Saving video games from publishers

There’s big money in video games. No one can deny that, especially now that the definition of casual gaming has changed from Wii type games, to games on your phone that mimic some really old school type flash games (bejeweled for example). One of the largest game publisher is EA, they have been notorious for making both amazing games (BF4), amazingly bad games, amazing games with poor execution (SimCity), and amazing cash grabs (Dungeon Keeper iPhone). However, it’s not alone in trying to destroy gaming.

Zynga made a pretty big run at the title and likely helped shape the current state of our gaming industry. They were the original most successful company in facebook for gaming coming up with Mobwars and Farmville. They’ve been replaced with (Candy Crush) now though and have nearly gone out of business. At one point they had a higher valuation than Facebook.

The point of these games is similar to a casino. Keep you coming back and keep you putting money into the machine. They design games to be addicting and put frustrating blockers in your way to entice you to pay money to overcome those obstacles. They technically are “Free-to-play” but they certainly aren’t “free-to-have-fun”. For example, about a year ago Real Racing 3 came out and to unlock everything with cash, it would cost $503!

The article that got me thinking about this topic highlights a 1997 game called Dungeon Keeper which has been released on mobile platforms. In the game you build a dungeon and try to kill heroes that come through and kill your monsters. One of the things you do is dig out spaces for your dungeon, this used to just take a minute or two in game time. Well, EA did it’s little cash grab option with it and now that same space will take roughly 30 hours to mine out unless you pay them money to speed that up! Here’s a video with a nice little summary of the topic.

Now, we know that this hasn’t been limited to mobile games for some time. It’d hit the hardcore gamers in the form of Downloadable content (DLC) and in many cases would be a $15 or so charge to make the game functional on top of the $50-$60 you already paid for the game. In some cases they’ll also charge you for other visual upgrades and stuff like that.

In some cases the companies are doing it because it’s a beloved franchise and they know people will fork over the money for it even if they’ve vowed to never buy from that company again (BF4 after SimCity debacle for instance). This is because they are able to charge monopoly prices being the only game in town.

In other cases, they are able to charge this behavior because of the addictiveness of the game and the pressure of your peers playing the same game. It’s a casino mixed with keeping up with the Joneses mentality. The worst of the worst and company are pulling in as much money as they can on it. In many cases those games are straight up copies from other companies – or at least the game mechanics are the same.

This has made some people discouraged over the future of the gaming business model. I believe that we have some of the most generous people in the world in gaming. You have the Extra-Life fund raising event, HumbleBundle, and a ton of other things like that. There are also really honest folks out there trying to break into the industry, just look at Steam Green Light, Kickstarter Games (check out KBMOD’s Crowdsourced corner), and just the sheer number of new games and apps that have a single price and are honest about their pricing (this link will take you to a list of games that are pay upfront or honest free to play).

Which makes me think that we have two different type of people running gaming companies. We clearly have psychopaths at the head of the company and normal regular people trying to do right by their customers. I think the hardest thing is, we have honest people working for those psychopaths, which is unfortunate.

What can we do as gamers and employees? Well, if you think your CEO is a psychopath leave; it’s going to be an unhealthy work environment in general. Secondly, if we want to see those business models die, educate your friends on how horrible this movement is for gaming in general and point them to cheaper alternatives that aren’t cash grabs. Help inform your friends that aren’t savvy about this. Send them links to games that are better, more fun, and less vile in their pricing schemes.

If you have any recommendations for honest, safe gaming, let me know in the comments!

Startups are going to save us, relax everybody

In typical Silicon Valley Breathlessness Forbes published an article by Victor W. Hwang arguing the fact the Startup movement isn’t about startups. He argues that it’s actually a movement to free people from the chains of our current economic system. I definitely don’t buy this. Most people start a company for one of two reasons, they find a problem that they have a better solution for than anything provided (or a novel solution) or to make money. Typically it’s a combination of the two. No company in existence is out there not to make money. Companies that aren’t profitable cannot stay in business for long unless you’re lucky and funded by people that thing you will eventually make them a lot of money.

An opinion piece in the NY Times from 1/2/2014 pretty much sums this fact up. You’re replaceable at a startup and likely even more so than any time in the  future of the company. It’s really easy to fire people when you have no money, especially if you are open and honest about how you go about letting people go.

Furthermore, if the startup movement was in fact about bettering the plight of people we wouldn’t be seeing the social stratification that we’re seeing in cities like San Francisco, ground zero for the startup movement. In SF some of the neo-techno-libertarian-elite are upset that they even see the poor people on their streets rather than out of the way like in cities like NYC (he issued an apology not unlike Tiger Wood’s for being a sex addict). Not only are these the people that are involved in the startup movement, but they are funding it. Yes, I know that this is only one person and on the other side you can point to Alexis Ohanian of Reddit fame, which really is doing a lot of social good.

In some ways the startup movement has made it easier for people to be cogs in the wheel. They work long hard hours, large companies like Facebook and Google push and push to get more for less. In many cases this can cause depression and the exact opposite of what the Startup movement is striving for. In fact, the goal of the Lean Startup is to make it extremely easy to ramp up new employees and ensure full coverage if something goes wrong. These companies and products are designed around the idea of building in quality rather than testing or patching it in. Of course, there’s a benefit to the employee in these cases too – they’re free to really explore new problems and create new things without needing to worry about reoccurring problems.

I do believe there are many startup founders are genuinely trying to change our society for the better, but it hasn’t been a frictionless process and will likely only get worse as we move forward. The Sharing Economy, for example, has come under fire from traditional companies, neighbors, politicians, and even members of the sharing economy. While in other cases, such as Zynga, we see companies that are essentially parasites that thrive through creating addicting games and clogging a platform with their notifications (those notifications stopped and Zynga basically died).

It’s important to be skeptical of statements that glorify any portion of our culture. The article that spurred me to write this has a similar tone as many of Thomas Freeman’s, of the NYTimes, articles, fully optimistic, but missing a broader portion of the population and the long term impact. We should be wary of these articles because we’ll end up believing that it’s more complicated to calculate a median value than an average. The startup movement is to help people start companies, some founders are dreamers, some truly try to change how work is done, but they most aren’t truly changing the world in amazing ways. We’ll be fine if reddit, AirBnB, or some other services vanishes. We were when Digg, Google Reader, Palm and any other influential company vanished.