$60 for a Game in 2014 Is "Insane," Former Bulletstorm Dev Says
"Lower prices would allow us to stop thinking about filler for our games, and start focusing on making the experience just right," says Adrian Chmielarz.
The accepted, standard price of $60 for a new video game "is a little insane," according to Adrian Chmielarz, former creative director of Bulletstorm developer People Can Fly. According to him, gamers paying that much expect a great deal in return for their money these days, and by focusing so heavily on $60 AAA games, the industry is leaving money on the table.
"Everybody is smart in retrospect, and looking back I do think that we were possibly among the first victims of this giant shift in gaming, where the middle-class AAA games began to die--not 'middle-class' by quality, but we didn't have ten multiplayer modes and co-op and all of that," Chmielarz said of Bulletstorm in an interview with GamesIndustry International. "The saying in the industry right now is, 'If you want to sell a game for $60, to the player it has to feel like $200.'"
"Bulletstorm was a $60 game for $60," he added. "And these days $60 for a game sounds basically crazy, when there are literally hundreds of high quality games out there for a much smaller price--even on console. In 2014, $60 for a game is a little insane."
Bulletstorm was released by People Can Fly and Epic Games in 2011 and, despite positive reviews, it didn't turn out to be a huge seller. Epic president Mike Capps said of the game in 2012, "I think Bulletstorm was very critically successful, and I think a lot of folks really enjoyed seeing something new. From a sales perspective it was good, but not amazing. I think EA was hoping we'd do better." Epic acquired People Can Fly in 2012 and Chmielarz parted ways with the developer, which would be renamed Epic Games Poland a year later.
Chmielarz also talked about how publishers often seek to turn franchises into something they are not. He pointed to Dead Space as a series that EA has attempted to turn into a major, Call of Duty-level franchise, rather than being satisfied with sales of 2 or 3 million copies. "That could be a profitable series, but only if you're smart about the budget and the content," he said.
He's not the first to share this sentiment and cite Dead Space as an example. Lamenting the addition of multiplayer modes into games where they don't belong, Gearbox president Randy Pitchford spoke about Dead Space 2's multiplayer in a 2011 interview with Edge, stating "It's ceiling-limited; it'll never do 20 million units. The best imaginable is a peak of four or five million units if everything works perfectly in your favour. So the bean counters go: 'How do I get a higher ceiling?' And they look at games that have multiplayer. They're wrong, of course. What they should do instead is say that they're comfortable with the ceiling, and get as close to the ceiling as possible. Put in whatever investment's required to focus it on what the promise is all about."
Since leaving People Can Fly, Chmielarz cofounded The Astronauts, developer of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, which he says will shy away from having filler simply to justify a $60 price tag.
"There is a necessity to add filler in AAA games, whether it be collectibles or one more wave of enemies," Chmielarz said. "It's unfortunate, and it's also proof that the world is insane." He points out how players' calls for longer games clash with data suggesting "70 or 80 percent of people never finish the game."
"But I think that's connected to the price, and there we go again. Lower prices would allow us to stop thinking about filler for our games, and start focusing on making the experience just right," he said. "You have to live with the fact that some players will complain no matter what, but I think that when your game is tight, and the story you want to tell is told exactly the way you want, I think the effect is way more powerful than anyone complaining that they didn't get 100 hours of entertainment for their €20."
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