You’ve undoubtedly heard it by now: Electronic Arts pulled a big upset in The Consumerist‘s Worst Company in America tournament for 2012, besting favorites Bank of America by a majority vote of nearly two-thirds.
While I think that it’s telling that a video game company found its way into the voting to begin with, considering all of the potential candidates out there, the end result will change nothing. EA will still make games (with Online Passes), consumers will buy them (and complain about them), and the Circle of Life will continue. The idea that EA was voted the “Worst Company” will likely be forgotten in a few weeks, and EA won’t be making any business decision changes because of an unsatisfied group of internet voters.
EA probably should have lost to Comcast or to AT&T in earlier rounds of voting. I didn’t vote for EA in a single round of the event. Comcast has questionable service at times, and AT&T has had its issues with data throttling and other anti-consumer issues. It was fun to “handicap” the event on Twitter over the last few days, but EA kept pulling through from round to round. I never thought that EA would have a chance in the final round, stacked up against Bank of America’s fees and other shenanigans, but upsets happen. There’s an air of dissatisfaction among consumers when it comes to EA. Online Passes, the Mass Effect 3 debate, and complaints of lack of competition in the sports video game arena have fueled this dislike.
Unfortunately, as if on cue, video games media is jumping to EA’s defense in a harsh fashion:
Maybe the Consumerist should have pointed out that by extension, Bank of America forecloses on a lot of moms’ basements.
Are we really going to do this generalization thing again? Blah, blah, entitled whiny gamers, blah, blah, something else. Give me a break. We’re back to press versus consumers once again. There’s such a blind sense of loyalty to the industry that some of these people cover, and consumers just don’t have a right to be angry about anything. Instead, we should be thankful that video game publishers still make games for us to drop $60+ on, because, if they didn’t, what would we do?
I get that many people don’t agree with the outcome. I don’t agree with it myself. I can also understand why the negativity exists. That’s what we’re all missing here, among the “DON’T LIKE WHAT I DON’T LIKE” condescension. There isn’t a consumer’s side in the gaming press, for whatever reason. It all comes off as an extension of the gaming industry, as if it’s owed some sort of call to arms any time a negative story pops up. Consumers shouldn’t be mad about online passes, because they shouldn’t be cheap and buy used. Consumers shouldn’t be mad about Mass Effect 3 because it’s art, or because they have no right to change a creator’s vision, or any of the other litany of reasons cited over the past month.
Consumers should just sit there and take it. Apparently. Even mild venting via an internet poll is frowned upon and means that you live in your mother’s basement and have no clue about how much injustice there is in the world.
It’s one thing to disagree with the outcome. I get that. It’s another to jump back on that “better than us” high horse. I don’t get that. At all.
I know that it’s been some time since I’ve written. Working in video game retail, you can probably guess that the last few weeks have been pretty crazy… and this trend will continue through the rest of 2010. I’m still pretty active on Twitter, as it’s much easier to react or speak in 140 characters than it is to organize my thoughts into coherent blog entries. Once the hustle and bustle of the fourth quarter ends, I’ll be able to write a bit more and keep updating here more frequently.
Having said that, there are a couple of things that I feel the need to react to:
The first thing is a Gamasutra piece that contains some quotes from EA Games’ Frank Gibeau. Gibeau is quoted in the piece as saying that single-player games are “finished”. It’s funny to me how the desire to play a game alone is now perceived by the industry to be some sort of cancer that needs curing. It’s obvious that the single-player model doesn’t appeal to the industry any longer because it’s far easier to produce DLC for multiplayer functionality. Yeah… we’ll see how well this new direction bodes for EA when Dead Space 2– a sequel to a 2008 game that was an excellent single-player experience– force-feeds its fans a multiplayer mode that really didn’t blow me away when playing the beta a couple of months ago. It’s Bioshock 2 all over again as players are given something that the industry seems to think that they want.
Don’t feed me the lines about focus groups or e-mail suggestions stating the contrary, because I just don’t buy it. The console gaming industry, by way of its trends and poor decisions over the course of this console generation, has cost itself the benefit of the doubt. The fact is that redirecting resources to a multiplayer mode takes resources away from the single-player campaign. I will be very curious to see if Dead Space 2 is another Bioshock 2 situation next month. Don’t be surprised if it is.
Lastly, can we please stop giving Michael Pachter vehicles within the gaming press to spread his blatant trolling? In the course of the past few days, Pachter has said that handheld gaming is fading, the PSP2 (which hasn’t even been officially unveiled yet) will flop, and that multiplayer games need to start charging players some sort of subscription fee. Yeah, I’m pretty much convinced now that Pachter has put aside any sort of professionalism or credibility and instead is just talking to hear himself talk and try to draw attention to himself. I don’t care if this man has a Master’s in Business or not; he’s seceded from doing his job– which is analysis– and now seems to thrive on uttering baseless “predictions” which only exist to drum up controversy. It’s bad enough that GameTrailers gives this man face time via a regular show. The rest of the gaming press should be intelligent enough to know that Pachter’s utterings aren’t “news” at all. I understand that there’s this constant need to generate news stories and generate hits for gaming websites out there, but the amount of coverage that this man (undeservedly) gets is not only mind-boggling… but also genuinely disappointing and shameful.
I can’t wait to get back to writing more regularly, but I just had to cover these two topics– even at 6am before hitting the sack. My passion still burns, even if the time to appropriately convey that passion isn’t as plentiful as it’s been earlier in 2010. I have a lot to say, and I hope that you’re not only willing to read it… but react to it, as well.
The list of publishers looking to punish the based of used game consumers is growing seemingly by the day. Electronic Arts started it with their Online Pass. UbiSoft then mentioned that it was going to start implementing something similar in the near future. Next, THQ dropped a bombshell and made online play a DLC feature for UFC Undisputed 2010. Now, SEGA is apparently interested in some variation of EA’s Online Pass idea.
The Bandwagon of Greed is indeed filling up, and I certainly don’t expect the trend to slow down anytime soon.
Working in gaming retail is an eye-opening experience when it comes to seeing how people who are not always online posting comments or on message boards actually shop. The high cost of software is taking a toll. More than a few customers have mentioned that Red Dead Redemption is their one game for the summer. Many traded in games to bring the cost down. Others gradually paid down the cost of the game in advance so as not to have to deal with the impact of dropping $60 plus the local 8.8% sales tax on in one day. Despite the decent amount of games due this summer, there’s almost no interest. Titles like Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 and Rock Band: Green Day are seeing a lukewarm reception pre-launch. May was too full; Red Dead Redemption and Super Mario Galaxy 2 were pretty much all people could afford while Blur, Split/Second, Lost Planet 2, ModNation Racers, and other games just sit. Even UFC Undisputed 2010 is feared to be selling below expectations.
High prices, a glut of software releases, and now a trend towards significant loss in the value of purchased games spells what could be the beginning of a major backfire for the industry. Publishers (and their short-sighted internet volunteer defense force) may not like the used game market, but the fact is that a fair amount of trades go towards buying new games within their launch windows. If trade-in values continue to decline– or if trades drop off significantly– new game sales will start to decline for many games not titled Halo, Call of Duty, or Grand Theft Auto. The disposable income just isn’t there. Trades and second-hand sales are what’s kept many facets of the industry alive through the brunt of the Great Recession. This gives consumers the opportunity to afford games that money isn’t otherwise available for.
The thing that gets me about this topic is the number of people who are apparently wealthy enough to tell people to “get a job” and buy new. Almost every website that allows comments and has a news story on this topic has a member of the Industry Defense Force to tell the rest of us that we need to get better jobs, save our money, or to just stop being pirates and buy new. It’s not just NeoGAF, which I usually relay as an example in entries like these. It’s Kotaku, Destructoid, Joystiq, and others. It’s amazing that these ignorant people fail to keep in mind that the national unemployment rate is still hovering near 10% with layoffs still sporadically occurring. They seem to forget that the average gaming consumer has grown up and now has bills to pay, including rent or mortgages, car payments, credit cards, medical insurance payments, rising food costs, fluctuating energy costs, and other life occurrences that take priority over buying a $60 video game. Credit is tighter than ever now, which curbs impulse purchases.
The bottom line is that the industry never adjusted to the consumer when the Great Recession began taking its toll and instead focused solely on its own bottom line and ways to inflate revenues.
When console gaming really took off in popularity during the late 1990s through about 2005 or so, it was all about trying to draw more consumers in. Even with the upgrade in technology from the 32/64-bit generation to the 128-bit era with the Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Gamecube… game prices stayed relatively stationary (or even declined). Prices probably could have risen during the last console generation because the economy was fairly strong then, but the focus was on getting more people into games. It was an extension of Sony’s philosophy during the PlayStation era; nobody cared if you were new to gaming or had been playing for decades. The industry seemed to understand that more revenue naturally existed when the consumer base was large and varied.
Now, it’s solely about how much money that the industry can squeeze from consumers. They assume that nobody can live without games; they think that society is hooked and is willing to pay whatever is asked. At times, consumers have fallen into line. We’ve seen sets of plastic instruments sell despite a triple-digit price tag. We’ve seen map packs for Modern Warfare 2 sell like hotcakes for $15 each transaction, despite grumblings. We’ve seen some adaptation to the HD tax and its associated higher price points. All the while, it’s not just been cash and credit transactions that have fueled these sales; games and consoles have been traded in for store credit at various retailers and that credit has been used to buy both second-hand and new games, consoles, and accessories. This factor is generally overlooked, but it’s significant.
If publishers and developers continue to wage this war on used games and game rentals, there’s going to be irreparable damage. I can sit here and tell you that I’m close to the last straw and ready to just sell off my current-generation games and hardware in order to go all retro, but that’s minimal compared to what will happen. The reality is that the industry will see just how little money that consumers have to spend. Perhaps one out of every 10-15 games released in a month will sell with reasonable success while the other sit and wait for their inevitable markdown and subsequent financial loss– if they even sell at all. Lower sales will lead to smaller video game sections within stores, and retail chains will be less apt to buy substantial quantities of new games from IPs that don’t have proven sales track records. This will lead to further reductions in revenues for publishers and developers, leading to contractions, layoffs, and closures. The strongest will survive, of course, but many other companies will fold.
Of course, nobody sees this. Scenarios like mine are overreactions or extreme circumstances in the eyes of many.
Continue to jump on this bandwagon as it careens down this slippery slope. There’s apparently plenty of room. Just remember that there’s no turning back.
First, words of wisdom from one Odrion:
buying used games makes you worse than a pirate because
1. you are a potential customer with actual capital
2. you are promoting an industry that profits by ripping off the work of developers
The other sage advice comes from Dark Octave:
Just buy the game new. Gamestop, where the majority of masses buy used games, sell most of their newly/semi-new released used titles for $55. Only $5 less than full price. If saving $5 is really that serious, maybe your hobby should be hunting for a better paying job.
Let’s take a good look at these posts, shall we?
I’m not sure how buying used games makes me worse than a pirate. For starters, I am legally purchasing software. A transaction involving either currency or trade of goods results in my acquisition of a game. It is not my responsibility as a consumer to pay the publisher anything for the game. That responsibility– if it even exists– falls on the reseller and the publisher. Where the money (or monetary value) goes after that transaction is not my concern. Also, how would you expect a specialty store like a GameStop to exist if it wasn’t for preowned game sales? Not that the pricing isn’t arguably a bit skewed in the chain’s favor, but there’s almost no profit margin when selling new product. Just like publishers, GameStop and similar resellers have a responsibility to their bottom line. The same publishers who decry used sales also advertise heavily in the same retail chains that they claim is damaging their bottom lines. Does wanting to buy the same product for less money– especially in a severe recession– make me worse than a criminal? Yes, I have “capital”, but it’s a limited amount… and if I can save a few bucks, I’m going to. The worst part for Odrion here is that I know that I’m not alone in wanting to buy games more cheaply. I guess we all should just put on our eye patches and walk the plank.
Dark Octave’s comment made a little bit of sense to start with. Yes, the difference is only $5– unless you have a discount card, like many resellers offer. Then that $5 more than doubles to $10.50. Since when is $10 not at least somewhat significant, especially these days? It can get you a movie ticket, a meal, a bit of gasoline if you’re running low, and many more things. Without the discount card option, I will admit that I likely wouldn’t be as inclined to buy recently released games at the usual price points that resellers tend to use.
The problem that I have with this post is the last sentence– and it underscores a disconcerting trend within the gaming community. Since when did video games become such an elitist activity? Are we really insinuating that if you can’t find a good job, then you need to find another form of entertainment? Are we really supporting the higher cost of video games instead of even questioning why the increases have occurred? Are we that eager to just bend over and take it because the industry allegedly needs us to in order for it to survive?
You know what? Maybe the answer isn’t to “get a higher paying job”. Maybe the answer is to fly the middle finger to the entire industry, sell all of my current video game consoles and software, and go retro. For the price of a new game, I can buy multiple games for older platforms. My gaming dollars will get more a lot more if I go back to the past, and I won’t have to deal with the crap that this generation has propagated. No DRM. No DLC. No having to be online. Fully-featured games (for the time, obviously). Then the industry will get none of my disposable income and, even in a small way, it’ll increase their losses. If that makes me worse than a pirate, then call me Jack Sparrow because I’m not going to ask for a raise or force myself to work overtime for games and consoles that aren’t necessarily worthy of my hard-earned money.
Electronic Arts today launched a haymaker towards used game consumers when it unveiled the Online Pass program. The Online Pass is a key to online play for EA Sports titles, beginning with Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf 11. If you buy the games new, you’ll get a one-time DLC key that allows use of the Online Pass for free for each individual game. If you don’t buy the game new, though… you have to pay $10 to play online– even if you’re already paying for an Xbox LIVE subscription.
This is the latest in a series of moves by EA to attempt to force consumers away from the used market. Previous examples included Madden NFL ’10‘s Online Franchise mode and Mass Effect 2‘s Cerberus Network… but this is the first time that online play is being held for ransom. For Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11, the game’s online components are substantial; features like tournaments, GamerNet, and online multiplayer are all affected by Online Pass. The game’s Achievements and Trophies are undoubtedly tied to the online parts of the game as well, so you’ll quite literally have to pay for them in these instances.
Make no mistake about it; EA is indeed holding online play for ransom. Game Informer‘s Matt Helgeson covered the announcement of Online Pass and of particular note was a quote from Andrew Wilson, senior vice preisdent of worldwide development for the company:
In order to continue to enhance the online experiences that are attracting nearly five million connected game sessions a day, again, we think it’s fair to get paid for the services we provide and to reserve these online services for people who pay EA to access them.
The context of Wilson’s quote is very clear and doesn’t require interpretation, but I’m going to supply it anyway.
Wilson believes that EA deserves to “get paid” for online services, and it’s consumer purchases of new EA games that supply this “pay”. Used gamers don’t pay for anything, right, Mr. Wilson? They’re pirates! Surely there’s some law that prohibits the sale of pre-owned merchandise… and if there isn’t, then it’s up to EA to punish these evildoers in some way, right? You WILL pay $60 for our games, or we’ll take away features and functionality. Why not be a man, come right out, and admit that you think used game consumers are what’s wrong with the industry, Mr. Wilson? Show some backbone. Or better yet, why not shoulder some of the blame for your company’s bland earnings? How have those exclusive deals with the NFL and the PGA treated you?
I’ve said this before, but the industry needs to take its beef with used games up with retailers. Leave the consumers out of it. It’s apparent that publishers don’t understand the concept that consumers are in penny-pinching mode and that buying used saves money. Very few people– if any– are buying used games in order to purposely strip companies of revenue. News flash: Consumers don’t care. Consumers want their games cheaply, and they don’t care how that happens. Maybe they’re on clearance, maybe they’re used at GameStop, or maybe they’re found at tag sales or flea markets. You’re not going to make people move away from used games by strong-armiing them.
Am I angry? You’re damned right. In a console generation that’s seen more regression than progression, this is the latest is a comedy of errors and bad decisions that make me wonder why I even bother with today’s consoles anymore. Look at the list of crap that we’ve seen in this console generation… and it’s still growing:
- Hardware unreliability
- Higher disc-based software pricing
- Removal of game features for paid DLC at a later date
- Death of game manuals
- Initiatives to kill the preowned game market
- Gradual increases in downloadable game costs
- Digital distribution (leading to hard drive overloads and issues with bandwidth caps)
- DRM / constant internet connection requirements
- Additional expense for used game consumers in order to use online functionality
It’ll be interesting to see how Online Pass goes over, especially when Madden NFL 11 hits the scene in a few short months… but my patience with EA’s anti-used tactics has just about run out. Even if I wanted to be sympathetic towards EA’s stance on how used games are affecting their bottom line, punishing used game consumers like myself pretty much casts any sympathy or understanding out the window. Why should I care about your bottom line when mouthpieces like Andrew Wilson obviously don’t care about mine?
Go on, take online gaming for ransom. Good luck getting anyone with any sense to pay that ransom.