Gaming’s Entitlement Mentality

Tue, 03/29/2011 - 7:00am
Satoru IwataAt the Games Developer Conference 2011, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata discussed the figurative “race to the bottom”, wherein the low-ball pricing structure of iOS (iPhone Operating System) apps erodes the perceived value of AAA games. I believe this is endemic of a pernicious entitlement mentality that has expressed itself among gamers in recent years.

Last year, I penned an editorial called “The Internet Entitlement Mentality”, discussing how the digital generation had been conditioned to expect everything for free. Ensconced in righteous populist anger at “greedy” corporations, they pirate games, movies, and music, and balk at paying for content. If only the industry(ies) would price content according to their own personal business model, they’d pay for it. I call BS. A similar entitlement mentality has taken hold amongst gamers.

I don’t believe that one “type” of gaming, no matter how successful, has an inherent negative effect on other types. The market is big enough to accommodate iOS games, “casual” games, and “core” games alike. If anything, the market has expanded in the last 5 years. Whenever I hear devs or critics make apocalyptic predictions about core or casual gaming, I cringe. It’s bluster, pure and simple.

That being said, the current pricing structure (and the attitudes engendered by it) demands a critical eye. Is $60 too much for a new console title? That depends on how one perceives value. Many AAA shooters have single-player campaigns that run 5-6 hours. By contrast, a handheld title like Tactics Ogre lasts 50-70 hours (and costs $20 less). Is Tactics Ogre therefore a better value? Not necessarily.

We don’t judge games by their raw materials, nor on a dollar-per-hour value proposition. Much of the value we derive is perceived. If you judge a 5-hour experience to be worth $60, then you’ve justified the cost. If lots of people think like you, then you have a bestseller. If 18+ million people agree with you, then you have Call of Duty: Black Ops.

Angry BirdsA valid counterargument is that millions of people have gotten many hours of pleasure from Angry Birds, which is approximately 1/60th the cost of Black Ops. But again, it’s an issue of perceived value. And the two share little in common besides being both games. Angry Birds reportedly achieved 100 million downloads across all platforms. Call of Duty: Black Ops sold nearly 19 million units. But the dev costs for Black Ops were exceedingly higher than for Angry Birds. And it’s hard to calculate how much of that $60 went to Activision—there’s the intermediary retailer, for one. And a significant percentage of AB’s 100 million were free downloads.

Still, there’re many folks who refuse to pay $60 for a new game. So they wait for it to hit the used game pile, they rent it, or they pirate it, none of which directly support the developer. This disparity between rising dev costs and general consumer angst has led many to declare the $60 pricing model “broken.” In the future, we may see two types of games—hi-profile AAA titles and low-rent indie titles.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s cheapo iOS games and free Facebook titles. Of the top 25 bestselling iOS apps (as of 3/28/11), 22 are $.99, 2 are $2.99, and 1 is $1.99. Zynga relies almost entirely on the microtransaction model for its Facebook ‘ville titles. Yet in both cases, consumers still complain. $.99-2.99 is too much, and microtransactions “exploit” the customer. This is what’s called the “race to the bottom,” as devs race to undercut each other. Consumers simultaneously want high production values and low (or nonexistent) costs. This is unsustainable.

Whether the “race to the bottom” erodes the perceived value of more expensive titles is ancillary. What concerns me is many gamers’ refusal to pay anything to support their hobby, along with their indignant sense of entitlement that anyone should dare suggest otherwise. So they pirate.

Let’s examine the pirates’ main line of defense—it’s not actually stealing. Piracy doesn’t cost anyone anything. This only makes sense if we assume that every pirate is either a poor college student or low income recipient who can’t afford video games (but can somehow afford the control deck). I know a few of those. I also know quite a few Bartleby the Gamers—they’d prefer not to buy them. It’s near-impossible to determine whether pirates can actually afford the games they pilfer, and they know it.

I’m no economist (this should be obvious), but I know how the economy works. In the case of intellectual property (especially concerning digital IPs), there’s an implied agreement between artist and customer. We pour time and money into an IP, you support us. The value of an individual copy of an IP may be perceived value, but it’s important for the ebb and flow of the economy.

When I was younger and wanted a game, I had to either work for it (10-11 hours) or wait for a birthday/holiday. Consequently, I learned the value of hard work and transferred said value to my purchases. The implied value of my games went up, because I knew how hard it was to obtain them. Contrast that with young pirates today, who “obtain” whatever they desire instantly. What sort of value do they attach to goods that are pilfered? Inevitably, games lose their intrinsic value and the pirate expects and demands that everything should be free.

I’m not in the gaming industry, so I can say this unequivocally—to gamers, stop being cheap. If you enjoy your hobby, then support it financially. If not, then don’t play the games. If $60 is too high, then pursue other legitimate avenues of obtaining games—Gamefly, used games, eBay, etc. If you don’t support the devs directly, at least support your local retailer (without whom, the games industry would sink). Lose the entitlement mentality.

Share this Story

You may login with either your assigned username or your e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.