Game Industry

Rockstar Stories – Leaving Money on the Table

Rockstar Stories – How Rockstar Games is Leaving Money on the Table

Rockstar Stories – My Suggestion Rockstar Foster Their Next Generation of Talent with an Open Storefront for Content

Rockstar Stories – My Suggestion Rockstar Foster Their Next Generation of Talent and Make Tons of Money Doing It

Rockstar hasn’t released any single player DLC for their 2013 game Grand Theft Auto V. What they have released is tons of free content for it’s multiplayer component, Grand Theft Auto Online, and offered in-game currency for real money. Apparently it’s sold gangbusters. Every time news hits about GTAO there’s always complaints “I wish they’d release single player content” or “They said they would release more heists!” (They haven’t.) So, I’d like to pitch an idea for a lot more, widely varied, single player content. Allow me to dream for a moment.

I’d like to see Rockstar open a new studio largely staffed of fresh hires to bolster their future games. People looking to get into the industry, for that first job. The kind of people who want to apply, but don’t have the experience to get the type of jobs that are actually advertised. Start them off with jobs scripting single player DLC content in Rockstar’s open world games.

You want your A team on your A job. Rockstar’s teams all have excellent content creators who create, often, very compelling and interesting quests that work on several levels, both offering fun gameplay and compelling main quests. I imagine (maybe wrongly?) that a second team, still of top level quality, is tasked with the non-essential quests, offering wonderful atmosphere and characters to fill out the greater world. For brevity’s sake only, let’s call them the B team.

But what about the minor leagues? I’m confident Rockstar can create a studio chiefly staffed of entry level developers, all tasked with learning and using the tools to put written missions into action. This farm league of content will obviously need scripts. Open that to everyone.

Create a blind submission system open to everyone, and let the studio decide what works well as a combined DLC package. Let aspiring designers write and pitch concepts at different levels, let those ideas be greenlit, conditionally greenlit with criticism, or turned down with optional criticism. From this point Rockstar can bring those designers in to flesh out points of contention or script, or do it themselves, but it’s key they cut those writers in on the profit. And while those rookie scripters should all get a salary, I can imagine some of them wanting a percentage too, but that’s their place to argue for.

The real benefit to this? Once you have teams able to work with each other, and others, to create worthwhile DLC? You have a team of people pumping out lots of small content for small fees, using existing in-game resources and existing tools. Then what do you do? You pluck the top talent of this creative team, and you partner them with big names.

I’d love to see the mix of character and crime drama author Greg Rucka, or Daredevil season 1 showrunner Steven DeKnight, or maybe some inspired work from Dear White People’s Justin Simien (did you know that’s getting a Netflix series? I and @GiantSquidOverdrive called that in January, and Simien even retweeted that, four months before the announce… Ain’t he a stinker?)

Offer players a storefront for single player DLC. I’m not even asking for the ability to inject new models or sounds. Rockstar would probably demand full voice acting, but honestly so many people click through that it’s crazy. Only bother with rookie voice actors too, to help them get their chops, if you really want that.

My underlying point here is a simple one. It’s completely feasible. And with the half a billion Rockstar has made in GTA V’s online alone, it would be doable for a very tiny portion of that. Especially if you use similar tools for more than one of their future games. Then you’ve opened the floodgates to creators making money from working with, and writing for, Rockstar.

Spare paragraphs written for, but not used in, this post:

In 2015 Bethesda tried to monetize mods for its game The Elder Scrolls Skyrim, and the backlash was palpable. Not just because people were stealing mods and uploading them as their own to make money, or the concern that popular mods used as bases would demand payment, but also because the rate the mod creators were paid was shit. The modders who made the content could set their own price, but they only received 25% of that fee. The rest went to Bethesda and the store owners, Valve.

Did you know Star Trek used to have an open script policy? From 1989 to July 2001, any fan who enjoyed the show could write and submit up to two full scripts in attempt to have it bought and made into an episode. Of course the vast majority were never followed up on, they had several lawsuits thrown at them, and only handfuls were made into episodes for the various Star Trek TV shows… One might say the lawsuits are the prime case for not opening your doors to new entrants. I say the 12 year lifespan of this is exactly why it’s worthwhile. They canceled the program just a few years before they canceled the TV show that was on at the time, Star Trek: Enterprise (February 2005).

Would it change your mind if I told you one of those writers was Bryan Fuller, creator of Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies, and Hannibal? Or Ronald D. Moore, who went on to win a Peabody for his work on Battlestar Galactica? Read up on some of the people who got their foot in the door that way:

Armchair Quarterback
Game Industry
Gaming's future

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Armchair Quarterback: OnLive

Is armchair quarterbacking useful? I don’t know. Probably not. But it’s fun. So I wrote this long expansive article that I’m not going to bother publishing here because it’s cumbersome. Let me hit the bullet points.

OnLive’s business plan emphasized streaming, which was an open-ended cost, but did not actively make money after a game’s purchase. Their CEO Steve Perlman? He was human, and seems to have made some really bad decisions, like kicking EA’s games off the service before launch, and others. Virtualization was not uniform, meaning some games actually requires one real GPU for each instance generated by a player. Finally, latency was a threefold problem: The perception that the Internet was too slow for this, the reality of broadband penetration, and then monitor/kbm/gamepad latency, which people generally don’t acknowledge, and assume it’s your service. That part really sucks. But the key in latency is that it’s not as bad as you think. It’s actually playable.

I’m not even going to factor in set-top boxes. I’m focusing on PC here, so let me state that now. Retailers generally make about $12.00 per game, but the average gamer, if they did all their gaming on OnLive, would cost about $33.80 annually for streaming. ($0.10 for two hours of HD footage for Netflix as a baseline. Then figure 13 hours a week gaming.) So you’d need to sell three games per year at $60.00, and then you’d only make $2.20 per year per gamer. What does this mean? Streaming will not be a top priority out of the gates.

Controllers can be found for a buck each on, but we want a good one, so, let’s throw $8.00 at each one. (They cost Microsoft $11.00 in 2006, and I assume the price has gone down. But we don’t want shit controllers, and we want our own brand, so let’s say $8.00. If you can find a hardware manufacturer that wants in with you, then you can save money and feature their brand.

Then you have to worry about salaries, hardware, rent, and other costs of business. I have no idea what that’s going to cost, but, it’ll be a lot.

The Armchair
I like the idea of OnLive. Very much. No more upgrading your PC, no more buying console after console, any device, just games. Let me repeat that. Just games. But we have to build to that. I think the (a?) problem is that they pushed themselves as a console competitor first, with a set top box, when they should have framed themselves as a Steam competitor and expanded from there. GOG launched to much fanfare when they came out, and they had an angle, “Good, old games, DRM free!” Simple and great!

No streaming. Not at first. First I launch as a store with easily navigable social features (Steam hasn’t done that yet) and integration to FB, Twitter, G+, whatever. The client should offer screenshots, an integrated XMPP IM client (Jabber, Google Talk/gchat), and the ability to record videos. Try to be lightweight as much as possible. But the key is to be the Apple to Valve’s Linux. Be stylish.

My OnLive’s sales angle? A free controller with your first $60.00 purchase. Given the $12.00 profit from the purchase, and the $8.00 controller cost, that gives us $4.00 for shipping (which is a little over $1.00, but we’ll call it $2.00). So, on our first sale to each address/credit card/email we make roughly $2.00.

With each controller, pack in a coupon for a free indie game that makes good use of the controller, and has DLC available now, and more coming soon in the pipeline. For each copy you give away, pay the developer $3.00. They make less on each copy, but likely get a lot of interested parties to try to sell DLC to. It’s probably worth it for them. (And it’s definitely cheaper than my other idea for a controller pack-in, a $5.00 coupon on your next $60.00 purchase. A free game with DLC has the opportunity to net you extra cash that way.) So with our second purchase we make $9.00, plus a cut of DLC.

So now gamers have two games in your client, and a spiffy controller. At least one game has DLC on the regular. How do you keep that going?

Cloud gaming, and Mac/Linux/iOS/Android clients. For $10.00 a month, you offer a cloud streaming of any game you own through the client for any platform. Click purchase and play. For $15.00 you get a digital locker too. For $25.00, add a cloud server for any game you want. It doesn’t even have to be one you own with the service. We install it for you.

Maybe, a year into it, we move to the TV with a set top box. Six months maybe, but that’s only if we’re a success. Until then, open a community to help people best make their own TV media servers.

And if you ran OnLive?

Armchair Quarterback
Game Industry
Gaming's future

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What’s Valve Up To?

I love reading the news. I’ve been doing that lately, and, I’d like to make some predictions about what I’ve seen. And chief among them was Gabe Newell, Valve co-founder and managing director. In a recent interview he stated that Windows 8 was a “catastrophe” for developers who didn’t want to be beholden to Microsoft. See, Microsoft, ever the schizophrenic company, now wants to own a storefront, like Apple with iOS/iTunes, Google with Android/Play Store(/and, well, ads), and Valve with games.

Comments from Valve co-founder and managing director Gabe Newell aren’t every day fare. He appeared at Sony’s 2010 E3 event where he stated that the PS3 version would be “THE best” console version. In an interview with the then-new Penny Arcade Report earlier this year in 2012 Newell famously said “Well, if we have to sell hardware we will” starting a flood of rumors about a possible Valve console (the “Steam Box”). The man is important in the industry, not only for the games he’s contributed, but the digital storefront his company has pioneered. When he appears, it’s important. Expect a rebuttal next week from Microsoft as Newell’s comment gains traction, as being too quick would lend it legitimacy, but I think there’s a bigger story than his slamming Win8. It’s his constant talk of fixing problems.

The Linux Success Story

I expect Valve to push a new Linux desktop. One of Steam’s freeform teams is spearheading Linux game development; their current project is Left 4 Dead 2, but I expect that to widen. Valve will push Linux for gamers by giving Linux copies of games when you purchase it, much how they currently give you both a Windows and Mac version of so many now. With more people familiar with smart phone interfaces, tablets, and even “smart TVs”, they’re just not as scared of new things as they once were. Families around the world will wake up with their Windows box gone, change by the IT guy of the family to something new. Linux will finally take the home. This will be the true “open source success“, not simply “no longer being taboo.”

But how to sell gamers on it? How about a free copy of Half-Life 3? Yup, I’m there. On top of that, they can make it easier for gamers by offering Linux copies of games you’ve already bought, like they’ve done with their push onto Mac. Gabe wants gamers to have an real choice. At least, he wants them to be able to install Steam. Doesn’t take a genius to see why. But if Macs go the way of iOS? If Windows does? Or if they both just have their store as the path of least resistance? Well, those “more closed” platforms hurt Steam’s ability to get their product in front of consumers, so, expect to see Valve push Linux. Hard. And to push into the living room on a console. And I don’t mean the “Steam Box”.

Kickstarting A Revolution

Speaking of consoles, I can think of one that’s got a lot of buzz these days, and it’s Linux-based…

I expect OUYA, developer of the self-titled Android console, has already gotten calls from Steam, just like they have OnLive, Square-Enix, and Vevo. If this product takes off, and I expect it to, then hardware design, manufacturing, marketing, and selling, is one less industry Valve has to do, and one more format to sell games on. Success for the OUYA can make Steam pivot back away from potential hardware seller and stick with what they know; selling software. Don’t expect any of the big 3 console manufacturers to do that.

“But the OUYA won’t install Left 4 Dead 2, even if it is for Linux!” you say? Sure. But expect buying Plants Versus Zombies to give you a Windows, Mac, Linux, AND Android version. (Well, bad example as EA bought PopCap, but you get the point.) Also, more importantly? In a long enough time span the truth is that it’s inevitable, you will be able to play L4D2 on OUYA. How? By streaming it.

The Steam Stream

I expect Valve already has a team on a streaming service for games owned through Steam. Like I said, it’s kind of inevitable. I genuinely expect customers to never have to install most games, just stream them from Valve’s servers, for a small monthly fee paid to Valve to account for server space, bandwidth, and related costs. They can go one of two ways with this. They can buy OnLive and fold it in, or go original.

Buying OnLive is probably easiest, but is probably bad for gamers, as owner-concentration usually is for any group. An interesting turn of events would see Steam doing their own thing, going against GameFly, and and OnLive partner with Good Old Games. (Not holding my breath, however. Everyone wants to sell or buy. No one wants to work together.) That’s the Nintendo v Sony v Microsoft (Ninty v Sega) of the future.

The First Step

Am I right? Who knows. Not I. I did email Gabe Newell a few peripherally related questions, but got no response. But it’s obvious Valve has something up their sleeve. Their recent blog lineup and the “leak” of their handbook? The best stealth recruitment campaign ever. For every top level developer in every field. Not against other game developers, or other digital storefronts… But against every other corporate giant out there.

Game Industry
Gaming's future

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