I’m not exactly a financially savvy person, but this week I haven’t been able to avoid thinking about money matters in the game industry. I guess you could say it must be a freakin’ important and obvious story if a turnip-head like me notices it.
Grand Theft Booty
First, there’s the jaw-dropping success of Grand Theft Auto V. Developed by Rockstar North, published by Rockstar Games, and distributed by Take Two Interactive, the latest in the long-running mega-successful crime series took in (wait for it) $800,000,000 in its first day of release.
Think about that number for a minute. That’s nearly a billion dollars. In the first DAY.
Let’s compare that kind of success to the movie business for just a moment, shall we? There are only about forty films that have made that much money in the history of Le Cinema, and we’re talking their entire shelf-life, not THEIR FIRST DAY.
I know, I know, movie tickets cost a bit north of $10 and new games are about $60, but still. Dayummmmm…
If the unit costs of games vs. movies makes the comparison seem a bit unfair, let’s come at it from another angle. GTAV cost about $266 to market and promote, which is significantly less (when you add production and marketing) than many blockbuster movies cost. So no matter how you look at it, the folks behind this game are making bank in a very big way.
So maybe it is unfair to compare the movie and game industries when it comes to financials. Or perhaps it’s foolish to do so when you are as big an ignoramus about business as I am. But who cares, it’s my column. And broad numbers like the ones I’m quoting don’t lie.
What’s my point? Well, the way I see it, whether or not you’re a fan of the controversial Grand Theft Auto series, these astounding numbers are worth celebrating. They emphasize the reality that the game industry is at least as big a player, if not bigger, than television, movies, and music. And yet, I’d wager that many Americans still consider those three mature industries “mainstream” while games are still a slightly suspect activity that children and odd, disreputable adults participate in.
When the new blockbuster game makes nearly a billion dollars in its first day, I think this gives us the cover to gloat at our friends who look down on video games. We can cast our clueless friends a withering look and lovingly sneer: “You still think games are for kids and weirdos? Well, baby, we gamers aren’t out of step with the culture. You are.”
Goodbye and Good Riddance, Auction House
The other financial story that caught my attention this week was Blizzard’s announcement that it would be discontinuing the Real Money Auction House for Diablo III.
A little background for those of you who aren’t fans of dungeon crawl games. The Diablo series is driven by very simple game play: You whack monsters until they die and then pick up the loot they drop. You either equip that loot, if it’s better than what you’re using, or you save it, sell it to an in-game vendor. You improve your gear by either purchasing it from these vendors or from getting lucky with special items some of your demonic piñatas drop when you smash them open.
This model worked perfectly well with both Diablo and its ridiculously successful successor, Diablo II.
BUT: Diablo III introduced a new model which allowed users to connect online with other players and trade game items, with both in-game money and real-world money.
I never approved of this system, for the same reasons I have never approved of buying in-game gold with actual money in a game like World of Warcraft or purchasing a never-ending collection of cards for a game like Magic: The Gathering. To me it takes the fun, not to mention fairness, out of any game if you can simply pull out your credit card in order to succeed.
Why did Blizzard finally come around on their online Auction House? John Hight, the game’s production director, had this to say this week:
“When we initially designed and implemented the auction houses, the driving goal was to provide a convenient and secure system for trades,” wrote Hight. “But as we’ve mentioned on different occasions, it became increasingly clear that despite the benefits of the [auction house] system and the fact that many players around the world use it, it ultimately undermines Diablo’s core game play: kill monsters to get cool loot. With that in mind, we want to let everyone know that we’ve decided to remove the gold and real-money auction house system from Diablo III.”
Yeah, John, I could have explained these problems to you before you implemented the thing and saved you a lot of trouble.
I applaud Blizzard’s decision, however tardy, to eliminate this corrosive distraction to the experience of playing Diablo III and I wish them continued good luck with the game as they prepare to release the title’s first official expansion, Reaper of Souls.