Professor Baker and his College Lecture at an Anime Convention...
Yes, I most certainly have a man-crush on Troy. I love me some Mr. Baker, and the many masks the talented actor wears. From the early Anime years, to his incredibly prodigious career in gaming, the man has experience under his belt. Now, I’ve always said that Troy is an unconventional beast that likes to go against the grain, trying new things to inspire. So how about turning an Anime Q&A, into a lecture about the gaming industry? Well, somehow just months before his big video gaming breakout lead role in inFamous: Second Son, Troy attended Washington D.C.’s annual Anime USA Convention in 2013 to answer fan questions about his past roles within the beloved medium, but had also requested that the Q&A session would be more a conversation between he and his audience. The panel included some inside jokes and laughs that elated many fans of his animation work.
But there was an certain query that sparked an enthralling discourse between the actor and fans, initiated by a young classical theatre and directing student; “So, performance capture is very exciting for video games, it’s really pushing them forward but acting and directorial especially it’s a completely new medium”. The stunned actor stared at his audience, completely dumbfounded at this point but the question itself had yet to be put forward. “Could you talk a little about the creative process in Sessions?”. Enamoured by the question, Baker quipped that he was only on-stage to be dumb and talk about casual stuff but was fascinated that the crowd was so interested in the gaming side of his career. After asking the youngster about their aspirations, the actor articulated a confouding “Wow”.
But this would lead towards a more broad conversation that had been a hot topic within the industry, after it was revealed the XBOX One would implement a DRM system that would not allow Pre-Owned titles to be shared or played on multiple units. Now, I for one was vocal on my stance being against the proposed protection for its impediment that would have been absolutely dire for retailers and gamers alike. However, Baker was quick on the uptake rebutting his audience with qualms of similar concern. Throwing it back to the gamers, Baker surveyed attendees with one of the most controversial questions that lovers of this great medium debate over, “Are games too expensive?”. A harmonious “Yes” rang through the hall, with one exception.
Elaborating on personal experiences with multiple development teams – namely ATLUS who had been in a financial hole at that point in time, with their parent company Index (Now iXIT) announcing Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, but was saved just a month prior to the panel by SEGA – and working closely on projects that are published by major first party studios, Baker broke down the amount seen by development studios and their partners, with each unit selling at a recommended retail price of $60USD. 55% (gross) of total revenue earned makes it back to both the development studio and publishers, which is then broken down again by residual costs that are unpaid and the suspected campaign materials. Troy continued to convince his listeners that studios are struggling to make money, and are barely scraping by the skin of their teeth, for hours of entertainment unmatched in competing industries, like Hollywood.
However, this is the moment that I found absolutely ironic eight years later. Baker queried the audience with the revolutionary idea of a “free to play, subscription based” service, allowing gamers to pay monthly for access to brand new games. A resounding “No” was thrown back with a befuddled Baker asking “Why?”. A video game designer in the audience explained that a tight budget off a subscription service wouldn’t be sustainable for the foreseeable future to pay a substantial team. My my, how the tables have turned. XBOX Game Pass has not only become a prolific statement within the gaming industry, its player-base and fans of opposing hardware are now crying for other platforms to adapt its on-demand like structure, allowing people to pay a minimal monthly fee for access to AAA titles upon their initial release. Baker was on the money, almost half a decade before XBOX had announced the service.
He also pitched an episodic structure that would go on to make the rebooted Hitman a smash hit, cultivating in one of 2016’s essentials. The idea was to have the gamer pay the service so in time, it gives developers leeway to further release content like a Walking Dead, or a Life is Strange but in a pre-paid model, but also mentioned that we were invested in a similar model called “DLC”. Again, downloadable content had been ran through the mud at that time with its core audience believing that publishers were holding back content for more money – the hypothetical Big Mac with no cheese or sauce meme that ran wild online at that time sparked a movement that was considered “distasteful”, yet nowadays a DLC pack is widely requested for beloved titles that fans clamour for. But again, Baker equated this to the episodic structure, so supply could meet demand at a faster rate.
“Do you know why DLC Exists?” Baker asked “So you guys won’t sell that disc”. It was at this moment, you could hear the people in the crowd become auspicious with this notion. It’s funny, because at this time I had just been rehired by JB HIFI to manage their games department and every time I had to accept a trade-in, this exact moment of Troy’s speech would randomly play in my head. My manager would always state that “Pre-owned games are that department’s bread and butter”. Why? Because the mark-up on titles are insane. Word for word, Baker explained the entire ecosystem that all major retailers adapt – trade a game for $10, while GameStop sell it for $50; pure profit with no money going to developers or publishers, rather the corporation reselling items. Capitalism, got to love it.