Spinsters of Game Journalism: Skullgirls

Journalism can be tough. As objective as you try to be, every detail of your article is likely to be dripping with bias.

This blog can not claim to be objective, and that certainly was not my intention for it. But this isn’t a news site. It’s not meant to provide information so much as entertainment – mine, to be precise. If you get your Kickstarter news from me, then I feel sorry for you.

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But when a site that is a news site presents propaganda in the place of news, then we have a problem. But we’ll get into that in a moment. First, I want to discuss an article that I feel is reasonable, and then compare that to one significantly less so. First up, the Kotaku article.

The title says it all: “It Will Blow Your Mind To See How Much It Costs To Add ONE New Character To A Fighting Game”. Immediately, you get a sense of what you’re in for. You’re about to see some (presumably) insanely high amount of money quoted for a seemingly small task. And so you do:

“Lab Zero Games, the guys behind 2D fighting game Skull girls, want to add a new character to the game’s roster. To do this, they’re going to set up an IndieGoGo on February 25. And ask for $150,000.”

No beating around the bush for Kotaku writer Luke Plunkett. Three sentences in, and you immediately know how much money they’re trying to get and what it’s for. And you are – I hope – appropriately appalled. I’ve already given my thoughts on their proposed budget, so we can skip that this time. We’re here this time to talk about what Luke thinks.

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“As you can see from those last two, an insane amount of money needs to be recouped… just to ask for money in the first place.”

That attitude sounds familiar, and it’s completely justified. But from here on out, Luke softens a little.

“And as you can see from the first few, once you stop for a moment and think about it, common sense prevails. At least from their standpoint; whether potential backers see it as a smart enough investment is anyone’s guess.”

Well, it certainly makes sense for them to ask for money. Whether or not it makes sense based on their quotes is another matter. The careful wording here prevents me from claiming that Luke has gone too soft on us.

There’s not really much more to the article though. There’s more detail in the Indiegogo page itself – you’re just left to do the rest of the research yourself on how reasonable this all is. And that’s fine. Again, this is news, not an editorial piece and certainly not the ravings of a madman. You’re told what’s going on, and you decide how to feel about it.

That brings us to the article on Siliconera, which is very much insisting on telling us how to feel about all this.

We again have a very descriptive title, but this time for the worse: “Skullgirls Characters Cost $250k Each To Create; Here’s Why Squigly Is Cheaper”

Give me a fucking break. Already, I feel like this article was written by the Obama administration, prefacing everything with “Listen, guys, it could be worse, so get off our dicks”. The spin on this title is so bad, I don’t think it’s fooling anyone. It’s the classic psychological trick of presenting a horrible scenario first to make the current situation look good by comparison. Siliconera is like the shitty babysitter trying to explain himself when the parents return home: “Your baby could have died tonight! Thankfully, I got to him in time so that only his legs were amputated.” At least the article itself starts off just as efficiently as Luke’s:

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“Skullgirls development team, Lab Zero Games, are adding a new character to the game’s playable roster, and they need $150,000 to fund her development.”

Promising, eh? Maybe the article wasn’t written with as much bias as the title.

“$150,000 for a single character in a fighting game sounds like a lot of money, but it’s actually significantly lower than most fighting games, and even previous Skullgirls characters, according to Lab Zero.”

Nevermind. Who gives a fuck how much other games’ characters cost? I’m sure it cost more to make Marcus Fenix than it did the kid from Limbo, but you don’t see Playdead bragging about it. Wow, games are different, and a different amount of work needs to go into creating characters for them.  More important is how exactly this work translates into money. As I’ve already discussed, based on the amount of work that’s being contracted on this character, I don’t even know what the fucking staff is doing for their salaries.

“Siliconera got in touch with Lab Zero CEO, Peter Bartholow, to ask if he had any idea how much characters for other fighting games cost to develop on average.”

Uh, objection, your honor: leading the witness. Who contacts a game studio asking them how much work they guess it is for other games to do what they’re doing? The fact that your budget isn’t as disgusting as other studios’ budgets doesn’t mean you deserve the money, or that it’s going to any worthwhile cause.

“For comparison, though, the core Skullgirls characters cost between $200-250k to create, and we have it on pretty good authority that is actually quite cheap, especially for the amount of animation we put into our characters.”

Gee, who saw that answer coming? I mean, how else could they possibly respond to that? “We hear that other games spend about $100 per character. I guess we just have higher standards”?

“Seth Killian isn’t with Capcom any more, but if you reach out to him he should confirm that $150k (especially when you consider that 2/5 of that cost is bureaucratic) is insanely cheap.”

I’m sorry, but are you justifying your cost because it’s (probably) less than Street Fighter (if you feel like calling someone who used to work at Capcom to find out)? And then on top of that, using the excuse that a percentage goes to Indiegogo and payment processing fees, and that you have to actually produce the physical rewards – all of which would be un-fucking-necessary without crowdfunding it in the first place?

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“When you’re funded by a publisher you don’t need to allocate large amount of money for testing, submission costs, and physical reward items.”

I love this quote. Most of the time, what you hear on crowdfunding sites is how horrible publishers are, and how they will just ruin the amazing game that the team could make if only they were paid up front, in full, with no strings attached. All of a sudden, woe is Lab Zero, because they have to charge you more just so they can take your money at all.

“So, the average Skullgirls character costs $200-250k to develop, but Lab Zero are asking just $150,000 for Squigly, even though she should theoretically cost more to develop, since they’re taking submission costs on by themselves. Why is that? Because the development staff took voluntary pay-cuts in order to increase the chances of her release, according to Bartholow.”

Jesus Christ, I don’t have enough tiny violins to continue on with this article. The staff ought to take some pay cuts, considering how fucking little they do. And what do you mean, they’re taking on the submission costs by themselves? It’s part of the budget that they’re requesting. This article makes it seem like they’re putting in their own money to make this happen, which is obviously untrue. You pay for the contracting, you pay for the submission costs, you pay for your rewards, and you pay their salary. In what part of this is Lab Zero being oh-so-generous? And just how many times do we have to get the $250,000 quote? Again, presenting the worse scenario so that $150,000 seems reasonable.

“Should the Skullgirls community go above and beyond the $150,000 in contributions, and reach $375,000, Lab Zero games will create another character for the game—Big Band, who would be Skullgirls’ first male character. The budget for Big Band is $200,000—higher than Squigly’s $150,000.”

Maybe you did that math with me, and realized that $150,000 plus the $200,000 for Big Band only comes to $350,000. Where is the other $25,000 going? Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it. It’s somewhere in the budget, I’m sure. Probably under paying an accountant to actually do all of this difficult adding and subtracting of all the free money that they’re getting.

“That includes all of those unavoidable bureaucratic costs,” Bartholow explained to Siliconera. “IndieGoGo/Paypal’s take would be more because it’s a percentage, and we’d need to give away more goods to make that happen, too.”

Bullshit; you limited half of the rewards you’re giving away in the first place. The only extra things you’d have to produce are more CDs for the soundtrack – and I’ve already gone over how stupid and unnecessary that is – and a postcard-sized sketch. I can only imagine it’s a print, and not the original, so big deal, you pay another $2 to Fed Ex Office for another group of prints. And again, it’s all assuming that every reward is going to be taken, including two of the new $7,500 Evo 2013 trip. Let’s watch that not happen, but Lab Zero will get their $375,000 anyway, and probably give their useless staff all bonuses with all that Evo 2013 trip money that they didn’t have to spend.

Sadly, Lab Zero will get their money and roll around in it, occasionally tossing some at an animator to do their work for them.

And perhaps the sound of tiny violins from the Siliconera offices helped that become a reality.

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4 thoughts on “Spinsters of Game Journalism: Skullgirls

  1. As always, great post. I do look to you for my Kickstarter news, and least for the really godawful bits.

    I believe the concept you were describing but not naming earlier was “straw man.” Covering other people’s coverage is new for you; is this something we should expect to see often, or did this project just get under your skin?

    Check out my post tomorrow, I think you are going to -love-the board game I discuss. It’s up your alley.

  2. Austin says:

    Assuming this is just traffic bait for your blogsite?

    Because I really hope no one spends this time typing shit up while being that uninformed.

    • davidgaames says:

      Actually, I just do it to laugh at people who claim I’m oh-so-uninformed while providing no reason for that opinion.

      • RJ says:

        What is uninformed about this article?

        Also, what the FUCK is “Hit-Box Contracting”?

        Are Hit-Boxes in fighting games different than hit boxes in any other video game? You know, those things that take a few seconds to create for any competent game developer?

        I also would love to know what those 8 people do, and how they got a paycut. Everything is outsourced, so what the FUCK are they getting paid for?!?!

        I never say “fuck”. Ever. First time in probably over a decade. Yet the moment I read “Hit-Box Contracting” my brain exploded. It exploded so far, it landed on this blog when googling “WHAT THE FUCK IS HIT BOX CONTRACTING?!” What. The. FUCK?

        I even made a post over at gamedev.stackexchange about it.

        http://gamedev.stackexchange.com/questions/67136/what-the-is-hit-box-contracting

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