The End of 5 Gallon Games

I went to a dinner with my brother’s friends a few years ago.  After I explained that I make video games for a living, I found myself asking a question that I find a bit strange.  The question was: “Do you play games?”  The reason I find is so strange is that there are so many mediums where the question is almost meaningless.  With film, you can jump ahead to “What is your favorite movie?” and with music, you can jump ahead to “What music do you listen to?”  I found myself wondering why.

I think the industry is definitely making some movement in the right direction.  I think the Wii, iPhone, and Facebook games are all helping to solve this problem, but what exactly was the problem?  There were so many pieces to the problem, but they all stemmed from one single thing: cost.  In this case, money was the root of all evil.  To start with, creating hardware was expensive.  So even without starting, every developer is burdened with the original sin of the hardware development and manufacturing costs.  Then you add the actual high development costs.  Then you add the marketing costs.  With such huge costs of development, you need to pass the expenses onto the consumer.  Each console is a few hundred dollars, but significantly worse is the fact that each game costs $50 to $60.  Then because of this high retail price tag, you need to justify the price by putting 20 hours of content into the box.  So not only have you self selected for people who can afford the high price tag, but you’ve secondarily selected for people who have 20 hours to spend playing the game.  Console games are basically the wholesale version of gaming.  If you’re in the mood for a drink, you need to buy a 5 gallon bottle or nothing.  And in a world where beverages were only sold in 5 gallon bottles, you wouldn’t have the variety of beverages that you have.  You’d have water, coke, and coke knock offs.  Likewise, if you’re forced to purchase gaming in 20 hour increments, you have to stick to gameplay mechanics which are fun in bulk, which terrifyingly, is heavily drawn to the black hole of murdering things.

So when I say that we’re making some movement in the right direction, I’m not really focused on the fact that there are more varied genres or the fact that the games are shorter or even the fact that you can play more of these games with your friends.  The important progress that we’re making is that there are games that are less expensive to make.  Everything else is a natural consequence of that.  When you haven’t sunk millions of dollars into a game, you don’t need to put a huge price tag on it.  When you haven’t put a huge price tag on it, you don’t need to provide a Costco sized bucket of content.  And when you don’t need to provide 20 hours of gameplay, you can diversify what games are.  And even better, when you’re not only selling 5 gallon bottles of gameplay, people are more willing to try it out and maybe even find out that they like it.

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