The serious business of making games

I always enjoyed it when our CEO could work(or not) whatever the hell random hours he felt like. Might come into the office one day a week(guess who enjoyed working from home most of the time while insisting regular employees needed to be in the office) and then be furious at an employee for being 5 minutes late. Especially considering these were software devs who had no real need for strict hours and the devs who stretched their start time a bit(this did include me, to be fair) were the ones who were most likely to also stay late working.

One thing that seems true across all types of business is the need for some managers to exert control over people regardless of whether such control is actually needed, or even beneficial. This is particularly true, though not limited to, middle managers, who often seem incapable of even comprehending the idea that getting the job done is the important thing, not proving how many people you have sitting at desks outside your corner office.

ActivisionBlizzard (actually the King division) spent years developing a system to measure the diversity of a video game character. Today they revealed it! It… has not gone over well.

For bonus points, it happened because people worked on it for no pay (from the press release):

People were spending their off-hours working on the tool, simply because they believed in its potential so much.

The article is interesting for a few reasons. First, they’re pretty open about their budgets and the terms they got from both PS+ and Game Pass. And second, releasing a game on Game Pass just killed their Xbox sales, in a way that PS+ didn’t on PS. And third, they seem to believe that indie games aren’t going to be viable to even port to Xbox unless they get on Game Pass.

I’m not sure I buy that their evidence supports that last claim, but it would be fascinating if true. What a bizarre ecosystem you’d end up with on Xbox.

(I was just thinking of reinstalling Furi a couple of weeks ago, so this is timely )

I wonder about that. Is the assumption that many of these people who played on GP folks who would have otherwise put money down to buy their game? In my experience, Game Pass has been pretty great for exposing me to games that I probably wouldn’t have bought. Some of them have been worthwhile, but some have not. Is the latter group considered a “lost sale” if I wouldn’t have bought the game anyway?

Always an interesting question. It’s related to discussions of piracy, where publishers often count every pirated copy as a lost sale.

I can see where the devs are coming from, though. The barrier to trying out a game on Game Pass is far lower than the barrier to spending even five or ten bucks to buy a game you aren’t terribly familiar with but in which you have at least some interest. Without Game Pass, potential buyers might not even know about the game, given the volume of indie titles flooding the marketplace. With it, though, players have zero incentive to buy most games that are on the Pass, unless those games are among the few that people love to come back to time and again.

The article is not very well written, but the argument is as follows:

1-Their games are very expensive to make. 1.5M€ for Furi is a lot. Haven’t played Haven, but what I’ve seen of it makes me think 3M€ is equally expensive.
2-They get very good first party deals that make such budgets less risky.
3-Without those deals their business model might not be sustainable.

That said, of course having a game in Game Pass affects sales. Not everybody who gets the game would have bought it, but subscribers that would have bought the game will not (it is pretty obvious). And since Game Pass subscription is very widespread (much more now than PS+ was with Furi), the extra word of mouth does not compensate. However, as things stand, for many bigger indies getting a game in Game Pass will net more money (significantly more) than any lost sales. That’s why getting there is important.

Now, having said this, I do not agree with their calculus, specially for porting full games. I doubt their porting costs (to any console platform) from a game already set up to be released in other consoles and built in a third party engine (Unity in this case) would be higher than an extra 50k€ or so if done internally (with a team of 12, quite feasible). And that’s a very generous estimate (half that would be more realistic, specially for a team that already has gone through the process). Even third party porting can reasonably be found for that price or less. For games with their budgets and expected sales, it’s just a rounding error (1-2% of total costs, and you are going to get more than 2% of sales per platform).

For the Furi DLC it might make sense not to port, if you ignore the PR issues (which I think is unwise for a studio with those sales numbers/cash flow, as the “outcry” seems to show). The costs are similar than porting a full game, specially with the underlying platform changes, but the overall DLC budget and the number of potential sales are likely way lower (say porting it’s now 15% of the DLC budget per main platform and you are not getting those 15% of sales on Xbox given current and former player counts).

I think your costs underestimate the real budget. They mention middleware updates; depending on what they use, many (most) licensing is per platform. So you’ve got the “actual work” for the updates (which won’t be insignificant for a 2016 game), although most of that will be spread across all platforms equally. But then you’ve got licensing costs which will grow with each platform you add, and QA (a small team like theirs probably outsources to someone like Testronic). For the Series platform, that’s two SKUs you’re testing (X and S), on top of retesting for XB1 and XB1X (the game came out pre-1X I think, so maybe they wouldn’t do anything for that). Then you’ve gotta account for post launch support and CS.

I don’t think you’re too far off, but if they’re operating on thin margins, I can see how it wouldn’t make sense when they add up all real costs and potential costs.

I’m pretty confident on the estimates I gave (assuming the game is already working multi-platform, the porting target is more powerful than one of the stablished platforms, and there’s some prior knowledge of similar platforms). I’m also assuming European salaries.

I mean, a full port of games this size and complexity (minus CQA) can be outsourced for about 30k-40k€ assuming a good codebase on the lead platform (quotes are going to be dependent on initial analysis). Internal porting is cheaper if you have the institutional knowledge.

But as I said, for a DLC where you can estimate sales confidently, porting could not be profitable just on pure sales analysis. For a full, well funded, already multi-platform, using a supported third party engine indie game, porting to a main platform equivalent to what you are already running on (in terms of power, so no hard optimization issues) is a no-brainer, at least while sales remain somewhat equivalent.

I do think subscription services like Game Pass are going to change the equation (once direct sales drop significantly). I’ve argued for a while we are going towards a dynamic similar to what we are seeing with TV now (pre-funded, no-risk productions, paid for by the platforms holders). Game Pass is like that for some studios already (you just need budgets tight enough so that the deal covers 75%+ of the production budget). I just don’t think we are so far down that way that ignoring a major platform makes any economic sense based on porting costs alone.

I assume Microsoft’s Game Pass is making games for XBOX much more risky, if I had a XBOX and Game Pass there’s a good chance I would buy 0 games, why would I, there are more games in Game pass than what I can play.

Maybe some generation defining, you gotta play this to talk about it with your friends game, but otherwise, probably not.

It’s going to get there, for sure, but so far sales are somewhat holding up. About 30-50% Xbox users are Game Pass subscribers, depending on SKU, so you still have a significant target market.

Insomniac, the Sony subsidiary behind “Ratchet and Clank” and “Marvel’s Spider-Man,” plans to donate $50,000 to the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project (WRRAP), according to an internal email sent May 13 from Insomniac CEO Ted Price viewed by The Washington Post. Sony will match the donation, along with donations from individual Insomniac employees if they make them via the company’s PlayStation Cares program. In addition, Sony now plans to formulate an initiative to provide financial assistance to employees who might have to travel to different states to receive reproductive care. Insomniac will aid in formulating that policy.

Neither company plans to tweet about their donations, and Insomniac employees have been forbidden from explicitly mentioning Insomniac or Sony should they decide to retweet any announcements the WRRAP might make, according to the email.

For the time being, however, Insomniac is not allowed to make a statement about reproductive rights or its donation — nor does Price think it would be a good idea for the studio to go over Sony’s head and try.

“There would be material repercussions for us as a wholly owned subsidiary,” Price wrote in response to a question about what would happen if Insomniac tweeted about the donation. “Among other things, any progress that we might make in helping change [Sony Interactive Entertainment’s] approach would be stopped dead in its tracks. We’d also probably be severely restricted from doing important public-facing work in the future.”

This comes after Insomniac employees made repeated requests to get management to make a statement not unlike those issued by a few other large video game companies, including “Destiny 2” developer Bungie and “Psychonauts 2″ creator Double Fine. In the Q&A, Price writes that Sony shut that approach down: “Sony Interactive Entertainment will not approve ANY statements from any studio on the topic of reproductive rights. We fought hard for this and we did not win.”

Given the bizarre nature of corporation law, it may well be that a publicly traded company faces real challenges in making political statements that might impact stock prices or something.

Gearbox has 9 AAA games under development? Wow. And possibly more that are not triple-A.

Out of those nine, one has to wonder how many are going to actually be good?

Similarly, out of the ones that are good, how many will succeed? It’s very difficult, even for the big players, to have a AAA homerun these days. The market is so very competitive.

On the other hand, several of those are probably things like Tiny Tina, basically extended DLC. But, yeah, it’s not like Gearbox are known for having production nailed down as it is, so this does seem like overextending.

Don’t get me wrong, I generally like Gearbox stuff, it’s just that nine seems, well, a lot.

They may also be including games that are in incubation and/or pre-production. Games that might never go into full production or not for several years.

Sony Entertainment to the white courtesy phone…