Wednesday, February 27, 2013

In No Way Should This Be Surprising

From a presentation by EA CEO Blake Jorgensen at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference:
Yes, so the digital business is broken up into a couple of pieces...The next and much bigger piece is microtransactions within games. And so to the extent that, as Rajat said, we're building into all of our games the ability to pay for things along the way, either to get to a higher level to buy a new character, to buy a truck, a gun, whatever it might be, and consumers are enjoying and embracing that way of the business.

"we're building into all of our games the ability to pay for things along the way..."

Oh, hell.

Anyone should know where this path leads: to games where essential content or skills necessary in the base game are not available unless they're purchased via micro-transaction. They will be game unbalancing, they will be unfair, and there is no good ending here. There is no path where this is good for us.

But wait, you might say. What if these micro-transactions are just for non-essential or optional items? What if a company promises that they'll never expand to items that unbalance the game? Dead Space 3 was a good example of that, right? So why does this have to end badly?

Let me clarify something before we proceed. If the company making the game isn't part of a publicly-traded corporation, then there are many paths to happy endings. If it's a publicly-traded corporation, though (like Electronic Arts), then we are well and truly screwed.


Here's the simplest answer. The primary goal of a corporation is not to serve the consumer--it's to maximize value for shareholders. Period.

What this means is that as long as those two interests are aligned, a company will seem very consumer-friendly. When there is a diversion, though, it will always be in the direction of the shareholders, not us.

CEOs use the phrase "maximize value for the shareholders" like an American flag, waving it to prove how they should be immune to criticism no matter what kind of shitty thing they do to consumers. Living by the "maximize value" mantra, a corporation is a predator. A "promise" from a corporation is only good until they decide to break that promise.

So EA will sell non-game-breaking items until they decide they can generate substantially more revenue and higher profits by doing otherwise. Their recent claim that they would never unbalance a game with micro-transactions is nothing more than a Maginot Line, and we would be foolish to believe otherwise.

Is this true of other publicly-traded companies? Absolutely, although the more profitable the company, the less their financial need to consider destroying the trust we've placed in them.

SimCity V? Be prepared. I'm expecting it to be jam-packed with micro-transactions.

This is why, in recent years, I've written more and more about indie games. With an indie game, the interests of the developer are far more closely aligned to their customers. If they're not, they won't be making games for long.

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