Jason Rubin Responds to Bonus Round Commenters

GameTrailers users love to comment on the Bonus Round. The latest segment caused quite a few viewers to write in with their thoughts on Jason Rubin’s comments. Was Jason saying that all games should be “pay as you go?” Did he really just say that all games should be run like FarmVille on Facebook? Jason is reading your thoughts, and sent me the below response to the comments on GameTrailers:

To Bonus Round Viewers,

I’d like to apologize, because I don’t think I did a good job of explaining what I was suggesting, and the panel quickly turned it into an argument about business models I didn’t suggest and game balance, rather than a fair price for games and the industry’s ability to survive.

Additionally, there were arguments made on the panel against suggestions that were not mine, but somehow I got blamed for: for example Shane suggesting that I would approve of games that shut off if you didn’t pay or paying for prestige. These are not my beliefs and if you watch the panel you can see that I never suggest either and denied that they were good ideas. I want to clear that up.

It is a discussion of industry financial survival that I was brought onto the show to discuss, and it is here that any discussion of what I really believe has to begin.

The first misconception from those that have commented is that the industry can stay as is. The most common comment has been that many gamers like the current model of game pricing. Were the industry in good shape financially right now, then I would agree that there is no reason to change. Unfortunately, this model is not currently working very well and may not support continued game creation. This is not my opinion alone, and I didn’t invite myself to the panel to ask myself these questions. These are unfortunately blatantly obvious facts. Michael Pachter specifically pointed to EA’s recent earnings (or lack thereof) as an indication that something is indeed broken. EA and Activision’s large recent layoffs (Activision after the show’s taping) also point to less AAA games getting made and changes ahead. Losses and layoffs are not a sign of a healthy industry.

Certainly, all of us understand that if a company loses money continually it must either 1) change the way it behaves or 2) cease to be. We can all agree that ceasing to make games is not what we want, so we have to look for a change of behavior that makes the company healthy and profitable so we can all get the games we want to play.

This does not necessarily have to be digital distribution or other payment models. It could be something nobody has thought of yet. But making games at a loss is not a business that can survive so SOMETHING clearly has to change. It is my suggestion that alternate business models and digital distribution are a possible solution.

The second misconception is that I somehow advocate letting people buy their way through games, to get ahead of others through payments, or somehow unbalancing the game, for example by “buying prestige.” Anybody who took this out of the panel was not listening to my continual protests.

I have never believed that game balance should be influenced by cash.

Possibly the most misconstrued (and most unintended) moment was when we discussed WOW gold mining and I conceded that life isn’t fair. This was not a suggestion that games shouldn’t be fair. Nor was it a suggestion that people with money should be able to buy advantage. I was referring to the same unfairness that allows some people to pay $60 for a game while some are unable to afford that pleasure – EVER. That is unfair, so there is already unfairness in the system today. But I would endeavor to make the system more fair rather than stick with the current unfairness. I don’t believe that digital distribution and alternate business models leads us away from that goal. In fact, I believe they may lead us towards it.

To be clear:

I have been a game maker for my entire life and balancing games has been the most important skill I have learned. Over 40 million people have played the games I made and thought my balancing was fair and fun. I am aware that is no less ridiculous to let people buy completion of a level of a game or to buy “prestige” than it is to try to sell them the end of a movie plot before they go into a movie theatre. Furthermore, since many games today are multi-player, unbalancing a game will have tragic results not only for the person buying the advantage, but also for those that did not. In short, it screws up the whole game for everyone.

Buying bullets, buying advancement, buying better guns, and tons of other ideas were shot down by the panel, and those that have commented, but those ideas were never raised by me. It is really easy to rail argue something I didn’t say, but it says nothing about my suggestions.

The third misconception is that while many of the comments have assumed that alternate business models must mean higher costs to gamers on average. We do not know this to be true. I do believe that the model will distribute costs differently, and hopefully a model that is as good for the gamer and better for the industry can be found.

If anything, the current model is not fair pricing. The small number of heavy users for each game get an incredible deal, while the majority of gamers, who are searching for a game they love, can try less games because of the price point. There is a real cost to publishers for multiplayer games in servers and infrastructure, which is unevenly borne by those that don’t play the game as much as those that do. This was not true with the old offline game model, and it is not true with DVD’s. That inefficiency is great for hard core gamers (who of course are overrepresented in the Bonus Round audience) but bad for the industry.
My comments that the industry must take chances and create new experiences, which I was lauded for in the comments in section 1 of this panel, are at direct odds with the current model.

For example, when researching a recent online game I calculated that the highest volume user (who had played 150+ 8 hour days in the games 190 days of release!) was paying less than a nickel per hour. Now of course this was only the highest volume user, but it is insane to argue that this is fair pricing. This user was costing the publisher money based on server and bandwidth costs. Who was paying for this usage? Users that played less and the publisher were paying. That may have been you.
The fourth misconception is that I was suggesting a specific model for specific games.

While a subscription may work for some games (WOW is one), it is not the cleanest or nicest model, and may not fit for many other games. Just a reminder, I never suggested subscription or pay as you go during the panel. And I certainly never suggested your game should “turn off” after a period of time. I don’t like that idea either. Nor was I suggesting that FarmTown’s model would work for any specific game. Every game is different, and every game might need a different solution. But I think there are solutions.

In fact, I was vague on specific implementations not because I don’t have ideas, but because one solution cannot possibly fit all games. There are many, many examples of digital distribution and alternate business models that are better and are working for gamers and game makers, from inexpensive games to full sized games. There are billions of dollars in income in such games with tens of millions of users… some with more users than the biggest console game. Anyone who denies this has not done any research.

I believe that game developers are some of the smartest people on earth. If they spent as much time being creative with business models as they are with content then I think that they would find solutions that made gamers and game makers happier… even those who dismiss the concept without giving it a chance.

PS: If you would still like to call me an idiot directly you can find me at www.facebook.com/thejasonrubin or on twitter at jason_rubin.


23 Responses to “Jason Rubin Responds to Bonus Round Commenters”

  1. MG Says:

    Sorry, but you can’t talk about an unhealthy industry while completely ignoring the fact that for the first time in history the videogame industry has banded together to ignore the market leading console. Instead of working to build a userbase on the Wii and tap into the incredible success it is bringing Nintendo all they do is complain and make half hearted attempts that seem more like excuses to give up than actual attempts to succeed.

    Nintendo is healthy. Nintendo is the reason the videogame industry hasn’t seen worse results than it has. Yet the only thing people like you can do is call them kiddie, the Wii a toy and cling to expensive technology and so called “hardcore” or “mature” gaming that is the exact reason why the industry is shrinking instead of growing.

    It’s time for the industry to actually grow up and stop acting like extreme gore and gratuitous sex and breasts in games is some sort of sophisticated art form that equal “real” or “true” gaming. It’s time to realize that videogame are about entertainment not technology and that the ESRB rating on the box has absolutely nothing to do with fun or quality.

    Stop looking for ways to charge more money for games and start looking for more ways to get gamers to want to buy your games. Here’s a hint: Start by not ignoring and demeaning the market leading console and stop blaming consumers for your failures.

  2. D-On Says:

    Eventhough i didn’t really agree on your part of the bonus round, this blog thingy made your opinion more clear. I think some things you said just “came out wrong” on the bonus round, compared to what i read now.
    I respect the fact you put this up, to keep the dialogue going. Other people would have just let it go.

    Keep up the work!

  3. Justin Says:

    It’s FarmVille not FarmTown, lol. But, I better understand what Jason were talking about on last week’s Bonus Round. I was one of those commentors on gametrailers, but I didn’t call Jason an idiot, lol.

  4. lubo Says:

    it’s ok
    im from EU and pay 100$ for my games but dont complain

  5. MFauli Says:

    “For example, when researching a recent online game I calculated that the highest volume user (who had played 150+ 8 hour days in the games 190 days of release!) was paying less than a nickel per hour. Now of course this was only the highest volume user, but it is insane to argue that this is fair pricing. This user was costing the publisher money based on server and bandwidth costs. Who was paying for this usage? Users that played less and the publisher were paying. That may have been you.
    The fourth misconception is that I was suggesting a specific model for specific games.”

    See, I wanted to answer to some of your other points made, but this paragraph really offends my philosophy, my understanding of videogames.
    Is it fair that someone gets a hundreds of hours from a game, while another one gets ten hours, and both have to pay 50$? The answer: It doesn´t matter.
    When I get myself a videogame, the great thing is that I myself decide how much time to put into it. And if the game happens to be great fun, I´ll play it for dozens of hours. And don´t have to pay extra for that.

    We live in a time where videogame magazines, aka reviews, are becoming less and less relevant. But you´re basically ignoring THAT these review institutions exist, and just say “oh, it´s unfair that someone doesn´t like a certain game as much as another guy!” This is what reviews are for. Giving you an idea of a game, so you can decide the best if you might like it. And really, if someone happens to like a game even more than you, then it´s good for him.

    How greedy has one to be to say “it´s unfair”, just because some has MORE FUN with a certain game? Just go play your copy more, if you think this is all about exact calculation of money, time and whatever. It really is not.

    Any pay to play-format is one step further to another videogame crash, and it´s mind baffeling that industry veterans don´t see that. All these business models make games less attractive for gamers. We really just want to play great games for 50$. That worked for the last 20 years, and it can work 20 years again.

  6. Daniel Primed Says:

    Jason, I don’t think that you have a reason to apologise, since none of it is your fault, however, you probably did the right thing to address this.

    Bonus Round pushes through topics pretty quickly, leaving some of the best discussion often left hanging since Geoff needs to cut to the next sequence/topic. I guess it’s an inherent issue of talk show media – time is finite. Because of the time constraint, it’s easy for participants to derail the conversation, rather than reach an agreed conclusion. And this is pretty much what happened to you.

    Another thing, people will always respond irrationally when you deflate their assumptions and beliefs, even when your argument is based on sound logic. So, I think that you’ve just been caught in this cycle trying to defend yourself without need. It’s nice of you to clear this up though.

    As I mentioned on Twitter, the model you’re advocating is a wonderful model. However, I also agree that it there will never be a single model, payment options are only going to fragment and this is great for the player. This model removes barriers and piracy like nothing else, yet keeps the price fair and even.

    In China, the uptake of these games is phenomenal, and not just by hardcore players, but their girlfriends, parents and grandparents. Having lived in China (heading back soon), it always surprises me the number friends who have parents, relatives and grandparents playing games, particularly in such a conservative culture with less money to spend. The model offers value (since playing is free) and facilitates new players in finding suitable games to play, rather than dropping off. Plus the social networking features are really tight too.

    Take it easy Jason,

  7. Red Says:

    Hi. Thanks for caring for what gamers said and responding to it. One thing that I have problem with is the idea of many methods and distributions will make the system even more complex for non-gamers than it already is.
    Movies and other popular media don’t have too many payment methods and consumers generally like to the more simpler routes. This is one of the reason that has help Wii while PS3 and 360 have many different packages, payment methods and other stuff.

    Also, while I believe that a lot of misconception about Mr Rubins comments were just that, there was another “Life isn’t fair part” quote just after Shane mentioned the “Prestige” purchase idea.

  8. benedikt Says:

    tbh i think mw2 wasn’t worth the money, also i just don’t like micro transactions for the same fact that i dont like multiplayer games with a leveling system(see wow pvp and so on). just makes no sense to me to level a char in pvp, i want my skill to be important not money or just wasting time, which is basically the same, quakelive, counter-strike, wacraft 3, starcraft(2). these are the real games

  9. zaka Says:

    One more thing rubin, the problem with layoffs and bankruptcy is not price model but game appeal to masses, consumer behavior,technical workforce budget and concept constraints which results in bad or average games like bionic commando, haze and others resulting in their demise…………….companies were good, but something else than economic model went bad

  10. I have an education Says:

    Anyone who has any sort of insight into market-economy and how the entertainment industry works in general will realize what a heap of crap you’re spewing Mr. Rubin.

    Make no mistake gamers, the entire purpose of this person’s input to this debate is to get mo’ money cash from you.

    “oh but it will be fairer!”

    No, it will simply create another type of unfairness, others will suffer it. Who? The people who play few games a lot of time. But who will benefit? The people who play either few or (particularly) many games for short periods of time.

    Traduccion: Hardcore gamers will lose. Casual gamers will win.

    I won’t call you an idiot, because you’re not, but please don’t treat us like morons. Be honest, just say it: we want more money from you. Then we’ll say: fuck off, I’m downloading this shit. And piracy will rule.

  11. zaka Says:

    Also i think the whole farmville debate is useless, since it would be idiotic to call that as game, specially considering their audience, are those type of gamers qualified to be called gamers? There are plenty of those online , by luck some get hit , bandwagon effect pulls others.
    That’s different type of animal with different answer, infact let them be….in free enterprise system you cant stop indie makers with forced models, if they are making money let them make it as long as their is consumer demand.

  12. Tim Larkin Says:

    It’s obvious that disks will be dead in a very short time. For me, Xbox Live and the internet have made me a DLC fan. Soon, brand new games will be downloadable. So, Jason doesn’t have to worry about Gamestop and used game sales. That will end very soon. Finally, no matter what Jason says or wants, the market will decide how we buy games.

  13. Karin Says:


    I think you misunderstood his point in that paragraph. He was talking specifically with online gaming. For many companies to support their online game they have to set up servers to run the game on a regular basis. Those servers cost money on a monthly basis. If it costs X amount of money per month to run the servers but one player plays so much he’s only really payed Y amount per month, then the company lost money on the sale. To offset that they charge more for the Box meaning those that played less are paying for the other guys play time. If the company didn’t offset it enough, then they might in the long run lose money on the game.

    Think of it like a Toll Bridge. Do you feel wronged when you cross a bridge and are asked to hand over a dollar? Probably not. Why does that Toll exist? Because the bridge costs the city a bunch of money to build and maintain. They could have just taxed all the citizens of the Town for that cost or they can charge a toll so that only those that use the bridge pay for the cost. This is a much more fair (and more popular) system than a flat tax and that’s why most large bridges have tolls.

    This is not the same scenario for offline games or games that rely on peer to peer networking so his example wouldn’t apply to those types of games.

  14. GK Says:

    Wow way to blame everyone else for your stupidity and ignorance you fuckin douchey moron. Oh that’s right, it’s Shane’s fault for not ‘understanding’ you. No it’s Geoff’s fault for railroading you huh. How about you’re a fuckin greedy piece of shit, everyone knows and they hate your guts now. Deal with it.

  15. bman Says:

    I think pay-for-play/pay-as-you-go is industry suicide. People will be pissed. One obstacle is getting parents to fork over cash for their kids video games continuously, using their credit card. How many parents are already annoyed when a kid asks for a cheap candy bar at a store? I think they’re used to paying ONCE at the store and then forgetting about it while their kids play. Xbox live is probably annoying enough for them. As for adult gamers, I doubt they want to see monthly payments on their credit cards (one way to do it) or have to pay for “chapters” in a game knowing full well you’ll likely want to buy them all to have an actual complete game. People like buying things and then enjoying it without thinking about owing more on it. I’m used to paying 60 or 70 bucks (some games are 69 here in Canada) and get access to the entire game and get the small DLC free (maps, guns, skins). Pay-to-play will see me buy a lot more PC games (good for PC until they do it too, then it’s all solitaire for me).

  16. Jason (a different one) Says:

    I should start by saying I sympathize with your position. The Bonus Round is not an ideal venue for discussing complex alternative business solutions in a fast-paced, technology-based industry. Clearly, words were put into your mouth, and by sheer virtue of repetition your actual words have been forgotten. So it is not my intention to add to the rabble of those who disagree with you, or perhaps more accurately, of those who disagree with the words they themselves put in your mouth. But to be clear, I do disagree with you. I just intend to do it more respectfully. Hopefully I am successful.

    As far as I can tell the issues are twofold, and no one has really hit the nail on the head with either. It’s not (necessarily) about different pricing methods or economic “fairness” as much as it is the perceived value of achievement in games, and grandiose notions of economic progress and stability. To briefly illuminate the former, the very idea of “earning” anything (guns, loot, gold, etc.) within a game environment is in itself peculiar to the medium and ultimately its purpose. Ordinarily, The concept of purchasing goes hand in hand with the expectation of entitlement to that purchase, and when it is denied in any way it is seen as a slight, even a theft. With a videogame, the concept of a purchase goes hand in hand with the expectation of denied entitlement, but also with the provision of opportunity to achieve complete entitlement.

    To use a simple example, when most people buy a shovel they expect to be able to dig with it at no extra cost. When a person buys a videogame they expect to be entertained by that game at no extra cost. The difference between the two is that digging is not entertaining, while playing through a game is. The purpose of digging with a shovel is to make a hole, the purpose of playing a videogame is to be confronted with a hole that needs to be dug, provided with the tools to do so, and ensured that the hole can be dug. To simply pay for earned goods within a game misses the point, because the earning process is what’s enjoyable about the game. It would be like buying a hole so as to avoid digging, if digging was something enjoyable to do. There is no personal achievement. The end result (the hole, or a leveled up character) is not what the gamer purchases. The gamer buys the process. The gamer does not want either a shovel or a hole, metaphorically speaking. The gamer wants to dig.

    But they still want to purchase it the same way they purchase the shovel, because until now that hasn’t been a problem. And the only reason it is a problem now is the second issue: incorrect assumptions about economic progress and stability.

    There is an underlying presumption in all of this discussion that the games industry, under current pricing structures, is becoming unsustainable. This is true, but it’s an issue of unsustainable for whom, and it’s certainly not unsustainable for game players. The belief that there must be a way to convince gamers to spend more money on games is absurd. There’s nothing wrong with current pricing models, but there is something wrong with the expectations of game makers on how much money their games ought to be making. If the audience is not there to support the amount of games available then the answer is to stop making so many games. Inaccurate revenue expectations are the problem, not the amount of money people are spending on games. So finding ways of getting people to spend more money on games will only exacerbate the problem by unreasonably raising expectations even higher. People are still buying and playing games, and some statistics even show that more people are spending more money on games now than they ever have before. Just because there are developers who aren’t getting a piece of that pie under the current business model doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the industry’s pricing structure, but it does mean there’s something wrong with the industry; there are too many developers. And as for whether or not this “separation of the chaff” with result in less innovation…

    “If [developers] spent as much time being creative with business models as they are with content then I think that they would find solutions that made gamers and game makers happier”

    It appears your suggestion is directly aimed at stifling creativity. Instead of forcing intelligent, creative, talented game developers to become accountants, why not let the current business model allow the most intelligent, creative, and talented game developers compete for the (substantial) audience that already exists?

    A developer’s philosophy should not be to find ways of selling someone a shovel in different pieces, it should be to find ways of making digging more fun that it’s ever been. Otherwise, it might be time to get out of the shovel business entirely.

  17. T Says:

    Just watched the video again, and this apology only attempts to muddle up what i saw watching the video.

    Jason: “If we let people play our games…enter our games more inexpensively and charge them based on how much they use them, i think the industry will make more overall, i think the industry will be healthier overall and i think that we’ll be able to get people to look at more unique and individual games”
    No matter the purpose or intent, that still sounds like pay to play to me.

    Jason: “They don’t have to work as hard in the game to earn the cash to buy, rather they could put in real cash”

    Shane: “Right, you’re allowing people to pay to become better at the game”

    Jason:”No not actually, you’re allowing people to pay to take away from the time they will have to take to get to that position”

    From this part of the conversation, it seems to me Mr Rubin that you’re suggesting that people should be able to buy their advancement in a game either by purchasing things to make it much easier or buying the advancement directly. This doesn’t sound like a balanced game to me.

    Regarding the “fair” topic,
    Jason:”you’re not buying a prestiged character, you’re buying the goods somebody else could earn with more time, you’re just getting there faster. Is that fair? By nature, economies are not fair. Is it fair that i drove here in a different car than somebody else drives?No…”
    It doesn’t sound like people paying $60 had anything to do with it like you claimed in your response. Even Fox news doesn’t spin that good on some stuff. And besides games don’t stay $60, you know?

    All in all, you’re speaking from your perspective which i totally understand. From your perspective, you care about your pockets so you can keep driving your fancy car. From my perspective, as a consumer, things are good as it is. I don’t need to be forced into new experiences. I like to buy games and own it so that i can use it as i please.
    I’ld really advise people to watch the video again as most of the claims in this response are just not true.

  18. josh Says:

    Look that comment about band width was unbelievable. If I ride my bike more than my friends should I pay more for the roads tax? Just because some one is out there enjoying the game more than anyone else doesn’t mean you should charge him more. That almost makes it that your discouraging people to play games.

  19. Rajarshi Says:

    shane is so dumb. I can’t believe that he hasn’t still got what jason was trying to say.
    & jason was never trying to giving a definite solution for any particular case. jason was merely trying to suggest some ways that micro-transactions could be done.
    MW2 sold over a billion copies. these billion buyers are definitely not hard-core gamers. Majority are casual gamers, who would never grind through the multiplayer to get the elite equipment. if these people wish to buy the upgrades with real money, then what’s your(anyone else’s) problem. You(anyone else) just enjoy your game. If you(anyone else) love grinding for your(anyone else’s) upgrades, then surely do so, love it, enjoy it, be my guest. No one’s stopping you.
    There are lots of people who would love to give in more time into playing their games, but cant do so due to their work .etc. If these guys want to buy their upgrades to enjoy them, what’s your(anyone else’s) problem? imo people WILL buy the upgrades in the same way someone pointed out on the show that the 5000 souls of Dante’s inferno sold very well. I am sure this will bring in more money for the companies. if you(anyone else’s) don’t want to buy them then don’t. its your choice, and you are free to chose whichever way you want.
    Now suppose someone buys a game, tries it, and then does not like the multiplayer enough. He wont continue playing it. He would love to have the option of not shelling out the whole $30(suppose) for the multiplayer portion of the game.
    Maybe something like this could be implemented – you buy the game for $30 which includes the single player and 30 hrs of online. then if you want to continue playing online you play a small amount of money in parts over a certain duration until you have payed a maximum of $30 extra for multiplayer access and after that you shouldn’t have to pay anymore. and over all this you have the option to buy your upgrades.
    In this model – the players benefit from the fact that they pay for how much they use. some who doesn’t like the multiplayer portion of the game does not have to pay a full $30 for it. the company earns extra from the people who buys the upgrades. and the company will work harder to maintain their product quality even after the game ships (at least for the multiplayer part).
    I see win win from all ways.
    if MW2 is as good as the sales figures show it to be, then they could have made a lot more money from it. & for the people who did not like it they could have got away by paying less.
    jason was definitely on the right track. but I am amazed by how so many people misunderstood him.
    I am not giving a solution here. this is only a suggestion.
    my work deals with electrons and physics and I am in no way related to commerce so I have very little understanding of buisness models.
    I repeat the model I stated is just another way microtransactions can be done, its just another suggestion like the suggestions jason was trying to put through.
    I usually never bother trying to explain myself. and I couldn’t hold myself back after seeing how the community(lead by shane) was misleading jason’s opinions.

  20. David Johnson Says:

    Alienating and dismissing the hardcore gamer in search of generating more overall revenue by attracting more average gamers will stagnate the gaming industry and lead to a shallowing of game content.

    Games need to cater for the hardcore, young hardcore gamers are the game-makers/game industry of the future. The hardcore ensure game-makers make games with depth and detail. Its the hardcore that keep up an interest in games during their development and provide ample ideas on forums for sequels. Game reviewers are all hardcore gamers by default how are AAA games going to sell if all games become shallower to maximise revenue for the game industry.

    Uncharted 2 is amazing game, but is actually quite shallow and doesn’t really provide a novel gaming challenge. There is no such thing as a good Uncharted 2 player really (I’m dismissing the multi-player content, as much better experience are found elsewhere even for the average gamer) maybe that explains why game of the year got battered by MW2 in terms of sales.

  21. Mikael Törnquist Says:

    Jason I think you forgot to aknowledge the fact that what people saw, was arrogance. You spoke like what you said was facts, and you practically ran the show with your repeating gospel (which is Geoffs problem really). With that in mind, it’s not difficult to understand why people can’t see you for anything but a douche.

  22. Jay Says:

    I disagree, if you read this article re: Bobby Kotick’s perception on people’s perception of him, actions and comments can be misconstrued.


  23. 5 mistakes Says:

    Your blog is really cool to me and your topics are very relevant. I was browsing around and came across something you might find interesting. I was guilty of 3 of them with my sites. “99% of site managers are doing these five BIG errors”. http://tinyurl.com/cwa3tj7 You will be suprised how fast they are to fix.

Leave a Comment