memory with inspired level design and there is an excellent time travel mechanic which is good enough to support an entire game but Respawn were bold enough just to use it in one level in the middle of the campaign. The ‘risk’ of spending so much time and money on single player didn’t pay off though because of the poor sales figures and you can see why EA want to delve further into multiplayer and the ‘games as a service’ model. Respawn’s next game is using the Star Wars licence so I expect that to be a “broader experience” too and the ‘pay to win’ rumours surrounding Battlefront 2 have me worried.
So, what can be done to remedy the situation? It’s something that will piss a lot of people off but I think it is necessary. Video game prices need to rise. The game studios and developers need to be respected and make a profit without having to rely on DLC, season passes and loot boxes. EA has questionable politics but I believe an increased price point for AAA games would lessen the need, and put a limit on, DLC and make one-off payment single player games profitable again for many studios. Gamers are passionate with white hot intensity, both our best and worst feature, so I’m sure a common response to having to pay more would be “fuck off” or variants that thereof but we all know they would hand over the cash anyway. Maybe you think me naïve for thinking raising the overall price of a game would cut out microtransactions but I honestly think it would lead to a better balance between the two and the increased price point would increase the desire for quality experiences which the studios would have to deliver.
You may be thinking that games are expensive enough but if you look at the figures and adjust for inflation you realise that games have stayed at the same price for three console generations despite huge advances in the technology. The following figures are for the UK and focus on PlayStation but X-Box is very similar in terms of price. A new release PS4 game costs around £50; a little less on Amazon but a little more for the digital game on the PlayStation Store (another problem but that’s for another time) so let’s agree on the round number of £50. When adjusting for inflation, £50 in 2007 (the first full year of the PlayStation 3) comes out at £39 which is around what a PlayStation 3 game cost, if not a little less. Adjusting for inflation in 2002 when the PlayStation 2 debuted, £50 of today’s money was £33 which again is around what new PlayStation 2 games cost at the time. We can see that game prices have not risen at all and while gamers do not like change in this regard I feel it is a necessary cost to keep the industry flourishing. This change of mindset and price may be vital in the coming years and whether it is kept at bay until the next console generation or comes sooner, I believe it to be vital that video game prices should increase.
Do you agree that video game prices should rise? Let me know in the comments (be nice but I’m open for debate) and geek out with me about TV, movies and videogames on Twitter @kylebrrtt.