Games, Sustainability, And Expectations

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Lately, I got into the game “Portal Knights,” a charming Minecraft-meets-Action RPG video game. It takes a lot of lessons from various games and combines then for a solo or with-friends adventure in a broken world. There are a few polish issues, but for $20 there’s a lot of value.

The game also has optional downloadable content, from a fancy one with new stuff to simple ones with extra hats or buildable items. It all seems quite reasonable, but then I found online complaints about the game having a “money grab.”

Note that for $20 you get a pretty complete game people are supporing, even though it’s been out in Early Access and complete for over two years. It didn’t seem that way to me, but . . .

This made me think about the challenges that game publishing faces – and how much it costs.

  • First, people expect a supported game. But if you make your money on sales, then you need ways to keep paying for it unless you make a lot of money.
  • Second, many people expect games to be around for a long time – that requires some kind of support model.
  • Third, subscription fees of some kind seem to have long ago faded away.
  • Fourth, DLC and extras are reasonably accepted ways to keep the money coming. Heck, it goes back to Team Fortress 2 and hats.

We have expectations of long-term support and endurance of games in the video game community. But how do we reconcile that with the simple financial need to pay developers? Even when we do that, do we have a way to declare a game just simply “done” and move on?

I thought about this and simply realized . . . I don’t have an answer.

We want a way to get good games. We want a way to support them and have them grow. But the methods we have are piecemeal, or limited, controversial, or misused (loot boxes). There has to be something else out there we haven’t invented yet.

I’d like to see a lot more discussion on media production, monetization, and patronage. It’d be great for games, yes, but it might be something we can extend to other media. Right now, we’re probably too confined by current models, past ideas, and recent failures.

Steven Savage

It’s Fine To Spend Money

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America has a weird approach to money.  On one level, we love to spend it (if we have it) to judge by the things that people buy.  On another level, we continuously shame people for buying things. It’s a strange duality – until you think about it for a few minutes.

Americans believe money is a measure of virtue.  We believe having it shows virtue (even if someone inherited it or made it in questionable ways).  We believe spending it somehow shows virtue as long as it’s the right things.  To have money and spend it has a weird moral quality – if you’re the right person or kind of person.

On the other hand, we view the wrong people spending things on the wrong things to be bad.  Millennials get constantly bashed for A) wasting money while B) killing industries by not buying stuff they can’t afford anyway.  I’m sure you’ve encountered various cases of some scold telling you not to buy things – that they, of course, would do.

Me, I’m frugal.  OK, I’m quite cheap in some ways.  I am the last person to tell someone to spend money for no good reason.  So I’d like to chime in that it’s damn fine to spend money on things because sometimes it makes sense and is better than saving it.  Use this the next time you feel guilty, or some jerk decides to make you feel guilty.

Here’s where I think it’s damned fine to spend money.

Sometimes it’s fun.  There’s nothing wrong with fun.  People need more fun in their lives as far as I’m concerned.  So go, spend, have fun.

Sometimes it’s therapeutic.  I mean if a bar of chocolate or a mimosa makes you feel better, spend the money.  Indulge, feel better – I learned from my studies on diet and exercise that indulgences can be incredibly valuable to sanity.

It saves time.  Pay for that food to be delivered, pay for that restaurant to send you a pizza, spring for postage.  If time is money, sometimes you have to spend money to save time.

Capability.  Maybe you need to spend money on something you can’t do yourself due to not having the skills, illness, physical limitations, etc.  Know what, it’s fine to spring for someone to clean the apartment if you can’t, I mean seriously.

Cost-benefit.  Sometimes you get more out of spending money than not doing it.  That reasonably priced laptop that lets you send email, do your job search, practice your skills, etc. is worth it.

Sometimes you must do it.  Look sometimes stuff costs money and you can’t go without that stuff.  Don’t let the scolds tell you not to do it.

Temporary situations.  If you get sick and have to order out, fine, spend money.  Must change apartments because of a job move, fine, pay the move fees.  Spending money is not always a constant; sometimes it’s temporary.

Spending money as fine.  As an official skinflint, a man that has an involvement with spreadsheets bordering on the romantic, please, spend money.  Don’t listen to the scolds and the puritans who want to tell you what not to do so they can feel superior (and often they have money and positions that you don’t).

I’m all for frugality.  I’m all for careful spending.  But money is just a tool, and sometimes you gotta open the toolkit.  

Steven Savage

Fun Is Fine Because It’s Fun

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

The ever indomitable MagenCubed had a great comment on Twitter about how we often feel we’re not allowed to have fun. That writing, art, everything fun has to have Some Deeper Meaning, or Some Potential Profit. I have to agree with her, the idea that our fun must somehow Become A Big Thing seems very pathological and way, way too common.

Sure, I write on how people can use their hobbies on the job, but as I’ve often stated know the value of your hobbies and just fun is fine. I feel it’s best we’re honest and clear on our interests, and part of that is to say something like “shut up I’m playing Overwatch to goof off, go away.”

It seems everything has to be monetized. Or therapeutic. Or advance our careers. Or it has to have some meaning beyond what it is. I actually remember when it wasn’t this way! Really!

So I began asking why. What happened? I think there’s five factors affecting turning fun into work.

The longest trend is simply our culture, which idolizes work and productivity and earning money. The idea that somehow if we’re not making money or planning to make money or working real hard something is wrong. It’s sort of an unholy fusion of American Capitalism, Protestant Work Ethic, and a fetishization things having to be “useful.”

Secondly, in the last few years, we’ve also seen the increase of the gig economy, from contractors to Uber drivers. This kind of economy is one without permanent employment or reliable income, and thus one is always hustling and scrambling. It’s too easy to have that attitude leak into our hobbies, and in many cases the “permanent hustle” leads us to constantly worry about tradeoffs of profitable versus unprofitable time.

Third, even when employment is reliable, it doesn’t seem too reliable in the last few years. There’s always the temptation to add a second stream of income, or just see if one can monetize a hobby. How many of us are worried that one corporate acquisition is going to kill our jobs, and isn’t the temptation there to have some cover . . .

Fourth, with all the other crap we have going on, it seems that we think that art or tv or whatever has to have some Great Healing Purpose or Deep Personal Exploration. It’s as if something can’t be good for us because we enjoy it. It has to be some deep thing that transforms us utterly or has some great deep meaning. Also, of course, this justifies us not making money at it – we’re pursuing something Great And IMportant.

Finally, we’ve also created so many tools and options, from Patreon to self-publishing, it’s easy to try and monetize any work. It’s not much effort to shave the serial numbers off of fanfic and hit up Kindle or Draft2Digital. Sure you like art, but it couldn’t hurt to try a Pateron, could it? It’s so easy to try and monetize we may try it before we ask if it’s a good idea.

Our culture, our economy, the push to have deep healing meaning, and the ease with which we can try to monetize hobbies is a powerful combination. I think it’s left us constantly worried we’re not working, and turning fun into work just in case – and because we can.

So no matter, have fun. Fun is it’s own purpose. Fun is fine. Fun is good. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t just have fun.

Even me. Now and then people like me need to be told “back off, I’m goofing off.”

Steven Savage