Supply Chains In Everything

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Supply-chain economics is as much a game design responsibility as it is production. Core design influences the production gap between Blizzard’s Overwatch heroes and, say, Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six Siege (R6:Siege) Operators. Ubisoft has shipped an average of .51 new Operators per month since launch compared to Blizzard’s .21 new heroes, more than double the pace. Blizzard will pack far more lore, cosmetics, and unique gameplay into each hero at the time of release – it’s part of the Blizzard “quality bar,” but maybe heroes should release faster and with fewer “features.” In faster character designs, weapons are sometimes disintermediated from character units – Apex and Valorent release weapons separately. Part of player empathy is servicing players’ content needs, with many legacy AAA studios refusing to tackle the challenge. But it’s at their peril; players ultimately choose the optimal mix of quality and quantity, not design directors.

Liveops’ responsibility is to reduce the constraint of the lowest common denominator in the supply chain. If melding a steel car frame takes three months but painting it takes six months, a car will take at least six months to produce. Game balance is commonly cited as a limiting factor for expanding supply, suggesting game designers play an integral role in optimizing production. Magic The Gathering ships over 1,000 new cards a year, a feat granted by their ability to retire old sets; only the most recent three are available for ranked play at any one time. Those are design decisions, and game designers are front and center for these choices.

The designer must also decipher the game’s retentive content. And, preferably, make more of it. For instance, the last decade has shown a weak preference for new maps in FPS games. Maps were the centerpiece of any DLC entitlement pass (read: Battlefield Premium) but now feel dated, with the nearly one map needed to maintain battle royales providing an extreme contrast. Designers would claim maps encourage “mastery of the terrain,” but the empirical evidence rarely backs the theory; small one-time retention bumps are common for map packs. The hundreds of characters in MOBAs and squadRPGs are no accident; it’s a supply-side response to demand.

There’s a unique bias toward quality as it satisfies a sense of self-pride; quality is integrity, while quantity is gluttony. But design that sustains is design that survives; not everyone wants to starve themselves daily for a Michelin dinner. We all need snacks. For studios that adapt, like Respawn, the reward is immense; Apex has hit all-time highs on top of year-over-year growth for the third straight year.

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