Are the games we buy the games we want?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 8 April 2013, 11:28 am
I have always argued that subscription numbers of a MMORPG six months after release do allow us to say something about the quality of a game. If people are still playing then, they must be having fun. It is very hard to argue that they got lured into the game by false advertising and haven't found out about it half a year later. But that is subscription MMORPGs, a dying species. If we look at single-player games, it is a lot easier to imagine that people bought a game they ended up not wanting, and thus the sales numbers that state which games people buy aren't necessarily an expression of which games they want.

Case in point: SimCity. It apparently sold over 1.1 million copies over its first two weeks. How many of these 1.1 million players regretted that purchase? How many got the game on pre-order, or bought it based on hyped previews, before the significant flaws of the game became apparent?

The perverse consequence is that probably the *next* EA Maxis game will sell less well, regardless of quality. But somebody who tries to find out "what gamers want" based on sales numbers would think that SimCity was an excellent game to emulate. Even if you don't look at the game itself, but only at the server issues, somebody looking at the sales numbers will conclude that people don't mind buying games with always-on DRM. Because the SimCity server debacle is more likely to hurt the *next* games sales.

Although I am not a big fan of Kickstarter from a customer protection point of view, I would say that Kickstarter might actually better at measuring "what gamers want" than sales of triple-A games. There is less influence of hugely expensive advertising campaigns or lobbying to game journalists on Kickstarter numbers, and more of an explicit expression of desire for a certain type of game.

I find it quite likely that in the case of single-player games the usual economic consideration of the "homo economicus" who buys what is of use to him isn't true. People buy what they *think* might be a great game, lured in by pre-order bonuses, advertising, and hype from game journalism. Quite often they want to buy the game on release, to be playing the game everybody is talking about, to be with the in crowd. By the time they notice that the game they bought isn't the game they wanted, it is already too late. Sales numbers are in, there are no refunds, and beyond not buying the next game(s) from that company there isn't much they can do.
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