Thursday, September 10, 2009

Entitlement, good business and opinions...

Starting off I'd like to reference a brilliant article by Neil Gaiman regarding entitlement issues.
In summary it says the author is not the bitch of the consumer. The author writes a stunning novel or a series of them, and while the fans may love the work and cry for more, they aren't really entitled to anything more. They bought a book and they enjoyed it. Great!

I think this applies to the game industry as well.

Publishers make a product. They pour months and sometimes years of work in to that nifty game you play with your friends on Tuesday nights. It's theirs to do with as they choose. If they decide to change it...that is their decision.

Case in point: Wizards of the Coast has ownership of the D&D intellectual property. They have been developing it for years and the game has changed a lot since they got a hold of it. Now while people can cry all day long about which version of D&D is the "Truest Version" ultimately it means nothing. WotC isn't the bitch of the consumer.

Now before you get your knickers in a knot...I'm not saying that there aren't repercussions to business decisions. not at all. Bear with me a moment please.

I am a publisher: I made Dorks and Donkeys the RPG. I have fans. People love my game. I decide to change the rules to better fit my IP. I publish Dorks and Donkeys Ver 2.0. People complain that it is different and not as close to the original. They say I twinked X and nerfed Y. My purposes? Honestly it doesn't matter but as a publisher...a business, my primary goal is to A. stay in business and b. create something cool. I believe an assumption can be made here that every business will try and expand their customers while trying to retain the current ones as much as possible.

You are a consumer. You bought Dorks and Donkeys. You love it. When Ver 2.0 came bought it too. You're dissatisfied with the direction the game took. "It's just not Dorks and Donkeys!"

Does the publisher owe the consumer anything more? Not really. They made a game. Some people love it. Some people hate it. The publisher hopes to net more lovers of it than haters. What option does the consumer have? Play the version you liked. Don't buy the new version you loathe so much. Play something else.

There is, has been, and always will be an extremely vocal minority (thank you internet) who will wail like lost sheep about anything they don't like. Many of these are the same ones who complained about the previous before that, as well as claim how the publisher is an evil empire out to throw their baby under the bus. Some people you can't please regardless of what you do.

This is the reality of business. Like it or hate is what it is. Deal.

I do have an opinion on how creative businesses should run. I believe the IP holder should be faithful to the IP as much as possible. Intellectual Property is like gold. If you make something cool with becomes richer and more valuable. If you squander it, it becomes worthless. Pretty simple.
That's my opinion. Publishers are under no need to adhere to MY vision of good business practices.

A great example here is Games Workshop. While their games are cool and all, I'm really indifferent about them. If a new version of the rules/ codex/ supplement comes out I'm not too concerned about it. I know for a fact that they value their IP like it was a goose laying solid gold eggs. Everything in their business model boils down to selling little toy soldiers. The minis games are a part of this, but so are several other factors (novels, video games, RPGs, swag, etc).

People complain regularly and loudly about this or that developer (Jervis Johnson catches a lot of flack but so do several others) and how they are ruining their game. Honestly, I think that the developers do their job. A corporation (especially publicly traded ones) are answerable to their shareholders. The top echelons decide the overall business direction...which I can guarantee includes staying in business and polishing their golden eggs. Developers are driven to do the very best they can to grow the game, make it fun for the largest common denominator while retaining as many of the old-school die-hards as they can. Developers make stuff that is cool. Not every idea works, but that's why there tend to be several developers as well as teams of play-testers for a reality check.

My opinion is that as long as the publishers protect/ encourage/ develop their IP while trying to capture a larger market share, while retaining as many of the existing fanbase...then they are doing the right thing.

Here's where things get messy...
In trying to expand/ develop the IP it is possible to alienate more people than expected/ capture less of the market share than expected. There are so many factors involved here it is ridiculous. From marketing, to developent to the economy to unforeseen occurances in the media, even "acts of god" can affect this.

So what about the consumer and their entitlement?
Essentially, they have none. They buy a book, they get a book. They buy a game...that's it.
I can cry all day long about how D&D 4E "just isn't D&D" but at the end of the day, when they count the IS D&D. If I don't like it, I don't need to buy it. They don't owe me anything. They don't answer to me as far as the direction of their development. While I think Vancian Magic as well as a dozen other weird, quirky oddities of game system were what made Dungeons and Dragons what it is...WotC decided otherwise. Time will tell if their business and development decisions will enhance or devalue the D&D IP or not.

It's my opinion that player feedback and development is a never-ending cycle and good/ smart publishers listen to feedback, that's not necessarily a requirement nor is there any reasonable expectation that my whiny voice will be heard among the masses. Game forums (and blogs) are filled to the brim with amateur critics and vocal reviewers crying to the heavens for their voice to be heard. Largely I avoid these like the plague because they end up being the same old story of 'OMG LISTEN TO ME' monologues and negativity wedged between trolls and power-trippers. It's pretty rare when anyone looks at the big picture.

If your favorite author writes a book, buy it, enjoy it, hope they write another one. Support that author. Hope they don't die falling off the roof making shingle repairs and don't begrudge them a moment's peace to play Nazi Zombies.

If your favorite game changes, you can either accept the change and roll with it, or play the previous version you loved/ play something else. If you love it, support it. If you don't, then move on.


Sigmar said...

Hi Jeff,

An interesting article, thanks for sharing with us.

I think that this... "A corporation (especially publicly traded ones) are answerable to their shareholders." has always supposed to have been the case but I know longer believe it.

It's just theory.

In reality company boards do whatever they like irrespective of the shareholder's wishes because shareholder's are so transient and unorganised (as a group). Directors can even get away with making several consecutive years of losses and see a sinking share price and continue to keep their jobs.

Anyway, I'll be back to see some more of your opinions.

All the best,
my Warhammer Blog

PS. If you're interested, we'd love to have you in our Warhammer forum. We're always on the look out for keen bloggers with something to contribute to the gaming world.

Gamer Dude said...

I'm no business analyst...far from it in fact, but sometimes, from the consumer side of the aisle, you wonder why certain decisions were made. Case in point: The termination of all PDF sales by WotC.

This was a group of people that were "generally" not interested in purchasing newer material from WotC. They were / are interested in the older material however. So...why turn off a potential stream of revenue like that? I've heard numerous excuses either way, some make a modicum of sense (from watering the market down, to protecting the IP more closely) but most are pure drivel.

Anyway, you're absolutely right, creators don't "owe" the consumer a damned thing (least of all excuses). But isn't it a funny thing when people start talking about "customer loyalty"? I often wonder if that's better served from a two-way street.

Jeff said...

Yeah, with the WotC PDF thing, I think it was possibly misunderstood who they would be affecting. A knee-jerk decision and once done, they couldn't just go back without losing face.

Sirh0213 said...

You are absolutely correct on the companies' obligations to their consumers. If enough customers bitch about "Ver 2.0" then the company may have incentive, but is not required, to come out with a "Ver 3.0".

Now, if "Ver 2.0" has problems then, yes, the publisher should fix them. As for likes/dislikes, then "Let the buyer beware".

And lastly, if the customer thinks "Ver 1.0" is so much better than "Ver 2.0" then go back and keep using "1.0" (ex: I prefer Neverwinter Nights 1 over Neverwinter Nights 2 and Civilization 2 is much better than Civ 3).