Gaming, as a hobby, is seriously expensive. The community as a whole often discusses this, and as always there are parts of this discussion that are extremely productive and valuable, and parts that aren’t. Since it’s vaguely topical at the moment, let me lay out some of my thoughts on the matter.
I was watching Twitch chat during the DICE awards and (among many less savoury things) I saw a lot of backlash against EA, who are commonly considered by the community to be one of the most greedy developers thanks to their high levels of paid DLC and microtransactions on top of full price games, and their unfortunate release of some games that were buggy and considered unfinished. EA are certainly not the only AAA developer accused of greed, but they have attempted to defend themselves against the claim two years running at the BC Tech Summit so they’re probably a fair example to use. (They were targeted especially at the DICE awards because of confusion between DICE the game developers’ conference - Design, Innovate, Communicate, Entertain - and EA DICE – Electronic Arts Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment – but since EA has been repeatedly voted the worst company in America, presumably by disgruntled gamers, the hate they received in an unrelated stream was still representative.)
I don’t have a problem with people getting angry at EA, a company that makes literally billions of dollars of profit (including $1.3 billion off extra content alone). I understand the frustration at EA wringing every penny they can from ordinary people when they don’t need it, not even to create new games. And I understand the frustration at huge marketing budgets, especially when they appear to come at the expense of quality assurance because once you’ve preordered a game, there’s less financial incentive for the developer to actually make it work. I think all this anger is valid, and even if it wasn’t, when directed towards these billion dollar companies it doesn’t hurt anyone.
When this backlash against perceived greed turns on smaller devs, though, problems begin to arise. Most recently, it’s been part of the That Dragon, Cancer discussion, wherein a lot of people were saying that That Dragon, a two-ish hour game, should never be sold for £10/$15. A few weeks ago we were having the same kind of discussion about Firewatch after developer Jane Ng responded to a commenter saying they had enjoyed the game for the 2-3 hour runtime, but that “there was so much more i could of got with my 18$” and so should they get a refund?
This kind of discussion comes up so often, particularly around shorter games (which are overwhelmingly indies). And it’s far more common among gamers than any other kind of media. Cinema tickets are about the same price per hour (which is not a metric I like to use but I’ll not get into that discussion here primarily because the $1/hour idea baffles me and deserves its own post) as That Dragon was, but I see very little anger at, say, Marvel’s billion dollar profits. When it comes to music, it seems to me (though this is purely anecdotal) that people tend to be more astute to the fact that it’s not the artist that’s making money from song sales but the producer and record label and so are more comfortable with paying for the music of independent creators even if they choose to pirate big label music.
I’m not here to tell people what they should spend on video games. £10, $20, whatever, can be a lot of money, and as Ng said, even if it isn’t why shouldn’t you try to get the most out of it? But it’s important that we consider the idea that small developer teams are not the same as the AAA studios like EA. Both want to turn a profit, but one needs that money to pay bills and to put into their next games and the other is lining the pockets of a select few (Andrew Wilson, CEO of EA, has a salary of $13.9 million). Conflating the two devalues the labour of indie developers, but it doesn’t help consumer discussions either. When we misdirect our otherwise justifiable cynicism, it helps a market in which broadly justifiable cost is punished whilst overt greed still thrives.