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Is $5 billion per year worth of downloadable content killing creativity?

By Cal Jeffrey ยท 13 replies
Apr 20, 2017
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  1. Earlier today we reported how digital downloads accounted for 74 percent of generated video game revenues. These totals included full game, subscription, expansion and add-on content, mobile apps, and social media sales. Total gaming revenue for 2016 was about $30 billion, and according to the Wall Street Journal, $4.78 billion of that was from the sale of downloadable content (DLC).

    As publishers continue to perpetuate a “games as a service” mentality, add-on content is going to continue playing a larger and more important role in developers’ and publishers’ business models. For some companies, sales of add-ons account for nearly half their revenue.

    “Analysts say add-ons' popularity is a major reason stock prices have more than tripled in the past five years at game giants Activision Blizzard Inc., Electronic Arts Inc., Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. and Ubisoft Entertainment SA,” states WSJ.

    While this is good for a gaming company’s bottom line, it could lead to less and less innovation, which seems to be the gaming community’s second biggest complaint, right behind corporate greed. Gamers like to complain that publishers are greedy and dole out bits and pieces of a game to soak consumers for as much as possible. Some examples do support this claim.

    Of the nearly $5 billion that was made from DLC, EA took the biggest portion of the pie, bringing in $1.3 billion in add-on content revenue, according to IGN. That is over a quarter of EA’s total earnings for 2015. So to some extent, the corporate greed argument is valid.

    However, gamers are the ones who, while griping about it, still fork over the money for additional content. If we are buying, companies will continue selling, and this is actually good for the overall health of the industry.

    According to the Entertainment Software Association, "Most gamers feel computer and video games provide more value for their money."

    However, as games cost more and more by way of DLC, this valuation is likely to change, especially with a lack of new product.

    It is the gaming community’s second grievance that is more concerning from an industry standpoint. If developers continually stamp out cookie cutter designs and rely on squeezing every dime out of a game for years on end, they run the risk of eventually running off their fans. Take Blizzard, just as an example.

    The vibe in the Blizzard forums is that people are already getting tired of waiting for developers to at least announce Diablo 4 is in the works. They have been playing D3 for five years now and are ready for something new. In Blizzard's defense, it probably is working on a sequel, but it may be holding its cards too close to the vest. Developers have to throw gamers a bone now and then where information is concerned.

    However, stamping out sequel after sequel is not very innovative either, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, some of the best-selling franchises have had very little innovation between iterations. Just look at Call of Duty or God of War or just about any sports title out there. If the title is profitable, it will last until it runs out of steam, but just pumping out a clone with a different storyline and slapping a number after the title is not always the best option.

    Independent video game developers have seen significant growth in recent months. Just recently, the Globe and Mail reported that Patrice Désilets, creator of the Assassin’s Creed series left Ubisoft to found his own independent studio. Speaking of Assassin’s Creed, Alex Hutchinson, the creative director behind Assassin’s Creed 3 also set off to start a studio. Before them, Metal Gear Solid mastermind Hideo Kojima started Kojima Productions as well.

    I believe what all of these creators have in common is that they are innovators that see the direction the huge corporations are taking and do not want to go down that road. They see that the corporate mentality is killing creativity in the name of revenue growth. They would rather completely give up what they, themselves, created (in the case of Désilets and Kojima) and start from scratch than be responsible for running their creations into the ground. They want to invent something new and compete against the franchises that they built.

    There is a delicate balance that needs to be maintained here by game producers. Gamers will eventually tire if not provided with enough variety, but they need to keep in mind that variety is not the only thing that ensures a player continues paying them. If they cannot provide new brands that pioneer gaming in new directions, players will lose faith and move to a company that shows such promise. But this would not be so bad either. It would herald in an era where independent studios could bring us innovative ideas, while holding their own against the corporate giants.

    Permalink to story.

  2. Innovation stagnation has nothing to do with DLC. It has to do with graphics.

    When you're graphics and effects department alone takes up most of your budget, the suits funding it aren't going to risk big losses because an innovative gameplay idea flopped. Ergo, cookie cutter game development: Do what's proven and safe but slap a different paint job on it.
    alabama man and Reehahs like this.
  3. Skjorn

    Skjorn TS Maniac Posts: 304   +167

    Not a fan of Kojima, his attitude that he is godly amongst mere mortals is not who I want to buy from.
    If CDPR can make Cyberpunk 2077 as big of a seller as The Witcher 3 then I would hope that other devs would see what fans really want and follow suite. Overwhelming amount of excellent content, no uneccesary drm and an actual finished game.
    Here is to hoping CDPR can pull a James Cameron and raise the bar for content creation in the gaming industry.
    alabama man, Reehahs and Rockstarrrr like this.
  4. Rockstarrrr

    Rockstarrrr TS Booster Posts: 97   +72

    Strongly disagree on this one - graphics almost came to standstill, people even complaining about lack of progress visually while hardware requirements keeps going up. For ten years we`ve been stuck with Unreal 3 Engine games, soon to be Unreal 4 or something.

    No, its the gamers who is to blame - who kept buying Call of Duty and Assassins Creed games every single year? Rockstar even proved with GTA V that you can sell the same game for few years and make TOP10 every month (on Steam at least). Market became much bigger than 10-15 years ago and that will slow progress in innovations and design by its nature.
    Reehahs, Cal Jeffrey and psycros like this.
  5. psycros

    psycros TS Evangelist Posts: 2,454   +2,136

    I think you're both right.
  6. This is a very uninformed statement.

    Here are the credits for Mass Effect: Andromeda, a $40m game.

    Note that the game design and programming teams are dwarfed by the graphics, effects, and audio groups. It isn't even close.

    Moreover, graphics coming to a perceived standstill technologically does not reduce the number of people required to produce them. Back in the day, it took one or two people to take care of a game's visual development. Today, because of the amount of work required for AAA production values, it takes a team of 20+ people months to get everything produced and optimized. This is before even considering audio and voice acting. That all costs a lot of money.

    Game devs have also fielded this question in past AMAs on Reddit, where they have said that suits demand streamlining and "safe" design to minimize risk.

    You either get fantastic production value or you get innovative (risky) game design. You don't get both.

    In fact, the only person to date to even attempt to have the cake and eat it has been Chris Roberts, and we can all see how that's going.

    Blaming the market won't change it. Most people cookie cutter publishers are targeting got into gaming in the early 2000s, when streamlining first started. It's the difference between people who grew up with auto-aim (them) and people who bragged about all-gold S-licenses on Gran Turismo/Contra all-nighters (us).

    It's not going to stop until some devs or publishers grow a pair and roll the dice on something new. This inevitably means a departure from "cutting edge" graphical design.
    Arris, Reehahs and Cal Jeffrey like this.
  7. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 4,751   +3,173

    What a downer .... I'm going out for a bottle of beer ..... any joiners?
  8. Cal Jeffrey

    Cal Jeffrey TS Evangelist Topic Starter Posts: 1,477   +359

    Hells yes!
  9. 3volv3d

    3volv3d TS Addict Posts: 157   +59

    Surely tho, creativity by definition is being killed / stagnating by "simply throwing a paint job on it".

    GTAV is a turd. A polished turd. Not a finally polished turd. Its SP actually had some weak characters, albeit nicely played by their similar real life looking counter parts, but the story was meh.
    The MP, sucks. It is improving in ways but the game is far from polished, and is just a cash cow for the DLC, which is free... no wait you probably need to find a modded cash drop lobby or actually pay for them shark cards.

    Graphics again is a problem, in regards to, artwork, take the good ol' $5 for a knife in the real world, and $250+ for a knife on CS:GO. Proving creativity and marketing makes dumb people shine.

    Whilst the market evolves around new tech like VR, which still has time to flop maybe, we really should just wait to see where creativity goes. Maybe we have hit a wall until everyone can have a gaming room / holodeck experience.
  10. Arris

    Arris TS Evangelist Posts: 4,665   +416

    I'm seeing the growing popularity of small indie titles that often hark back to 2D platformer basics of yesteryear, maybe with a modern twist or at least a little novel innovation, more than the AAA titles seem to be doing. Until gamers spit out the spoon that is feeding them the Call Of Duty X flavored gruel we're unlikely to see change.

    Sometimes, even though I've argued that gaming (modern multiplayer) is more engaging and social than sitting and binge watching TV box sets, I feel that games are becoming the replacement for the good old ***** box/gogglebox and starting to follow lacklustre scripts akin to that of a formulaic sitcom or soap that guarantees commissioning of multiple seasons.
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2017
    Cal Jeffrey likes this.
  11. Bubbajim

    Bubbajim TechSpot Staff Posts: 569   +568

    Meh. Come join in with VR, where you'll find all the ingenuity and innovation you can handle ;)
  12. stewi0001

    stewi0001 TS Evangelist Posts: 2,058   +1,456

    I'm still playing and working on Mods for Fallout 4 :p
    Capaill and Cal Jeffrey like this.
  13. Capaill

    Capaill TS Evangelist Posts: 742   +372

    Playing Fallout 4 at the moment too, just got to Level 66 in Survival mode. Have a load of graphical and gameplay mods installed. Really loving one that mods in an RU556 assault rifle - so much better looking than the guns in-game. Modders have done amazing work on Fallout, Skyrim and XCOM2.
    I'm not a fan of paying for DLC and I don't play pay-to-win games. But I will pay a bit extra if I'm getting a lot of value out of a game.
    Cal Jeffrey likes this.
  14. amghwk

    amghwk TS Maniac Posts: 401   +226

    Yes, agreed with this article.

    Greedy corporates are killing innovations, and on the other hand, mindless zombie gamers are fuelling this further by buying these. Both are to be blamed.

    Those past A-star designers who turned to crowd-funding, almost all seem to fall short of the past glorious creations.

    The future of gaming looks bleak. The corporates will keep on churning out another same old sequel or some eye-catching add-on.

    It's up to the gamers to invest wisely and demand innovation and stop buying craps.
    Cal Jeffrey likes this.

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