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The gaming industry has recently become a sector of the economy which accumulates large financial resources. Its products are largely digital and aimed at entertainment (Marchand & Hennig-Thurau, 2013). The amount of content and the number of game-developers has dramatically increased given the interest of the public and technical capabilities of modern gaming platforms. The quality of some games, however, is a hot issue debated in the press and gaming forums.
Given the history of successes and failures of big and small games and studios, it is paramount to inquire into the predictors of a good game. This explorative research will answer the question of whether a large budget and number of developers contribute to the quality of a game and its reception by the public and identify the key concerns of the gaming public relative to the upcoming games.
Game Budget and Quality
To approach answering this part of the question it is paramount to determine what a game’s quality consists of. One might argue that gamer’s opinions or public perception are the only quality assessment game developers need. Yet, evidence suggests, that opinion is a highly volatile assessment criterion because there is a large amount of subjectivity (Venturelli, Picovici, & Kehoe, 2014). The subjectivity, in this case, cannot be completely eliminated, yet can be reduced by combining various measurements (Sacranie, 2010). Therefore, the quality will be assessed through the number of bug reports and critic responses score.
The gaming industry has a vast number of examples when developers infused their projects with large funds and failed to stand up to the quality standards of AAA-game (Superannuation, 2014). While it is rarely possible to eliminate every problem with the game in the development stage and most studios address their coding failures with frequent patches, a large number of bugs at release suggests that the final product lacks quality. One of the games that faced such an issue is Watch Dogs created by Ubisoft. The game budget, according to the game’s executive producer, Stéphane Decroix was 68 million dollars (Superannuation, 2014).
The total number of employees was around 270 people with 90 programmers working on the code. Yet, upon release, many gamers faced connection issues, failed launches, in-game glitches, endless loading, and FPS problems reported by gamers in Ubisoft forums. Currently, the forum contains 15600 posts describing bugs and technical issues (Ubisoft, n.d.). The data suggests that in regard to the development the game came out to be of poor quality, at least at the start of sales. In relation to critics’ receptions, however, the game was well met. The authoritative game review agencies such as Euro Gamer, Game Informer, and PC Gamer gave it 77 points out of 100 (Metacritic, 2014).
Another example of an event more expensive game that had issues with development is Mass Effect: Andromeda. According to Kent (2017), the game cost 100 million Canadian dollars and employed more than 200 developers. However, such a large budget did not save the studio from receiving critique for horrible facial animations and numerous performance issues (Schreier, 2017). This yielded the game only 70 points on Metacritic (which is average) with many mixed reviews.
Other games such as GTA 5 or Destiny 2, or on the other hand, had fewer technical issues judging from official forum activity and higher aggregated review score, which constituted 96 and 86 points respectively (Villapaz, 2013; Metacritic, 2017; Rockstar, n.d.; Bungie, n.d.). The budgets of these games exceeded 200 million dollars each (Villapaz, 2013; Morris, 2017). In accordance with the data provided above, it appears that AAA games with large-sized budgets all have technical issues, yet if they are significantly affecting game performance or appearance, as in the case with Mass Effect, they can affect the review score. Thus, it seems that the budget does not appear to influence game quality significantly.
Game Budget and Public Reception
When it comes to public reception, the budget also appears to be partly significant. The opinion of the gamers was measured through commentaries left on a game page in Steam, the largest community gaming environment, and game shop, as well as game forums and game news websites. In relation to the above-mentioned games, Mass Effect enjoyed the least hospitality from the public. Instead of the budget, the public tended to appeal to the quality.
One of the most widely discussed issues was the facial animations that were poorly made (Electronic Arts, n.d.). The members of the public and press considered such outrageous failure unworthy of the triple-A game. The latter may indirectly testify to the cost of development that is expected to be high in such games. It indicates that public members expect high quality from a game with a large budget.
Watch Dogs was received more warmly, yet technical problems seem to have had an effect on the public critique. Here the budget was not mentioned as the main predictor of the anticipated game quality. The studio itself became the target for public accusations of low quality and the number of bugs (Steam, n.d.b). Low-quality graphics, for instance, became the issue, as expectations stirred up by trailers were not met in the final product that reached the audience.
Ubisoft frequently appears in the scandals concerning game quality, yet budgets are not mentioned as the key issue. Instead, Ubisoft was often accused of rushing their games into production while the product should have stayed in the development longer to fix all the technical issues.
In relation to GTA V, the game was excellently received, yet no indication that the project’s budget had any effect on gamers’ opinions. Similar to the situation with Mass Effect, the status of an AAA game and a long development period influenced people more than its cost (Steam, n.d.a). It may be suggested that the cost of development is rarely publicized and becomes known only after a certain period of time after the game is published.
In addition, Sacranie (2010) hypothesizes that it is the quality of the content that influences the users’ reviews. This hypothesis is evidenced by one of the users who claim that Rockstar’s anti-cheat system is the reason why he or she left a negative review and 336 people rated this post as helpful (Steam, n.d.a). Other users tended to mention gameplay, graphics, and bugs, which were the basis for their positive or negative commentaries.
Destiny 2 was welcomed rather warmly, yet no indication of budget influencing public opinion was recorded. Gameplay was one of the most commented aspects of the game (Bungie, n.d.). The second most discussed topic was graphics that did not change much since the original. The third most viral issue was the use of battle.net servers that are owned by another game studio. No users were identified to mention budget, costs, or other finance-related issues that did not appear among the topics or comments. Therefore, the gathered data allows us to conclude that the game development budget does not influence the public reception.
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Concerns of the Gaming Public
One of the core concerns of the gaming public before the release was the actual date. In GTA V PC release date was one of the hottest discussion topics, as it was frequently relocated by Rockstar (Rockstar, n.d.; Steam, n.d.a.). In other games, the quality of gameplay and graphics were discussed more frequently. Mostly such interest in these issues could be attributed to the trailers that demonstrated new features of the game and stirred the interest of the players. Also, forum users frequently discuss the availability of certain modes of player experience such as multiplayer (Steam, n.d.a.; Steam, n.d.b, Rockstar, n.d.).
The interest in the multiplayer feature as a part of the end-game experience could be explained by its ability to give players an extended number of gameplay hours that would substantiate the price of an AAA game. In Mass-Effect: Andromeda players mostly anticipated the gameplay and story twists. This could be interpreted by the fact that the three previous parts of the game left certain gaps in the lore, which players wanted to fill. It could be concluded that public concerns are much dependent on the game title itself and the public trends could be rather versatile, yet the anticipation of gameplay features could be generalized on many projects.
To conclude, one of the main implications of the study was the notion that budget and the number of developers are not significantly related neither to the quality of a game nor to its public reception. It might be explained by the tradition to value games for the experience they provide and the quality of such an experience. Even multi-million projects can be received poorly if a game fails to satisfy the expectations of critics and members of the public. The example of GTA V, Watch Dogs, Mass Effect: Andromeda and Destiny 2 vividly illustrate such tendencies.
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