長文:以《星球大戰:前線2》的氪金門爲例談F2P遊戲的未來

長文:以《星球大戰:前線2》的氪金門爲例談F2P遊戲的未來

原文作者: Ramin Shokrizade 譯者:Megan Shieh

作爲遊戲行業的工作者,我們生活在一個非常令人興奮的時代。正在發生的市場震盪將會極大地改變我們做生意的方式、生產的產品以及與消費者之間的關係。作爲一名已經從業16年的遊戲新聞媒體人,我的愛好之一是記錄和預測F2P商業模式的發展,自2001年起,我就一直在記錄F2P模式的發展史。

爲了簡化討論,並與《星球大戰》的主題保持一致,首先我要指出本文將會出現的一些詞彙,以及它們所代表的意義。使用先進的量化方法來增加收入,同時降低產品對消費者的價值,這就是我所說的“黑暗面”(Darksiding),涉及到“黑暗面”的實際技術,我將稱之爲“黑暗技術”(Darkside Technologies)。應用先進的量化方法來增加收入,同時增加產品對消費者的價值,這就是我所說的“光明面”(Lightsiding),涉及到這方面的技術,我將稱之爲“光明技術”(Light Side Technologies)。

Star Wars: Battle Front II(from wikipedia)

Star Wars: Battle Front II(from wikipedia)

在工業化的歷史中,運用先進技術來提高收入的做法適用於所有產業,但是遊戲產業擁有其獨特的特性,遊戲領域的新手甚至可能是行家都不瞭解這些特性。因此,當人們把這些技術(通常成功地應用於非遊戲產品)應用到遊戲中時,產生的結果也可能與非遊戲產品截然不同。

一般來說,娛樂產品的目的是爲消費者提供刺激。通過刺激大腦,我們可以改變消費者的生理機能。如果消費者認爲這些變化是好的,他們就很樂意購買我們的產品。如果他們認爲我們的產品並沒有改善他們的生活,那麼他們就會停止購買,除非你的產品會讓人上癮。當這種情況發生時(不喜歡,但是上癮了),他們將會繼續購買我們的產品,但是也會有諸多抱怨,而這種情況通常會觸發監管部門的介入。

我在2012年的早些時候開始注意到了“黑暗技術”的激增,然後我將這一現象追溯到了2010年或更早的時候。2010年,金融業與互動媒體產業的聯手,使得遊戲產業文化發生了漸進式的變化,讓“黑暗文化”的崛起成爲可能。“黑暗文化”試圖通過降低消費者的健康狀態,並最終破壞與消費者的關係來創造短期利潤。“黑暗文化”並不是遊戲產業中獨有的,但是如果它在一個產業中擴展成爲主流文化,那麼監管部門就不可能會坐視不理。

我目前估計,75%的西方遊戲市場已經在管理層面上採用了“黑暗文化”,而且由於時間滯後,目前正在開發中的大多數遊戲也可能含有“黑暗技術”。本文的主要目的是解釋這一趨勢,以便我們能夠更好地理解它,並預測它將如何影響未來幾年的行業和市場。遊戲產業的投資者和股東尤其需要這些信息,以便作出明智的決策。

下面我將以Electronic Arts(下面簡稱EA)的“氪金開箱事件”作爲例子來進行解析。在這之前我必須要強調,EA並不是特別的個案,也說不上是這一趨勢的罪魁禍首,因爲這種趨勢現在已經在互動媒體中普遍存在了。我之所以在這裏使用EA作爲例子,不僅僅是因爲它的做法受到了消費者和監管部門的強烈反對,而且也是因爲這一事件是近期剛剛發生的,目前風頭正勁。

“氪金”這一遊戲中的消費行爲近期成爲了衆矢之的,而該事件的導火索是EA推出的《星球大戰:前線2》。因爲該遊戲嚴重的氪金開箱攬財機制,一下子把玩家對“氪金”和“開箱”的不滿引出來了。在該作的設計中,EA毫不掩飾自己的貪婪,爲玩家給出了一道選擇題:想要遊玩全部內容,你是選擇玩4528個小時,還是充2100美金?

因爲這一事件,EA目前正面臨着一場障礙風暴,下面我將詳細解釋這些障礙:

1.消費者對“黑暗技術(包括商業模式)”的強烈反對;
2.積極響應消費者需求的監管方案;
3.《星球大戰》的版權屬於迪士尼公司,該公司將會設法從這一危機中脫離出來,以免影響到迪士尼的股票和品牌價值。

消費者積極反對“黑暗技術”

其他產業中的消費者往往彼此脫節。這意味着消費者趨勢的變化是緩慢並且可預測的。比如2015年的“大衆排放門”事件:大衆公司所售部分柴油車安裝了專門應對尾氣排放檢測的軟件,可以識別汽車是否處於被檢測狀態,繼而在車檢時祕密啓動,從而使汽車能夠在車檢時以“高環保標準”過關,而在平時行駛時,這些汽車卻大量排放污染物,最大可達美國法定標準的40倍。

大衆品牌在他們的汽車產品上使用了“黑暗技術”排放系統,問題明明很嚴重,但是消費者的反應卻相對溫和。這是因爲雖然大衆車主看不到真實的尾氣排放量,但是這並不會產生立即的後果。大衆車主之間不會大量交談,也沒有對此事作出太大的反應。因此大衆可以支付罰款,做出一些改變,並照常運營。

遊戲玩家是一種完全不同的消費者。因爲遊戲玩家們註定會產生頻繁的互動,從而形成一種集體意識。我將這一遊戲中活動稱爲“持續性遊戲集體”(Persistent Gaming Collectives,以下簡稱PGC)。PGC可以在遊戲發佈之前就自然地形成。如果PGC發現了對集體足夠嚴重的威脅,那麼它就會變得激進。一旦變得激進,這個集體就會發起一場“反對方式”。爲了符合《星球大戰》的主題,我會把這個反對方式稱爲“抗議”( The Rebellion)。

這次事件對EA和整個遊戲行業來說都不只是一次性事件。作爲一場反對方式,參與者將持續不斷地散播、組織和動員,直到他們認爲威脅得到了解決爲止。起義運動的領頭人能夠識別新遊戲中涵蓋的“黑暗技術”,而且會在這方面變得相當老練,此外,他們還會在社交媒體上發佈相關消息——時常都是在遊戲正式發佈之前。對於那些依賴於“黑暗機制”的產品而言,這些起義小隊可能會對它們的商業前景造成毀滅性的打擊。

雖然人們預計《星球大戰:前線2(Star Wars Battlefront 2)》的表現將會比原作出色,但是該作目前的銷量卻比原作低了61%。當EA被迫撤走《星球大戰:前線2》中的微交易時,他們告訴股東,“預計這一變化將不會產生實質性的影響”。但它的確產生了虛擬和財政上的影響。除了零售銷售的巨大損失之外,EA的股價在兩週內縮水了約30億美元。此外,起義軍很有可能會持續擴大到《星球大戰:前線》受衆之外的用戶。它會持續組織活動,並且變得越來越成熟。

那麼,怎麼做才能遣散這些起反對的人?EA必須取出他們產品(不限於《星球大戰:前線2》)中的所有“黑暗技術”,然後用一個內容完整的零售系統(一次性付費模式),或基於F2P系統的“光明技術”來取代“黑暗技術”。相比之下,傳統零售系統的表現要差得多,這也是人們往往不再採用它的原因。然而“黑暗文化”的存在使得F2P模式下的“光明技術”成爲不可能。這些遊戲公司裏,有相當多的開發人員想要帶領他們的公司走向光明,可是他們害怕丟掉工作。要想讓公司裏的其他人認爲:他們“適應”當前的公司文化,他們就必須保持緘默。
我是怎麼知道的?他們告訴我的。

自2001年以來,作爲F2P手遊道德底線的捍衛者,我在這些公司裏實際上有很多追隨者。他們會和我分享他們的經歷,鼓勵我繼續寫作。沒有他們的支持,我很難繼續下去。因此我就變成了遊戲行業中的照妖鏡。

一旦“黑暗勢力”進入了一家公司,他們就會迅速採取行動來獲取並鞏固權力。那些抵抗的人會被迅速地從組織中清除出去,而保持緘默的人則得以保住工作。評估新聘人員的兩個主要標準是:(1)技術水平(2)文化適應。如果你已經有了一個“黑暗面”的員工,那麼任何潛在的“光明面”員工都將無法達到文化契合標準。如果你同時僱傭了黑暗面和光明面的員工(這事兒在我身上發生了兩次),那麼就會挑起一場公司內部的原力之戰。

“原力之戰”

當光明面和黑暗面的員工在公司或項目的文化和發展方向上產生分歧時,就會引發一場“原力之戰”。兩方的觀點是互不相容的,甚至是典型的——光明與黑暗之間的永恆競爭在《星球大戰》IP中是如此地成功和持久,這並非偶然。一方沒有了另一方就不能生存,而且自人類文明誕生以來,黑白兩方的勢力就一直都在爲了統治而戰。

從生物學的角度上講,光明面的個體由於荷爾蒙的影響而活得更久、更健康、更快樂。而黑暗面的個體則更具攻擊性,他們喜歡迅速採取行動來壓制競爭對手。他們是天生的存活者。在Adam Smit的《國富論》一書中,他假設:“利己是人的本性,人們從事的一切經濟活動,都是爲了追求自己的利益最大化。”William Nash博士和其他人,包括我自己在內,都認爲這是經濟體系中的一個關鍵缺陷,而且科學也越來越多地支持這種另類觀點。然而,當代的商業和經濟模式都是基於這種陳舊的觀念而構建的,因此,它們往往更青睞原力之戰中的黑暗一方。

遊戲領域的發展史也是另外一個影響因素。2000和2001年間,我還在Nexon工作的時候,他們開始在《冒險島(Maplestory)》的項目中試驗第一個F2P商業模式,公司很快就發現自己可以通過在遊戲中銷售優勢來賺更多的錢(這是一種早期的“黑暗技術”,現在仍然很流行)。當時Nexon的另一款主要產品是《破碎銀河系(Shattered Galaxy)》,這是第一款大型多人在線即時戰略遊戲(MMORTS)。儘管《破碎銀河系》可能具有更大的長期潛力,但是這很難在短期內看出來,而《冒險島》則通過“付費贏”模式在短期內生成了更高的收入,因此,Nexon會偏愛這種模式也是合情合理。該公司在那個時期是一個極具天賦和創新性的工作室,並且有能力決定世界各地的工作室在未來幾十年裏的命運。因爲當時沒有能夠與此抗衡的技術,所以他們採用的“黑暗技術”穩固地佔據了全球的主導地位。

因爲上述原因,所以當我兩次捲入原力之戰時,都以失敗告終。儘管我的想法可能更好,但是黑暗勢力始終佔了上風,奠定了公司文化的基調。但這並不意味着結果會對公司更好。

在如今的大多數工作室裏,原力之戰甚至不可能會發生,因爲公司文化已經早就決定好了。就算消費者、監管部門和股東給的壓力足夠大,能夠推動企業文化的重組(這似乎是可能的),卻也仍然不會產生預期的效果。“黑暗勢力”是天生的生存者。除非你把每個人都開了,否則你將無法擺脫“黑暗勢力”的影響。

絕大多數員工都是不結盟的,還有很多工作室從未經歷過“原力之戰”,因此也有中立的不結盟文化。目前的消費者起義不會對他們產生任何負面影響,因爲他們不會被消費者或監管部門認定爲威脅。實際上在這段時間裏,這些工作室反而可以漁翁得利,因爲許多“黑暗工作室”都被迫關門或面臨大規模裁員,所以這些中立工作室的競爭者會大幅度減少。

監管方案

2013年,隨着西方監管方案的初步形成,英國公平貿易辦公室(以下簡稱OFT)成爲了先鋒。歐盟其他國家和全球機構都願意讓OFT爲針對在線遊戲產業的第一批監管措施創建和展示初步框架。這些都是在2013年的巴拿馬ICPEN峯會上提出的,當時我也以“行業內部顧問”的身份參加了那次峯會。

那次的ICPEN峯會上一共有兩位業界演講者:我本人和迪士尼公司的一位副總裁。這位迪士尼副總裁用幻燈片介紹了他們最爲顧客友好型的產品,並呼籲行業自律。而我則展示了一款最糟糕的產品,遊戲中充斥着比我在任何其他產品中看到的更多的“黑暗技術”,這些產品是直接面向兒童銷售的。它碰巧是迪士尼的產品,但是沒有人提前通知我迪士尼的副總裁會來,直到我倆坐一桌一起吃飯…我才知道…

看過我提供的種種證據之後,監管部門對這位迪士尼副總裁進行了極具攻擊性的質疑,結果她決定立即逃離會場。當時,監管部門在消費者情緒暴動之前採取了行動,在火種變成大火之前撲滅了火種。涉及的產品是由Gazillion Entertainment製作的,該工作室在兩週前被迪士尼集團全面關閉。我懷疑這與比利時針對《星球大戰:前線2》發佈的監管消息有關。

而幾周前發生的事情,則完全是另一回事——上個月美國夏威夷州圍繞着EA的《星球大戰:前線2》發起了一個抵制電子遊戲“掠奪式收費”行爲的活動。各國官員和分析師似乎都有一個共識:希望遊戲行業自律並由審覈機構加大把控力度。

這時大火已經生成了,監管部門本可以通過更早(早在2013年)採取行動來阻止這場火災,但是他們卻沒有這麼做。這讓他們看起來很糟糕。現在,爲了應對激烈的消費者需求,他們採取了異常大膽的行動。政治家們將會加入這一行列,利用人們對此事的熱情來籠絡人心,就像夏威夷那樣。在這種情況下,監管部門將會面臨快速行動的壓力,由此一來政權部門就有理由採取過度反應手段,而不是像以前那樣不採取行動而招致譴責。

對於已經採用了大量“黑暗科技”,並僅僅依賴於“黑暗科技”來賺錢的遊戲/公司來說,這是一個危險時期。我認爲這就是迪士尼的Gazillion工作室一夜之間關門大吉的原因。迪士尼可以宣稱,Gazillion只是漫威收購案附帶的獨立工作室,並不能反映迪士尼的整體公司文化。是的,2013年的時候迪士尼可能有這個機會,但是它卻沒有這麼做。不過,這或許並不代表“黑暗文化”就必定存在於迪士尼的公司文化裏,他們可能只是做了最基本的算術題,認爲該工作室可以幫他們賺錢,可是卻沒有調查清楚它是怎麼賺錢的。雖然這個理由聽起來有些牽強,但是考慮到迪士尼的經濟影響力,這個理由就足夠讓迪士尼脫險了。

然而…迪士尼的麻煩卻不只這一個…

迪士尼和EA的關係

監管部門在調查案件時會追溯到非常遙遠的過去,而且在推行新政策之前,他們也會事先查閱之前的監管記錄。所以他們會知道在2013年ICPEN峯會上發生了什麼事。這類峯會每隔幾年才舉辦一次,在會議上發生的所有事情都被視頻記錄了下來。所以當初迪士尼呼籲行業自律的事情肯定會反彈到它自己身上。現在迪士尼正在進行自我監管。儘管它不能像當初關閉Gazillion那樣關掉EA,但是隻要打個電話就能下架《星球大戰:前線2》中的所有微交易,而且他們也真的這樣做了。

不過,《星球大戰》系列的遊戲本來是應該提升IP價值的,沒想到反而把《星球大戰》這一品牌坑慘了,具體損失的數字沒有公佈,但是用腳趾頭想都知道很貴。而且在《星球大戰》最新電影發佈的前幾周,大量關於“EA氪金門”的文章都附上了《星球大戰》的視頻,這無疑是雪上加霜。部分美國企業在歐盟領土上擁有近乎壟斷的勢力,歐盟公民本就對這一情形感到不安,因此一旦這些美國企業做出了不符合消費者利益的行爲,歐盟監管部門必定會嚴格追查到底。

目前EA還有一些其他的《星球大戰》遊戲正在開發中。這些項目,以及已經發行的《星球大戰》系列遊戲將會受到額外的審查。如果情況繼續惡化(看上去可能會惡化),那麼迪士尼可能會與它“和平分手”。全面終止這項工作,將所有涉及《星球大戰:前線》的遊戲下架,就像它幾周前關閉《漫威英雄》那樣。既然可以下架《漫威英雄》,沒理由不能下架《星球大戰:前線》。顯然,迪士尼的會計和律師團隊正在考慮:如果真把《星球大戰:前線2》下架了,會不會將問題惡化,同時增加迪士尼的法律風險。將這樣一款規模龐大的遊戲下架,似乎是一個激進的舉動,但是迪士尼不久之前剛剛將《漫威英雄》下架了,所以也不是不可能。迪士尼決定關閉Gazillion工作室是因爲在2013 ICPEN峯會上發生的事情,《漫威英雄》在消費者之間也廣受歡迎,但是《星球大戰:前線2》的情況就不同了,畢竟它的氪金系統引發了大量消費者的不滿。

EA不能只是簡單地清理門戶,然後拍拍屁股回到消費者中立的文化中去。到了這個節點,它已經是旗幟鮮明的“黑暗工作室”了,消費者和監管部門都公開認定了這一點。到了這個時候,再好的公關工作都挽救不了這個局面。EA公司裏的某些人實際上有過反對氪金的想法,這點讓我很吃驚,但是該公司的“黑暗文化”把這個想法扼殺在了萌芽狀態,現在,這個選擇現在已經不存在了。

儘管面臨着這麼多問題——銷售額下降了61%、股票價值損失數十億美元、消費者組織了反EA的起義、國際監管部門把EA作爲殺雞儆猴的案例,但是對於EA來說,與迪士尼的關係是當前最緊迫的問題。迪士尼在保護品牌價值方面通常採取積極態度,但是卻不主動。他們不擅長防火,但在滅火方面卻很厲害。EA這次引起的火災超出了它的滅火能力,也超出了迪士尼的滅火能力。因此迪士尼肯定會想辦法將自己與EA劃分開來,但是考慮到兩家公司的規模,它不可能像對Gazillion一樣,單方面地立即掐斷與EA的關係。

我猜:兩家公司會進行婚姻調解,如果婚姻調解沒用的話,迪士尼就會申請離婚。這將會成爲一場混亂的離婚。迪士尼會把離婚視爲一個可能的結果,甚至會在調解階段就開始準備離婚協議。和EA離婚,不會像與Gazillion那樣容易,因爲EA是一家大公司,擁有多元化的產品組合,而且並不是每一個都和迪士尼有關聯。儘管如此,這種規模的離婚或“和平分手”必定會導致至少10%的大面積裁員,這還不包括監管部門將會對EA採取的行動,考慮到EA的股價已經下跌了近10%,股東們估計不會坐以待斃。

目前,整個行業都在走向一次大規模的修正。修正往往是漸進的,直到出現市場震盪,然後才能迅速發生。市場震盪已經發生了,整頓正在進行中。即使市場震盪的源頭就在這裏,市場整頓也不會止於EA。EA是遊戲行業中的領導者,這麼多雙眼睛都看着它呢,所以選擇最先修正他們的行爲也是合情合理的。

總而言之,如果你的遊戲中尚未採用“黑暗技術”,那麼我建議你以後也不要採用。暫時先謹慎行事,避免任何可能讓你成爲消費者和監管部門攻擊目標的活動,直到這一切平息下來。讓你的競爭對手去承受這顆子彈,對手倒了,你就會有更多的市場份額和更少的競爭對手。這也意味着,在不久的將來,用戶獲取的成本將會降低。這對於移動領域中的那些中立工作室而言是個天大的好消息,他們中的大多數還在受制於過時的零售商業模式,但是使用這種模式的工作室也沒剩幾家了。此外,如果任天堂和Niantic能夠繼續遠離“黑暗文化”的話,那麼他們將有可能成爲大贏家。

本文由遊戲邦編譯,轉載請註明來源,或諮詢微信zhengjintiao
We live in a very exciting time here in the gaming industry. Big changes are happening that will very much change how we do business, what products we produce, and our relationship with our consumers. I have been chronicling the history of F2P since 2001 when I was the senior writer forwww.unknownplayer.com (killed by hackers in 2005). Back then I was writing under an alias after receiving numerous detailed (with my address) death threats following the 9/11 disaster due to the ethnicity of my name. Still I managed to be the fourth most read independent gaming journalist during that time. A passion of mine was recording and predicting the development of F2P business models.

Of course it still is, and this is what this article is all about. I am going to explain how we got here, and where we are going. I believe I can do this because of my high altitude view of our industry over the last 16 years and because of my expertise in the area of F2P business models. That expertise accelerated during the period from 2005 to 2009 when I set out to develop consumer-friendly F2P business models, seeking out the top academic mentors available during those years and creating new language for a field I described as “virtual economics”.

In order to simplify the discussion, and in keeping with the timeliness of a Star Wars theme, I am going to go ahead and create some new language right now. The use of advanced quantitative methods to increase revenues while reducing the value of products for consumers is what I would callDarksiding. The actual technologies involved, when used in this fashion, I will call Dark Side Technologies. The application of advanced quantitative methods to increase revenues while increasing the value of products for consumers is what I call Lightsiding. The involved technologies I will call Light Side Technologies.

The application of advanced technologies to improve revenue generation applies to all industries through the history of industrialization, but the gaming industry has unique properties that are often not understood by new participants, or even perhaps veterans. Thus when these technologies (which are often deployed very successfully with non-gaming products) are applied to games, they can have very different results than they do elsewhere.

The purpose of entertainment products in general is to provide stimulation to consumers. This stimulation has physiological foundations. By stimulating the mind, we can change the physiology of our consumers. When consumers perceive these changes as positive in nature, they buy our products quite readily. When they don’t think our products are making their lives better, they stop buying our products unless there is an addictive element involved, which there can be. When both conditions (not liking, but addictive elements are present) they continue to buy our products (in smaller quantities) and complain a lot which typically triggers the involvement of regulators.

This makes the nearest commercial equivalent to the gaming industry the tobacco industry. I went into detail about how the gaming industry was following the tobacco industry play book back in 2014. But a spike in the deployment of Dark Side Tech was something I began to notice in early 2012, and at the time I traced its beginnings to 2010 or earlier. This merging of the financials industry and the interactive media industry in ~2010 created a progressive change in game industry culture that made possible the ascension of Darksider Culture. Darksider culture seeks to generate short term profits by means that include degrading the well being of consumers, and ultimately the relationship with consumers. Darksider culture is not unique to the gaming industry, and if it spreads to become the dominant culture in an industry then the result is almost always a regulatory response.

I currently estimate that 75% of the Western game market has adopted a Darksider culture at the management level, and because of lag time a smaller majority of products are currently being deployed containing Dark Side technologies. As a top game industry economist, I’m not here to make moralistic evaluations about this trend. The purpose of this paper is to explain the trend so that we can better understand it, and predict how it will affect the industry and market in the next few years. Shareholders especially need this information in order to make informed decisions as to where they put their money since the information they are receiving from involved publicly traded companies is becoming increasingly optimistic.

I am going to use Electronic Arts as my case study in this review. I do not want for a moment to suggest that EA is unique or particularly responsible for the trend or effects, because the trend is now pervasive in interactive media. I use EA here because not only has it been the target of unusually vigorous consumer and regulatory backlash, but also because EA is facing a perfect storm of obstacles at the moment with even less options available to them than you might anticipate. Those obstacles, which I will explain in detail, are:

Consumer backlash against Dark Side Technologies (including business models),

Regulatory response, which is in direct proportion to consumer activism,

IP oversight from Disney, which will want to compartmentalize the crisis to avoid it affecting Disney stock and brand values.

Consumer Anti-Dark Side Technology Activism

In other industries, consumers tend to be disconnected from each other. This means that consumer trends change gradually and predictably, generally reflected by their purchase and spending habits. When Volkswagon was caught using Dark Side Technologies in regards to their emission systems on their cars, the problem was serious but consumer reaction was relatively muted. VW owners can’t see emissions, they don’t have an immediate daily consequence. VW owners don’t talk to each other in significant numbers and are not likely to get political about their car ownership. Thus VW could pay a fine, make some changes, and go about business as usual.

Gamers are a very different kind of consumer. Because gamers interact intensely by nature, they form a sort of collective consciousness. In 2013 I described this activity intra-game as Persistent Gaming Collectives (PGC’s), and explained how this can work for and against us as game developers. The same dynamics extend well beyond the game space. PGC’s can organically form for games before a game even launches. If a PGC detects a threat to the collective that is deemed serious enough, it canradicalize. Once radicalized, it becomes a political movement. Using the Star Wars themed analogies I am building in this article, I would call this political movement The Rebellion.

What this means for EA and the industry as a whole is that this is not a one time event. As a political movement, the participants will continue to cross-educate, mobilize, and organize over time until the threat is considered resolved. A more technical discussion of the effects can be found in my previousData Implosion paper predicting this consumer reaction and it’s affects on the interactive media industry.

Leaders in the Rebellion will become quite sophisticated at identifying the existence of Dark Side Technologies deployed in new games and will put the word out on social media channels, often well before a game even officially launches. These hit squads can be devastating for the prospects of commercial success for those products dependent on these mechanisms. While EA’s Star Wars Battlefront 2 was anticipated to out perform the original, its sales so far have been 61% below the numbers sold for SW BF1.

When EA was forced to turn off microtransactions in SW BF2, they told shareholders that “This change is not expected to have a material impact”. It certainly had a virtual and financial impact. In addition to the massive loss in retail sales, EA stock has bled off over $3B in value in two weeks. If there was any chance of a clean recovery from the situation, there might be some chance of a rebound, but that’s just not the reality on the ground.

The Rebellion is likely to expand well beyond those users most expected to play a SW BF product. It will continue to organize and improve in sophistication. What will cause it to demobilize? EA would have to rip out the Dark Side Technologies from their products (not limited to SW BF2) and replace them either with a content-complete retail system, or a Light Side Technology based F2P system. The traditional retail system is much lower performing, and that is why it has become obsolete.

The presence of a Darksider Culture makes the second (superior) option impossible. There are quite a lot of developers in these companies that would like to take their companies in different directions, but they currently live in fear in the work place. To “pass” as being a good fit to the current company culture, they have to keep their mouths shut. How do I know this?

Because they tell me.

As the top consumer advocate in the gaming industry since 2001 I actually have a lot of followers in these companies. They share their experiences with me and encourage me to keep writing. Without their support it would be difficult for me to do so. Thus I have become a sort of Glassdoor with legs. Once Darksiders are in position in a company, they move quickly to secure power. They are remarkably efficient at this. Those that resist are purged rapidly from the organization and the rest fall in line nicely. I recently had a director at one of these companies (not EA) tell me that he would love to have me come give a presentation to his company on the Light Side Technologies available to them, and how they might improve company performance. But, he added, “that would be my last day working here”.

The primary two criteria used to evaluate new hires is (1) technical proficiency and (2) cultural fit. I’ve already discussed how the cultural fit criteria is scientifically shown to reduce diversity and increase workplace conflict. If you have Darksiders in place then any potential Light Side hire will fail the cultural fit criteria. If you hire both at the same time (this has happened to me twice) then a Force War will be initiated.

Force Wars

A Force War is initiated when Light Side and Dark Side employees come into direct competition over company/project culture and direction. The two outlooks are incompatible and, dare I say, archetypical. It is no accident that the ageless competition between the Light and Dark is so successful and enduring in the Star Wars IP. One cannot exist without the other, and both have fought for dominion since the dawn of civilization.

Biologically, Light Side individuals live longer, healthier, and happier due to the effects of oxytocin. Dark Side individuals tend to be more aggressive and move rapidly to neutralize competition. They are natural survivors. Company culture, going back to the writings of Adam Smith in the 1775 Wealth of Nations, operates on the assumption that all people act out of self interest. Dr. William Nash and others, including myself, believe this is a critical flaw in that work, and science is increasingly supporting this alternative view. Still, contemporary business and economic models are based on these archaic notions and thus they favor the Dark Side in a Force War.

The history of game development is also a factor. When I was working with Nexon in 2000 and 2001, and they started experimenting with the first F2P business models, they soon discovered that they could make a lot more money by selling advantage in games (an early Dark Side Technology that is still popular), in that case in their Maplestory product. Their other major product (at least in the West) at the time was Shattered Galaxy, the first MMORTS and a design which many companies have attempted to replicate over the years with poor results due to the complexity of these eSports positive games.

While SG may have had greater long term potential, this is difficult to measure in a short period of time. Maplestory was making much higher revenue with the first pay to win microtransactions and thus it was only rational that Nexon went with that model based on the information they had available to them. Nexon, being an extremely talented and innovative studio during that period, had the ability to determine the fate of studios world-wide for decades to come. Their choice of Dark Side Technologies at a time when there were no competing technologies available put the Dark Side firmly into a dominant position globally.

Thus in both of the situations where I have engaged in a Force War in a company, despite perhaps being better positioned, the Dark Side has prevailed and set the tone of company culture. This doesn’t mean the results were better for the company. In one case they were unable to produce any new successful products after I was ejected, relying on just my designs without any way of optimizing those designs. In the other case, the studio was forced to close resulting in 100% layoffs after the sponsor decided that loot boxes in a children’s game probably wasn’t going to work.

In most studios today, a Force War is not even possible because the company culture has already been decided. If consumer, regulatory, and shareholder pressure gets great enough to push for a realignment of company culture, which seems likely, this will still not have the desired effect. Darksiders are survivors. Any attempt to remove them will result in a large number of false positives, meaning you won’t be able to get rid of them unless you pretty much get rid of everyone. The technologies that could be used to sort them out are still new enough that they would be considered pseudoscience in a corporate environment.

The vast majority of employees are non-aligned, and there are still many studios out there that have never had a Force War and thus have neutral non-aligned cultures. The current consumer Rebellion is not going to have any negative affect on them because they will not have been identified by consumers or regulators as threatening. These same studios will actually be favored during this period since they will enjoy reduced competition as Darksider studios are forced to execute large layoffs. Those layoffs will generally begin with creatives as described in my Data Implosion paper, further reducing their ability to generate revenue and triggering a Death Spiral as I describe there.

Regulatory Response

In 2013 as Western regulatory response was first starting to take shape, the UK Office of Fair Trade (OFT) was on the vanguard. The rest of the EU and global body was willing to let the OFT create and present the initial framework for the first regulatory steps aimed at the online gaming industry. These were presented at the 2013 ICPEN summit in Panama where I was also summoned in order to act as an industry insider adviser.

At the ICPEN summit there were two industry speakers, myself and a VP from Disney. The Disney VP presented slides of their most consumer friendly product and called for industry self-regulation. I presented slides of a worst case product, riddled with more Dark Side Technologies than I had seen in any other product, which was marketed directly at children. It happened to be a Disney product, but I was not told the Disney VP was going to be there until I arrived and had dinner with her.

Seeing the evidence I provided, regulators questioned the Disney VP aggressively and she decided to immediately flee the conference. The product involved was made by Gazillion Entertainment, which was abandoned by Disney just two weeks ago and forced to close with total layoffs. I suspect there was a connection to the regulatory noises that came out of Belgium in response to the EA SW BF2 release. In 2013 regulators were acting in advance of consumer sentiment, to put out small fires before they became big fires. This is what good regulators do. They are not social justice warriors. These are very conservative and pragmatic bureaucrats that take a long time in determining a best course of action when crafting regulation.

What happened a couple weeks ago starting in Belgium and winding its way to France, the UK, and even Hawaii, was a different thing entirely. Here there was already a big fire, that regulators could have prevented by acting earlier (as early as 2013) but did not. This made them look bad. Now they were acting in uncharacteristically bold fashion in reaction to intense consumer demand. Politicians will join the band wagon to court voter passions as you are seeing in Hawaii. Under these conditions the regulators will be under pressure to act faster, and in doing so they will be granted the political power to over react rather than under react as they did previously.

This is a perilous time for companies that have invested heavily in Dark Side Technologies and do not possess the infrastructure to operate effectively in another manner. I believe this is why Gazillion was cut off so abruptly. Now Disney can claim that was just an isolated studio that they acquired during the Marvel acquisition and not reflective of company culture. Yes they may have had the opportunity to do this in 2013, but did not. This does not necessarily prove the existence of a Darksider culture in the wider company, they may have just been operating purely mathematically and seeing the studio as profitable without regard to how. This is still a poor defense but given the economic clout of Disney, it may be enough.

Except that now they have another very large loose end…

Disney’s Relationship With EA

Regulators have long memories, and will access all previous regulatory work before moving forward with new rules. So they know how the 2013 ICPEN summit went down. These sorts of summits happen only once every few years, and everything was recorded on video. So Disney calling for self regulation at that conference is going to ricochet back to them. Now Disney is engaging in self-regulation after the fact. They can’t just shut off EA like they did with Gazillion, but they can shut off all the microtransactions in SW BF2 with just one phone call, and they did.

Still, the gaming arm of the Star Wars franchise was supposed to be something that would boost the SW IP. Instead, they are taking huge brand damage which we can’t be certain of in numerical terms but it certainly will be expensive. It doesn’t help that articles about EU regulators calling for loot boxes to be illegal have Star Wars videos attached to them, just weeks before the launch of their new movie. EU citizens are already nervous about the power of large USA corporations that hold near monopoly power in their territories. They have a history of going after these companies aggressively when they engage in behavior that is perceived as not in the interest of consumers, and regulators will also be considering the recently announced proposed Disney acquisition of 21st Century Fox assets in Europe.

There are still additional Star Wars games under development at EA. These projects will come under additional scrutiny as well as existing games under the SW IP. If the situation continues to deteriorate, and it looks like it could, then Disney may move towards a “soft dump”. Pulling the plug completely would involve shutting down all existing SW BF games just like Disney did with Marvel Heroes a couple weeks ago. They did it there, they could do it here. Clearly the Disney bean counters and lawyers are already at work trying to decide if that would make the problem worse and increase their legal exposure. Shutting down a big game like that seems a radical move, but they did it with their Marvel game so it’s possible. The relationship with Gazillion was problematic because of how the 2013 ICPEN summit went down, but Marvel Heroes was popular with consumers, it was not taking the heat that SW BF2 is now.

EA can’t just clean house and go back to a consumer neutral culture. It is solidly Dark Side at this point, and more importantly it has been publicly identified as such by both consumers and regulators. No amount of PR is going to remedy that situation at this point. Calling in a Cleaner was actually attempted, much to my surprise, but the culture nipped that idea in the bud and this option is now off the table.

So while the 61% drop in sales, the multi-billion dollar loss in stock value, the anti-EA Rebellion, and international regulators making EA their new regulatory poster child are all serious problems for EA, the relationship with Disney is their most immediately pressing problem. How it will play out is difficult for me to predict. Disney protects their brand value aggressively, but not proactively. They are poor at preventing fires but good at putting them out. As I’ve pointed out, the fires at EA are beyond the ability of EA to quench. They are also beyond the ability of Disney to quench. Thus some sort of partition is almost certainly going to be executed, but given the size of the Disney-EA relationship, it can’t be done unilaterally and instantly like it was done with Gazillion.

My best guess as to how it’s going to go down is the two will enter into relationship counseling, and once that goes nowhere Disney will file for divorce. A messy divorce. Disney will see that as a likely result and be working on the divorce papers even during the counseling phase. Said divorce won’t result in total and immediate closure as with Gazillion, as EA is a big company with a diversified portfolio that is not all connected to Disney. Still, any such divorce or “soft dump” is going to result in a labor pool reduction well in excess of 10%, and that’s even before regulators get a piece of EA. Given the almost 10% drop in EA stock value already, it seems likely that shareholders will not be waiting for any of these options to actually materialize.

As I pointed out in my recent Data Implosion paper, the entire industry is heading for a large correction. Corrections tend to be incremental until there is a market shock and then they can happen quickly. Well the market shock just happened and the correction is under way. The correction will not be isolated to just EA, even if the market shock was sourced there. EA is an industry leader so it seems appropriate that they are leading the move towards an industry best practices and market correction.

My advice to studios world-wide would be that if you haven’t already had (and lost) a Force War, then don’t. Play this conservatively and stay clear of any activities that might get you targeted by Rebellion forces and regulators until this dies down. Let your competitors take this bullet, that means more market share and less competition for you. It also means lower user acquisition costs are coming up in the near future. That’s especially good news for Force-neutral studios in the mobile space who are mostly struggling under obsolete retail business models, even if there aren’t many of you left. Big winners could be Nintendo and Niantic if they play this right and continue to keep it clean.(Source: gamasutra.com  )