Sunday, April 24, 2011

Is Activision, per employee, one of the richest companies in the world?

A couple months ago, there were many news articles about how billionaire Gabe Newell, the boss of gaming company Valve, said his company is more profitable, per employee, than Google. This was a shocker to me, since Google seems like one of those companies that every person on the planet seems to know about. So I just assumed that Google was raking in more money than a "mere" game company, in every way possible. But nope, apparently not.

So this got me thinking. How do other game companies fare against titans of industry like Google, Wal-mart, and Microsoft when it comes to a wealth-per-employee contest?

Using Wikipedia, I gathered the data shown for each company's total equity and employee count. I then divided a company's total equity by employee count. All the data was from financial year 2010.

Here are the results!

Assuming that Wikipedia's data for "total equity" is basically what I think it is (assets minus liabilities), we find that Activision Blizzard is doing REALLY well for itself. With just 5,000 employees, it has $10.2 billion in equity, and an equity-per-employee number of about $2 million. Wow. I bet ActiBlizz's employees wish they could each have $2 million!

Now take a look at Wal-Mart, Ford Motors, and Bank of America, which are numbers 1, 7, and 10 on the 2008 Fortune 500 list, respectively. I've heard Wal-mart employs around 1% of the US workforce. Per employee, its equity count is at $33,809. They had to hire 2 million people to acquire $71 billion in equity. Ford Motors' red number means each employee's equity is actually negative $4,000. Ford would owe $642 million, even if it sold off all its assets. An RPG gamer might say "Learn to min/max, noobs." Heh.

So there ya go. Per employee, the house of Call of Duty and World of Warcraft could be one of the wealthiest companies in the world.

PS -- I didn't put Valve on the list since Valve's total equity is not listed on Wikipedia. Also, I think using equity-to-employee count was a good way to determine "wealth per employee", but if you disagree, feel free to suggest a better way in the comments below. Thanks!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Why don't video game companies have "tip jars"?

Lately I've been wondering: why don't game development companies have the online equivalent of a "tip jar?" Or some way for me to directly give extra money to the people responsible for a game, above the price I might pay for at retail, and in a way that bypasses all the "middle men," too.

I've often bought games at low prices, and then enjoyed the heck out of 'em. I once bought the PC game, Conquest: Frontier Wars, for $1 at a retail store and then played the game for over 100 hours. That's one hour of entertainment per penny.

I've enjoyed games like Conquest immensely, and wished I could send additional money directly to the developer, as a way to say "thank you," and often as a way to say "please make a sequel!" But it's rare that this option is available.

There are other situations where I play a game and wish I could send more money to the developer, such as:

  • Playing a friend's copy of a game. I may borrow a friend's copy and play it to completion by sinking 20 hours into it, then give it back to the friend. I really enjoyed the game but did not spend a dime on it. I have no desire to play the game again, so I see no reason to purchase a copy from a store. And yet I still want to pay the developer for the fun I had ($5-10 usually), but I have no way to do that.

  • Playing a game that is part of a "niche" genre, like flight simulations. Certain game genres are not very popular. A realistic WW2 flight sim is probably lucky if it sells more than 100,000 copies. I may want to invest more in an unpopular, but personally enjoyable flight sim simply because I want to increase the likelihood of a follow up game.

Earlier, I emphasized the word "directly" because my desired goal is often NOT to send money to the retailers, manufacturers, or even publishers of a game, but more directly to the artists, game designers, writers, programmers, and sound designers of a game. I feel this is the best way to really say "thank you" to the creative minds who bring me a game I enjoy.

Now, you might say, "Charlie, if you like a game so much, and you want to support the developers, just buy additional copies of the game."

It's true that buying additional copies of a game means more money is going to the developer, but I believe the percentage of my retail purchase that goes to the developer may not be very high.

According to the book "Creating Games: Mechanics, Content, and Technology," the profit from a year 2006 console game sold at retail was divided among parties of the distribution chain as follows: developer (13%), publisher (32%), retail (32%), manufacturer (5%), and console royalty (18%). And while profits may not represent the whole picture of where my game purchase dollars go to, it's probably one of the best indicators.

Looking at these numbers, it appears that game development companies only get a small share of the profit when you buy a game at a retail store. Just 13%. So purchasing an additional copy of a game feels like an inefficient, even wasteful way for me to support a developer. Doing so means a great deal of my money would be going to all sorts of things that I don't need since I may already own a copy of the game. When I've played a great game and want to see more of that kind of experience from the creators of the game, I don't need people to print a new game box, burn a new copy of the same game, drive the game to a store near me, unpack it, and then take their post at the cash register.

What I want is to most effectively reward the game creators and encourage them to keep up the good work.

What I'd like to be able to do is to "tip" the game developers, in the same way you might drop a dollar in a tip jar at an eatery, or some coins into the empty instrument case of some musician at the subway station. In online terms, perhaps this could be done through something like Paypal. I'd like to see a "Click here to tip us through Paypal!" button on every game development company's website.

Heck, perhaps individual employees in a game company could have such donation methods on their personal webpages or blogs, too. Some games have great music and artwork, but awful writing. I'd probably want to tip the audio and art workers of a game more than the writers, in such a case.

Also, perhaps this incentive to donate could be provided: a promise that the short message attached to the donation is read by the developer receiving the donation (when you send payment to someone through Paypal, you have the option to send a message along with it). These messages could be requests for sequels. Or they could be requests that certain features be included in a current or future game. Multiplayer game balance suggestions. And so forth. No guarantee that any of these requests will be fulfilled, of course, but a promise that someone will at least take the time to read them. In this way, the donor feels their opinions as a fan are being heard. And the game developer may use these messages as a way to gauge public demand for new games, features, etc. A message with money attached to it has more weight than some feedback found in an e-mail or forum post, I'd imagine.

Are there many reasons such a "tip jar" system could not work for the game development industry? Do the retail and publisher middle-men have contracts with the developers that force them into not accepting tips? Or is it simply not something game developers feel they'd get any real money from? If game industry insiders read this article, I hope they can chime in.

As for the rest of us normal game consumer types, have you ever enjoyed a game so much that you felt like you got more than what you paid for? If so, what ways do you think are the best ways to support a game developer, after you've bought your copy? Would you ever tip a game developer?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

When did the Used PC game market die, and why?

I've been mostly a console gamer for the past few years, but have recently thought about getting back into PC gaming. The graphics, frame rates, and online play tend to be considerably better on the PC versions of games than on the console ones. Plus, PC games tend to be cheaper than console games. The recent Transformers: War for Cybertron game, for example, is $20 cheaper on the PC than for the 360 or PS3. Cheaper prices, better performance, what's not to like, right? And powerful video cards, ones that far outpace the video performance of the 360 or PS3, are relatively cheap, too. A PC video card that is double or triple the power of a 360's video card is around $100.

One disadvantage, though, is that PC games are difficult to resell. In some cases, it's even forbidden by the End User License Agreements that come with the software. Typically, PC games require the user register the game to account account. At which point, the only way for another person to install and play the game on their computer is to have them log into that same account as well. Because of all these complications, you can't resell PC games at places like Gamestop, and you don't see any "used PC games" sections at these stores, either.

So I'm hesitant to jump back into the PC gaming scene. The graphics will be much better, and the prices are cheaper, sure, but the long-term costs of gaming on the PC seem much higher since every title I purchase can't be resold.

Not being able to resell a PC game also means I am much more conservative about what games I will consider buying. On a console, I'm much more willing to buy games on impulse because I know that no matter how much I might not like a game, or how quickly I bore of the game, I can just sell it off and get a big chunk of my money back (Ebay and Craigslist are great for this). It's basically an alternative way of renting games. But on the PC, I feel like I can't buy a PC game unless I feel absolutely sure that I will want to keep the game for the rest of my life, that I'll want to keep coming back to it. It's rare that any game meets such a high standard. For example, despite having owned probably more than 10 PS3 games so far, I only currently own a single PS3 game (Metal Gear Solid 4). Everything else has been played through, enjoyed or hated, then sold off.

I hope that some day the used PC games market will resurface. Better graphics, nicer controls for shooters and online gaming. I miss these things.

Many PC gamers complain about the Digital Rights Management systems that have come about with PC games, but I sometimes hope that these DRM systems somehow bring about the same used games market we see on the consoles. A DRM system that can accurately determine that the player has a legitimate copy of the game in their DVD drive would be a system that could do away with burdensome CD key registration systems, and return our ability to resell PC games.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Blazing Angels 2

Just completed Blazing Angels 2 for the 360. It's an arcade flight WW2 game, kinda like Crimson Skies but not quite as polished.

-Large plane selection
-Lots of interesting mission objectives (flying through tunnels, blowing up air balloons to clear a path, detonating sea mines in order to damage an underwater submarine...)
-Interesting defensive weapons to take out enemies behind you (flash blinders, tesla coils, anti-engine smoke...)

-primary machine guns are nearly useless. 99% of the game is fought with special attacks like rockets or missiles
-distracting "air particle" graphic effect that is supposed to give you a sense of speed but mostly just dirties up the graphics
-can't move the camera around manually
-the windows in the cockpit views are all dirtied up for a "grungy" look, but it just takes away from the look of the game. Not being able to change from third-person to first-person view on the fly sucks too (gotta go into options to do it)
-planes will automatically level themselves out, making Simulation control scheme crappy

Rating: 6/10

Bought it for $12 total so I'm pretty satisfied with it. Online multiplayer sucks, but at least there's split-screen co-op.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

New Peacewalker trailer. Great stuff. The end music jumps in at a weird time, but overall I was blown away by this :)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Dirt 2: Pro driver takes gamers for a ride

Haha, love the reactions.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Red Alert 3

They should call this game "Crap Alert 3." See what I did there? I replaced "Red" with "Crap." Hahahah.

But seriously, what's the deal with these C&C games? Every single one I've played has had the same terrible netcode that results in a very sluggish game. It's as if the same game code has been recycled for 15 years of C&C games.

I figured they would've fixed the problem by now, but nope.

Sigh.. waste of 10 bucks. And they even force you to associate your CD key with your EA account, thus preventing you from selling the game off after you're done. And they don't even bother telling you that this is going to happen until after the deed has been done. Sheesh.