Thursday, May 23, 2013

What is Game Content worth?

I came across this excellent post on Jamey Stegmaier's blog from 2 months ago (at the end of the Dungeon roll kickstarter project), and in the comments I saw something that bothered me a little bit. Here's an excerpt from commenter "Kim":

"I also thought the stretch goals of single new cards were in fact VERY measly (they probably each represent say 10 hours of design and testing, a piece of art, and the additional print cost)." 

Of course, however Kim feels about the stretch goals for that project is fine and valid. What I am uncomfortable with is the idea in the parenthetical. Suppose Kim is exactly right - that a Dungeon Roll Hero represents 10 hours of the artist's time for an illustration, 10 hours of a designer's time to invent, test, and balance the new character, and additional printing cost. I'm curious what people think that should cost.

In my experience, many (maybe most) people don't tend to value game content creation. I have seen posts and comments up and down the internet complaining about the price of a game which is "essentially just a handful of cards and a board" or whatever. They say they could print it out at home for cheaper than buying it in a store. Everybody sees the value of the physical bits, but nobody wants to pay for the actual game content.

Art on the other hand is something people don't mind paying for. An illustration takes work, and it's relatively easy to see how much work went into it - people see an amazing illustration and they think "yeah, that's awesome, that must have cost a lot." Then some of those same people wonder why kickstarter projects can't just throw in more game content as a stretch goal, as if it's a trivial thing to do.

"Boy Seth, you're making an awfully big deal out of this point, why do you care about this so much?"

I create game content, and I don't think it's trivial.

If you frequent game design forums, you'll see time and time again how games take hundreds and hundreds of hours to design and develop, not to mention the total man-hours spent playtesting (which grows exponentially when new groups of blind testers are involved). In those posts you're likely to find the context to be about the level of royalties a designer gets, and how little money that translates to on a per-hour basis for the blood, sweat, and tears they have poured into their pet project over the years. Most designers do not design games because it's lucrative. With very few exceptions,you can't really make a living out of it - and if you do then you're probably self publishing, and therefore not designing as much as you might like.

In the grand scheme of things, I'm not sure what if anything can be done about this. Until consumers value game content enough to pay for it, the game industry and it's tiny margins will continue to be about selling games at just over production cost to eek out a profit.

In the meantime however, at least I can maybe impress upon a few people here and there that when it comes to stretch goals and kickstarter, throwing in additional game content is not trivial!