Posts Tagged ‘game industry’

I’m not stalling for time while I put together another Balance article.  Nope, not at all.  This is something I’ve been itching to share but only recently got permission to do so.

I’m an artist in the game industry.  I work with other artists who also happen to be in the game industry, which is convenient, since we’re working on the same projects at the same company.  Here at NinjaBee, the little studio that I work for, the artists have started monthly art challenges.  These keep our skills up and are just plain fun.  Beside that, most of these other artists are better than I am, so if you like my scribblings and paintings I offer on occasion, you might just like seeing what other artists come up with.

Find ‘em thisaway:


But please, don’t mess up the place.  It’s a nice, quiet, classy blog where some game artists post weird, wacky art.  I’m sharing because it’s great art by some great people, and I figure a few of you might appreciate that sort of thing.  It might even spur some of you to try some of our challenges, which can be great exercises for anyone interested in working in this industry.

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I’ve suggested it in a few comments recently on other blogs, and I’ve argued it for a while in one form or another, but I wanted to put a fine point on it for posterity.  Let’s not call this a prediction, since I don’t think Blizzard will do this (it’s potentially a lot of work and has a few wrinkles to iron out), but I’d recommend it.

The Cataclysm expansion is a perfect time for Blizzard to jump into the wider MMO market by diversifying their business model.  The recent trend of formerly subscription-only MMOs converting to item shop microtransaction business models isn’t a surprise, nor is it a move of desperation.  It’s realization that the MMO market is diversifying and maturing, and that the old ways of doing business aren’t going to work forever.

World of Warcraft is a bastion of subscription gaming, a behemoth that operates by its own rules, seemingly independant of the overall market.  Be that as it may, ignoring customers served by the so-called “free to play” or F2P games is effectively conceding strategic ground in the larger market.  It’s often suggested that converting WoW to one of these F2P critters may well not be more profitable for Blizzard, so it’s not likely.  I’m not convinced of that, but even conceding that as a given, as someone recently noted (Bhagpuss, I think, but please forgive me for remembering incorrectly if not), companies don’t always make moves for immediate profit.  Sometimes it’s about claiming market share or positioning themselves for future projects. *

* This is one counterpoint to my recommendation, actually.  Blizzard might be angling for the wider market with their next big MMO project.  Since that’s likely not imminent, though, I’m setting that aside, because the market is changing now, and Blizzard is oddly reticent to keep pace.

With that in mind, the release of Cataclysm provides a perfect excuse both in lore and in business to make a significant change to the WoW business plan.  What better time to break up the world than when a dragon is doing it for you?

Specifically, I would recommend that they take the Old World of Warcraft (the content from level 1 to 60, sometimes called “vanilla” WoW) and break it off into its own product, literally breaking the game into pieces.  They should then sell this like Guild Wars, as a single purchase that can then be played in perpetuity.  They should then keep the “live” Cataclysm-era world going for subscribers.  Players can upgrade from the Old World to the Live World, but not migrate backwards (maybe with some restrictions to keep gold sellers down, like no money migration).

This could neatly corner the F2P market by outflanking the other big movers in the field, including EQ2X, LOTRO, DDO and even GW and GW2, while still providing the subscriber experience that current users are accustomed to.

There are problems, to be sure.  There’s the possible need for two dev teams and consequent potential for divergent evolution.  There’s the need for new servers and the potential to confuse customers (who apparently don’t know how to spend their own money, the filthy proletariats).  There’s the likelihood of subbers just playing around in the Single Purchase Old World and losing some part of the WoW money pump.  There’s the banshee chorus of haters and fanboys who would proclaim the doom of Blizzard for deigning to let those people play the game.  There’s the work necessary to make things actually work.  There’s the question of what to let current players do.  (I’d suggest that anyone wanting to go to the Old World can do so, but it would be a complete reboot; everyone starts from scratch.  Current subbers who want to sidegrade can start new characters on the Old World servers like anyone else, without needing to purchase the game again.  They would have to pay a sub to play in the CAT era on CAT servers, but could play in the Old World without a hiccup, just starting over on the new servers.)  There is risk involved, as even WoW may not be able to function in its own shadow.  (But that’s a concern for their new MMO, too.)

Still, the timing is right for such a move, a grab at owning the best of both worlds.  In retrospect, perhaps, this will be obviously wrong, depending on whatever they do with their next MMO, but for now, looking at the market and the state of WoW, I’d say it’s an obvious move, and a smart one.  (This is, of course, totally ignoring the larger question of whether or not more WoW domination of the market is good for the players.  I think that could be argued either way, though, so maybe I’ll save that for an exercise later.)  There’s even room for more mutations, like true “classic” servers and private, gated communities for discerning customers, but one step at a time…

Of course details would need to be ironed out, and suits would need to be convinced.  Kotick would need to be bribed or something.  I’m convinced it’s not an intractible problem, though, and this may be the best time for such an earth-shattering, industry-shaking… cataclysmic business move.

…though I must admit, if it didn’t prove to sell well, just like if Blizzard’s new MMO doesn’t do well, leaving WoW as the clear aberration that I think it is, well… I’d laugh.

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First a quick pair of plugs:

Above 49 (Nels Anderson) and Some Accounting on the Cost of Making Games

The Rampany Coyote, tireless advocate of the Indie scene and indie dev in his own right.

In a nutshell, then, indie games can still be expensive to actually produce, but they can still be fantastic pieces of work.  I’ve worked for two game studios now, one a cog in the EA machine (then Headgate Studios, now EA Salt Lake), one a plucky independent developer (NinjaBee/Wahoo).  I’ve liked both, albeit for different reasons… but honestly, I like where I’m at now considerably more (NinjaBee/Wahoo).  It’s more risky, developing games without a patron like EA holding a financial net under our trapeze act, but at the same time, it’s also liberating in that we have a lot more control over what we do with game and art design.

So when we come up with something like A World of Keflings, know that it took time and hard work, and isn’t just something cooked up in a garage somewhere as an experiment or cheap sequel.  In many ways, it’s a labor of love, but since we think it’s a great game and has a lot of fun to offer, we also think it’s a great product and a worthy successor to the original A Kingdom for Keflings game.

Similarly, it looks like Recettear was a labor of love not only for the original Japanese developers, but also the intrepid localization team of Carpe Fulgar.  They believed in the game enough to carry it to term and throw it to the wilds of the internet.  It’s a great game, a curious mix of shop sim and dungeon crawler that manages to be more like fudge mixed with peanut butter rather than anchovies mixed with onions.  It came out of left field for me, but is a very welcome addition to my game library and a lot of fun.  That I can play it from a USB thumb drive is icing on the cake (yay for Impulse).  As Tipa notes, it’s well worth the $20.  (There’s a demo, but as fun as it is, it just scratches the surface.)

These smaller indie games tend to live or die largely on riding waves of interest and word of mouth.  As Nels notes, 10,000 purchases are a rounding error to the EAs of the world, but the lifeblood of indie gaming.  In an age of “social media”, spreading the word is easier than it used to be, but it’s still important.  The cost of sharing a recommendation can be very low, but to those of us trying to make a living making interesting games instead of Big Box clones, it’s a boon that we’re grateful for.

…so yeah, go check out Recettear and if you like the demo, it’s a game well worth buying!  Similarly, when A World of Keflings comes out, try the demo and if you like it, please buy it!  (It will be an XBox Live exclusive for a while, but we have promised a PC port like what we did for A Kingdom for Keflings.)

And if you like ‘em, please tell people!  Digital distribution and social media keep the indie scene alive and cranking out great games.  Speaking with your wallet and recommendations speak to us, nice and loud.  Without big box market overhead and publisher static, the signal is clearer.


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So… there’s a bit of kerfluffle recently about Tycho going all Corporate or something on us, the Gamers.  The nerve.

Andrew, MBP, PvD, GBN and Syp (edit:  and Cap’n John) have good posts on it (with links to other good ones), so I won’t reiterate much… I’ll just point to what I’ve already written about this, almost two years ago.

Sell and Resell

…so does that make me a pirate blogger?  I mean, reusing an old post is about the same as just stealing, right?  Never mind that I wrote it and that I’m not charging for these things, we’re talking ideals and morals here, people!

So, henceforth, anyone (including myself) who links to any of my previous blog posts must pay me the full price originally charged for the post.  There are no discounts and no sales; I’m not running a charity here.  Each link will incur the full price, so if you link twice, I’ll expect you to pay twice.  Anyone quoting any part of my posts will likewise be expected to pay.  Anyone quoting a comment from any of my posts will also be expected to pay, though I will be sending the lion’s share* of that fee to the commenter in question.

We’ll run this on an honor system for a while, until I can buy my own legislator to enforce matters.  Until then, my rabid internet wombats will be watching via my Big Brother WombatCam.  Do not steal.  They will find you.  You will not like it.


*”Lion’s share” is here defined as a number not less than 51% and not more than 55% of the original fee, calculated at the moment of the transaction according to whim and solely at my discretion as the blog administrator.

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What with all the fuss over LOTRO’s impending renaissance (or doom, depending on your crystal ball), I’ve been idly wondering what server segregation might do to assuage the fears of the fans of gated communities (M.o.B. is asking for some civility there; he’s not one of the snoots).  <snooty>One must keep the heathens out, after all; imagine what it might be like if they outnumbered the veteran “real players”.  They don’t even play the right way.  Maybe we should just autodelete all the noobs every week.  At the very least, we should tell them to go home.</snooty>

Puzzle Pirates has separate “subscription” and “microtransaction” servers, for instance, and it seems to serve them well enough.  Each server has its own community, politics and economy, though there is certainly cross-pollination on the master forums and players who play on multiple servers.  Incidentally, the microtransaction servers have been most profitable for Three Rings, though they happily maintain both flavors.  Players play on servers that match their finances; happy customers are a valuable asset.  Even if they aren’t subscribers.

On another hand, you could go with a “scarlet letter” approach, as I noted over at KTR, if you’re working with an integrated community, and make it visible to one and all how players are paying for their gaming.  Maybe that would make the Old Guard feel better, as they get their warm fuzzies by denigrating the little people.  <snooty>Sit in the back of the boat, you, you… casuals and tourists!  Respect my subscription-granted Authority!</snooty> I mean, we already have GearScore and Achievement segregation in WoW and other pecking order mechanics in other MMOs (“I can’t believe she’s wearing that gear, what a noob”), what’s the difference, right?

It really is interesting how these MMO things tinker with sociality.

Some also bemoan the rise of soloability, occasionally with similar utopian fervor.  In my mind, though, the continuing democratization of the business models and game designs of these MMOs is a Good Thing.  That’s how the free market works, ideally; innovation and experimentation provide for variety, and the most profitable ideas rise to the top.  Sometimes, they even prove to be the best ideas, too.  We’re not quite a meritocracy, but a varied market does tend to work better than One Size Fits All economic theory… ditto for game design.  I mean, Turbine couldn’t possibly be paying attention to the industry, could they?

But hey, it’s a free world, right?  If people want gated communities, they should be free to pay for them, right? Let the market decide, perhaps.  There’s money to be made making people feel special… especially if those people will pay handsomely (through the nose) for prestige (For the Horde!).  Conspicuous consumption, indeed; <snooty>what good are expensive toys if you can’t show them off and make other people feel inferior?  What good is it to be a member of the subscription elite if you can’t lord it over the inbred masses of free to play tourists?

Why play with other people if you can’t be better than them?  Even segregation only matters inasmuch as players know that there are other places they could be, but they don’t qualify because they aren’t as good as someone else because of how they pay for the game.</snooty>

Pfeh.  Lovely post-prejudice society we live in, eh?  It’s very interesting to see long-held but long-repressed opinions come out of the woodwork.  Funny how time and stress do that to people; candid opinions are far more informative than processed ones.  It’s especially curious to me that the prejudicial cancer of the LOTRO community is based on things that haven’t even happened yet.  As such, the real problem for the community isn’t really an undefined nonpresent boogeyman, but the attitudes already held by those already in the community.

It almost makes me wonder what the response would be to a zombie apocalypse.  Sometimes, it’s the survivors that are the monsters

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I’m sure that the Turbine announcement of LOTRO’s impending Free to Play mode will generate a fair dose of trolling out there over the weekend (“oh, noez, the game is dying!” or “yayz, the game is dying!” or “we’re going to be overrun by MMO tourist trolls!”), but I’m going to echo Ravious on this one and be optimistic overall.  I think it’s probably a wise move for the longevity of the game in a shifting market.  That said, I’m still not sure when or even if I’ll be revisiting the game.

I don’t quite have the humorously adversarial relationship with the game that Shamus does, but LOTRO and I, well, we have history.  Y’see, it’s the only video game that has the distinction of traumatizing my daughter.  The cave troll that busts out of the wall in the Dwarf starting story had her convinced that a monster would break through her bedroom wall.  Dumb daddy (me) lets her sit on my lap sometimes as I play games, but that wasn’t the… wisest time to let her in on the LoTR IP.  She and I slept on the couches in the front room for three weeks until I convinced her that the Dwarves had moved into our neighboring mountains and had made the trolls go away.

I love kid logic.

Anyway, LOTRO isn’t a bad game, but neither is it really the MMO that I’m looking for, or the LoTR game that I’d most like to spend time with.  (That honor goes to this title that I’ve had on my shelf for years… yeah, high priority.)  Sure, I’d like to spend some quality gaming time in Middle Earth, it’s just that I can’t do that in DIKUMMO games since I have to spend too much time grinding before I can just look around without fear of being torn asunder by grumpy trolls, dire pigs, giant spiders… or whatever.

Still, it’s more tempting now than before, and they have a better chance of earning money from me like DDO did.  I’ll chalk that up as a win for the LOTRO guys, and I wish them well.

Anyone calling the date for when WoW finally does the same thing?  All I see in my crystal ball is Bobby Kotick, and I’ve seen my share of trolls for the day.

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The Play This Thing article on Mythoria questions the value of games, specifically a video game that would work well as a physical game.

The notion of making money by selling real, tangible stuff is one that I’ve toyed with, and it’s interesting to see it noted elsewhere.  I still need to finish Alpha Hex‘s video game iteration, but I’ve long had ideas for making it a physical card game as well.  I printed up some cards to playtest it during design, and it proved to be very helpful… and it plays fairly well in tangible form.  I’d love to use the Game Crafter to sell a base Alpha Hex set and expansions if occasion permits, but leave the digital version free and open source (if they ever support hexagonal cards, I’ll jump on it).  I’ve even made card designs for both formats, and written some story and lore with an eye to making physical card-specific art, not unlike that MTG thing.  It might even be a “wheel within a wheel” for some other game designs I have in mind.

To me, having a physical game, ready to play if the digital world goes offline, is a valuable thing that I’m willing to pay for.  There’s a retro appeal to buying stuff with my money, instead of… digital, ephemeral… nonstuff.  (Especially when draconian DRM means the providers can deny me the privilege of playing at a whim.)

My wife and I have collected many board and card games, and many times, they are more fun to play than popping in another video game.  We don’t need electricity or a connection to the internet, just some light, a level surface and somewhere dry to play.  There are no patches, no permissions, no waiting for the Dungeon Finder to work its magic. That freedom can be good for the soul, even if it’s just a periodic thing, another tool in the toolbox of the larger world of “gaming”.

I’ve designed three board games and two card games in the last year or so, and I’d love to get them out there and make a bit of money from them.  There’s even a place for making one of my board games into a nice hardwood coffee table offering… even if it’s just something I do for Christmas gifts.  (Though it would be great if they were commercially viable.)

These video game things can be good fun, to be sure, but sometimes, it really is great to hold game cards in your hands, to move pieces on a board, and to play with people face to face, rather than through anonymous filters, monitors and cables.  It can even be instructive when trying to design games for the digital realm.  Offline games have been designed and played for thousands of years; there’s a lot of good data there to sift through with an eye to why games work.

Paper Dragon Games has a tangential take on things; their headline offering, Constellation, is a game that is designed to have a “board game” feel, but is entirely digital.  We can certainly automate setup and some mechanics digitally, making some game mechanics easier.  The digital version of Alpha Hex benefits from automated ownership tracking and attack resolution, for instance, and the XBox Live version of Settlers of Catan is far easier to set up than the board game.

It can be very useful to make a game digital… and it can be useful to go the other way, too.  It’s harder to pirate a card game, for one.  Sure, photocopiers work, and I’ve even offered a PDF version of Alpha Hex, but if the cards offered for sale are of sufficient quality and the game is good, there will still be a market for the “real thing”.  I probably won’t ever make a living purely on card game sales, but it’s worth offering the option to anyone interested in the game.

There is certainly room in the “game tent” for both digital and physical games, sometimes even different iterations of the same game, as with MTG.  When I look at monetizing my game design hobby, though, I can’t help but think that it might be a good outlet for me to take some of my game designs that could work in either format (or both!) and offer a physical version.  It’s one more way to break up the demand curve and reach out to different people.

Parallel product lines can also help build a brand, which can be useful for indies.  We even see things like the merchandising efforts of the Blizzard WoW team, what with the card game and the miniatures game.  They didn’t pan out to be as popular as their parent game, but they are solid offerings, and likely at least partially profitable for Blizzard.

Sometimes, it pays to make the game real.

…even if it’s only because you get to use house rules…

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Previously I wrote a bit on the games in politics.  This can be flipped around to look at the politics in games, specifically MMOs and the player-dev relationship.  There are a few good angles to come at this from, notably the following:

Gordon’s Politics MMORPG

The Political Power of Games from Experience Points

Egomania and Civilization

Games with political and social subtext, like Phoenix Wright or The Redistricting Game (OK, not MMOs, but tangentially interesting)

Jack Thompson and any other ill-bred political crusader using games as a whipping boy (I’m not linking anything on this one intentionally; if you don’t know Jack Thompson, you may be better off, but if you want to chase him through the internet, it’s easy enough.)

As the Experience Points guys note, game devs “work within an immensely powerful medium”.  We are effectively the deities of our game worlds, able to rewrite the fabric of our little reality at a whim (more or less).  Players conform to our design parameters in most traditional games, simply because, despite the interactive nature of games, playing by the rules is often the only way to get through a game.

I’ve seen players who intentionally ignore or act directly opposite of a game’s tutorials… gaming counterculture hippie rebels, as it were.  It’s a valid way to play, certainly, but unless such experimentation is the point of the game (say, in a sandbox game), dev-sanctioned “progress” comes slowly if at all to someone who runs against the grain.

Even so, when a game is live and constantly mutating, as an MMO is, players can have some influence on the design.  Just look at all the tweaks in the average WoW patch, and how the ever-shifting balance between classes creates storms among the players and the class/race population distribution.  The Blizzard devs aren’t obligated to listen to any given forum, but they would be foolish not to at least try to understand how their design is perceived and processed by players.

An MMO is not a democracy (though running one as if it were might prove… enlightening).  Devs aren’t at risk of being kicked out of office due to a savvy political campaign or article of impeachment.  They are more like a hyperpowerful dictatorship that players pay to be a part of.  The coin of the realm isn’t merely popularity contests and elections, it’s real world money.  Games that don’t manage to stay ahead of their consumers and keep things interesting and enjoyable react largely to the “pure” elections of wallet voters.

To be sure, there’s a dose of goodwill currency manipulation as well, and some political games involved therein (complete with spin-infused marketing), but for the most part, MMOs live or die by their financials.  If people aren’t happy enough to keep paying the bills, the game can have problems.  If the MMO’s design relies on a critical mass of players, the stakes are raised even further.  None of this is astoundingly insightful, but I’m underlining the need for devs to understand their players and react well to them.

This is especially important when you’re relying on the constant stream of subscriptions to finance your business.  People must be happy all the time, at least above the “cancellation” threshold.  They don’t need to always be extremely happy, so the entertainment value isn’t as dense as, say, that of a movie, but they do need to always be “happy enough”.  Devs can’t rock the cart too much… but neither do they constantly have to provide astounding moments of awesomeness.

Even the much-ballyhooed “Cataclysm” in the World of Warcraft isn’t so much a radical shift in game philosophy as it is a mild mutation and facelift for existing mechanics and art assets.  Cataclysm is a good idea, methinketh, and indeed, I called for that sort of renovation before it was announced, as did BBB, but I’m not imagining it to be a Brave New World so much as Cheers with a paint job.  It really can’t be anything radically new; that would risk losing too many people.

So what about the players?  Are there forums for players to organize themselves into powerful blocs or unions to wield power over game development?  I’m not familiar with any, but I do have to wonder what an MMO might look like if it did have such metagame factional input.  Perhaps the Ryzom open source experiment will be an interesting tangential look at what happens when players get power.

Still, as Nels Anderson notes, Player Generated Content isn’t always the best idea.  It has potential, sure, especially at smaller scales and with tight dev control, but when you’re dealing with large groups of people, things can get dicey fast.  It’s a good idea for the devs to have a steady hand on the reins.  Much like the notion that a true democracy can be a dangerous thing (effectively degenerating into mob rule), a faceless, anonymous horde of gamers can be a dangerous thing, at least if game stability is an issue.

It’s easier to give players a lot of control over things that don’t actually matter.  That sates the player need for authorship, and keeps the game from being polluted by too many diverse opinions.  This is the heart of why cosmetic options and talent specs are so valuable to MMOs.  (Dear Blizzard:  appearance tabs already, aye?  Housing, maybe?)

Devs are closer to deities than senators, but money still talks.  Follow the money, and understand why it goes where it does, and you can siphon off a living.  Divert the stream too much (not the same as crossing the streams), and you run the risk of upsetting the flow, such that your living (or the health of the MMO) is at risk.  Keep things even and smooth enough, though, and everyone can be happy.  It might mean a little compromise here and there, and actually listening to each other, but it pays off.

Sort of like politics.

When the players or the devs start feeling entitled or start ignoring the valid concerns of the other party, acrimony builds, and can undermine a game world.  I’ve argued before for more player input into these MMO things, and I think it could be a good thing… but it wouldn’t be wise to push things so far that players have more power than the devs.  There’s a balance to be struck, more in MMOs than any other class of games.  Rather than pitting players vs. the developers (that link is to an excellent blog), perhaps some cooperation and compromise would make an MMO stronger.  Maybe not… but, like a democratic MMO, it’s worth thinking about, if only as a thought experiment to confirm that the way things currently run is the Best For Now.

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For these guys, at least (hat tip to the Rampant Coyote):

Humble Indie Bundle Breaks $1 Million

That’s some pretty cool news.  Sometimes, doing something good pays off.

Oh, and World of Goo is still awesome.  Just in case you hadn’t heard.

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Ed Catmull, resident genius and president of Disney and Pixar animation (yes, the guy behind Catmull-Rom splines, beautiful tools for computer animators everywhere) gave an address at my alma mater a while back, describing how his companies were trying to create a third Golden Age for Disney animation.  I wish I had the talk on tape, since there were a LOT of great thoughts in it.  For the moment, though, a few words on his comments about goodwill and B-work.

The Disney Direct to DVD division (DDTDD?)  has been able to make money from such fare as Cinderella 2 and Jungle Book 2… but they just aren’t much to speak of as far as movies go.  (Let’s also offer a moment of silence for the Land Before Time Neverending Sequelitis, shall we?  It’s not Disney, but the same principle applies.)  That’s what Mr. Catmull calls “B-work”, and not only is it bad for the soul of the artists and producers, but also the audience.  Unnecessary sequels of beloved movies can taint the rose-tinted glasses that are a core component of our goodwill.  I’m sorry, but John Goodman just can’t compare to Phil Harris as Baloo, and Herbie the Love Bug should have stayed in the 60s.  (Not that it was all that fantastic to start with… but Lindsay Lohan?  Really?)

Oddly, though I don’t like Goodman’s Baloo, I actually liked TaleSpin.  It was on the tail end (ha!) of the golden age of Disney TV (DuckTales is still the best TV cartoon I’ve ever seen), and thoroughly enjoyable.  I’d have loved to have a cloud surfer… thing.  Well, that, and a parachute.  Perhaps TV is “B-work” compared to film, but in their realm, DuckTales, Rescue Rangers, Gargoyles and TaleSpin were A-list productions.  Modern animated fare doesn’t even compare; it’s like Yogi Bear vs. Scrooge McDuck, George McFly vs. Mike Tyson, Runescape vs. WoW.

B-Work can be profitable, to be sure… but it is soul-destroying mediocrity.  In Mr. Catmull’s words:  “B-work is bad for the soul.”

One of the key ideas that Mr. Catmull noted is that despite being decidedly subpar, B-work can still be profitable.  Cinderella fans buy the sequels for their children on the strength of the name.  Slapping “Disney” on the side of a movie almost guarantees sales… at least, for a while.  Mr. Catmull suggested that those B-work sales are active withdrawals against the goodwill banked in the Disney name.  The spectacular successes of Beauty and the Beast or the emotional heft of Up increase the value of the Disney name. Tarzan 2 callously cashes in on the appeal of the original and contributes nothing to the brand or parent name.  It makes money because the original succeeded, and wouldn’t stand on its own as anything but the B-work that it is.

I’ve seen more than a few pundits suggest that Blizzard could put horse feces in a box and sell it for $60.  They can sell a digital horse for $25 without even selling a box with it, and time will tell if StarCraft 2 is crap (only $100 for the Collector’s Edition of 1/3 of the game), so there’s some truth to the joke.  Blizzard can bank on the goodwill generated by its history.  It might be noted that they could have sold WarCraft Adventures, probably in record numbers… but they decided to scrap it because it wasn’t up to their internal demands.  It’s hard to cut something like that with promise, but like pruning a slightly rotting branch on a tree, sometimes it’s necessary to maintain company health and brand reputation.  People would still have bought the game, but it might have wound up being profitable in spite of its own quality, by withdrawing money from the goodwill banked in the Blizzard and WarCraft names.  Blizzard did salvage the story from the game, both in a novel and as canon to the setting of WoW, so they didn’t totally throw that work away, but the choice to kill the game release was likely a hard one.

We can’t be sure, true, but it’s an interesting case study and comparison to the awful offal that sometimes comes out of the Disney Direct to DVD grindhouse.

We might also look at Turbine’s DDO “offer wall” slipup and subsequent retraction, as well as Mythic’s WAR billing fiasco and apparently repentant offerings to those affected.  Compare that to Allods Online and their item shop pricing sucker punch… and how it wasn’t fully retracted and went downhill from there.  (Yes, yes, the shop prices are merely economic Darwinism in action, and not really evil in themselves, but they weren’t managed well despite some glowing beta testing reports.  That’s where the goodwill broke down.)

Goodwill is a currency, albeit a fuzzy one, and managing it can be the backbone of a company’s health.  Daniel James of Three Rings (Puzzle Pirates) has argued that love is the heart of modern game sales in this article that I’ve cited more than once for good reason.  (Tangentially, Mr. James was also writing about DRM, and for one great example of how DRM affects goodwill, need we look further than Ubisoft?)

The trick is to make great products that are profitable and deposits to the goodwill bank.  Pixar has managed to do this very well, without a stinker in their library.  Sure, some of their movies will appeal to some people more than others (I still don’t particularly like Finding Nemo, but I like it better than 90% of other movies), but I don’t think that any of their offerings have been an active withdrawal against the Pixar and Disney names.

It’s no accident that Pixar and Blizzard are giants in their fields.  They deposit more than they withdraw from the goodwill bank.

…there are all sorts of political, sociological and interpersonal parallels that could be explored there, but I’ll leave that to the imagination.

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