If there is one universal punching bag in the video games industry, it’s publishers. I think a lot of people interchange the term “developer” and “publisher” when they discuss them in articles or on visual/audio media, which is rather incorrect. In the games industry you have three major bodies that come together to release a console game to retail: a developer, a publisher, and a manufacturer. The developer makes the game, the publisher pays for everything and subsequently makes the most money on its success (and takes the biggest risk), and the manufacturer licenses the format in exchange for a fee (typically $10 this generation, which is why console games cost $10 more than PC games). Since the brunt of the money being spent on creation and sale of a game, the practices that we see and annoy us are also often from publishers. The result is that everyone but the publisher loses, and the biggest loser is usually the end user (ie: customer, us). This needs to stop. Rarely in other industries do the trends and failures fall upon the consumer to help pad the future, however nowadays video game publishers like to deviously do all kinds of things that we hate.
You can thank pubishers for online passes and any attempt to thwart used gaming. Large sums of money are being spent every day to penalize the consumer for daring to treat video games like any other form of media available. EA recently abandoned the online pass it was providing to users, which is a hilarious explanation for a form of anti-used gaming practice present in almost all single player experiences released this generation by the company. In order to play Dragon Age II, Mass Effect 2, Dead Space, Alice: Madness Returns, and many others you were required to register an “online pass” that would give you some pathetic form of DLC (or in rare events, entire games) and sometimes check in with the servers. I think it was Dragon Age II that told me once that since I couldn’t register the first time with the servers (my internet was down at that moment) that I would not be able to play the game. I think there was a way around it, but that’s not the point. It is a stupid practice. Aside from single player examples, online play of almost every console game this generation was locked behind an online pass (despite many of these games being price gated behind Xbox Live Gold on the 360). EA has since dropped the online passes, seemingly caring for the gamer these days, but nowadays the online multiplayer experience is much lower than it used to be and there are better ways to restrict used gaming. In short, it no longer serves its purpose so its dropped and the publishers expect us to jump for joy because things have returned to the way they used to be. Woo.
On the subject of multiplayer, publishers are almost always the driving force between unnecessary online modes in single player games and visa versa. They have data that suggests that all hardcore gamers want to go online and kill each other so instead of developing the next Call of Duty killer, they toss together a pathetic team deathmatch mode and pull resources from the intended focus on single player. Publishers initiated day one DLC, a strong push for pre-orders, collector’s editions (which I will admit are hit or miss), and of course season passes. Some publishers do multimedia pushes on properties, hence you get a Halo movie, book, TV show, action figures, board game, and oh yeah, the video game will ship in another two years. Publishers are also the driving force behind this whole “buy it new day one to support the developer/game” as if to dare gamers to make a mad dash for money quick or else their favorite game maker or franchise will be dropped by the all-knowing publisher. These are the companies that tell us that although we purchased multiple millions of copies, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, that it just wasn’t good enough.
On that note I’m most aggrivated and I have a bone to pick with one publisher in particular: Square Enix. This company will not let go of its age old roots and thus has put the Final Fantasy franchise on such a high pedestal that other franchises are almost literally being consumed by the company to hold up endless delays on the next big Final Fantasy title. Case in point: last year Sleeping Dogs sold almost two million copies, Tomb Raider sold more than 3.2 million copies, and Hitman Absolution sold almost 3.5 million copies. At that same time the development team of Final Fantasy XIII Versus (Agito) was not even mentioned after more than seven years in development (it was first shown off at E3 2006) and more than $100 million in development budget. In an investor report Square Enix slammed developers like IO Interactive (Hitman) for poor sales, laying off a decent chunk of the developer, questioned the future of the Tomb Raider franchise and potentially Crystal Dynamics in the same season it celebrated its best selling game of all time, all while sweeping the massive fund hemorrhage of FFXIII VS under the rug. This means that hundreds of hard working people that did amazing work and had strong market performance will still be punished due to a lack of proper management by its owners. It’s like being laid off for having your best performance review to date at your work while the bosses son gets promoted for stealing from the company. A very early version of FFXIII VS, which has undergone a facelift, was revealed at E3 to now be Final Fantasy XV and who knows how much longer it will remain in development. Activision isn’t as bad as this, but they are responsible for locking many developers into an endless cycle (like Neversoft with its forced annualisation of Tony Hawk and then of Guitar Hero) and then dumping them when the cards are down (Activision closed Neversoft’s doors when the latest Guitar Hero title failed to perform). The result is a streamline of single concept titles with endless sequels or the largest and most unique talent being laid off consistently. It doesn’t follow business logic.
In short these companies have been slowly creeping prices, monetizing every aspect of whatever is popular in a video game, and making consumers pay for mistakes. When they have a bad year, new practices are put in place to generate revenue and we are asked to spend more money to keep them afloat, meanwhile when they have a banner year with more profit than anyone can spend we are again asked to spend more money as they further monetize (DLC typically) what’s popular. This results in a case where the publisher never loses and the customer always loses. Unfortuantely due to the cost of making a large AAA-budget game necessitates the big publisher’s existence, but somehow there has to be a way to keep these companies in check so they are not given free reign to play with companies and employees like pawns in an endless game of chess.
The views expressed in this editorial are those of the author, Fred Rojas, and not necessarily the views of the B-Team Podcast or its other hosts. In fact, most of the time the guys think I’m bat shit crazy.