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Hotline Miami and a few words on used games

Brad Gallaway's picture

Hotline Miami Screenshot

I finally got around to playing Hotline Miami yesterday.  I've had my eye on it for a while, but I knew it was coming to the Vita, so I held out. I'm glad I waited, but to be honest, it's been a very hot/cold experience.

When things are going well, it really pops. The feeling of sneaking around a corner and taking out guards is great, and walking out of a building after a "job well done" is quite satisfying. However, things only go well a small fraction of the time, and only after many, many retries.

I don't know how it handles on PC, but on the Vita it controls like a greased-up squirrel tweaking on meth. The unit's sticks have never been my favorite, and those combined with the general control layout, the super sensitive/specific shooting mechanics and the lightning-fast reaction of the enemies make for a fairly high level of frustration. It's great that the developers allow retries almost instantaneously, but I'd rather see some polish applied to making it handle just a little more calmly.

The AI can also be fairly maddening—the game randomizes certain things including weapon drops and enemy behavior, so just when you start to get into a good pattern for clearing out the floor, things change up and your best-laid plans go out the window. I guess it makes sense in a way since it can be seen as a vaguely equivalent to the random behavior of the people that would ostensibly be hunted, but it drives me crazy to see stuff like an enemy acting totally oblivious in one run, only to have super-sharp hearing in the next.

I have to say that I really didn't care for the game very much in the first few levels, but I've heard so many people praise it that I was compelled to push on. Now that I'm much further in, I can see the appeal—there's definitely something about the way the various elements of the experience come together and like I said earlier, when things come together it really pops. A slightly lower level of aggravation would be appreciated, but I'm hanging in there.

Hotline Miami and a few words on used games

Just a random tidbit here, but I've heard a few developers lately talking about why they are in favor of DRM and getting rid of used games. I know this is a huge discussion and I don't really want to get into every aspect of it right here, but there are few things I need to get off my chest:

1. If there are no used games, then sales of new games are going to go down, period.

I don't have hard numbers, but my gut feeling is that the very large percentage of the game-playing audience won't be able to drop $60 as often as the industry thinks they will, and when they do, it will likely only be for titles that they see as "can't miss" projects. For those developers who are taking risks or who are an unknown quantity, don't expect to sell a million at full price.

2. If there are no ways to buy and sell used games, developers are going to go out of business even faster than they are now.

Why do I say this? It's simple—if I buy Gears of War digitally, then Epic made their money. Hurray for them. The buck stops there.

However, if I had bought it on a disk (or resellable digital) then I could trade that in and kick in a few bucks to buy Batman. I wouldn't have been able to buy it outright, but with my used game defraying the cost, I can. Oh look, Rocksteady just got paid. And if I can trade that in after I'm done, I can knock down the price of my next new game, and pick up The Last of Us. Hey, check it out… Naughty Dog just got paid.

By my count, that's three developers who got paid with a consumer like me taking part in a used game ecosystem.

In a scenario where used games don't exist and all sales are final, Epic would've been the only one to make a buck and those other two studios would be left with a big fat zero.

3. I've heard some developers say that used games need to go away so that the increasingly-large budgets needed to create games can be sustained.

As we are currently seeing (and have been seeing for a while now) there are very few blockbuster-sized games that are able to make a return on the investment needed to craft them. I'm not sure what kind of business thinking has led to this "go big or go home" mentality, but it's incredibly poor business practice to put so many eggs into so few baskets and then hope and pray that an unreal number of copies will be sold in order to turn a profit.

I'm not a developer but I do know about business, and the way I see it, if there's no realistic way to make a profit on a huge game, then you need to make a smaller game. Additionally, I eagerly look forward to the day when this fallacious stigma about releasing games for less than $60 at retail will go away.

I don't know about you, but I'm way more inclined to pick up three games for $20 or two games for $30 than I am to pick up just one for $60. And I'm not sure where this idea that anything less than full price is guaranteed to be a crappy game, but it's ridiculous and I believe there are lessons to be learned from other media—in most other businesses, lower price leads to selling higher volumes, and when managed properly, higher volumes equal higher profits.

I've got a lot more to say on these topics, but that'll do me for now.

Category Tags
Platform(s): PS3   Vita   PC  
Developer(s): Dennaton Games  
Series: Hotline Miami  
Genre(s): Arcade  
Articles: Editorials  
Topic(s): Business  

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Used games and repercution of costs

Hi Brad, and thanks for fighting the good fight.

As someone who works in economics, I'd like to add something to your point. The issue with all those used games arguments is basically that they don't take into account the fluidity of costs, that tend to, in the end, have repercution on the same basiuc variable. What it means is that any enterprise to make the consumer pay (wether it is online passes on barring used games alltogether) in the end is just equivalent toraising the prices of new games. If you put an online pass you diminish the value of my 60 dollar game since the used game price that I may take advantage of will be dimished. EA and sony took a couple of year to realize it does not add anything to their profit. The same way, if you disallow resale you diminish the game's value since I must pay a full 60$ and not 40$ (60 - 20 that I may get in store credit) for my new game. In the end, It is all equivalent to raising the price of the game, which automatically means less demand for games.

If we look at how game prices have evolved those that ten years we can see that, accounting for inflation, game prices have a tendency to go down, and should probably keep going down in the future. Why ? Because, in a shrinking market like the market of home console games, raising prices is not the solution, it is a vicious circle that may only lead to more shrinkage in the future.

There are two components to profit: investment and sales. As you rightly so say, if they can't earn enought from sale THE ONLY SOLUTION is to lower investment. You cannot armtwist or tick people into paying more that what they feel is reasonnable. However, cutting the middle-man (as kickstarter does), reusing assests (what Atlus did for years and what Square Enix is doing right now), shortening game lenght (with episodic installments), focusing less on photorealism are all much more viable solutions.

In the end, each generation sees dev cost rise exponentially; There will soon be a point (it may already be the case) when it will be impossible to raise prices to follow costs. There won't be enough demand at those prices. It will be the return of the mid-budget game, as Kickstarter and episodic games show. Obsidian even said that they were being contacted by pubs to finance old schoold C-RPGs again. In the industry best (dellusional) dreams, killing used games will rise profits by 20%, 30% at most. It will never compensate for the overbloating of budgets this generation has created.

New game prices

And again I wonder aloud what happened. In the PS2 era, developers finally began to discard the one-price-fits-all mentality for disc based games, and it was wonderful. Come this gen, its like I might see one "budget" (and by budget I mean $50 instead of $60) game per year. It's like they didn't learn anything.

It'd Be Sad to Say Goodbye, but ...

As someone who has been heavily invested in games and the culture surrounding them for the majority of his 34 years I would be sad to see the video game industry collapse.

My heart would also go out to the countless jobs lost and lives burdened by such a situation.

That said, if the game industry is unable to figure out an economic model that works, well, I've got a backlog that will take me years to get through.

We're in the era of digital distribution, DLC, multiple platform publishing options (from PCs to home consoles to handhelds to mobile devices), HD re-releases (of which I've purchased plenty), Call of Duty 19 (or whatever number they're up to), and you mean to tell me it's used games that's gonna sink the industry?

Please.

The industry needs to look long and hard at its business model -- a model, I should add, that is built upon games with obscene budgets forced to do ASTRONOMICAL numbers just to eke out a profit -- and get real about where the root of the problem lies.

Another side to used games

Your argument about selling used games to buy new ones would be solid if the used games market stopped at the retailer buying the used game, but they also sell them, too. What's to stop you from buying used copies of Batman and The Last of Us? You could easily turn your scenario into zero developers getting paid by just buying used all the way. And why wouldn't you? You would have saved somewhere in the area of 15 - 25 bucks by doing so.

Accounting departments actually prepare for the "zero developers getting paid" scenario over yours. The second-hand market is a big reason why a game has to sell ~50-75% of its projected sales target within the first couple weeks (and make an especially big bang on day one), because after that, the cannibalization begins.

If *your* personal policy is to sell used and buy new, that's bad ass and we appreciate it, but it's pretty presumptuous to think everyone else behaves similarly. The bean counters seem to disagree with you there, for what it's worth.

I hear what you're saying,

I hear what you're saying, but the fact is that most of the discounted games sold as used wouldn't translate into $60 new sales if the used option was gone.

Like I said above, I think a lot of the used game sales would be circumvented if publishers had varying price points that more accurately reflected their perceived value. All those games being sold half-price at $30 with GameStop profiting could be the publisher profiting if they'd be more realistic about their sales expectations and sell certain new games AT $30.

Also, the only reason GameStop has used copies to start with is that the games were either poorly-made, a one-and-done, or otherwise not worth the original buyer keeping BECAUSE in order to buy another game, they need to redeem cash from the old thing.
In the same case, lower the price and the person has less incentive to trade in.

There's no scenario in which I see the "no used, everything's non-sellable and $60" actually benefiting the industry Or consumers.

Used game ecosystem

I agree with your "no used..." scenario Brad, but disagree with the assertion that variable pricing would circumvent the used game market. Gamers were trading games before the $60 price ceiling, so I don't see how variable (lower) new game pricing would deter anyone. After all, money is money, so I think you might see a used game ecosystem with more strata, (gamers trading in $30 games for $30 games, etc.) but the idea that Gamestop wouldn't be willing to resell lower priced games is nonsensical. The other issue with variable pricing according to perceived value is it begs the question: Who is doing the perceiving? I doubt if there are two gamers in the entire world who can agree on the perceived value of a game - new or used.

Expensive hobby

At some point gamer's need to realize that this is a tech driven expensive hobby. Some people are going to be priced out of the hobby if the industry is going to keep moving forward. I have to be very picky about what I buy and I just accept that. Used games and steams sales train people to wait and spend as little money as possible on games. If games are truly overpriced then gamer's need to stop buying games and let the industry feel the heat. Buying used games helps out the retailer you bought it from, and that's about it. If you are a die hard Gamestop fan that's fine but stop feigning like you care about publishers and game developers and helping the industry out financially if your buying used games.

Misguided Blame Game

James wrote:

At some point gamer's need to realize that this is a tech driven expensive hobby. Some people are going to be priced out of the hobby if the industry is going to keep moving forward. I have to be very picky about what I buy and I just accept that. Used games and steams sales train people to wait and spend as little money as possible on games. If games are truly overpriced then gamer's need to stop buying games and let the industry feel the heat. Buying used games helps out the retailer you bought it from, and that's about it. If you are a die hard Gamestop fan that's fine but stop feigning like you care about publishers and game developers and helping the industry out financially if your buying used games.

What's the difference between not buying a game and buying used? From your view, the net effect is the same for developers and publishers, yet people who buy used are frauds and should be demonized? That makes very little sense.

GameStop and Steam did not condition anyone to spend less on games. That's just human nature and the laws of economics.

The reality is the used market place is much more complex than publishers would have you believe. Used games are beneficial in broadening the market for lower income households and help with building brand loyalty by reducing risks for people who aren't sure about a new IPs.

At the end of the day, if publishers didn't make candy-like experiences (aka Triple AAA) titles that cost a whole lot and aren't gratifying to gamers beyond that initial 10 hours, that's on publishers. This doesn't seem to be a problem for Ninendo whose games are rarely traded in and are usually scarce in GameStop.

i don't think it's about

i don't think it's about converting every buyer into a 60$ consumer.
it's about getting the money gamestop currently gets out of the used games market.

You bought three used games, three publishers got paid?
Sure, but not from you.
The publishers got money from the original buyer.
But after he returned it to gamestop for another game, every new player only pays indirectly the original buyers hobby but also leaves some extra money for the service gamestop provides.

Theoretically removing the ability to buy used games, would certainly change the stream of money. But i don't think the money gamers are willing to spent won't be spent. They simply will buy later, or the industry will adopt with even more sales, and sooner price reductions.
In the end the dollars will get more directly to those who actually create, devs, or fund games, publishers. Shops are necessary for many products but for more or less digital products Gamestop is hardly a necessity forever. You need someone who sells your hardware but after that the money should go to those giving you the games.

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