Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Does Profit Equal Quality?

Apparently I have too much fun jumping into rabbit holes. So here we go.

1) If profit equaled quality, buying a new office building reduced the quality of the game.

2) So, let's change that definition. Does long-term operating profit equal quality? No. If that were the case doubling your employees' salaries would reduce the quality of your game.

3) But what about long-term operating revenue? No. Imagine Guild Wars: now add subscriptions. The revenue changes. But the game didn't change.

4) Is the number of players visiting your game at least once a month a good definition for quality? No. Cut the costs of paying in half and see the number rise without having changed the game.

5) Let's get a bit more theoretical. Assume the perfect business model. It charges every player exactly the maximum amount he would like to pay. Does long-term operating revenue now equal quality? No. Double the budget for advertisement and see the number go up although you didn't change the game.

6) We all know how to find out how good a game is: We play it. Quality is player-specific. Which spawns the next idea: Assume we could measure exactly how much fun a person has playing a game. Now we add the fun of all potential players. Is this a good definition of quality. No.

Imagine five players and two ways to design your game: Option A and Option B. Now imagine a scale of 1-10 that correctly measures the subjective fun of each player. 10 means a player loves your game; 1 means he hates it.
Note: Asking the players how much fun they have is not the same as correctly measuring their fun. Players don't always know how much they like a game.

Now consider this situation:

subjective fun: option A
subjective fun: option B
Player 1
Player 2
Player 3
Player 4
Player 5

The majority of players likes option A much more. But the aggregate subjective fun of option B is higher. Do you think option B makes your games better?

The problem here is that players are different. This difference makes it impossible to give an objective definition of quality.

7) One last thing. Sometimes you hear that sales figures (or something similar) are a good definition of quality, because we lack a better one. Now, this statement confuses a definition with a way to measure something.

Since 1983, the metre is defined as the length of the path travelled by light in vacuum during a time interval of 1⁄299 792 458 of a second. That is the definition. There is a difference between defining something and measuring it.

Summing up:
I don't think that an objective definition of quality is possible. If you want to introduce one nonetheless, I suggest option (6). If you want to measure the quality according to option (6), please recognize that there is a difference between measuring something and defining something.


  1. You just evaded the question, as usual. The question was whether there could be a change to the design of the game which made the game "better", but drove out lots of players, and thus revenue.

    Just look at the current headlines about EVE. People say that the change is bad, and use the fact that thousands of players unsubscribe from EVE as proof that the change are bad. Are you arguing that these people are wrong, and that EVE is a much better game now because the people left behind are now happier with their monocles than they were before?

  2. Man how I hate that table, it is incredibly misleading. (Not that you are the only one using it, mind you.)

    If you wish to measure the fun value of a game in a single number, you are measuring aggregate quality. Aggregate values are predictors for individual results but do not directly reflect them. Sure, you personally might enjoy option A more than option B, but the average player will not! In a vacuum, game B is the better game to recommend because the average amount of fun the recommendee will have is higher there.

    You can't really measure the quality of a game because that is subjective. If you do try, you will need to work with aggregate values and accept that individual mileage may vary.

    That all said, a bunch of type A games is much better for gamers than a bunch of type B games because gamers are offered choice. In a world with two type A games in which players choose one game to play, the aggregated fun is much higher than in a world populated with type B games (making world A better than world B.) A world with just one game will always be better off with option B though.

    What your table really shows is the limited usefulness of single figure ratings for games. In a vacuum you will always be better off with the 90% game than the 70% game. You would have a much better choice though if you knew details about those games and could decide whether the 70% game really is a 95% one for you or not.

  3. see, now we're on the same wavelength (and i'll add, in case you haven't seen it, that the US Supreme Court declared games to be protected speech, just like books and movies - ie, art - a few days ago).

    whether or not games publishers should be pursuing the highest profitability they can, in a capitalist society where the publishers are run as for-profit businesses to the benefit of their owners and shareholders is one thing. answering this in the positive leads you from per-hor subs to per-month subs via lifetime subs to f2p.

    whether games, as a form of art, should be solely judged on their profitability is something completely different (Walter Benjamin had a few things to say about the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction, some years ago, and Jurgen Habermas too, on the contradiction inherent in artistic productions as simulatenously art and commodity).

    so we're judging two different things, on two different sets of criteria: what's best for the business; and whether profitable is correlative to artisticly valuable.

    f2p is best for profitability, and thus best for players at this time because more profitable = more investment. tangentially, it's also best for players at this time because it has the lowest minimum possible cost attached.

    i would contend that there's no correlation between busniess model and artisitic value: neither positive nor negative correlation.

    having no correlation means that asking the question 'does profit equal quality' is identical to asking 'does lack fo profit equal quality', and both questions are answered firmly in the negative - because there's no correlation.

    btw, did you see the interview with Fred Gibeau, CEO of EA Games today: he claims that F2P as a platform is as profitable as console games. how long before SW:TOR announces it's going F2P instead of subs?

  4. The question was whether there could be a change to the design of the game which made the game "better", but drove out lots of players, and thus revenue.

    Yes, there can certainly be a change that reduces sub numbers, but makes me like a game more.

    If we assume the objective definition of quality given in point (6), I even think that it is possible to make the game better, but reduce the number of players. I can give an example, if you like.

    The crying EVE players are just that: crying players. Stupid, angry, silly and mostly irrelevant.

    Are you arguing that these people are wrong, and that EVE is a much better game now because the people left behind are now happier with their monocles than they were before?

    I doubt anybody thinks EVE's MT are better than adding the new vanity items as player-crafted items. So almost every one will agree that, given the alternative, the MT make the game worse.

    If you had omitted the first sentence of your comment, the comment would have been better. That's a subjective assessment.

    I wasn't aware that I wrote this post just to answer your personal question. Actually, I wasn't even aware that this was the question you wanted answered.

  5. Scrusi, that is exactly my point ... ;)

  6. Hence the reason I think MMOs should explore franchise model with flexible ruleset a lot more. Right now every mmo has basically one rigid ruleset. Sometime with a few servers having single boolean flipped (pvp switch)

    If you make different rulesets I think its better option to cater to more players without watering or dumbing it down to average

    You could have generic one (with all 6) ,Special A, Special B , etc -To capture each niche of play styles

  7. I think scrusi is on the right track here. you can't equal profit with quality because qualiity is subjective, profit is not.
    how does paying a subscription even tell if people are actually playing the game? and how could you tell what it is they actually pay it for - an MMO has many qualities, which aspect is it that they actually enjoy? what if they like 1 in 5: is that still a testimony towards overall quality or rather to their willingness to keep paying for little?

    what you can say is, that profit equals paying customers. it's obvious and it's all you really know.

    also there's a time element: what is good / fun now, might not be good / fun tomorrow. shouldn't that be a part of business strategies? I've never actually seen people in favor of "make players happy now" adress the long-term question. I wish I could live in the moment like that..

  8. Not to keep harping on the same subject, but is this an evolution of your argument vis-a-vis the subscription plateau in Wrath? You mentioned that WoW growth slowing to 0% was a "hint," but it would appear this particular argument precludes any correlations whatsoever - subscriptions, revenue, etc, all have nothing to do with the quality of the game.

  9. I'm not even sure you need to rely on differences in tastes. For example, I think most players would agree that in-game advertising reduces the overall quality of a game because it reduces immersion somewhat without any real gameplay benefit. But as long as the profits from selling ads exceed the loss from players quitting, businesses have an incentive to sell in-game ads. The lower quality experience translates into higher profits.

    I think MTs cause the same sort of problem: Devs are getting involved in two separate markets. One is the market for access to the game (via subs, box sales, etc.), and the other is the market for virtual items. So it's plausible that they'd sacrifice the quality of the produce they offer in the first market for increased sales in the second.

  10. Yes and no, deeper pocket = sometimes more talented and creative employees. But this is based on the Pay to Play model, the free to play model needs to have money thrown at it to succeed and grow. no matter what the talent behind free to play, the research and development needs to be there to make the game fun, (MMO's) playable, and promoted enough to have other players to play with (no one wants to play an MMO alone).

    Does it take money to make a game fun (speaking for MMO's and single players)?

    Absolutely not, look at Minecraft

  11. I didn't say that sales etc have nothing to do with quality, Azuriel. I said that they are not equal to quality.

  12. Tolthir wrote
    "For example, I think most players would agree that in-game advertising reduces the overall quality of a game because it reduces immersion somewhat without any real gameplay benefit."

    I would agree that this is true most of the time but still it depends on the setting. In a modern or even a future setting MMORPG running with you avatar through a crowded metropolis and seeing ads on billboards or holographic projections could even increase immersion and realisim of the simulated world the player inhabits.
    For instance the advertising pillars in Mass Effect (yeah I know - no MMO but still an RPG) was such a neat little detailed that I really loved.

    I could really imagine this feature implemented into an MMORPG maybe even highten the incentetive to actaually watch what products are for sale if real products and some gems like in ME are mixed. It would even give some developers place for some more of their pop-culture references. (yes I know some people don't like them as well because teh break immersion too, but still this is only a option)

  13. Tobold, your comment here assumes that Nils was responding to your question (he says he wasn't) and it also assumes that he was attempting to answer the question rather than challenge its premise. My read of his post is that he is rejecting the notion that you can measure quality (or "better", as you put it) in a way that is useful, feasible and doesn't produce some kind of logical inconsistency. Given how game quality -- like beauty -- is in the eye of the beholder, this seems like a fairly sensible claim.

  14. I'd agree that profit doesn't *equal* quality (to claim that you'd have to define what quality is numerically first), but that doesn't mean they aren't linked at all.

    One possible definition of quality in this context is consumer preference. Rather than trying to make a complex list of all the attributes of "quality" and define them, you simply look at the choices of consumers. The subscription MMO market is particularly interesting in this regard, because there isn't much price differentiation.

    For equally priced products, if 90% of the customers prefer game A and 10% prefer game B, then I think it's fair to say that game A is, in a sense, better.

    Profits aren't directly linked to revenues of course, but for reasonably well-run businesses in similar parts of the market, they do correlate.

  15. I'd like to agree with you, Sven.

    But I feel a bit uneasy stating that A correlates with B, even though I am unable to even define A.

    I do agree, though, that any definition of quality (that we don't know yet) will have to be consistent with the statement that a game that every single person on the planet hates, is a bad game.