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Medal of Honor and Today’s Market

posted on October 16th, 2010 by christian

The new Medal of Honor game is out this week.  The reviews have been wishy washy at best, the sales will probably not reach Call of Duty levels, and once again, we should have all seen this coming.

A game like Medal of Honor is frustrating for me.  I can see what it is striving to achieve (aside from make EA money), and I know it is an impossible goal.  The most heavily hyped aspect of the project was how it was made with input from elite soldiers who took place in some of the earliest operations in the current war in Afghanistan.  There are stories to be told there, and I believe that the developers wanted to tell them. But at the same time, they had to ensure that their single player campaign was long enough to satisfy consumer desires, and flashy enough to emulate that Hollywood movie feel.  They also had to come out with a full price, $60 game, so as to justify the massive budget that these AAA games demand.  That meant asking another development team to cobble up a multiplayer mode which, in the face of both Call of Duty and EA’s own Bad Company 2, was doomed to irrelevancy.

In other words, it looks to me as if Medal of Honor would have done well as a short single player experience, one that was 5, maybe six hours long at the absolute maximum.  These kinds of games exist in the current industry, but only as smaller, simpler downloads.  Gaming has increasingly tried to imitate Hollywood, but they forgot two important points over the years:

1) Good Hollywood blockbusters tend not to drag on for too long

2) Films have a much lower barrier of entry, and thus a much larger pool of potential customers

It’s okay to spend millions on the special effects and stunts needed for a film lasting an hour an a half.  If it’s good (or at least exciting) enough, people will come.  Games, on the other hand, either can’t or won’t spend and charge that kind of money while offering a similarly short experience.  There are many potential reasons why, but I’m not sure which, if any, is the deciding factor.  Is it because lowering the price of a new game doesn’t attract enough additional customers?  Is it because current gaming budgets can’t justify making a three hour shooter?  Or is it because gamers refuse to pay for such a short game, even if they were only being charged $15?

Perhaps someone will figure out the answer to this dilemma.  I hope someone does.  The current model for major game releases is simply broken at this point.  They’re too expensive, there are too many of them, and they’re stretched on for far longer than their good ideas can carry them (in case you are wondering, I am asserting that even most six to eight hour shooters go on for longer than they should).  We need better, tighter, shorter experience, and we need them at a price that’s more in line with other entertainment options.  I just don’t know how to go about this.  Personally, I know I’d be willing to take a hit to graphical fidelity in order to make this happen, but I know this would be an unpopular move in general.

Any thoughts?

7 Comments

  1. Marie said on October 16, 2010:

    “We need better, tighter, shorter experience, and we need them at a price that’s more in line with other entertainment options. I just don’t know how to go about this. Personally, I know I’d be willing to take a hit to graphical fidelity in order to make this happen, but I know this would be an unpopular move in general.”

    It’s definitely been a problem for some time. I find this article to be food for thought in this direction: http://kotaku.com/5373108/whos-responsible-for-the-60-price-tag

    Specifically the part where cheaper games are somehow perceived as less. From what you are saying, MoH should have (in a fair world) been comfortable to have it’s four or five hour campaign, and run at a cheaper price tag. I agree. You have to wonder what it would take to change the perception on these things. We’re seeing an increase of interest in “surprise” indy sensations like Braid,flOw, and such, and I’m surprised that hasn’t been taken to a next sort of level where an EA title can be four hours and fifteen or twenty bucks.

    With the success of the aforementioned games, I would put out the question of it being a problem with consumer behavior, or big-publisher perception/resistance to change.

  2. christian said on October 16, 2010:

    Marie, thanks for a great comment.

    Overall, you are right that Braid was successful, but there was still an excessive number of people unwilling to pay even $15 for it at release. Perhaps their perceptions are simply the result of momentum. Even if you toss out inflation, we’ve been paying $40-$60 (or more) per game pretty much since the dawn of the hobby. And when we were younger, we got a lot of mileage out of our games. These days, both the games and the gamers have changed, but when the price tags remain roughly the same, so do our expectations.

    This theory is far too large to summarize in a single sentence, but the idea of game pricing and game lengths being problematic has only really come around as games have become more and more narratively focused, which in turn makes them easier to compare to other forms of narrative-based entertainment (almost all of which are cheaper and shorter than a single game).

    Also, these days no one blinks an eye when JK Rowling publishes children’s books as large as an encyclopedia volume, and every TV drama insists on being a overly long, continuous epic. No one wants to have an editor.

  3. Marie said on October 17, 2010:

    “This theory is far too large to summarize in a single sentence, but the idea of game pricing and game lengths being problematic has only really come around as games have become more and more narratively focused, which in turn makes them easier to compare to other forms of narrative-based entertainment (almost all of which are cheaper and shorter than a single game).”

    I certainly hadn’t considered it from that perspective (which in hindsight is now glaring at me). Games certainly -used- to be about perfection, which was a combination of memorization and reflexes. I was just taking a short trip down memory lane with Ghouls ‘N Ghosts – “short” because it was all via YouTube, and “All Via YouTube” because I just don’t have the patience to acquire those skills anymore. And that’s the heart of it, isn’t it? A friend and I spend countless months, possibly years (memory is hazy) on that monstrous game, and it’s only five levels! A speed run I was watching had half of the game down in seven minutes. We spent months getting that far!

    Now, the few games I spend time on getting -any- kind of perfection on are highly worthy of note due to their rarity. I mean, those kinds of games -exist-, the Ninja Gaidens, Devil May Crys, Bayonettas, but even they take less time to beat (I would argue) that G ‘n G, despite more levels and an order of -magnitude- more narrative.

    I still likes me a game with some decent narrative, but it’s a shame our hobby doesn’t have room for both types of games. I don’t think they would be so frustrating if they had remained more of a norm.

    Or it’s a function of the gaming population now also including adults, where it didn’t before.

    Either way, it’s interesting to muse on.

  4. christian said on October 18, 2010:

    Here’s another musing on what you just wrote:

    The lack of balance between hard, “harcore” action games, and popular, story heavy ones is intriguing. I think that might also be a case of games being designed for gamers who have good twitch reflexes and hours of time which they can pour into multiplayer, Hard modes/ 100% completion stats. In other words, they’re making games the way we wanted them when we were kids growing up with the Atari/NES/Amiga/etc, even though we’re much, much older.

    Now of course, there are still people who are that age in 2010, and they’re certainly being targeted with a lot of games. But there are still other games wherein the gameplay has that adolescent appeal, but the story and setting are more suitable for the post-18 crowd. It’s a mixed message of the worst kind.

  5. Peter said on October 18, 2010:

    I think this, again, comes down to the identity or the definition of “video game.” This two words are being used to point two very different things: game that has existed as long as living organism developed some intelligence, and a very recent creation, interactive story/movie/experience.

    Players who want to play *game* seeks fun and exploitable (in terms of playtime) system that they can compete with others in. So they want repeatable multiplayer game with varied challenges. As for single player mode, they need it to be long to be able to learn, practice, and make use of various skills and overcome challenges.

    Those who seek tight, fun, and concise, but still *interactive experience* that is very Hollywood like, such as yourself, is asking for well built, immersive and cinematic experience.

    So, to cater to both types of audience, developers has to create very unnatural mixture that are today’s games… Campaign modes with some narrative part that are longer than necessary for stories, yet, too short for gamers to satiate their need for challenges. Added to them are multiplayer modes that’s convoluted, yet dumb (since it has to be based on single-player mechanics), and too competitive for general audiences to get into.

    It’s my opinion that games and interactive stories need to be divorced.

  6. christian said on October 18, 2010:

    Peter, that’s a wonderful way of separating the two concepts. Thanks.

    I should clarify, however, that in terms of what I want and what I play, I’m more for the deep, skill based games. What I wanted to express with this post, is that I would like to play cinematically minded games like Medal of Honor, but I don’t think they’re being made very well.

    To be fair, I also think that most skill based games aren’t being made well, for much the same reasons that you already stated; games try to cover every base in order to cater to everyone. What I’m really looking for, from all types of games, is more specialization, and more focus on singular ideas that can either

    a) be explored in a storyless context for hours and hours, or
    b) be explored in a short story format that lasts just a few hours

  7. Peter said on October 19, 2010:

    As for “skill based games”, I think the skills required in these games need to be advanced as well. Almost all games right now is about how well you can twitch–it’s based on a few of basic sensory skills.

    If games start engaging more high-level skills like management, intuition, negotiation, people skill, and so on, I think it’ll give games chance to make something relevant, not just fun. (And also improves very valid and critical skills needed in everyday life as well)

    As for the cinematic games, if they focus just that, we’ll have more games that are jaw-dropping and immersive like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, with all the unnecessarily long sequences cut out.

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