以Platinum Games爲例談獨立遊戲價格持續走低正在影響市場

原作者:Rob Fahey 譯者:Willow Wu

神谷英樹說《尼爾:機械紀元》拯救了Platinum公司,但是和Platinum旗下游戲類似的作品仍舊面臨着價格下跌,達不到3A的風險。

早些時候,神谷英樹在推特上讚揚並感謝《尼爾:機械紀元》的總監橫尾太郎對這個遊戲的積極貢獻,讓這個遊戲獲得成功。有一個Platinum粉絲們一直擔心的問題,他也含蓄地給出了肯定的答案:儘管Platinum有鐵桿粉絲追捧,有用廣受好評的作品,但是他們其實一直出於岌岌可危的狀態,而且還有可能會遭遇大挫折。

“雖然說起來挺可悲,但是橫尾先生真的是拯救了Platinum,我沒有誇張。”神谷的推文就是這麼說的。

PlatinumGames是一家十分出色的遊戲開發工作室。它的定位非常明確,就是一家致力於創造另類、小衆、經典的頂級遊戲工作室,熱門作品有《獵天使魔女》、《合金裝備崛起》、《征服》,《神奇101》也是一部不走尋常路的優秀作品,而且它還因爲跟行業內的某些發行商巨頭合作而備受矚目。遊戲質量並不是總能達到我們想要的高度,像《極度混亂》和《星際火狐:零》,它們沒有達到我們對Platinum的期望。但從工作室發行第一個遊戲以來已經有八年了,這八年間成功的作品遠遠多於失誤的作品,而且成功的作品都取得了非常傲人的成績。

然而,創始人之一神谷現在卻說他們需要被《尼爾:機械紀元》“拯救”,儘管這遊戲做的很棒,但是在盈利方面只是表現平平。儘管比起一代遊戲好很多,這部備受推崇的續作已經售出了150萬份——這很好,但是也沒有好到可以給工作室的每個人買一輛跑車那麼厲害。

爲什麼PlatinumGames會在那時陷入困境,其實也不難推測:由工作室出品的《龍鱗化身》(一款Xbox One獨佔多人RPG遊戲)本該在業內引起不小的轟動,卻被髮行商微軟砍掉了。這個年代可以衆籌、可以推出early access,還有很多其他的商業模式和手段籌集資金,我們有時候會忘記遊戲行業中存在着一個殘酷的現實:巨頭髮行商或者是平臺商是可以輕易碾壓小型開發團隊,不管這個團隊多受人追捧,作品有多好,下場都是一樣。遊戲的開發歷史就是由那些工作室的“屍體”壘起來的,並不是因爲他們自身競爭力不夠或者是缺乏創意,而是因爲發行商轉移了焦點,或者是對這個項目沒興趣了,或者是管理層做了什麼其他決定,導致第三方開發者在半途遭受滅頂之災。

當然,我們可能永遠都無法得知《龍鱗化身》的具體問題是什麼,到底是Platinum的製作過程太坎坷,還是隻是微軟認爲這遊戲不再適合Xbox One平臺了。很有可能的是兩個原因都有。但是核心問題並沒有消失,要不是有一個備受好評和算是比較成功的項目把Platinum拖出困境,《龍鱗化身》被微軟砍掉這件事很有可能會讓他們從此一蹶不振。

從短期角度來看,這就是Platinum需要被救的原因。長期來看的話,原因會更加複雜,而且會跟問題的要害更加貼近,這個問題正是遊戲行業內衆多創作者當下所面臨的,不僅僅是Platinum,任何公司都是。但是令人傷心的是儘管Platinum的作品頗具口碑,儘管有很多鐵桿玩家會着魔般的一次又一次玩他們的遊戲,能把遊戲中的亮點倒背如流,說得頭頭是道,儘管Platinum一發售新遊戲,粉絲們就會投入其中,但是這種種都沒能讓Platinum的遊戲大賣。

他們完全陷入了另類經典遊戲的典型狀態——受好評、受追捧、有口碑,但是賣的不好。不管遊戲的評論有多好,有多少Twitch視頻,也沒辦法增加它的銷量,世界上還有其它類似Platinum製作的這種遊戲——質量精良,非常專業,但是在風格和玩法上有點不合主流,它們也是不善於推銷自己。

GDC上的獨立遊戲節(from gamecareerguide)

GDC上的獨立遊戲節(from gamecareerguide)

這不單單只是影響Platinum,而是整個羣體的問題,創作者、工作室、乃至整個行業中,有人耗費多年製作出了一款優秀的小衆遊戲,收穫了一批數量不多但是活躍的粉絲。如果說這些人不是一個工作室的動力所在,那麼簡直是太無恥了,而且也會造成整個行業創造力的重大損失。這類遊戲通常可以推動整個行業的發展,促進革新,在各個不同的方面產生新突破。它們或許沒能每次都實現人們的期望,收益也很少能達到百萬級別,但是當人們把這些遊戲理順了之後,你就能百分之百的肯定它會以某種形式應用到某些遊戲中,而這些遊戲是會賣到上百萬的。而且,這類遊戲吸引的玩家本身就具有很重要的作用,粉絲就是創意的源泉,小衆遊戲的玩家是行業中最有貢獻精神的超級粉絲,正是有了他們的對遊戲的高度讚賞,這個行業又可以多吸引一批人才,媒體也會增加關注度。

行業中的其他領域都在蓬勃發展,PlatinumGames和其他同類工作室到底是哪裏出了問題?一個這麼受歡迎的工作室,這麼受讚譽,手頭上的項目一個接着一個,砍掉一個項目怎麼就會威脅到它的生存了?這裏,我想把大家的目光引到這周發生的另一件事上:Steam Spy的Sergey Galyonkin利用Steam的定價分析數據爲獨立開發者發聲,希望給他們的遊戲定更高的價位,不要再給自己的作品貼上低價的標籤。

Galyonkin指出儘管獨立遊戲的平均銷量只有21000份左右,但是平均定價卻降到了8.72美元,在Steam的定期促銷期間甚至還降到了4.63美元,幾乎是半折。這個時期很常見的現象就是玩家們買了一大堆便宜的遊戲,然而這些遊戲他們也許會去找時間玩,也許不會。

獨立遊戲的定價是個挺棘手的問題,因爲它跟消費者的期望值密切相關,這就變得更加複雜,更具爭議性了。受各種各樣事件的影響,從移動平臺的F2P遊戲到玩家抱怨DLC內容,從Steam定價競次到3A遊戲逐步提高季票的價格。玩家們花錢所期望的遊戲內容和開發者們所能承受的成本內容肯定是多少有些不同的,開發者們也不能爲了達到玩家的期望就把自己或者是工作室逼到瀕臨破產的狀態。這種類似於拔河比賽的局面,目前開發者們還是處於不利的那一端,大部分的獨立遊戲價格還是比較低。

這就讓人想到利基市場(niche),尤其是那些比較大型工作室的熱門遊戲,因爲和這些遊戲競爭關注度的往往就是獨立遊戲。創意獨立遊戲的核心用戶和Platinum遊戲的核心用戶很大程度是重疊的。而這些用戶一般會花5美元去買一個遊戲,而不是50美元。在大多數情況下,Platinum的遊戲是比那些勇敢的獨立開發者的作品更加精緻、更加完整、具有更專業的水準,但是從遊戲體驗上來說,它們是一樣的。在市場的一端,3A級別的遊戲變得越來越貴,而在另一端,獨立遊戲卻變得原來越便宜,而且越來越難看到有類似Platinum這樣的工作室可以融入其中了。

Galyonkin說的是對的:對於獨立遊戲來說,有一個辦法就是在價格上制定更嚴格的規則。價格是不能通用的,肯定是有很多小遊戲適合標價5美元,但是同樣來說,也有很多遊戲標價15美元或者是20美元,或者是再高一點也是非常合理。

這樣做的話,他們肯定會遭到消費者的強烈譴責,但是最終這一定會改變消費者的行爲和期待。在這樣一個好獨立遊戲扎堆,而且價格還不到你的1/6的市場中,PlatinumGames需要極力說服消費者們其實他們的遊戲本來就該值60美元,這或許會對PlatinumGames的熱門遊戲雪上加霜。(這也有利於說服發行商。他們已經知道這類遊戲的前景不太樂觀,這也是爲什麼PlatinumGames在過去幾年花了那麼多時間卡在一個職務作品的地獄中,做一個預算有限、不能自由發揮創意的項目。)

關於獨立遊戲定價的爭議,還有一個大家心裏都明白的問題,我們在以前都見過價格競次,而且我們都知道結果會如何。底線就是免費,這可以說是一種硬性經濟法則(hard economic law),就是物品的價格中不存在製造成本和分銷成本,例如電子遊戲,最終就會趨向於免費。移動平臺就是如此,差不多每個遊戲都有一個爲零的價格點,再以F2P的模式輔助收益。

由於獨立遊戲缺乏對市場的抵抗力,也不難想象F2P模式在一定時間內會成爲Steam平臺上唯一有效的商業模式,雖然這個時間也會是比較短的幾年。幾乎沒有人可以靠賣5美元的遊戲掙錢,而且如果你打算以5美元爲上限,你也許還會把價格降到免費,去試試別的東西。獨立遊戲價格過低,是否值得去反擊,這取決於你的看法:未來F2P模式是不是就是獨立遊戲的普遍商業模式,如果Platinum這樣的公司消失,對於電子遊戲行業來說是不是有好處?如果F2P模式和遊戲搭配得當的話,我是沒有什麼意見的。但是從整個行業來看的話,這並不是我所期望的未來。

本文由遊戲邦編譯,轉載請註明來源,或諮詢微信zhengjintiao

Hideki Kamiya says Platinum has been “rescued” by NieR: Automata; but games like Platinum’s remain at risk from collapsing prices outside AAA

When Hideki Kamiya took to Twitter earlier this week to praise and thank NieR: Automata director Taro Yoko for the positive effect the game’s success has had on PlatinumGames as a company, he implicitly confirmed something many fans of the company had feared – that despite its string of much-loved, critically acclaimed titles, Platinum had been on the ropes and potentially facing disaster.

“It’s a pathetic thing to say, but it’s no exaggeration to say that Platinum has been saved by Yoko-san,” Kamiya tweeted.

PlatinumGames is a pretty impressive development studio. Firmly establishing itself as a creator of beautifully polished cult classic games with the likes of Bayonetta, Metal Gear Rising and Vanquish, it’s also done great, offbeat work with the likes of The Wonderful 101 and has done high-profile work for hire for some of the industry’s biggest publishers. The quality bar hasn’t always been held up – games like Anarchy Reigns and Star Fox Zero failed to hit the mark we’d come to expect from Platinum – but in the eight years since the company launched its first games, there have been far more hits than misses, and the hits have been spectacular.

Yet here’s Kamiya, one of the founders, talking about the studio needing to be “saved” by the success of NieR: Automata – which, although a brilliant and beautiful game, has really only been a moderate commercial success. Though far outperforming the original NieR, the well-regarded sequel has sold about 1.5 million units – great, but not “sports cars for the whole studio” great, by any stretch of the imagination.

Why PlatinumGames was in trouble, right at that moment in time, isn’t hard to fathom; the studio had just seen Scalebound, an ambitious multiplayer RPG being developed as an Xbox One exclusive, being cancelled by publisher Microsoft. In this era of crowdfunding and early access and many other business models and ways of funding development, we can sometimes lose sight of the fact that this is still a living reality of the games business; that a big publisher or platform holder can roll over and crush a small developer, no matter how acclaimed or beloved that studio may be. The history of game development is littered with those dead studios; destroyed not by their own incompetence or lack of creativity, but by a publisher that changes focus, or loses interest, or makes some other decision at an executive level that ends up destroying a third-party developer halfway across the world.

Of course, we’ll likely never know what the actual problem with Scalebound was; whether it was Platinum that was struggling to make its ambitious vision work, or that Microsoft simply decided the game didn’t fit its focus and vision for Xbox One anymore. Most likely, some combination of both was in play. Yet the core point remains; were it not for an acclaimed and moderately successful project pulling it out of the hole, the cancellation of Scalebound would likely have seen PlatinumGames shut its doors for good.

That’s the short-term reason why Platinum needed rescuing. The long-term reasons are more complex, and cut closer to the core of a problem that’s being faced by a lot of creators in the games business right now – not just Platinum, by any means. The sad truth is that despite the acclaim for Platinum’s titles, despite the many core fans who have played them obsessively and will recite their merits chapter and verse, despite the rapt reaction whenever the studio announces a new title, Platinum’s games haven’t sold very well.

They fall firmly into the status of “cult classics” – acclaimed, beloved, celebrated, and not very successful. Glowing reviews and countless hours of Twitch footage don’t pay the bills, and it looks for all the world like the kind of games Platinum makes – polished and professional, but a little off the beaten track in terms of both style and gameplay – aren’t great at keeping the lights on either.

That doesn’t just impact Platinum; it’s a problem for a whole sector of the industry, studios and creators who have done a great job over the years of building games that build cult status with a small but thriving audience of fans. If that’s not something that a studio can build a business around any more, that’s an enormous shame – and a huge creative loss to the industry as a whole. These are the kind of games that often drive the industry forward, innovating and pushing boundaries on a whole range of different fronts; they may not always hit their mark and they rarely sell millions, but when they get something right, you can be certain it’ll start to appear in some form in the sorts of games that do sell millions. Moreover, the audience these games appeal to are important in their own right; it’s the fans of creative, cult games who are the industry’s most devoted “superfans”, and its from their ranks that many of those motivated to work in the industry or in the media surrounding it are drawn.

Given how many other sectors of the industry are booming, what’s gone wrong for PlatinumGames and studios of its ilk? Why is a studio so popular and so acclaimed left in a situation where it lives from project to project, and a single cancellation can threaten its existence? Here, I’d like to draw attention to something else that happened this week; the comments from Steam Spy’s Sergey Galyonkin, who used in-depth data about Steam pricing to argue for indie developers to value their games more highly and stop undercutting their own businesses.

Galyonkin pointed out that even though average sales for indie titles are only at around 21,000 titles, the average selling price has fallen to $8.72 – which drops by almost half, to $4.63, during Steam’s periodic sales, which have become famous for consumers stuffing their catalogues with cheap games that they may or may not ever get around to playing.

The pricing of indie games is a tricky subject, because it plays around the whole issue of consumer expectations – which have become complex and controversy-laden, thanks to a whole host of influences, from F2P games on mobile to angry responses to DLC content, from the race to the bottom in Steam pricing to the steadily rising costs of season passes for AAA titles. There’s definitely a disconnect between what consumers expect to pay for content, and what developers can afford to charge for content without pushing themselves or their studios close to bankruptcy – and in this tug-of-war, it’s currently developers who are losing out, with the pricing of most indie titles cratering.

This relates back to the experience of niche, celebrated games from bigger studios precisely because very often, what those games are competing with for attention is exactly indie titles. The core audience for creative indie games overlaps significantly with the core audience for games like those Platinum makes… And that, it seems, is a core audience that’s started to get used to paying five bucks, rather than fifty, for a game. Of course, what Platinum offers is more polished, more complete and more professional, in most cases, than what you’ll get from a plucky indie creator; but it’s on the same spectrum in terms of experience. At one end of the market, you have AAA games getting more and more expensive; at the other, indie games getting cheaper and cheaper; and it’s increasingly hard to see how a studio like Platinum fits into that world.

Galyonkin is right that one way out of this is for indies to start taking a tougher line on pricing; there’s no one-size-fits-all, and there are undoubtedly lots of small, short experiences that suit a $5 price tag, but equally there are lots of games that would be far more reasonably priced (and far more likely to break even) at $15 or $20, or perhaps even a little higher than that.

In doing so, they’d face a backlash, of course; but ultimately this can and would change consumer behaviours and expectations, and probably serve as a glass of ice water in hell for the likes of PlatinumGames, struggling manfully to convince consumers that its original titles are worth $60 in a world teeming with good-looking indie titles for less than a sixth of that price. (It would help to persuade publishers, too; they’ve seen the writing on the wall for this kind of game for some time, which is why PlatinumGames has spent much of the past few years stuck in a work-for-hire limbo on tightly budgeted projects over which it had limited creative control.)

The unspoken aspect of the indie game pricing argument, of course, is that we’ve all seen a race to the bottom in pricing before, and we know where it leads. The bottom is zero; it’s arguably a hard economic law that the price of items with no manufacture and distribution cost, like digital games, will tend towards zero eventually. That’s what happened on mobile, where pretty much every game now has a price point of zero, supplemented by F2P systems.

Failing a push-back in indie, it’s not hard to imagine F2P becoming the only workable business model on Steam within a relatively short span of years; pretty much nobody can make a living from selling games for $5 in a highly competitive environment, and if you’re going to go bust at $5, you might as well drop the price to $0 and try something else instead. Whether you think a fightback against low indie pricing is worthwhile is really down to how much you think a future where F2P is the default business model for indie games, and studios like Platinum are gone forever, is good for videogames; I have no problem with F2P in the right game, but this isn’t the future I’d prefer for the medium as a whole.(source:gamesindustry.biz