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Four Myths about the Video Games Industry

Som Pourfarzaneh Posted:
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If we take a look at the video games industry as a whole, there are three broad groups of actors: developers, consumers, and press.  Developers, of course, do the dirty work of creating within our favorite medium (and are often represented by publishers), while consumers shape the direction of the industry by influencing its supply and demand with their wallets.  The press mediate between these two, mostly providing enthusiast previews, reviews, interviews, and opinions about the goings-on around town.

Sometimes, because of the lack of transparency between these three groups, generalizations arise that can range from simple exaggerations to pure rubbish.  These myths are often lifted up by the group with the least amount of insider information: consumers. Yet they can also be perpetuated by the faction armed with a sometimes considerably (and other times only marginally) larger insight into the development process: press.  There are even stereotypical generalizations held by developers and publishers, although these tend to be fewer and further between.

In this week’s column, we’ll take a look at and deconstruct four such myths about the video games industry.

The devs hate X group of players

I see this claim fairly frequently, that because a game doesn’t cater specifically to a particular player group, that the devs hate, or at the very least, are prepared to ignore, that subset of the community.

This mentality is a little bit like saying that because my local convenience store doesn’t stock dog food, it hates puppies.  The truth of the matter is that most developers have limited budgets, huge expenses, and demanding timelines for their products.  Very few MMOs, for example, are able to pull off the “something for everyone” approach, and those titles are usually backed by a huge amount of financial investment and a longer development process.  Even then, blockbuster triple-A MMOs still have to play to their strengths for fear of spreading themselves too thin.

If a game has focused on PvE content for two update cycles, and has yet to improve upon its PvP experience, it’s probably because the development team has had to prioritize the former because of player feedback or internal testing.  The idea that they somehow “hate PvPers” is just nonsense.  At the most basic economic level, it’s in the developers’ best interest to keep all of their player base satisfied, because happy players make better customers.

Subscriptions are better than free-to-play (or vice-versa)

There are probably three camps with opinions about MMO monetization models: subscribers, free-to-players, and hybriders.  While it’s true that only a handful of MMORPGs can currently support a subscription-only payment system, it’s difficult to say that one model of monetization is “better” than the other.  Often, the complaint about subscription-based MMOs is that the monthly fees are too high a barrier of entry in a market that has many excellent alternatives.  By the same token, players are right to complain about free-to-play cash shops that detract from the immersion of playing in a virtual world, or that gate content unnecessarily.  Supporters of hybrid subscription/free-to-play models straddle the line between the two, and I suppose benefit from the best of both worlds.

It’s true that many, if not most, subscription-based MMOs have had to make some kind of concession towards free-to-play or hybrid monetization to stay viable post-launch.  Still, this trend does not signify that the months or years of subscriptions did not serve a particular financial purpose.  Nor does it mean that the transition to free-to-play has solved issues the game had experienced with monetization in the first place.

Although I play all different kinds of MMOs with a variety of payment types, I find myself squarely in the buy-to-play camp, although few MMORPGs have made this monetization model successful (or even attempted it) outside of Guild Wars 2.

Reviewers are paid by developers for good scores

At least among the top tier of reputable gaming enthusiast websites (present company included), this simply does not happen.  There may have been a time in the wild west of video game development and press where someone got paid off to write something nice about Battletoads (j/k that’s a great game).  Heck, I’m sure there’s a shady developer out there, with a shady press counterpart that is running some shady story, that will be read by a shady consumer and lead to a shady purchase.  Yet, as consumers it’s easy for us to read a review and disagree with it categorically because its score is out of line with our own opinion.  That dissonance doesn’t necessarily mean that any funny business is involved, even if the review has logic holes or inconsistencies within it.

Any developer or press site worth their salt would never engage in such a transaction.  It certainly has never happened in my tenure here, nor will it, ever.  Period.

You need a degree in computer programming to work in the video games industry

The video games industry is constantly expanding, with more and more roles for people who have not been traditionally trained in software development.  Increasingly, there are people working in public relations, publishing, community management, customer service, quality assurance, and a host of other departments who come from many other unconventional fields.  Having some background in programming or design will always help, but if you’re looking to get into the industry for your career, the most important piece is to put yourself out there and get some experience, interning, working for free, making connections, and polishing your writing and communication skills.  If you’re interested in working for a gaming press site, start your own blog and develop your writing voice and some samples that you can shop around.  Or, if you think that working for a developer or publisher could be your thing, take a look at their career sites, go to job fairs, see what qualities and positions they’re looking for, and tailor your approach accordingly.  A degree in computer engineering or design is probably necessary if you want to be doing the actual coding or designing, but if you just want to work in the industry, there’s no substitute for experience.  It’s no secret that a lot of companies have taken to hiring experienced press enthusiasts, because of their familiarity with the genre!

As with most myths, there are some small kernels of truth to the four presented here, but the consistent generalizations that are made in reference to them do not hold up to close examination.  Devs don’t hate players (mostly), no one monetization model is the best (except for buy-to-play), reviewers aren’t paid for good scores (have you seen their salaries), and you don’t need a CS degree to work in the games industry (but it does help for certain positions).  The more that relations between the three groups of developers, press, and consumers become transparent, I think an increased number of these kinds of myths will more easily become exposed.

What are some myths of the gaming industry that you’d like to see debunked?


Som Pourfarzaneh

Som has been hanging out with the MMORPG.com crew since 2011, and is an Associate Director & Lecturer in Media, Anthropology, and Religious Studies. He’s a former Community Manager for Neverwinter, the free-to-play Dungeons & Dragons MMORPG from Cryptic Studios and Perfect World Entertainment, and is unreasonably good at Maze Craze for the Atari 2600. You can exchange puns and chat (European) football with him on Twitter @sominator.