« Notes on Out of This World | Main | Observer Changes Observed »

September 25, 2004


Adam V.

As a developer I want people to BUY BUY BUY, but as a consumer $50 is just too much times the number of games I want to play.

I got PoP for less than $20, and it is a great game, but once you're done you're done. It doesn't have the sheer replayability that something like Burnout 3 has. If I was a better game player, I would have been able to beat PoP in a couple of rental sessions, for about $10.

(My archetype of a game is still one that has minimal plot, no real end, and is probably a shooter of some sort. Thank you, the early 80s.)

Is the problem that the very high production costs of a game these days neccesitates a $50 sticker price and many sales to break even? When that price and the perceived value is exactly what drives people to the rental market?

I remember thinking Wing Commander was the BEST THING EVAR when it came out, and I was also floored by the production cost. Over $1 million to make a game? Wow! It's only gone up since then, but I'm not sure that it's translated into more "fun".

Adam V.

By random chance I came across this page:

which states that Katamari Damacy was produced on a $1 million budget. There is a TON of fun in that game, and it's well worth the $20. (With $1 million you can't even afford *bad* voice acting, so thankfully there's none!)


I've been having this discussion/debate with friends in the biz the last 6 months. I think I'm now firmly in the "we should sell all games at $20-30, which will result not only in fewer losses to rental, but more sales" camp. I figure I can talk a handful of friends (5) into buying my games at $50. But I could probably convince all of them (20+) to buy it at $20. Go figure.


Stop making disposable games?


jp: so you support monopolies?

Jay Woodward

Dramatic, JP. :) Do you mean "make games that people wouldn't want to part with"? That seems like a great goal in most cases, but unfortunately it's about as vague a guideline as saying "make it fun."

We all know the standard suggestions for making a game less disposable -- such old favorites as, "make the plot take a long time," "make it non-linear", and of course the (also somewhat vague) classic "give it lots of replay value."

You know what I wish people did, to make games indisposable? Not for every game, mind you, but now and then would be nice:

Make them *meaningful*. Make them *beautiful*. Make them be *about* something.

There aren't too many modern examples, but I'm thinking of games like Metal Gear Solid, Ico, Deus Ex, and Planescape: Torment.

I wouldn't part with any of those; would you?


That's pretty much what I was getting at. I own "Spirited Away" on DVD because it's a piece of art, and its creators deserve my money (maybe not everyone is quite so high-minded about their buying decisions, but similar impulses hold regardless of how you rationalize it). I already know how the film's story goes, I've seen 99.9% of its audiovisual "content", nothing about it is going to surprise me. Yet I still get something out of watching it again. That's one of the things about art: it stays the same, but we ourselves change, and so it can be fresh each time we sit down with it. Like you say the most enduring games have a similar quality. But I digress...

Obviously the viewer-content relationship is different in key ways with games, but you wouldn't know it looking at modern games. Art content consumption has become the raison d'etre of any and all interactivity. This has probably come about because content-driven games are the easiest vehicle for high production values, which in turn have come to be the central means by which publishers market games. How else are you going to spend that $15 million, and keep those barriers to entry nice and high and limited to a few majors? It wasn't possible before Wing Commander because the technology wasn't good enough to show off said production value - what would a $15 million Atari 2600 even look like?

That's why consolidation is rampant, and why the market is continually bombarded with new technologies before the current generation has even begun to show its age - new technologies allow higher fidelity, and that allows advances in production value, which keeps the big pubs on top (though for some it's a continual struggle), and it has created the mindset among consumers that if a game is >2 years old, it looks like dog shit.

So, yeah, I'm not terribly sympathetic when publishers and their developer puppets are bitching about consumers simply adjusting their buying habits to the increasingly disposable nature of the products being released. The situation is entirely of their own making. Either lower prices or start making games that are worth the $50.

Adam V.

I didn't play Deux Ex until it was >2 years old, and yeah, my first impression on seeing the opening movie with the conspirators talking was, "Whoa, chunk city!" I couldn't even find copies of the game, despite the fact that everyone loved it, because it was so old. I finally got it in an Eidos 4-for-1 pack (it also had Thief 1, which is OK, but a bunch of Tomb Raider filler.)

After getting over the outdated look, the game is fantastic. Worth $50? I dunno, I paid $20.

Ico? Also great, and I'm looking forward to Wanda and the Collosus, but these are exceptions that prove the rule. Most art games are bad art games. (Making the good ones seem even greater in comparison.)


Why even put a progress bar?

Rush L

What's the facination with ICO, anyway? Just because it's different? Stradivarius was a genius because he made the best type of violin, not because he made a violin with three necks and no strings.


JP wrote: "That's one of the things about art: it stays the same, but we ourselves change, and so it can be fresh each time we sit down with it."

Games have the unique property that they can change with us. Playing a game like Deus Ex or the Sims more than once can result in a different experience. Games can (if designed right) reflect the changes that occur in us over time.

"Meaningful" and "beautiful" games are a great goal, but I would add "surprising" to that list. When a game does something that makes sense but is unexpected, that often cements its status in my collection, especially if that surprise is different with each replay.


Sure, prices could be lowered. And it seems to work for some. Sega sold more copies of ESPN NFL than last year. ESPN NFL 2k4 sold 360,000 copies. (http://money.cnn.com/2004/07/22/commentary/game_over/column_gaming/ ) At $50 each that's $18,000,000.

This year ESPN NFL 2k5 sold 1,500,000 copies in July and August alone. (http://www.gamespot.com/news/2004/09/15/news_6107422.html ) At $20 each, that's $30,000,000 in the first two months of release. I think it was a good move for them, even though I'm sure Take-Two is taking their share.

Here's another twist on not making a 'disposable' game. I think I've mentioned the idea before, and maybe I'm nuts, but we're at the point now that internet connections are assumed for some console games. And we see demos (essentially shareware) given away with magazines and in stores. Why not give away discs full of content (levels, models, audio, etc) and only a couple of chapters of 'script' for the game are given out as shareware, and the following chapters (as scripts) are downloaded for a small fee from Live? Think of it as a player buying a $5 movie ticket for a new chapter that takes a three hours to finish, then he can play around in the world until the next chapter comes out. A game could go on indefinitely, like a TV show. So, am I crazy?


There are several reasons to be leery of ongoing single-player games with downloadable content (from both a developer's and a player's point of view):

1) They've flopped before. Uru and Majestic are notable examples.

2) They obligate developers to produce content on an honest-to-gosh schedule. (This may have been one of the problems suffered by Majestic and Uru.)

3) Players like to play at their own pace. They don't like anything that feels like they have to stop at some arbitrary point and wait for the developers to come up with the next batch of content. (This was definitely a huge problem for Majestic.)

4) Players like to have the whole game in one box, so they can always reinstall it and start over with it later. Having to download content from some service can be seen as not being as reliable as owning a CD. Ironically, that means people might actually think of the downloadable content as making the game MORE disposable. Such a perception is not entirely valid (CDs can be damaged, after all) but it does seem to be widely held. (In talking about getting Half-Life 2 in a box vs. via Steam, I've seen a lot of people on message boards saying that they want a physical CD that they can own and control.)

5) With story-based TV shows, the viewers tend to want the shows to continue as long as possible. Contrast this with story-based games, in which the players tend to want to get to the end of the story. This way of thinking is far from inevitable, but it's fairly entrenched, and is definitely a psychological hurdle that story-based downloadable-content games would need to overcome.


There are two things that will without a doubt make the current rental situation better:

1) Don't release the damn games for rental day and date with the retail release. Jamie touched upon this in his post, but it bears repeating for emphasis because it's such an important point. We're losing lots of sales here because we're being stupid.

2) Don't just sell one fire-and-forget copy to the rental store. We need to be able to see a percentage on the rentals.

People tend to blather on and on about how our industry should be more like the movie industry. Most of the time, these people have no idea what they're talking about, because they know little or nothing of the movie industry or how it works. Here, however, is a cut-and-dry case of when our industry should strive to emulate the business practices of Hollywood.

When you get into the old discussion about whether games or movies are "bigger", someone is bound to point out that movies make waaay more money than we do after box office. Why? Merchandising is part of it, DVD sales are a big part of it, but rentals are also a big chunk of it. Why is that? Because when a movie goes to rental, it's almost like a second release for most people. The key here being that it's released to rental stores much LATER than it is to the theater. Secondly, the studios provide as many copies to the rental outlets as they request, but they pick up a percentage of each rental.

We can sit here and talk until we're blue in the face about increasing the quality and replayability of our games, but remember that hardly anyone sets out to make a low-quality game. Most of the time, it just happens. Lack of time, resources and/or talent tend to have their way with even the loftiest of aspirations.

Further, remember that lots of really, really crappy direct-to-video movies make studios a good amount of money in the rental market. They wouldn't keep producing them if they didn't. Point is, there's lots of money to be had in this revenue stream regardless of the quality of our games, but our current practices are keeping us from tapping into it. Keep this in mind before you start dreaming up potentially self-destructive policies, like lowering our price points or giving away free content. Once you start down those roads, it's hard to turn back. There are better methods for getting at the rentals than selling ourselves short.

On a side note, I hear some companies that distribute to rental are trying a percentage-based scheme, we'll have to see what comes of that.


Actually, my guess is that rentals increase, rather than reduce, sales. At $50 a pop, I'm very leery about buying a new game, unless friends rave about it. Rental is, in most cases, try-before-you-buy--and no doubt sales =are= lost when renters who might otherwise have bought a game decides it sucks. In which case, that's all to the good, as I have no desire to reward developers who make sucky games.

When rentals first started appearing in the 80s, Nintendo and Sega fought them tooth and nail, but the courts upheld the right of renters to rent videogames. There was no subsequent decline in videogame sales; indeed, sales continued to grow at much the same rate.

In other words: Rentals are -not- bad. Indeed, they're a small but real additional revenue stream for the industry. Don't worry about it.


Greg: if after a single rental you think you're like halfway (or more) done with a game, are you really going to buy it, or are you just going to rent it again?

My sense is that games that are really good but fairly short (ten-twelve hours or shorter) will tend strongly toward getting rented once or twice, and not getting bought.

Does anyone know whether game publishers have any legal control over what game rental stores can do?

I'm fairly sure that publishers and rental stores do make good-faith deals...but I don't know whether they're necessary. It's possible that game rental stores might have the legal right to offer games for rental, without needing to get the approval of the game's publisher. If you're aware of the legality of this, let us know please!

This reminds me: we should talk about the used games market, too. :)


Greg: Rentals are good in some ways, bad in others... but that is wholly beside the point. What I'm trying to say is that the 'small but real additional revenue stream' that rentals provide is *unnecessarily* small and, further, that the bad points of rentals could be minimized.

Jay: Hm. Good questions re: legality. I'm gonna check on that.


Jay, I suppose I should've noted that I was thinking XBox, with it's Live capabilities in particular. My bad. And to touch on your points, 1, yeah, they've flopped before, and that is a good reason to be weary.

2, God knows dates of any kind are evil when doing software development of any kind. And I haven't even had a job doing it yet. You're right.

3, I was thinking more like a couple of hours of play a week with storylines similar to movies that have a beginning, middle, and end. Though again, I understand your reasoning.

And 4 and 5, well, I, like any shmoe, could go on forever about stuff like this. I'll ust point back to 3 and say that I'm just talking smack and am not going to continue to fill up Jamie's blog full of wacko ideas.

But to get back closer to the topic, rental stores pay about $100 for a single copy of a movie to rent out. I'm sure a lot of that has to do with it being available for rent before street sales dates. But, and I'm not positive, does this have anything to do with movie companies trying to make up for assumed losses in sales? Maybe that's a way to help? Make advance deals with rental stores to help recoup on the losses that will no doubt occur? Though admittedly it almost feels like 'giving up' and may even further hurt a games sales? It's a shame games don't have an equivalent to the box office.

Jamie Fristrom

So, one of my sources tells me that at least one publisher actually does participate in rental profits. It's not the same publisher from my example, but I'm guessing that if this publisher does, then they all do. Which raises the question: why did they bother with this quirky 'progress' bar trick? No wait...the real question it raises is: DO INDEPENDENT DEVELOPERS KNOW THIS, AND ARE THEY GETTING THEIR CUT?


Jamie, from what I understand, the profit-sharing scheme is relatively new and relatively small in terms of numbers of participants. Maybe there are some downsides we don't know of.


Looking at this from a personal perspective, I am a long-time gamer, and I remember the days (way back when) when I would rent games and beat them, pulling all-nighters to see the game through. This is when rental spans were even shorter than they are now.

Now that I work full-time, time is valuable. My order of priority for game purchase pretty much looks as follows: If I know I will like a game, I will buy it hands down. Few games fall into this category. Next, I look for games that will provide a unique and/or lengthy gameplay experience. I suppose a lot of games that fall into this category tend to be sequels that have established themselves (GTA, Tony Hawk, Zelda, etc.). But games like Rez and Ico are unique games that I can sit down and play anytime.

Beyond those two insta-purchase scenarios (and even within, occasionally), I generally rent a game to see if it is something I want to purchase. I will rent games knowing that I will not have the luxury of the full rental period to play - more like part of the weekend and sometimes evenings after work. That said (and getting back to the longtime gamer bit), I do tend to have a pretty low tolerance for games that can not be appealing within that time period.

I guess it's like when I see a movie trailer, and almost immediately determine whether I'll see the movie in a theater, or "wait until it comes out on DVD". Similarly, I determine whether I will buy or rent a game through reading about it, playing demos, getting a feel for it. Then, the rental becomes a sort of secondary "litmus test" for determining whether or not a purchase will be made. So I am renting games with the plan of purcahsing it very much in mind.

Just to add another "audience" consideration into the mix.

All that said, I do tend to make portable game purchases much more freely - a combination of the lower retail price and knowing that I will get more play time out of them (since they travel with me).

Perhaps (getting back on topic, and to touch on a previous point made eariler) console internet connectivity can serve to push demos to gamers who request to receive them, thus widening the potential audience for "unbeatable" demos and offering a distribution channel not dependent on magazine sales and distribution?


By the way, Spidey 2 is still in the top ten game rentals, not bad for being released in late June. Yay us!

Just wish we were seeing more of those rental profits...


I live in the Philippines, and piracy are very rampant here because there are no game rental stores. So people buy pirated games because:

1. Game price is too expensive for average earner.
2. It's very hard to get access to original games. Pirated games are more accessible.
3. They want to avoid the risk of buying crappy games.

The best way to fight piracy is to lower the price of videogames. It's the only way to reach mass market. If there are videogame rental stores here, renting original games, piracy will get lower, because people will get use to using original copies and forget about accessing pirated copies.

So Rental stores in a way help fight off piracy. Publishers and developers should also have profit sharing depending on how many people actually rented their games instead of requiring Rental store to pay a one time high cost to the publishers for letting them rent their game. This will be more fair to both parties. Why would a rental store pay a publisher for a one time licensing to rent if nobody ever rented their games because probably it got a bad review from the press.

In order for the game industry to flourish, publishers and developers should work hand in hand together with the rental/pre-played store instead of thinking how to eliminate each other. What should we be more concern about is to fight pirates the commits piracy


To prove my point the videogames / video movies rental store help in combatting piracy, An example in the Philippines, once there was a large video movies rental chain here in the Philippines. When rampant dvd pirated movies penetrated our country, the video movie (VHS/DVD) rental retail chain went bankrupt and closed their different stores one by one. Philippines movie used to releases local movies more than 30 times a year, but now that trend went down and now was able to release local movies around 15 times a year only. This cost a lot of jobs in local movie industry.

This proves that we rather have a rental store rather than piracy ruling the market.

Rental store helps promote your industry, without the cost of too much advertising. You just need to know how to tap revenues from Rental stores. Don't treat them as a threat but as partners.

Consider this, you are lucky in the US, because you have access to original copies through rental stores, here in the Philippines most people has more access or has to settle to pirated copies than original ones. And most people can't afford the high cost of imported games from the US if you consider the minimum wage here. You are still lucky.

People just need a justification for the price you give them on the product you are selling. Price your games properly, maybe that's one way to battle piracy. If a company is going to profit $20 on each product but would only sell 100 copies, why not profit only $1 and sell 1,000,000 copies. you make more money, you eliminate piracy, you reach mass market.

here's an example, in western countries when you watch a movie in a theater it cost around $10, here in the Philippines it's only $2 and that's in a legal way. You're standard of living in western countries are much higher than ours, so when Hollywood export their movies here they lower the price. It's what you call balance, adapting to the market. They lower the price to adapt to our living standard. Most videogames are pirated in China, they just import them here. What I'm saying if publishers and developers do the same to most 3rd world countries like what Hollywood does, then maybe half of piracy will disappear. Face it, a lot of people turn to piracy because they can't afford. Most of them are produce in countries where minimum wage is low, or when publishers ignors them entirely.

Getting back to the rental subject, why don't publishers use rental store like what Hollywood do with theaters. Rental store can rent out the games first for maybe 2 months , some profit goes to the publisher. after a 2 month run of rental, publishers can release a retail version. like what they do in movies. just an idea. thanks.


umm anyone have a license code and name for escape velocity nova

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Jamie's Bragging Rights

  • Spider-Man 2
    The best superhero games of all time Game Informer
    Top five games of all time Yahtzee Croshaw
    Top five superhero games of all time MSNBC
    Top 100 PS2 games of all time Official Playstation 2 Magazine
    1001 Games You Must Play Before You Die Nomination for Excellence in Gameplay Engineering Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences
  • Schizoid
    Penny Arcade PAX 10 Award
    Nominated for XBLA Best Original Game
    Nominated for XBLA Best Co-Op Game