How Did the Video Game Industry Reach this Point?

The Blind Eternities forum

Posted on Jan. 22, 2023, 8:37 p.m. by DemonDragonJ

I recently saw this post, and it prompted me to consider how greatly the video game industry has changed in recent years. I used to play video games frequently when I was younger, but I have mostly given them up, now, with them being only a rare treat for me, so I am very glad that I do not need to deal with such frustrating practices, but I do sympathize with people who still play video games regularly, so I wonder how the video game industry has reached this point.

In the earlier years of video gaming, a player would pay a single fee to purchase a physical copy of a game that was complete and finished; the quality of the game could vary, but it was usually not missing any pieces, so the player needed to make only a single transaction to play and enjoy it. However, too many video games now charge one fee for the basic game, and additional fees for further content, which I think is very predatory and tyrannical, and I cannot understand how players are tolerating that.

For those who have closely studied the history of video games, how did the industry reach this point? How did the situation become one where companies constantly charge money to be able to play their games, and what can the players do to stop such horrific practices? What does everyone else say about this?

Abaques says... #2

Comrade DemonDragonJ! I have a solution for this problem you have identified! Communism!

Seriously though, big video game developers basically just figured out a better way to monetize video games. The cost of producing AAA caliber games has exploded over the past 10-15 years so if you want to buy a AAA video game there are only a few companies that can make them, and they want as much money as they can get so everything is a DLC now. Wizards is doing the same thing to Magic. Why do you think just about every powerful card is a mythic these days and there are 97345 variants for each card? Sadly with the video game industry I don't see a great solution unless the tooling and labor required to make a AAA video game gets substantially cheaper and easier to use. Now I just plan on waiting for sales after a game has been out for a while. You miss out on the hype, but you at least know what you're paying for.

It's a shame that communism failed so badly cause late-stage capitalism kinda sucks.

January 22, 2023 11:42 p.m.

Caerwyn says... #3

There are a few main factors here, among them: (1) Significantly rising production costs, (2) significantly more competition, and (3) significantly more room for error.

Costs of producing both games and hardware are ever-increasing. Where once a small team could get together and make a new game, the processing power and memory of games has increased far more than the human ability to program things. There are so many textures, so many objects, the stories have to be so much longer, etc. That means not only increased staff costs, that means increased costs on your data storage, more powerful computers to render images, etc.

Additionally, staff is more expensive now than ever - the tech boom made programmers pretty valuable, so there are plenty of other places competing for workers. That means wages need to increase to compensate (especially given how miserable folks are given the demands of the gaming industry), and that in turn drives up games.

Rising hardware costs also plays their part - the counsel companies lose money on each PS5 or XBox they sell, with games and subscriptions being their chance to recapture that loss.

Next, there is more competition for games. Want to play a First Person Shooter? You have options other than Call of Duty. MMOs - maybe the most monetised of non-phone games - have exploded both in terms of players (and thus server space) and the expectations of players, all while more and more enter the field and vie for competition. Additionally, the widespread modding culture means you have to compete against folks effectively making free DLC for older games, keeping them viable long after the single “I played through this once, on to a new game” of older games.

And that does not even look at the single most popular gaming platform of all time - mobile - which drastically sucks in customers in a way the traditional systems cannot.

That means each game not only has to compete for customers, they need to make sure they make the most out of the customers they obtain.

Finally, there’s an increased cost for failure. All that additional investment, much of which is pure risk (you are pumping tens, if not a hundred or more, million into a product before you see a single cent), means you have to make a killing in order to break even, let alone see a worthwhile return on investment.

Consider Bioshock Infinite - a game praised in every regard, from its visuals, to its storytelling, to its gameplay - it destroyed the company that made it. It sold extremely well, but it cost a mint to make, and didn’t have enough of a return for Irrational Games to survive in its then-current form.

And that was a decade ago.

Things have only gotten worse since then. Not only are costs up, all that additional technology and size of content means more points of error (see what a buggy mess so many games are on release). It is more expensive than ever to make a game, and it is more likely those games are going to have errors that harm sales.

All that leads to a crappy situation for everyone - and one I just don’t see a way out of.

Personally, I do not mind certain types of DLC. After an early foray into DLC went wrong (horse armor), Bethesda is good at making DLC that actually are with the cost. I’ll happily pay five bucks for another few hours of decent story content - that’s a far better deal for me than going to the movies would be.

And I am generally past buying games on release - with a very few exceptions, I’ll wait for Steam sales (and, more importantly, all the stability patches to be done), so that keeps most things relatively low in price.

So, while it is true games have gotten more expensive, there are also tools that give the customer power to pay a lot less or only pay for the specific content they want. And that feels kind of nice - places like Steam’s infinite library of great, inexpensive, older games allow players to still game, without breaking the bank.

January 23, 2023 9:18 a.m.

Gleeock says... #4

Its an addict market, videogames are just narcotic alternatives... They know they can give you a little whiff & you pay whatever you have to for the rest.

January 23, 2023 9:34 a.m.

Daveslab2022 says... #5

Like the first person said: Capitalism.

That is literally the only reason. When you can get away with releasing an unfinished product, get paid full price for it, and then charge more for the finishing touches, companies can make a lot more money this way.

It’s a predatory practice that is rewarded by our current society.

January 23, 2023 12:10 p.m.

Daveslab2022 says... #6


I don’t have time to respond to your entire comment but I do want to comment on Bioshock Infinite.

Yes it was a great game and highly regarded. The developers spent way too much money on it.

The average time to complete the game is 11.5 hours, 27.5 to 100%. They spent $100 million on making the game and another $100 million on marketing.

And like you said, that was 10 years ago.

Elden Ring came out this year, for comparison. They also spent $200 million on their game. And the average time to complete the game is more than 5x what Infinite had, at 55 hours to complete.

The developers of bioshock massively fucked up somewhere in terms of budgeting.

January 23, 2023 12:24 p.m.

(1) Effectively-total connection to the internet. (2) Ubiquitous access to credit cards.

January 23, 2023 1:32 p.m.

Epidilius says... #8

I work in the industry, and have for years.

The increase in hardware and software prices is a non issue. Large gaming studios have planned turnover for their hardware, and will either reuse or sell most of the old stuff. The cost they incur here is negligible.

It is the same with dev salaries. Sure, they went up, but you take a ~%40 pay cut to work in games. It is a very real issue. Companies take advantage of the passion of their devs by underpaying them, a lot. They get away with it mostly due to salary comparisons going something like: "I make $80k, you?" "I make $83k, you should ask for a raise". However, if you compare a senior game dev with a senior private sector dev, the salary comparison looks more like $80k | $140k. There is also the very real threat of "If you complain too much we can and will replace you in an instant", but this is true everywhere, not just here.

The increase in price of games (due to incredibly predatory "micro" transactions) is solely due to the unpunished greed some of these companies have. Nothing else is a factor here.

January 23, 2023 2:17 p.m. Edited.

Last_Laugh says... #9

I'm out of touch with most forms of modern gaming. I have a PS3 and a Switch and other than a few AAA titles for the PS4 that I regret not being able to play (RDR2, Fallout 4, Uncharted 4, and a select few others) I'm not even tempted to move up a generation (and still be a gen plus a few years behind).

My switch has more remakes and indie titles on it than new AAA games and I love that system.

January 23, 2023 3:50 p.m. Edited.

Gleeock says... #10

Its because they can take the same marketing approach as a drug-dealer & they have learned this well. Their market-base won't speak with their wallets often enough, because they have to feed the monkey once they've gotten the base product.

January 23, 2023 5:50 p.m.

TypicalTimmy says... #11

Some unaddressed points:

MMORPGs had been using pay-to-play for years at this point with monthly subscription plans and, eventually, paying to unlock content. World of Warcraft is a prime example. Back then, I believe max level was 70. Then expansions came out and set it to 85. Then, players could literally pay for levels. So new players would simply pay, become level 85, and unlock all of the rewards other players literally sank years of their time into.

Eventually, non-MMO games adopted this method, starting light with DLC.

  • Flashbacks to Oblivions: Horse Armor intensifies

But then games such as Fortnite took it to a new extreme with loot boxes.

From here, it was pay-to-win.

It became a gambling addiction, and legislation began making the rounds citing how players are paying real-world cash for real-world prizes at a randomized, no-skill based contest. Some courts agreed, most did not. It tried to get banned, and failed.

From this point, game developers realized that the courts sided with them. Moreso, PLAYERS sided with them, because they kept paying regardless of the outrage. So what happened next is the next logical step.

  • Players are already use to subscription models from MMORPGs
  • Players are already use to DLC
  • Players are already okay with the lootbox gambling tactics

So, finish a game 80% of the way and make us pay for the rest via updates, bug fixes and DLC.

And now, that's where we are. Companies get a return on their investments sooner, the public is happy because a game is released sooner, players are okay paying enormous amounts of money for a product they already own... There is literally no reason for the system to not exist, at this point.

And while all of us can scream and cry about it, the fact MILLIONS across the planet will still abide means our voices unfortunately hold no weight.

January 23, 2023 8:15 p.m.

DemonDragonJ says... #12

Abaques, a user on another forum of which I am a member called me "comrade" and invoked image of the Soviet Union in response to my words, but I shall say the same thing to you that I said to that user: I absolutely support capitalism; it is corporate greed that I oppose. My parents are baby boomers who grew up with the specter of the Soviet Union and communism constantly looming over them, so I most certainly shall not betray them by embracing the philosophy that they so dreaded in their younger days.

January 24, 2023 8:54 p.m.

Gleeock says... #13

Economic systems are amoral by nature. Nuclear-age fear mongering created by propaganda on both sides was the true shadow cast on this country.

Regarding late-stage capitalism, it does suck, but is probably more symptomatic of being part of a late-stage republic. Gotto wonder what the "talking heads" of the time said before Rome was burning.

January 24, 2023 11:13 p.m.

Last_Laugh says... #14

EA and the FIFA games are where the whole microtransaction and lootbox nonsense historically started.

January 25, 2023 1:16 a.m.

Abaques says... #15

DemonDragonJ I was definitely joking. As a socioeconomic system, communism undoubtedly failed and it shouldn't be a path for any state to follow. Of course laissez faire capitalism also failed when it was tried in the gilded age. As Gleeock implied, we should really base our economic system not on dogma, but on empirical evidence and adjust our economic policies and goals based on new data.

January 25, 2023 10:29 a.m.

StopShot says... #16

I don’t think there’s any means to stop it. Best case is your country’s government to intervene with video game product regulations, but that’s highly unlikely. If your favorite game series has fallen victim, it’s best to treat it like the series is dead. The best thing we can do is support indie developers on Steam who don’t have microtransactions in their games, so that there will always be options available.

January 25, 2023 10:51 a.m.

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