from the buy-my-game,-you-ungrateful-fucks! dept
As happens periodically and predictably, a person who created something but hasn’t seen the financial return he anticipated is now blaming the public for his financial woes. It’s nothing this game developer did wrong — according to him — it’s everyone else. They all want stuff for free. (h/t Techdirt reader Sneeje)
A mobile game my team and I poured our hearts and souls into is receiving rave reviews from users. The game, Battlestation: Harbinger, was featured by both Apple and Google as one of the best new games in their respective marketplaces.
You may think that congratulations are in order. You might think that my team and I popped some Champagne and headed out on a well-deserved vacation. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Even with these successes, my company and I are in the red, desperate to bring in more money before we have to lay off our workers and close our doors for good.
These are the words of Aksel Junkilla, the CEO of the company behind Battlestation:Harbinger. Complaints about mobile gaming are often inseparable from complaints about casual gamers and the games that cater to them. Everyone supposedly wants everything for free, which is why so many game developers have taken the “free to play” route. Game development is subsidized by a small percentage of users who will dump hundreds or thousands of dollars into the game while the other 99% play for free. It works, to a certain extent, but it also relies on large, loyal userbase.
But that’s not the only problem with Junkilla’s arguments. They’re also premature. Any market can be unpredictable, but markets with limited data are even more so. Console gaming has been around for more than 40 years. PC gaming has been around even longer. But full-fledged mobile gaming has only been around for two decades, and its first decade or so bears almost no resemblance to today’s market. To complain about the state of mobile gaming in 2015 is like complaining about the state of the motor vehicle market in 1920. The market is still mostly unexplored and, like any other creative endeavor, what works for some will not work for others. But that hasn’t stopped the complaints.
Creators often talk about the internet and other democratic distribution platforms as being responsible for the “devaluing” of creative efforts. But one of the first things this game developer does in his rant about mobile gaming is devalue his own work.
You see, we have a problem in the mobile gaming sector, thanks to you. You would rather buy a pumpkin spice latte a few times a week and enjoy it for a few minutes than buy a game that you can play as long as you would like. In order for creative games to be made, there needs to be a major culture shift. We need to be willing to spend a few dollars on a quality app, rather than for a few extra lives or other in-game purchases.
When you open your rhetorical arguments by comparing your game (which is apparently “worth” far more than people are willing to pay) to a cup of coffee, you’re doing your work a disservice. A game shouldn’t be compared to a cup of coffee just because the two are similar in price. The rough analogy may seem like it works, but all it really does is signal you feel your game is comparable to cups of coffee and yet somehow more deserving of people’s spare income than the local coffee shop.
If that’s the argument, this is the rebuttal. Here’s Rob Fearon, a game developer in his own right, but one you’ll never see arguing that the (potential) customer is always wrong.
What if I didn’t spend that money I’m supposed to save for an app on a coffee. I mean, that’s possible because I don’t even like coffee.
What if I spent £2.99 or whatever…
on food to eat because I need to eat?
on milk or a bottle of juice or two or a Ribena or something?
going towards a pack of nappies for my youngest or some wipes or something?
bus fare to the hospital?
train fare to see my relatives or friends?
or most of it anyway on a Big Issue?
some great tunes I can listen to for years to come?
a comic or a magazine I enjoy reading?
some second hand books?
some new books!
someone else’s videogame because I didn’t like the look of yours? Like Spellbound. I paid £2.99 for Spellbound. Do past purchases even count or is this a modern malaise where it’s only apps or coffee?
Junkilla’s inability to see beyond his own price point — one he had decided was “fair” before “consulting” the buying public (by offering it for sale) — stunts his own argument. As Fearon points out, mobile game purchase decisions aren’t binary. It’s not THIS APP or THIS LATTE. It’s this app or any number of things that seem more worth the cost. But Junkilla wants to believe the world is keeping him from doing what he loves because they can’t stop throwing away their money on spiced lattes.
It could be any other small expenditure, but for some reason, people seem to want to compare [insert thing for sale here] to cups of coffee. Fearon’s list is far more expansive and it takes into consideration the fact that humans have many things to spend money on and each person will make decisions based on subjective value — rather than the “use anywhere” objective value Junkilla seems to believe exists.
And when Junkilla finally moves on from criticizing his potential customers for blowing money on coffee rather than on him, he moves on to indirectly blame them by complaining about free-to-play games and what they’ve (supposedly) done to the robust market he assumes would be there if not for Clash of Clans, etc.
Even apps that find success in their marketing campaigns cannot make up the money spent on development because people would rather spend $5 on a latte every other day than on the app. Why? Because the most popular games are free-to-play, with a monetization model that lets most players play for free while milking some customers for thousands of dollars.
Junkilla blames people who prefer lattes to his game. He blames people who prefer free-to-play to pay-up-front. He blames bogus reviews left at Google’s Play store that rate his game lower because it’s not cheaper. He blames popular culture for being popular and generally being more successful than niche offerings like his own. Everything about mobile gaming — as it exists now — is the problem. Nothing about his lack of success can be traced back to him or his game… at least according to him.
A review of the comments, however, uncovers a variety of reasons why people may be unwilling to pay the price he’s asking, none of which have anything to do with discretionary coffee spending or wanting everything for free.
I would gladly play console game prices for a console game experience.
Me too. On a console.
I have zero interest in playing Zelda on my phone. Because I don’t use my phone that way. I use my phone for short, distracted, frequently interrupted gaming sessions. If I’m going to sit down and play through a console/PC level game, I’m not doing it on my phone.
Mobile is still too fluid an ecosystem to expect people to go for premium games right now. Players are limited by ram, storage, download speeds, data limits, screen size, and social footprint. Until tablets/smartphones stop changing so much every 12 months, developers aren’t going to have any idea what kinds of games they can develop and consumers aren’t going to trust anything except free because they’re either upgrading their device so often or dropping the stupid thing on the pavement and cracking the screen in a million places.
There just isn’t enough stability in the hardware to give the author what he wants in the marketplace. When you buy a console or a PC, you’re going to keep it for years. You buy a Kindle or an iPhone and you’ll upgrade it in 12-24 months.
This is a just a small sampling of responses. Other issues brought up are fluky mobile control schemes and phone screen sizes frequently not being optimal for “console-level” gaming. Then there are comments from other game developers, one of which points out the folly of complaining about how the only way to make money is to go “free-to-play” while simultaneously demanding the rest of the world come around to your way of thinking, rather than going where the money actually is.
By the time Junkilla arrives at his conclusion, he’s contradicting himself.
Gamers need to learn to vote with their money. This will allow developers to build the great games that everyone wants to see on the expanding mobile platform.
And yet, when the wallet voting occurs, Junkilla is right there to complain about the tallied votes. The public has spoken and his game apparently won’t make him rich, much less allow him to break even. THESE THINGS HAPPEN. But they are not symptoms of a severely damaged system.
Finally, Junkilla’s implies that his game’s critical success should result in commercial success, despite the entire history of cultural and creative efforts showing these two elements rarely go hand-in-hand.
As has been famously noted, the Velvet Underground never sold many albums, but every album they sold resulted in someone starting a band. At any pop culture site, you can find multiple lists of TV shows critics loved but only survived a few seasons because the general public was less impressed. The movies with the best reviews aren’t the ones racking up hundreds of millions in ticket sales. Studios behind universally-acclaimed games have closed up shop.
That’s the way it goes. It’s still a relatively untested market and no one has all the answers. Junkilla, however, doesn’t even have the right questions. Attacking potential customers and blaming them for spending their money elsewhere is no way to grow a business. The world isn’t just gaming apps and cups of coffee. Connecting the two just because it’s an easy way to compare prices does a disservice to both your argument and the public.
Filed Under: aksel junkilla, apps, battlestation:harbinger, blame, business models, coffee, demand, economics, supply