Home > 'Journalistic' Malpractice, Video Games > Making Money is Hard to Do (When You’re Run by Incompetents)

Making Money is Hard to Do (When You’re Run by Incompetents)

The Developer’s Pathetic Lament: “$1 for me; $99 for GameStop”

Every time I hear a story like this (either in the ‘flesh’ or from a contact, I break out in hives and have a combination violently shuddering/ incredulous laughing fit like the Joker having a seizure):

“It’s difficult. Heavenly Sword came out pretty early on the PS3, and we sold, I think, a million and a half copies, and that’s still not enough as an independent studio to break even,” Antoniades explained, adding: “The publisher potentially breaks even at that point, but the developers don’t.”

Got that? 1.5 millions copies is not enough to…break-even! They made no money and, in fact, lost money…on 1.5 million copies sold!

This isn’t the first time someone has come out and said something like this (and trust me: it happens a lot more than you hear about, publicly), but at least Ninja Theory (unlike Realtime Worlds’ head David Jones1) didn’t blame the game biz’ favorite boogeyman (even more evil than demon sheep), used game sales:

Jones says that even though 1.5 million copies were sold, the company only managed to break even due to factors beyond their control, like GameStop’s “amazing used-game sales.” Realtime Worlds knows that they sold 1.5 million new copies of Crackdown but when you factor in the used game sales, “it’s likely there were 2.5, three million sold.”

Damn those greedy consumers for wanting to save a few bucks on a game that retailed for sixty dollars in the USA–how dare GameStop cater to those people that can’t afford to work a second job to manage the latest releases from such wunderkind execs like Jones. (Mom wants to get her kids a game *and* have something left over? F*ck that! You better pay full price you used games-buyin’ whore!) What would the excuse be if the game didn’t ship with a demo of Halo 3, the most anticipated, at that time, game on the platform? “Well we just assumed that if we built it, they would come”?

(Yes, I’m a bit tired of the ‘used games ate my meal ticket and all I got was this lousy soap box‘ (those are all separate links, and there are a lot more where they came from) excuse3, since I don’t recall ever hearing this argument–ever!!–from car manufacturers, baseball card makers, comic book creators, movie studios, record companies, my buddy Timmy when I passed off a reprint of Action Comics #1 as the real thing, your wife who managed to collect quite the array of venereal diseases despite insisting she was pure as the driven snow when you wed, etc. The fact is, the game business, by and large, is anti-consumer and (if they could) would outlaw used game sales in a nanosecond.)

I mean, these guys do employ scary-smart MBAs that tell them if you spend ‘x’ amount of money you need to sell ‘y’ copies to break even, right? And then they have all these high-priced market analysis that says an original, heretofore completely unknown IP, can expect to sell ‘z’ number of copies on a userbase of some algebraic equation? (And these wunderkinds out of our best universities are also sure to factor in sales ‘lost’ to used games, competition at time of launch, and potential insectoid alien invasion sucking up all the ‘hype’, yes??) And yet, when they fall on their face, they blame you (that’s who they’re blaming, make no mistake!), when they don’t hit their targets.

Furthermore, did anyone running Ninja Theory or Reatltime Worlds stop, for even a minute, and contemplate whether signing a contract that only paid them (relative) peanuts to produce the game, that relied so heavily on royalties (i.e. money they get paid on the back end, when you, the consumer, buys a copy), might be a bad risk? Anyone? Bueller??

Of course, the honest answer to all of the above probably is something along the lines of: “our game is super-awesome and it’ll definitely sell eleventy-billion copies in the first week alone, cause it blows away all those other games just on grafix and, um, grafix, plus ours has a demo for Halo 3 and there’s no way we can possibly go wrong on this even though Bernie, our accountant, is waving the red flag and screaming “abort! abort!” (Which is about as savvy as running into a burning building, doused in gasoline, and having an impromptu game of Twister.)

These are the same guys that, when they have kids, think that theirs are the “smartest, sharpest and best-looking kids that have ever trod the face of the earth–plus they love Halo 3 so it’s win-win!!”…until they’re not. (And it turns out they really like Wii games, thus dancing, with spiked cleats, all over Daddie’s dreams of Ferraris and riches beyond the dreams of avarice.)

The best part, of course, is that a HD game dev is never once-bitten, twice sky. It’s more like “damn the hatches and full speed ahead, boys4! Into the jaws of GameStop at ramming speed! This time we’ll make it illegal to sell used games and then people will have to buy it!”

So, moral of story: STOP PRODUCING GAMES THAT COST TENS OF MILLIONS TO MAKE AND YOU WON’T HAVE TO SELL TENS OF MILLIONS OF COPIES TO MAKE SOME MONEY. Granted, you may have to compromise your ‘art’, but at least you’ll able to afford a state school for your fashion model cum rocket scientist daughter.

1 Not the monkey, though he sometimes sounds like one.
2 Because that would eventually lead to their customers realizing they’re being raped so that guys like Jones don’t have to cut a few polygons here and there so they can realize their God-given right to spend as much as they want (can’t compromise the ‘vision, dontcha know!), even if the market won’t support it, i.e. stop spending so much damn money on development, and it might be more possible to turn a profit on less than a staggering 1.5 million copies sold, i.e. Day 3 of Econ 101.
3 Notice how the media dutifully carries their water in so many of those links, too. (Bastards must have strong backs!) It’s almost like they have a vested interest in the companies and not you…hmmm.
4 Boys being boys is a big part of the problem when millions upon millions of dollars are on the line.

  1. 03/29/2010 at 18:15

    I think DLC is a great way to generate capital from used game sales. Sure they bought the game used, but if they buy DLC for it you still get in their pockets.

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