It’s unfortunate that the console video game industry has come to locking out single-player content to combat used game sales. The case of Batman: Arkham City is closing in on a feared worst-case scenario.
It’s one thing to ransom online multiplayer functionality. Users without internet access at home aren’t affected by having this locked. It’s another to remove content that was so prominent in coverage of Arkham City leading up to release, which is the role of Catwoman as a playable character. This content, which was intended to be part of the game already, has now purposefully been stripped and repackaged as DLC. Public relations spin argues that the Catwoman content isn’t necessary to complete the game or enjoy the full game experience, but if Catwoman was a DLC character all along… why would Warner Brothers and Rocksteady Games misrepresent her as an important selling point?
Getting back to internet access, what about those who buy Arkham City new and don’t have an internet connection? They’re still paying $60, but don’t get access to that $10 worth of content that they’re promised. Are these users to be classified as acceptable losses or collateral damage? It appears so, and that’s a shame. Consumers yet again get caught in the crossfire between the industry and the second-hand market, in spite of playing by the rules. I don’t see Warner Bros. mailing discs or flash drives to thousands of people who can’t access Catwoman because they’re not online, so these consumers lose.
This potentially sets the stage for what could be a turning point in console gaming. If Arkham City sells well, it sets a potential precedent for publishers that locks more and more content behind passes moving forward. It won’t kill off used games directly, but as fewer people buy them, it creates an imbalance that will stifle the market. There will be fewer trades, which means a decreased pool of funds for consumers to acquire new games with. Fewer new games sold spells trouble for publishers, and the dominoes will fall. Keep in mind that we’re on the precipice of falling into our second recession in three years; many consumers use trade-ins to to help fund their console gaming purchases. Without that cog in the economy, fewer games will be sold. That’s not a possibility. That’s a certainty.
It will be very interesting to see in 2012 just how far single-player content locking goes. It could be to 2012 what the Online Pass was to 2010. It’s definitely on my list of predictions for next year. It’s one prediction that I hope I’m wrong about.
When I spend $60 on a new game, and go to pick it up during a midnight launch, there isn’t any reason that I shouldn’t get what I pay for. There aren’t any warnings saying, “DO NOT SELL BEFORE NOON ON 9/13/2011″ on my copy of NHL 12, and yet… attempts to redeem my preorder bonus AND my Online Pass failed miserably. The content isn’t working on Xbox LIVE for whatever reason and the service errors out after entering the codes. Worse yet, the codes are now used and don’t show up in my Download History.
Simply put, I now have half a game for $60 and my preorder bonus is lost because someone screwed up. The frustrating part is that, while the preorder bonus is something that I can live without, I’m unable to play the game online and now am faced with the possibility of paying AN ADDITIONAL $10 for something that’s being held for ransom even for consumers who buy new. Why? Why are consumers forced to jump through hoops like this? Do you think that you’re owed something else aside from the money that you’re already making? Why is it my problem that you feel entitled to make money on used game sales, and why are you using me as a pawn in your little war?
I’ve had enough. I’m done. NHL 12 will be the last EA game that I buy new, if at all. I’m sick of the crap. I’m sick of having to enter voucher codes to make my games work properly when they had done that all along with such codes for years. I’m sick of your converting what used to be cheat codes into DLC cash cow opportunities. I fear for the further ransoming of the single-player experience in favor of greedy DLC, like we saw in Tiger 12. I love sports games– I really do– but I have my limits and EA Sports has most certainly reached its limit with me.
I’ve never thought that Online Passes were a good idea, but I accepted them. I don’t like that the other profiles on my Xbox 360 can’t use the pass to go online with, but I deal with that. I’ve taken the other crap in stride up to this point, but when my Online Pass code doesn’t work AND it’s now been used? That’s the end right there. It’s not my responsibility to have to follow up with EA and show multiple proofs of purchase, hoping that I get a replacement code and that everything works all right. This should have been tested and resolved well in advance of the game shipping to stores… and yet here we are. Now the onus is on me to beg for something that, after paying for it, I should have access to and be using already.
I don’t want to hear about technical issues, or “these things happen”, or “EA will fix it.” This is EXACTLY the reason why Online Passes are awful. The used game consumer doesn’t even APPLY here. The game just came out TODAY. It’s the NEW game consumer that gets screwed here and has to jump through even more hoops to play the video game that he (or she) bought outright. You got your money, EA. You got your money a few days ago, at least, when the retailer paid you for the shipment. Why is it too much to ask, apparently, for things to work properly at launch? Am I now “entitled” because I expect my purchases to be fully valid at the time that I pay for them? Without the Online Pass scenario, I’m playing the game online right now and not writing this blog entry. Instead, because of a certain publisher’s own “entitlement” to the second-hand market, I lose… even when I buy the game brand new.
Maybe, when it comes to games with Online Passes, the only winning move is not to play.
Rage was one of the games that impressed me at E3 back in June. It had a Borderlands vibe to it, but substituted more realistic graphics than the cel-shaded approach that Gearbox Software had taken. The game ran at 60 frames per second, even at an early stage, and was fun to play. My interest level shot up for Rage, and it had been on my wishlist with growing excitement.
Unlike the recent Online Pass trend of locking out multiplayer for used consumers and renters, id Software and Bethesda have decided to target solo players instead. Consumers who buy new will get a one-time use code to unlock secret areas via sewer hatches. Players who don’t buy new will not have access to these areas, and it’s possible that this code will not be available via DLC. These sewer hatches are said to be loot caches and are “outside the main path”.
That quote is from id Software’s Tim Willits. Here’s a gem from the same piece:
We’re not detracting from anything. But I know some consumers, when you can’t avoid it, then you get a little touchy subject.
In other words, he knows that this isn’t going to be a popular move with consumers… but he really doesn’t give a damn. The Industry Defense Force is quick to defend Willits here because, after all, people who buy used or rent games instead of buying new aren’t consumers at all. Those people are basically pirates, but without the whole issue of breaking the law.
Here’s something for you all to chew on, and I sure as hell hope that I’m not right about this: I believe that this move is the continuation and maturation of an assault on solo players. We’ve already seen the first shot fired by Rockstar Games via L.A. Noire with its varied retailer preorder DLC, which didn’t allow users to purchase the full game at the time of initial sale. This move began the process of eliminating single-player content in exchange for more money than the $60 asking price. Electronic Arts took a different approach to ransoming the overall quality of the single-player experience in The Masters: Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf 12 by forcing players to make a choice between buying DLC courses for certain events on the PGA Tour schedule or being forced to sit out that week and forfeit the chance to earn any points or money for that week.
Now we have this move by id Software, which may seem like a minor thing to many… but sets the table for more punitive ransomware actions for all but those who buy new. Locking out loot caches is only a start. What will be next? Could publishers lock out replay value by disabling the game after beating it unless you enter a code? Could entire levels be locked away, saved only for those who buy new? How about locking endings if a code is not entered? The Industry Defense Force claims that this isn’t a big deal, but it’s more of a “deal” than it was even a couple of years ago… WHEN IT DIDN’T EVEN EXIST. Now it’s a deal that almost assuredly is going to get bigger as publishers search for more ways to settle the score with GameStop for not getting any kickbacks for used game sales.
That’s the funny thing in this whole mess. The industry either can’t or won’t go after the source of their grievance, so consumers are not only caught in the crossfire… but they’re now the active targets in this War on Used Games. The Industry Defense Force likes to use GameStop as the source of all wrongdoing in the used games market, but they seem to either forget or deny the fact that many other resale destinations exist. When Best Buy opens up their game stores-within-a-store, does anyone think that checks will be cut to game publishers whenever used games are sold? I hope not. Do individual used game sellers on eBay, Craigslist, or auction sites write checks to publishers after a sale? Nope. Does anyone see Amazon making payments to publishers when used game revenue comes in? I didn’t think so. Despite all of this being true, people sure love nailing GameStop to that crucifix of blame. Double standards for the win.
We’ve come to this. The industry apparently has no way of getting its debatable just rewards from the resale of its games, so they’ve decided to punish the consumer instead… and locking multiplayer action was only the start. This is a brand new slippery slope that the industry has begun to descend, and there aren’t the excuses of online maintenance costs to fall back on when you start locking single-player content. It’s now a flat-out “Pay us or screw you” mentality for the industry, and there’s no way that this doesn’t get worse as time goes on. Once you start down that road, there’s no turning back. Just wait until we find out what the Online Pass for Batman: Arkham City– a single-player only game– entails.
I do wonder how long we’ll keep subscribing to the “It’s only…” mentality:
- It’s only multiplayer, so just play by yourself.
- It’s only extra DLC and not part of the main game.
- It’s only loot caches, and doesn’t affect the overall experience.
- It’s only a few challenge maps. Who plays those, anyway?
- It’s only an extra level. You can still beat the game, even if a story element or two is missing.
- It’s only the ending. Who watches those, anyway? That’s what YouTube is for.
- It’s only $20 to renew your license to keep playing for another 6 months. Don’t you care about the industry?
- It’s only $70 for this game. If you account for inflation, you’re getting an awesome deal. I paid $100 for Chrono Trigger.
It’s only entertainment. Maybe there are cheaper alternatives.
Recent economic trends– notably rapid increases in fuel prices and associated price hikes in the general cost of living– should be something that the console video game industry starts taking seriously. Everything is getting more expensive at a most inopportune time for the domestic economy, and with the decline of disposable income, it’s only a matter of time before pain is once again felt by the console gaming industry. Consumers are going to be forced to make tough choices in the coming weeks and months, and spending money is getting more scarce as we enter the second quarter of 2011. Many tax returns have already been spent, eliminating one way to fund sizable entertainment purchases.
We’ve been through this before; most notably during the gas price hikes of 2008. Back then, the industry was thought to be “recession-proof”… and yet developers were shuttered, publishers announced layoffs, and sales inevitably tumbled. Less than three years later, fuel prices are poised to not only eclipse the $4 per gallon barrier– but far exceed it. In fact, some localities are already dealing with prices above $4.50. Prices have jumped 20 cents per gallon in the last two weeks, and with oil prices poised to make a run at $115 this week and continue to rise, the trickle-down effect of these increases will be felt by consumers in a number of areas. Food prices are rising. Utility costs are likely to rise, especially heading into the summer months. Other costs of living are certain to be affected as well, and consumers will have to account for all of these increases while managing paychecks that aren’t reflecting these trends.
This means that consumers, as they did back in 2008, will be forced to make sacrifices. There’s no doubt that video games will be one of the major areas of decline. Software prices continue to be high, especially for being so far into the console generation. Hardware pricing has stalled, at least until probably June when Nintendo and Sony are expected to announce their price cuts, and the $250 price point of the 3DS is leading to a lot of caution now that the launch window is closing. Console game prices remain high, unlike iPhone/Android software, which is far more enticing for tight budgets.
It’s almost as if the console video gaming industry honestly believes that consumers can’t live without their video game fix. It’s a bad attitude to have, and it won’t be long before even more damage is done to a business that was invincible five years ago. People within the industry need to wake up and recognize that there are steps that can and should be taken to ensure that the damage is lessened and that more people remain interested when the economy eventually recovers:
- Hardware price cuts: Waiting until June will be too late for any momentum shift for the Wii and PlayStation 3. These cuts need to happen sooner, even if it takes the sails out of E3 a little bit. Since it’s likely that gas prices will be at their highest just before the big show, companies must make a preemptive strike and attempt to generate interest before the worst hits.
- Software price cuts: There needs to be a signal to move software pricing down, at least back towards the $50 level. More titles should be added to each console’s respective “Greatest Hits” lines, which should sell at a uniform $20. In short, making the first move to cut prices will show consumers that console video games can be affordable, even during hard times. Digitally-distributed titles, especially ones that have been available at retail for longer than 12 months, need price drops to Greatest Hits levels, no matter how popular the IP is.
- Pre-owned game cease-fire: We all know how the industry feels about pre-owned games. We also know that, thanks to constant connectivity, it’s now possible to use alternate revenue methods(such as Online Passes) to attempt to force consumers to contribute something to the publisher’s bottom line. It’s time for a cease-fire. Reward consumers who buy new instead of taking such a hardline “They’re not our customer” stance and stripping out content. The industry needs to at least make an effort to understand that consumers aren’t buying used to spite the industry; instead, they’re buying used to save a bit of money so that they can continue to afford playing video games in some capacity.
Just like many consumers, the console video game industry is going to have to make some hard choices of its own if it wishes to remain relevant on a mainstream scale. While price cuts can initially hurt the bottom line and a temporary reprieve from the War on Used Games might seem like admitting defeat by some, taking these or similar steps would go a long way to rebuilding trust and faith from a consumer base that’s gradually been eroding. If nothing is done and the industry continues down its path of self-centered greed and shortsightedness, a future of weak sales and a continuation of declining interest is all but assured.
The alarm bells are ringing. The time to respond is now.
I was excited for Mortal Kombat. The demo played pretty well, albeit a little on the slow side. The special editions of the game looked pretty neat. It felt like a throwback rather than an attempt to keep expanding in the direction that the games took during the last console generation. It seemed like a day-one purchase for me, if only to support the revival of a fighting game that used to share the spotlight with Street Fighter some 15 years ago.
At the same time, I was a little disturbed by some of the publishing decisions that Warner Brothers Interactive had made regarding the game. Different DLC for different retailers means that consumers have no way of getting all of the content that is available for the game when it launches without spending more than the $60+ that they’re spending when they buy it. Then I heard about DLC characters after the fact, and after what Capcom pulled with their $5 per character pricing, I am less than excited to hear about any DLC characters– especially before the game’s launch date.
With the addition of an online pass fee– including the way that the company is disguising it from packaging and forcing retailers to tell consumers– I’m officially done with Mortal Kombat. My Kollector’s Edition preorder is getting cancelled today and I’ll have to reconsider whether I’m going to buy the game at all. I’m sure that Warner Brothers isn’t going to miss my $100, but it’s the only way that I can send the message that I don’t agree with any of these decisions that have been made regarding the game’s content… errr… kontent.
As with all of these cases of online pass usage, we’re seeing the Industry Defense Force mobilize and defend the practice. Woe be the developers and publishers, for they do not profit from the sale of a preowned game… and all of you who buy them are no better than a pirate who gets the game illegally. After all, the industry doesn’t see a dime from used game sales– even though they actually got the profit already when the game was sold. Oh, and lest we forget the strain on the online infrastructure… even though there’s no additional strain at all. Pity the poor industry. They are the victims here.
Unless these people actually work within the industry– as programmers, artists, producers, or something else– then I don’t get why they blindly defend such ridiculousness. Apparently these people have money coming out of their ears since they buy everything new. Here’s an idea: If you’re worried about the industry not getting enough money, why don’t you start sending donations? Come on. I dare you. Pick up that checkbook and write a $50 check to Warner Brothers, Electronic Arts, or THQ. Put your money where your mouths are. Of course, nobody will do this… and even if they did, publishers wouldn’t know what to do with it.
Preowned games are been around for decades, and, until this console generation, there wasn’t this movement of vilify the practice and punish consumers who bought them. We can argue about weak trade-in values all day (and I’ll agree with you), but game trade-ins have always made games and systems more affordable and preowned games are simply cheaper alternatives to buying new. $5 less is still $5 less, no matter how minor a difference that you think it might be. If you told me that you’d walk by a $5 bill lying on the ground or that you’re not pleasantly surprised by finding a $5 bill in your jacket pocket, I have no problem calling you a liar. Sure, resellers like GameStop can be criticized for imbalanced pricing– but they’re not the only resellers around. eBay, Amazon, Best Buy, and others all engage in the practice. In going out of your way to see GameStop drawn and quartered, you’re trying to do away with what’s been an acceptable practice for generations. Let’s also not forget that no matter what method of tender that is taken for the sale of new games at GameStop– including trade-ins– the company already paid cash money to distributors and publishers for them. Everyone got paid.
The Industry Defense Force throws around terms like inflation and increased development budgets as reasons why we all need to suck it up and accept these anti-consumer programs. When’s the last time inflation showed up in your paycheck? I sure as hell don’t recall. Also, if you’re going to use inflation to justify higher costs to consumers, then they can just as easily remind you that food and fuel costs are rising, too, and when a silly form of entertainment like video games becomes too expensive… they’ll stop buying them. As for increased development budgets, that’s the industry’s fault. Big-budget games are popular because the industry put them out there and consumers bought into it. I’m willing to bet, though, that the development budget for Just Dance 2 isn’t nearly the same as it was for Bulletstorm– and yet Just Dance 2 killed it in sales. Imagine that.
Let’s talk about the Industry Defense Force’s other popular term: Entitlement. How dare consumers expect the same level of content and the same feature sets that we used to get included with our games until this console generation? Those things cost money, you know… and now that internet-connected gaming and DLC has given the industry the opportunity to finally charge for these things a la carte, consumers should just accept it. How about no? Why should consumers all of a sudden stop expecting online play, bonus costumes, cheats, and other features to be additional expenses after all these years? Should they accept it for the good of the industry? Should we stop questioning because, to quote Bruce Hornsby, that’s just the way it is? I don’t see why. We’re paying 20% more for new games on average, and getting fewer features. That’s not a case of entitlement– it’s robbery.
I’m frankly tired of reading that consumers are responsible for the well-being of the video game industry. I’m sick of reading comments, message board posts, and tweets that make it sound as though it’s up to us to keep the industry going and that it’s somehow our fault that developers and publishers are closing their doors. That’s not a problem for consumers to be tasked with. It’s an industry problem. If the industry crashed and burned tomorrow, consumers will find other sources of entertainment to pursue and spend money on. The onus needs to go back on the industry to rediscover the magic that it had during its period of expansion from 1995-2005. Instead of penalizing consumers with nickel-and-dime DLC and stripping out features from retail releases, maybe they need to make video games financially accessible and infuse them with value once again.
And, don’t look now, but Warner Brothers is looking to implement Online Pass into Batman: Arkham City. That’s a single-player game. The future is, indeed, upon us.
I don’t get it, 2K Games and Gearbox Software.
I spent $60 on your Game of the Year Edition of Borderlands for the PlayStation 3. I was happy to double-dip on Borderlands, given how much I enjoyed it on the Xbox 360. In fact, according to my Raptr data, I spent 55 hours playing it. I was looking forward to playing it again on my PlayStation 3, with all of the DLC this time. I was a little concerned when I opened the case and saw a DLC voucher inside; after all, a Blu-ray disc has a ton of room… so including the extra 4.41GB of DLC on the disc should not have been a problem. Still, I was fine with letting the download go while I slept overnight.
After going to the PlayStation Store and entering the voucher code, I was surprised to find that it didn’t work. I grumbled, and tried again. Same result. After a brief Twitter exchange, I decided to let things go until morning, figuring that very few people bought the game at midnight and that things would be fine later.
Now it’s past noontime here, and the code still does not work… and I am justifiably angry.Even though the problem now looks like an issue on the PlayStation Store side of the house, since I see that others are having the same issue, I hold 2K and Gearbox responsible. What good reason is there to not have the DLC on the same disc? There isn’t one. It’s meant to dissuade trade-ins or buying used. Instead of having all of the content available on physical media, give a one time use code (that may or may not work) and let the consumer take the 4.41GB hit on his or her bandwidth cap. Buying the game used simply means that you are buying the same game that’s been out there used for nearly a year but with different artwork.
I understand that, if this situation resolves itself, there’s still a $10 savings buying the GOTY version of Borderlands for $60 versus buying the standalone game for $30 and the four DLC add-ons for $10 apiece. I don’t get, however, why some GOTY versions of games (like Oblivion for example) have the DLC content included within physical media for immediate installation while others resort to Voucher Roulette. I bought this game new, and yet have to jump through hoops to access the content that I paid for. What’s worse is that half of the paid content is digitally distributed, which will require at least an hour of time to download and install. All of the Borderlands GOTY content, between the PS3 mandatory installation and the DLC, consumes a whopping 7.11GB of hard drive space. I’m not sure that I see the value of the this package when all is said and done. I’m now soured on the experience, have to wait for a resolution, still have to devote the time to download and install the DLC, and saved a grand total of $10 versus buying a la carte. If I could return the game, I would… but because it’s a problem with the DLC and not the game, I’m stuck with it.
Publishers and developers need to stop catching consumers in the crossfire when it comes to their War on Used Games and the battle with resellers. Had they not been fighting this war, I’m willing to bet that the content would have been on a disc instead of via a 12-character code that’s still worthless 12 hours after buying the game and removing the seal. I did nothing wrong. I spent money on your game and bought it new… and yet I am treated to this experience?
Tell me why I shouldn’t have just bought Borderlands used, and then bought the DLC that I wanted for it.
There isn’t a good reason why, other than wanting to make even more money on assets that have been around for some time already– which you would have gotten from me when I bought the DLC. Instead, I played by the industry’s rules and got burned in the process. I don’t want to hear arguments about who is at fault. I don’t want to hear how “stuff happens” and that the situation will be fixed. If I buy a game at the full $60 price tag that the industry seems to think it deserves for providing us with such fantastic entertainment, then I expect to have access to what I have paid for.
I shudder to think what Sony has done with its Uncharted 2 Game of the Year package. How much of that will be voucher-only? Will they work?
I’m pretty much done with GOTY packages after this mess, personally… and my distaste for this console generation and the industry’s blatent lack of regard and respect for its consumers continues to grow. It’s appalling.
I’m working a lot of hours this week at the store, covering for our manager who has been away at a conference. Since my time is limited, I’m condensing a lot of my thoughts into a blog post. Things will hopefully return to something close to normal next week.
I’ve been talking a lot about retail observations on Twitter, and I’m going to start mentioning some of them here as we gear up for what should be a busy holiday season. Working on the front lines in gaming retail gives me decent perspective on trends and customer reactions. Here are a few notable observations that I’d like to attempt to analyze further:
Halo: Reach reservation numbers have surpassed Call of Duty: Black Ops numbers on the Xbox 360.
This took a long while, but with a giant push over the last week or so, Reach is reigning supreme for the moment. Numbers for the base game are outpacing “special” SKUs by about 2:1, with the Legendary SKU being second, followed by the Limited Edition and then the console bundle. There’s no doubt in my mind that Reach will be the best-selling game for the month. What will be more interesting to me will be whether Black Ops reservations will explode much like they did for Reach just prior to release. I’m also a bit surprised that we still haven’t seen news of a multiplayer beta of any sort for Black Ops; both Reach and the upcoming Medal of Honor reboot saw betas which arguably helped to fuel reserves… but Activision and Treyarch have both been mum, even after a rumored September 1st revelation that never materialized. I still believe that Black Ops will outpace Reach by the end of the year on the Xbox 360 platform, but the strength for Reach right now is indisputable.
Metroid: Other M is struggling.
It’s not too often that a first-party Nintendo release is disappointing, but Metroid: Other M is one of those rare titles. It’s been facing adversity on two fronts. The first problem is that the game strayed from Nintendo’s recent trend of releasing first-party titles on Sundays by releasing on a Tuesday. The second problem is that the game has been receiving some criticism from various sources on the internet, ranging from issues with the controls to focusing too much on story to even issues with sexism. Many reviews have been generally positive, but the complaints about the control scheme have prompted actual reserve cancellations– which is a rarity in and of itself. Moving four copies of a major Nintendo release on its launch date is underwhelming, to say the least. I will be curious to see how it fares in NPD charts; sales were better on Day 2, but there were still several more preorder cancellations.
Motion controls could have a rough time this year.
The release of the PlayStation Move is about two weeks away, but interest has been lukewarm at best. Lack of demo software and tangibles, combined with a lack of general knowledge about it for both consumers and retailers, has led to a cautionary “wait and see” approach. Sony isn’t overly bullish on Move for Q4, and that’s probably a good thing. Reviews of the first wave of games have been mixed, which hasn’t helped the situation. As for Microsoft’s Kinect device, interest has again stalled after a brief spike– presumably due to some in-store videos and advertising. Reports from the GameStop conference in San Antonio on Kinect were that there are still some hitches with the hardware and that there weren’t a lot of impressed people. As with Move, Kinect really doesn’t have much in the way of software or tech demonstrations that allow consumers to see what their $150 would be getting them.
Consumers are reacting swiftly to the Xbox LIVE price hike.
Much like people who stock up on batteries, bread, and water before a big storm, consumers are buying up Xbox LIVE subscription cards at their current rate before the price hike takes effect. The general consensus seems to be that consumers don’t want to quit the service, but there are a lot of questions as to why the increase is happening now. The move towards hoarding cards is free profit for Microsoft currently, but the overall effect of the price hike on subscriber numbers may not be felt for up to a year from now.
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions and R.U.S.E. could be retail disasters while NHL 11 and Kingdom Hearts look strong.
Does anyone even know that Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions and R.U.S.E. hit retail next week? If reservation numbers are any indication, then the answer is NO. While the situation for R.U.S.E. may be more geared to being a new IP, the fact that Spider-Man is getting such a cool pre-release reception by consumers should make Activision a bit nervous. Not that another Spider-Bomb would be all that surprising, given the track record of recent releases starring the web-crawler, but it seems as if Activision isn’t even trying with Shattered Dimensions. There may be some interest when the game arrives at retail next week, but given the strong pre-release interest for both Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep and NHL 11 for next week, it seems clear that Spider-Man will be taking a back seat. Again.
Online Passes are ineffective.
Despite offering Online Passes for pre-owned copies of games like UFC 2010 and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11, there are very few takers. Sales of Tiger 11 overall have been weak and UFC 2010 just saw another price drop for new and pre-owned copies as sales of the game have been all but dead. There haven’t been, in my observation, many trade-ins (and subsequent sales) of pre-owned copies of NCAA Football 11 and Madden 11, but when they’ve been sold, offerings for the Online Pass have been met by, “I don’t play online, anyway. Why spend the extra $10?” If publishers are looking for ways to gain a significant share of the pre-owned market, it looks like they will have to resort to other means at this point… although the true tests for Online Pass programs will come with Medal of Honor and Call of Duty: Black Ops.
That’s it for today; I hope you find these trends at least somewhat interesting. I’ll certainly try to post more of these trends and my analysis as we move forward into the busy holiday shopping season and the inevitable crush of new games that come with it.
The increase occurs on November 1st, which is just before the release of Microsoft’s Kinect camera and associated hardware bundles. It’s a blatant attempt to cash in on these new users while raising prices for legacy consumers at the same time. At least Microsoft’s giving legacy consumers a chance to “lock in” one more year of the service before they’re subject to the increase. Speaking in terms of absolute business, it makes sense since Microsoft is expecting (hoping) to attract a ton of new, more casual users with the Kinect launch… so upping the ante means extra profit for Microsoft right away… if the consumers bite. From a consumer standpoint, especially for legacy consumers, questions are sure to be raised. What else are consumers getting for their money to justify the extra $10? Why raise prices now, especially considering that Sony’s competing service is free and the PlayStation 3 has steadily been gaining momentum? Any increase also causes consumers to reconsider their use of a service; how often do users play online, and is it worth the price of a full retail release every year? Each individual’s mileage is going to vary, but it’s going to be tougher for some to justify paying more every year.
What really gets me is the discussion about the increase that’s been going on via Twitter. There are two distinct camps. One side is genuinely frustrated about the increase and openly wonders what the increase is for. The other side uses the same general argument that the Industry Defense Force has been using for their War on Used Games argument: It’s only $10 per year or less than a dollar per month; if you can’t afford that, maybe you shouldn’t be gaming. What’s worse about this is that there are reputable members of the gaming press out there on the Twitter service who are not only siding with this argument– but actually putting it out there. I’m not going to name names or drag anyone into the mud here, but it seems painfully obvious that the industry and its associated press seem to stick together on issues like price increases, used games, and other decisions that adversely affect the consumer.
Let’s look at some of these Twitter arguments, shall we?
You guys are nuts if you think a $10 boost is a problem. Put aside entitlement and realize how much you get for that $.
Again with the entitlement argument. Really? We’re so damned entitled that we’ve been paying the $50 all along, right? Where does this come from? We don’t have to be “entitled” to anything, I suppose, if we just stop paying Microsoft for a service that’s being provided comparably elsewhere for no fee at all. See, if you want to talk entitlement, you can address PSN users who may complain about that service, which is free– although it does have its share of issues. Legacy consumers have been paying Microsoft, so I move that they have a right to complain and even cancel subscriptions if they think that the price hike is not justified.
People need to stop whining so much; it’s just $10.
Indeed. I mean, why would anyone complain about an increase, right? After all, as consumers, we should just lie down and take it. While we’re at it, when game prices go up another $10 or more, let’s send an additional check for $10 to the publisher. After all, games are worth it! In fact, we don’t pay enough. You’re right. I will stop whining immediately. After all, it’s just $10. Along with the extra $10 we pay for new games now, the $10 Online Pass, $15 DLC map packs, and… oh, wait. I’ll stop whining. Really.
Stop bitching about the XBL price increase. Its no big deal. Its not like its $100. $60 is a reasonable price for the service we get.
Yes. $60 is not $100. It’s also not $50, either. If you feel that $60 is a more “reasonable” price, then feel free to send Microsoft the extra $10. The “big deal” is that Microsoft is raising prices in the midst of an economy that’s on the brink of a double-dip recession. If the industry wants to keep console gaming relevant as a source of entertainment, they aren’t going to do well by increasing prices across the board on almost everything from hardware to software to online functionality. They may still keep a decent amount of hardcore gamers, but the general consumer is in the process of being disenchanted– and the fiscal numbers prove it.
You know what? Maybe all of this “bitching” that I’m doing is for nothing. After all, there are still many people who are obviously more than happy to pay more for their video game habit. The industry has become powerful enough where a full-blown crash just won’t happen, so even when the more casual consumer base decides that enough is enough when it comes to raising prices on everything– hardware, software, accessories, online functionality, and DLC– there will still be a small but potent base of potential buyers out there who will keep console gaming from complete life support. The unfortunate reality in this mess is that the casual consumer base is what catapulted console gaming from something you did in your parents’ basement to a legitimate form of entertainment that rivaled movies in terms of revenue. The industry will never get those people back, and, as a consequence, has taken an immeasurable step backwards.
But it’s only $10, right. Keep telling yourselves that.
First off, a big thank you goes to the staff over at GameCritics for picking up my reaction piece on Ledesma-gate. I see that my viewpoint has incurred about equal amounts of commenters for and against my viewpoint, and I guess that batting .500 isn’t too shabby. I see that at least one commenter works in the industry, and naturally his comments were the most harsh. Being on the opposite side of where he stands, as I am a consumer of his goods, I guess that disagreement is natural. He wants to make money, and I want to be able to afford his goods. We’re both right, and we’re both wrong.
What’s unfortunate in all of this is that Ledesma’s comments have not only damaged relations between the industry and its consumers who read Ledesma’s views… but they’ve also succeeded in widening a rift between the haves and have-nots when it comes to this form of entertainment that we all enjoy. Charges of entitlement are flying back and forth and the argument that video games are a luxury– or even a service– makes what was once touted to be “fun for everyone” into a select group of individuals who are financially fortunate enough to take part.
It’s a disaster waiting to happen.
We all know what the easy solution is: Get members of prominent game publishers and prominent resale retailers together and hammer out some sort of financial agreement. That solution, however, isn’t going to happen as long as you or I are not in charge. Both sides have obligations to their respective investors. If resellers agree, their profits dwindle and shareholders will find another venture that may be more lucrative. As long as the agreement doesn’t occur, the industry will continue to wage this war on resale and there won’t be a winner when it’s all over. In fact, if the industry was actually successful in the removal of resold product and decided not to adjust their pricing scheme, it’s highly likely that the financial state of the console gaming industry would be far worse than it is now.
If recession-like economic conditions continue, which is likely for at least the next couple of years, eliminating cheaper alternatives than new $60 games will erode the consumer base. That’s not a prediction; it’s a fact. We’d be looking at a firm IF/THEN argument; IF you don’t have $60, THEN you won’t be buying these games. Sure, there may be sales now and again, but with several periods each year when there are more than a handful of new releases for each platform, many games are going to be ignored and left on store shelves. This will lead to retailers not being as bullish on console games as a viable revenue stream as the industry will have lost popularity and the depth of its consumer base. That leads to smaller amounts of retailer purchases of games from publishers, which then will lead to more closures and consolidations. Over a decade’s worth of growth will be lost in a short time, and other– cheaper– sources of entertainment will be sought.
Why are used games so bad? It’s not a black and white scenario. Many consumers sell or trade games to be able to afford new releases. I’ll admit that I’ve done it for years. In fact, I sold my entire NES collection and other games back in 1999 to FuncoLand and gained enough store credit to buy $700 worth of new Dreamcast hardware and games. Note the bolded word there: NEW. A fair amount of that $700 went right back to the industry, with FuncoLand receiving a small profit on the sale. They got their profit from me when I willingly traded in my games for less than they were worth. The industry won, the retailer won, and I won. I do the same now. It makes me a second-class citizen in the eyes of the Industry Defense Force, but everyone really does win. It’s the same scenario: I trade in games for less than I paid for them (reseller profit) to afford to buy new ones (publisher / developer profit) that I can enjoy (my own gain). Where’s the loser here? Is it because the publisher doesn’t make any more money from me or the resale retailer if the game finds a new owner? That’s a shame, but the industry is already making money from the reseller to begin with.
And this incessant ranting about GameStop killing the industry? No. GameStop’s #1 revenue driver is sales of new software.
Let me say it again, with emphasis: Gamestop’s #1 revenue driver is sales of new software.
As with any business, there are certainly some GameStop business policies that can be debated. Gutting of new games. Questionable trade-in values. Occasionally over-emphatic employees begging for subscriptions and preorders. GameStop isn’t anywhere near perfect, but they’re also doing business well enough that they’re still here and making money in a time period that’s seen Game Crazy go by the boards and Blockbuster’s Game Rush experiment fail. There are lots of myths out there about how GameStop does business, and a lot of online embellishments of in-store experiences that become gross generalizations. Despite what you may or may not agree with about GameStop’s policies, the company isn’t worse for the industry’s financial well-being than GameFly, Goozex, yard sales, or Goodwill.
How about those who buy used games? People have been doing it for years without having to be harangued or made to feel like a second-class citizen or criminal. It used to be called “getting a good deal”. Now it’s some sort of moral dilemma. Again, there’s no black and white here; if you buy used, you’re a (legal) pirate. It doesn’t matter if you’ve bought once or plenty of times. Think of the developers… think of the publishers. If you want better games, buy the “right way”. You know, outside of this bubble called the internet, consumers honestly don’t care about the developer, the publisher, or even what some no-name blogger has to say. He or she has a budget and sticks by it. If he or she wants a game, that person is oftentimes going to buy cheaper if possible. Impulse shopping has been a revenue driver for video games for a long time; if a game is cheap enough, some people will drop the money on it. It’s not about putting money away each week like Wal-Mart layaway and rejoicing when you finally have been able to stash enough away that you can afford this luxury. Maybe for the hardcore gamer, budgeting and savings are a way of life… but for everyone else, it’s a snap decision: Buy now as cheaply as possible, or table it and see if money becomes available in the future. I see this ALL THE TIME. Sometimes they come back, sometimes they’ll buy it used, and I’ve even seen cases where the consumer has flatly said that games are too expensive and that he’s going to “sell the damned thing.”
I would think that, rather than locking features, cutting content for future DLC, and basically trying to nickel and dime what’s left of its consumer base, the console gaming industry would instead think about how to not get back to gaining more consumers… but also try to use incentives instead of what’s viewed as punitive actions to maintain the consumers that it’s been trying to build for years.
We’ve all said things this week that probably should have been held in check. What we need to do now is find real solutions and enact them before it’s too late.
I’ve been reading some comments to some articles relating to Cory Ledesma‘s verbal slap at used game buyers and about Sony’s decision to at least consider using some sort of Online Pass system for their games, and I’m disappointed in what I’ve seen. It’s one thing for industry workers to be so defensive or to say some pretty dumb things, as they believe that used games affect their bottom lines. It’s another for gamers to point fingers at others and basically tell them that they don’t belong to the Gamers’ Club.
Let’s take a look at some examples:
1. “If you can’t afford a $60 game, you shouldn’t be playing video games.”
I love this argument, which generally comes from a group of commenters that I like to call the Industry Defense Force. It’s similar to the “You’re not a real gamer if…” argument in that there are apparently rules to becoming a video game consumer which aren’t clearly stated when you buy a game. It’s bunk, of course. The console gaming industry went through its strongest period of growth by expanding its potential user base. During the previous two console generations (PS2/Xbox/GC and PSX/N64/DC), console hardware and software prices were generally under control and it was all about selling the best value. Yes, the Nintendo 64 did have higher software prices for a time, thanks to Hiroshi Yamauchi’s decision to stick with cartridge-based media, but these prices eventually fell into line with its competition. Now, publishers have happily tacked on a $10 “HD tax” to games for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, citing higher development costs… and, unsurprisingly, software sales have trended down thanks to a recessed economy and games that feel incomplete or rushed.
Please note the term recessed economy. The Federal Government may claim that the Great Recession is over, but look around you and you’ll see a different story. Foreclosures are still happening. Layoffs are still occurring and new job creation is occurring at the speed of molasses. Unemployment has gotten so bad that the rate is inaccurate because some people have been out of work for so long that their benefits have ended. Credit is tighter. Taxes are going up to try and help states that are on the verge of going into receivership. Despite all of these things, the console gaming industry and the Industry Defense Force both insist that $60 is not that much money. The Industry Defense Force will cite pointless inflation comparisons and mention that we’ve been “due” for a price hike. Really? Now? Despite economic reality? The same economic reality that’s sent the industry into its first bonafide downturn in over a decade?
2. “It’s only a $5 difference. Don’t be cheap.”
No… not really. Depending on the retailer, that difference can be $10 or more if certain conditions are fulfilled. That’s enough for a quick lunch, a bit of gas for your vehicle, or extra cash in your pocket that can be spent elsewhere. In tough economic times, it’s not the amount of the savings that is important– it’s the fact that you’re saving any money at all that’s the key. Sometimes you have to wonder how many of these commenters have actual bills or financial obligations, because the value of money seems to escape them. Try this math: Even if you do only save $5 for each game and buy one per month for a full year, you save enough to buy an extra game each year… or two if you partake in discount programs from GameStop or Play ‘n Trade. It adds up, and the bottom line is what matters the most to consumers in times like these. Consumers will continue to be cheap, and they frankly don’t care if the Industry Defense Force calls them out for being that way.
3. “Better for the developers to get money when you buy new than for GameStop to get all of your money.”
Ah, the new version of The Crusades. Let’s forget the fact that the developers got their money for games sold already. Let’s also forget that GameStop isn’t the only source for used games around. Do developers get any money when you trade used games on Goozex? Nope. How about eBay? Nope. What if you see a game at a yard sale or flea market? Negative. Developers and publishers stopped getting their money’s worth of a rented title after a few rentals at GameFly or Blockbuster. Besides, why should gaming consumers care about the industry and how much money it makes when the industry has made it abundantly clear that it doesn’t care about consumers? As for the GameStop stigma, it’s downright laughable how commenters hang onto silly memes and attack a retail chain based on hearsay and the “cool to hate” factor. GameStop, like any other retail chain, has its share of problems and business policies that make consumers cringe… but it’s still a video game store, and there just aren’t very many of them left. The used games problem seems to have GameStop at its core, but there are many other retailers who deal with pre-owned games, both in online and brick-and-mortar spaces.
4. “Servers cost money to maintain. They aren’t free, you know.”
Oh, I know they’re not free. The problem is that the same number of people who own the game have the ability to play it online. In order for a game to be pre-owned, somebody had to buy it first before selling it or trading it in. The seller no longer plays the game online; the new owner does. There’s no additional stress on the server. With the Online Pass program, the $10 is basically free money for the publisher, and it’s not at all guaranteed to go towards server maintenance or upgrades. It’s like a gas tax in some states; ideally, this money should be going to road repair, but it usually goes into a different government fund. This is a shallow and impossible-to-defend argument.
5. “People who buy used games deserve to get a lesser experience.”
Since when? Consumers have been buying pre-owned games for decades, but only now do we vilify them? I don’t think so. Contrary to prior belief or notion, buying used games isn’t a crime, it isn’t a new fad, and it should not be a punitive situation. I’ll agree that, if you buy used, you should expect certain possibilities… like missing instruction manuals, cracked or missing cases, and possible physical damage to the media… but the games are still expected to work like they should. This business of locking content away as a deterrent from buying used in order to generate “a lesser experience” is a cash grab from publishers who decided that used games are the reason for the current business downturn.
Having said all of this, I’m going to step away from the matter once again as I’m trying not get back to writing basics rather than continuing to harp on the same topics. I will say that this issue isn’t going away and is going to likely worsen in the coming months. What will be interesting to see if how consumers respond and whether there will be any pushback– or if they’re just resigned to their fate of having to pay more to play what they want. In the meantime, I’ll be back to writing impressions and reviews soon.