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Posts Tagged ‘Online Pass’

Generation Worst Part I: The War on Used Games

November 3, 2013 1 comment

This multi-part series will break down each of several factors that combined to make the seventh generation of video game consoles my least favorite, and why it chased me away from the next generation. This is my own perspective and opinion, and is not intended to sway others.

 

Throughout my years of buying video games with my own money, which started in 1991, I’ve always had a balance of buying new and used merchandise. I’ve also subsidized my spending with game and system trade-ins. Within the last 7 months alone, I’ve purchased the limited edition of Bioshock Infinite (and the limited edition strategy guide), NHL 14, Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix, Diablo III, a new Dual Shock 3 controller, and several funds cards for the Xbox LIVE Marketplace and the PlayStation Store, completely with trade-in credit. Before and even during my job at the bowling alley, money was not a plentiful resource… so I made tough decisions about what to part with in my game library in order to pare down or afford the price of new games that I wanted.

A funny thing has happened to the video games economy over the last 3+ years, starting with EA’s Online Pass program being introduced in 2010. In the War on Used Games, that was the shot heard ’round the gaming world. We had begun to transition from used games just being a part of how things were to used games being a menace to publishers and developers that needed to be dealt with. Used games were cited as eating into the bottom line for the industry, causing sales of new games to decline. The Online Pass program would finally add a cut for EA, compensating them somewhat for the resale of a used game and the resources required for online play for a person who didn’t contribute to EA’s revenue stream.

From then on, we have heard prominent industry players decrying the sale of used games. Some have even compared used game buyers to pirates, though the former is still legal (for now). We also hear the same cries of denouncement from within the gaming community:

  • “Games are expensive. People should know that going in.”
  • “If you can’t afford to buy new games, you’re not entitled to play these games on or shortly after launch.”
  • “Buying used games means you’re not a real gamer and that you’re too cheap to support your hobby.”
  • “When you buy used games, you contribute to the decline of the industry since publishers and developers don’t profit.”

Let’s hypothesize, for a moment, that used games had simply ceased to exist as of January 1st of this year. Games could only be purchased new and could not be resold or traded. That would have been about $400 less that I would have contributed to the new video game economy this year. $400 is insignificant to some, but if you multiply that by just 5,000 others? That’s $2 million less per year in new sales revenue for GameStop and other retailers that accept trade-ins and allow you to use trade-in credit for new items. When less is spent in stores, the affected stores buy less product from publishers, hardware companies, and accessory companies. Then the pain is felt by everyone.

Is that really what people want? Do they want consumers to spend less? Are they going by an assumption that consumers will buy everything new at the same clip they’ve been spending of late? Do they really want to test that theory?

The second-class treatment of buyers of preowned video games over the last three years is one of the major factors in my decision to not buy new video game consoles for this new console generation. For nearly 20 years prior to 2010, it never mattered if I bought used or new. I didn’t read insulting quotes from publisher execs and staff pertaining to used games. While buying used might have resulted in a worn disc, missing instructions, or a missing case, the game still worked exactly as it did had I bought it new– or even when I had bought it new before, and decided to trade it in towards another game. Telling friends and fellow members of the community that I bought a game used and saved a few bucks used to lead to conversations about what I thought of the game or asking how cheaply I got it instead of being chastised as used game buyers are now by some in the community.

My new PlayStation in 1995 was partially subsidized by trade-ins. My new Dreamcast in 1999 and a couple of new PlayStation 2 units that I’ve purchased were also partially subsidized by trade-ins. I became a Dead Space fan after buying the first game on the PlayStation 3 used in 2009, leading to new purchases of Dead Space 2 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 as well as a digital version of the original for the 360. The same kind of thing happened after I bought F.E.A.R. used for the 360; I bought F.E.A.R. 2 new later on. The Yakuza series is another example as I bought the first game used for PS2 and bought the three PS3 games all brand new.

That’s the used game economy at work, in practice. Used games do lead to more money being spent on new items in many cases, even if it’s not that way 100% of the time. And yet… this is constantly ignored. History is ignored, and we choose to forget about how it had always been a level playing field before internet connectivity gave publishers new-found power to lock content behind a paywall unless you have a code… and unless you have a high-speed connection. Trade-ins and buying used were rarely stigmatized before this past console generation. Now it’s fairly commonplace.

It’s great that publishers are backtracking on the Online Pass model now, but the damage has been done for me. I don’t trust publishers any longer. What else might be in store for the second-class people who buy used games? I sure as hell am not spending half a grand to find out. Add in the rest of the complaints that I had about the previous console generation that, in my eyes, made it the worst one I’ve ever experienced… and that made the decision not to upgrade at all pretty easy.

What other complaints? That’s what the rest of the Generation Worst series will cover. Part two will come soon.

Kotaku’s Bully Pulpit

February 2, 2012 1 comment

I’ve been revisiting my stance on online passes recently.

I’ve had some interesting conversations with people that I trust and respect on Twitter, and I’ve seen some fair-to-argue reasons why online passes exist. It’s true that publishers are cut out of the used sales loop and would like some of that revenue. There’s genuine concern that publishers may cut back or even fold if extra revenue isn’t somehow culled from consumers, and we see this frequently with DLC. I don’t necessarily agree with these arguments, but I can at least understand where they’re coming from. I’ve reached a point where I accept that, until digital distribution comes into full effect, online passes are here to stay.

This piece, which has NSFW langauge and was publicized by Kotaku today, tries to do the same thing that my Twitter conversations did… but does it in such an offensive, insulting, and immature manner that the message is fatally diluted as a result. It’s a textbook example of how not to argue a point, because anyone who was either neutral or in opposition to the issue at hand stopped reading less than 100 words in:

Fine then. Don’t F___ING BUY IT, you entitled, self-centered pricks. 38 Studios and every other company who implements an online pass don’t have to listen to a f___ing word of your whining.

Tell me why anyone would keep reading after that point, unless they’re already staunch proponents of online passes.

I didn’t, initially. I took to Twitter instead and publicly called Kotaku out for publicizing something so malignant. I understand that it’s a “Speak Up” piece and that a Kotaku staffer didn’t write it… but a Kotaku staffer sure thought it was a good idea to greenlight the piece and share it with its entire readership. More on that in a bit, though.

Mr. “Skeletal-Minion”, the piece’s author, is obviously very passionate about the industry. He doesn’t want leeches– errr, those who buy used games– to have an ill effect on the entertainment that he holds so dear. Indeed, these people who buy used can’t seem to “skip one f___ing value meal to make up the difference between a new and used copy” are seemingly threats.

It’s good to have a message, and to be passionate, but this is not how it’s done the right way. This is voiced as a teenager’s temper tantrum, spewing vile and vitriol at anyone within earshot who doesn’t agree. There’s no message sent here about online passes and whether 38 Studios was in the right or the wrong about moving a quest line to DLC. If there is, it’s upstaged by the delivery method, which bludgeons readers with verbal abuse from stem to stern. Even as a neutral observer, I’d be far less inclined to listen to anything that the writer has to say. Instead, I’d be angry and want to attack the messenger without caring for the message.

Is this what we’re reduced to in order to get our points across? Do I need to start dropping F-bombs and dealing the insults to get people to listen to me? Is the issue really so binary that there’s no room for debate? The decision by Kotaku to publicize such a diatribe is disappointing because it proves that yes might be the answer to these questions and it really should not be. I find it hard to believe that not one other Kotaku commenter didn’t have a less inflammatory argument that could have been showcased. Instead, Mr. “Skeletal-Minion” gets rewarded with a bully pulpit and the bad blood boils between the Used and New factions. Nothing is solved, and nothing even remotely productive emerges as a result.

It’s great that Kotaku is recognizing and publicizing the opinions of its readers with a wider audience. I just hope that, in the future, more care and consideration will go into the selection of these opinions. Passion does not always equate to substance, as this example clearly demonstrates.

Consoleation Quickie: Under Lock and Pass

October 14, 2011 2 comments

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.

Online Pass: Everybody Hurts

September 13, 2011 6 comments

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.

War on Used Games: A New Slippery Slope

August 12, 2011 2 comments

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.

Then this happened.

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.

The War on Used Games: Greed-ality!

March 30, 2011 4 comments

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.

 

Consoleation Observations: The Retail Front

September 2, 2010 3 comments

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.

Consoleation Reaction: Five Comments, Five Reactions

August 24, 2010 3 comments

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.

Consoleation Opinion: The Gloves Are Off

August 23, 2010 2 comments

Some things are better left unsaid.

For example, most gaming consumers know that the industry doesn’t care about them. The disconnect between the industry and the consumer has never been more evident than it’s been during this console generation, as I’ve mentioned more than a few times before. We’ve known that the industry treats used game purchasers as second-class citizens– or worse– and this well-publicized “war on used games” has devolved into taking basic gameplay modes away from those looking to not pay $60 apiece for games that may or may not be worth their asking prices.

Cory Ledesma, who has been working on THQ‘s WWE games for years now, finally took the gloves off and said what has assuredly been on the minds of many publishers and developers since this war on used games really began in earnest– he doesn’t care about used game purchasers.

Let’s look at his quote, pulled from a CVG article:

I don’t think we really care whether used game buyers are upset because new game buyers get everything. So if used game buyers are upset they don’t get the online feature set I don’t really have much sympathy for them. That’s a little blunt but we hope it doesn’t disappoint people. We hope people understand that when the game’s bought used we get cheated. I don’t think anyone wants that so in order for us to make strong, high-quality WWE games we need loyal fans that are interested in purchasing the game. We want to award those fans with additional content.

Let’s break down this piece of honesty– and attempted backtracking– from Mr. Ledesma here.

Ledesma has chosen to, with this quote, be the mouthpiece of THQ– if not the industry– and say “they” don’t care about used game buyers. We know that; in fact, they don’t care about consumers, period. It’s business. The “don’t care” part has been magnified during this console generation because, for the first time in many years, the industry is not thriving and a scapegoat has to be sought. It’s easy to pinpoint used games as a problem, considering that publishers and developers don’t make ANY MORE money from sales of their games. Note the capitalized words here: ANY MORE. The fact is that the publisher and developer already made their money from the game when it was bought by the retailer that originally sold the game as new. Want to cite online server fees? Those were factored into the original sale; there aren’t any extra people playing the game online… just different people.

After backtracking a bit by claiming that he doesn’t want to disappoint people, Ledesma really lets the cat out of the bag and uses the “C” word: Cheated.

When the game’s bought used, we get cheated, he says. Oh… so he doesn’t care about used game buyers, except when they buy the game used. Then he– and the industry– gets cheated. If you don’t care about used game buyers, then why should they care about you when they’re trying to buy a game as cheaply as possible? Sure, it’s all about the bottom line for the industry, but the consumer’s bottom line doesn’t count for anything? Since when? Consumers have other fiscal responsibilities than gaming… that includes people who work within the industry, too. Especially when it comes to Q4 and new games swell into retailers like a software tsunami, paying $60 for each game means that you are forced to limit what you can buy. I have a sinking suspicion that not too many consumers have $200 per month to drop on new releases. Then you’re either forced to play pick-and-choose or to try and buy the game you want as cheaply as possible. If cheap means that retailers are putting certain games on sale, great… but with the profit margin on new games being so thin for retailers, that rarely happens. The other options are either renting– which THQ’s Online Pass program doesn’t account for– or buying used, which can be significantly cheaper than $60 in certain instances.

The last part of Ledesma’s quote is priceless, because he equates the Online Pass with being an “award” for “loyal fans”. Not really. Considering that the online component of a game used to be an expectation and not a right– as it has apparently become– this isn’t an “award” or an incentive for new purchasers. It’s legalized extortion. Holding online play for ransom, especially when Xbox 360 users are already paying a fee for the ability to play online, is another stop along the industry’s slippery slope of descent. Incentives are adding things to the game… like extra levels, extra characters or weapons, and other things designed to make the game more enjoyable. Locking features is punitive.

The industry has lost sight of one major part of the used game formula. There are many consumers that trade their games in towards new games, and this happens a lot. That $60 price tag is a little more attractive if you trade games in for store credit towards new games, or if you sell games to friends or online for cash. For all of the outcry against GameStop, trading sites like Goozex and auction sites like eBay are just as involved in this issue that the Online Pass program is trying to put down. The industry, quite frankly, refuses to admit that games cost too much to sell in large and consistent quantities given the current economic climate. By holding online play for ransom, publishers are forcing trade-in and resale values down and this is counter-productive to game trades or resales in the first place: Game consumers need that buffer to be able to keep up with the latest games.

I’ve said this time and time again, and yet nobody listens. This is why software sales have been consistently off on a year-on-year comparison. This is why publishers are struggling to find answers and are quick to blame used games. The industry demands that consumers to foot a constantly increasing bill for entertainment and consumers have been indirectly telling the industry that they no longer have the money, by way of decreasing revenues. Rather than accept any kind of responsibility or acknowledge that there’s a problem, Cory Ledesma has taken the gloves off and spoken his mind.

In response, I will assume the role of the consumer base. Here’s our response to Mr. Ledesma and the rest of the industry:

I don’t think that we, as gaming consumers, really care whether the industry is upset because we’re just trying to afford to buy games without having to take out a second mortgage on our homes or work a third job. So if the industry is upset that they’re not getting any more money from us, then we really don’t have much sympathy for them. That’s a little blunt, but we hope that it doesn’t disappoint anyone in the industry. We hope the industry understands that game prices need to come down and that we need better incentives in order for us to continue spending our money on a consistent basis on your products. We want to reward companies that recognize and acknowledge the issue of high prices with our loyalty.

I think that’s about right.

Consoleation Opinion: Endgame

July 26, 2010 3 comments

Think about this for a moment:

You’ve already paid hundreds of dollars for your Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. You’re paying $60 apiece for games for your console(s). If you’re an Xbox 360 owner, you may be paying as much as $50 annually for online play (by way of Xbox LIVE). You’re paying a certain amount of money per month to your internet service provider in order to have the ability to get online to either play games, download them, or patch existing games in your library. Just these factors alone likely put this hobby into costing over $1,000 in the first year of owning a console alone, between buying the console, games, accessories, and monthly internet fees. Some people pay more.

Now, if Michael Pachter‘s latest money-grabbing idea gains traction, internet fees might not be the only monthly fees that you’ll be paying.

Pachter predicts that Electronic Arts will ditch their recently-launched Online Pass program and instead charge a monthly fee to play all EA Sports titles online. Furthermore he continues to blame free multiplayer for decreased game sales and believes that “…purchasers just have to accept online multiplayer is going subscription.” He even says that both new and used game sales are being “cannibalized” by free multiplayer.

This move would mean that anyone who purchases EA Sports titles– new purchasers and preowned purchasers– would have to pay the subscription fee in order to utilize any of their online services for games. For golf games, it means more money for GamerNet, which was quite addictive. For Madden and NCAA Football, it means you’ll have to pay for those online leagues and franchises. For the great NHL games, it basically transforms the highly touted EASHL into a subscription-only format that will instantly lose players. It’s a big risk, should EA actually be considering this move. What precedent would EA have? Sports games are not MMOs. Roster updates are not equivalent to the content updates that World of Warcraft gets. Charging ALL consumers for online play is going to ruffle more than a few feathers, plus it’s double jeopardy for Xbox 360 owners who are already paying between $35-$50 per year to play online games.

This milking of the console gaming consumer base is reaching pathetic proportions. Before this generation came to pass, with the promise of better graphics, “expanding game experiences” with downloadable content (which is also a major problem), a whole bunch of other bells and whistles, we knew what we were getting when we bought a game. There was nothing held for ransom. Cheat codes or Easter Eggs unlocked extra levels or costumes which were already on the disc… but now we have to pay for all of those, even when they’re still on the disc. We never had to pay any more for the apparent privilege of multiplayer functionality– unless it was an Xbox game and you were playing online. We’re asked, as consumers, to pay for this and pay for that, but we’ve already given millions of dollars to these greedy publishers who are the sole reason why development budgets are so high in the first place, causing them to cry poor. What we pay is not enough, though. It’s never enough. Not anymore.

Holding online multiplayer completely for ransom marks the continuation of the industry’s descent down a very slippery slope. What will we see locked away in our next $60 purchase? Three “bonus” levels, which were originally part of the game, will now be sold as DLC unlock keys? Will we see difficulty settings locked away for DLC? Think about that; if a game is too hard for less-skilled players, why not charge a dollar or two for Easy Mode? Don’t think it hasn’t been thought about. What about endings? Oh, can you imagine having to pay to see the ending that you worked so hard to achieve? Locked endings are coming for pre-owned buyers, at least… and nothing says that new game buyers won’t see it with this precedent, either.

There used to be a point in time when a piece like this one would be dismissed as ludicrous. The industry would never think to do things like this. Things had been so good for so long that there was seemingly no need for any kind of adjustment. Now that the bubble has burst, the inevitable finger-pointing and damage control has been ongoing for some time, and the finger of blame seems to go everywhere else but to the industry itself. Consumers are buying too many used games. Consumers (allegedly) want big-budget games. Consumers rent too many games. Consumers shouldn’t get to play online for free because it costs us (very little) money. It’s always convenient to blame everyone and everything else while taking absolutely no responsibility for your own role in the downturn. There’s certainly no way that consumers are buying fewer new games because they’re more expensive, contain less content, carry hidden fees, and just might not be any good. Too many games are coming out at prices that are too high for consumers to afford in this economy, and the glut is leading to a lot of games (and accessories) being left on the shelf.

With all of these blog entries and despite my passion on this topic, I can’t see a resolution on the horizon. The industry seems pretty set in its path of raising prices, cutting content, and attempting to fleece its userbase. Fortunately for them, consumers don’t see to have reached their limits yet. When they do– note that I’m not using the conditional “if”– that will spell the endgame for the industry as we have known it for the last 15 years in terms of popularity and volume of sales. Sadly, I think that’s the only way that the console gaming industry will understand that it was the cause of its own downfall.

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