Video Game Advocacy: Answering the profit motive criticism


For several weeks they talked about their favorite science-fiction films and novels. All had elements of special intensity, but what made these elements so affecting, and why? A list was made, and they realized that what these elements shared was not that they looked great or sounded cool, which is the point at which many works of sci-fi kick back and call it a day. Rather, these elements tapped into the emotions  to which science fiction has privileged access: hope for and wonder at the potential of human ingenuity and, of course, fear of the very same. Rather than mimic the particular sci-fi elements that gave rise to those emotions, the emotions themselves became BioWare’s goal.

“I think that this is the step that a lot of games miss,” Drew Karpyshyn said.

From: Extra Lives by Tom Bisell, p. 113.

Wonderful book on why video games matter

Wonderful book on why video games matter

There are two strange defenses of video games whenever anyone has a problem with a particular video game or behavior from a video game company.

  1. Video games are art. Art is meant to be appreciated. One does not make demands of artists. One cannot demand change or truly criticize a video game because of that.
  2. Video game companies are driven solely by profit. Companies have to appeal to the lowest common denominator. If they cut corners, rush a product, withhold things for DLCs, that’s fine…. as long as it makes them money.

I want to touch on the 2nd defense for this, which I want to call the profit motive criticism.  This criticism recognizes something fundamental about capitalism: businesses exist to make money. If a company is no longer profitable, that company goes out of business. The only true way to judge the actions of a video game company, or a video game, is how profitable it is. If it makes money, then it accomplished its goal for the company. So what if it appeals to the lowest common denominator. That’s the easiest way to make money after all. So what if the game’s a little bit buggy. They had to rush it out the door in order to make money. So what they have disc locked content. The company has to make their money.

This is a rough summary of the argument. I’m sure those who believe this can put it far better than I can. I think this is a fairly sympathetic way to reconstruct it.

Do whatever it takes to make profit. That's the Ferengi way

Do whatever it takes to make profit. That’s the Ferengi way

This is the wrong way to look at it. Completely and totally the wrong way. The end result for a company is to make money. But they aren’t there to make money. Money is the end result of creating a product or service that people want to get. Companies make the money be selling products that’s worth buying.

Great science fiction games, like Mass Effect (the first game) and Bioshock Infinite, are great because they evoke powerful emotions within the gamer. These games tap into the most important part of the human experience: hope for a better tomorrow and hope that humanity can live up to its idealized potential. This is what science fiction video games should be. It’s not about profit. It’s about the story and the emotions the story evokes.

Exploration and a bright future

Exploration and a bright future

Focusing solely on profit cheapens the medium as a whole. Mass Effect was created by a group of writers who wanted to recreate the science fiction experience for everyone. They created it out of love for the science fiction genre, and it shows. The first Mass Effect was rich, full of myth and culture. It wasn’t about battle. It was about exploring and emerging the player in an entirely new future. This is the type of game we should expect, made out of love of the genre… out of love of video games… rather than for profit.

Is it wrong to expect quality from the product we purchase? Should we, as customers, care about the profit that a company makes? Shouldn’t we care more about getting a high quality product that’s worth playing? Is it acceptable for companies to lock away content from a video game that would enhance our playing experience only because that company wants to make more money?

What’s more important to you, the gamer?


One comment on “Video Game Advocacy: Answering the profit motive criticism

  1. Pingback: Review: Mass Effect 3 | Press Start to Begin

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s