Thursday, September 27, 2007

Swedes on strike

You might have noticed that this blog is principally talking about the big MMORPGs, the triple-A games, the ones you are likely to find in a box at your local games store. But there is a huge number of smaller MMOs, many of them web-based, playable via a browser. They usually have some play-for-free basic model with microtransactions as business model, and the ability to play them for free on any old computer gets them millions of players. One company running a number of those browser games is Gameforge, owner of the games OGame, Bitefight, Darkpirates, Gladiatus, and Battleknight. These games exist in many more languages than the major games, with lots of local teams all over Europe. And the news is that the Swedish Gameforge team is on strike, to which Gameforge responded by firing most of them.

Whether online games are addictive is another discussion, but it is obvious that many people have a strong emotional reaction towards their favorite game. Game companies profit from that by hiring people that are extremely motivated as game masters, and then paying them relatively little money. This is simply a matter of supply and demand, many people would rather do online support for a game than for lets say an insurance. With many people wanting the job, the game company doesn't have to attach a high salary to it to make it attractive. Many people in the game industry, especially customer service representatives, are underpaid and/or overworked.

Browser games are profitable only because the cost to run them is low. People are already complaining about the bad customer service they get from games they pay $15 a month for, imagine how much less a game company with play-for-free browser games is investing in customer support. Now imagine a local team far away from the game companies headquarter, and it is easy to see where the Swedes complaints about being left in the cold by Gameforge are coming from. Players bombard the game masters with questions, and if the GMs themselves can't get answers from the game company it must be extremely frustrating. And even from a player's point of view I can assure you that love towards a specific game doesn't last forever. So if one day you find yourself as underpaid GM in a game you no longer love and the frustrations mount because the game company is more interested in cost cutting than in making your job easier, no wonder you go on strike or quit.

Will that change anything? I doubt it. Gameforge will fire all the malcontents, hire new GMs on the cheap, make some symbolic but cheap gestures towards the players, and in three months the whole thing is forgotten. Many game companies try to project an image of being more interested in fun game design than in profit. Don't believe a word of it, from no-one. In the end all companies are about profit, whether they are selling online games, insurance, or any other service. Don't work for them unless the money is right and the job is fun.

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