Paying for games has always been a dilemma for developers, publishers, and consumers alike. How can developers be properly reimbursed for their hard work and investment while also moving to bigger and better works? Can they accomplish this without hurting the consumers they depend on? Where do publishers fit into this equation? The answers have changed over the years, and with the advent of crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Patreon, we may be in the midst of a new era right now.
Developers make the games and, as consumers, we need as much of our hard spent gaming money as possible to go towards making new and improved content we love in a way that we can find and consume it. That’s where publishers would normally step in to make sure that developers create consumable, profitable, and visible video games. In a less connected age, such as when Electronic Arts began its work as a publishing company, this was not only necessary but a great way for new developers to get out there. Now that the internet is taking front stage in transforming our business world, the game industry is starting to look more and more like the music industry. In the information age, video games are adopting a service model.
In the past, the music industry’s record labels served to help artists record, publish, and market their work but today many successful artists handle each of those aspects themselves, collaborating with others when needed. The indie scene is flush with creators like Chance the Rapper who have found their market without any sort of affiliation with a label. Music was once a product market in which the consumer purchased an album and kept it as their own, but has since transformed into a service market with streaming competitors like Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music. Piracy was a huge factor in forcing the shift towards streaming services. While gaming isn’t exactly the same, the pressures impacting creators decisions in gaming are very similar.
I’m curious how this shift will impact lower income gamers specifically. GameStop is the largest source of working used games in the United States and home to a plethora of forgotten and niche games just waiting to be discovered. For lower income gamers, it presents a selection of products within their price range that no other gaming company will, or perhaps can. Sadly though, GameStop is dying as digital downloads dominate game sales and physical copies become less desirable. It’s my belief that the gaming community should want to keep physical copies and GameStop alive due to their bolstering of diversity among game consumers, aid in cataloging and providing access to games from the past, and support of the cost effective console market.
For gaming, consoles have an undeniable advantage over computers: they cost a fraction of a gaming computer’s cost and last about as long if not longer. This is especially true if the console you buy is a refurbished unit from GameStop, so support GameStop with trade-ins (another way GameStop can reduce costs even for high income gamers), console purchases, and by rejecting the digital download future. Where GameStop fails is supplying developers with a direct profit line from their consumers. Some publishers and developers have even called GameStop and the entirety of the used game market piracy with extra steps (which it can be, but it’s not without its benefits… which I’ve listed above). If GameStop is the game industry solution to consumer friendliness, Kickstarter is the game industry solution to developer friendliness.
Kickstarter allows higher income consumers of video games to invest their money personally into projects of their choice without having to bother with a publisher. On the flip side, it also allows established industry minds to take on projects that would never be funded by a publisher through the financial support of their fan base. While this can lead to some terrible disappointments and wasted cash (I’m looking at you, Keiji Inafune and Mighty No. 9), it can also be a huge benefit to developers and consumers alike. With a much larger portion of profits heading to developers and a guaranteed install base, losing money would require a catastrophic or intentional failure on the developers part. This means that when games succeed, everyone wins big! Projects like Shovel Knight, Yooka-Laylee, Hyper Light Drifter, Shantae: Half Genie Hero, and the innumerable and high quality CRPGs from Kickstarter prove just what a great tool it can be for the industry. Patreon is similar, but instead provides a path for service based monetization.
So the next time you buy a game, think about where your money’s going and how you can make the most out of it, not just for yourself but for the rest of us, too. Let your wallet do the talking!