This piece is a response, of sorts, to this video by The Cynical Brit (as if there is any other kind, right?). The Cliff Bleszinski linked to it in this blog post, as a self-explanatory, factual elaboration on the evils of used games, by simply saying: “Watch this video, and then come back.”
We did watch it, and while admittedly, it does make several good points (as does Cliffy himself), we’d respectfully beg to differ. Don’t get us wrong here, we do appreciate the fact that used games do some damage to game makers but we don’t agree with the very one-sided reasoning there. The Cynical Brit brings up a few popular arguments and “shoots them full of holes”, according to himself. Let us attempt to do the same.
This is the odd notion that you get less value from a used DVD than from a new one, due to wear, while the same is not the case for games, somehow. That is to say that you get the same experience whether or not you wait to get your game used but not your movie (especially if it is a Lucasfilm, am I right?). And according to the aforementioned video, you can get a game resurfaced even if there are issues.
Well, that’s simply not true. Video game discs can and do get damaged with use. If you have kids then you damn sure know that there are disc issues that no amount of resurfacing can fix, like top side scratches or foil damage. Worse, you might not find that out until several hours into your game, when you finally beat that goddamned Armored Spider senseless and the game freezes on you.
And the risk involved is a lot greater, seeing how even a used game is several times the price of a new DVD. But I digress. There is actually more to video game depreciation than baby douchery. Whether you buy most games used or new, there is a massive downside to waiting to buy a game at all. A unique feature of this industry is that a major portion of its’ main product becomes useless with time. I’m talking about the online component, which every developer thinks is a good idea these days. Not only are most servers eventually shut down, rendering multiplayer dead, but most online communities quickly abandon it anyway. For example, this is what the multiplayer lobby looks like in a popular 2010 game:
So, to say that if you buy a game after a few uses and get the exact same game is several times false. Sure, if you buy it brand new at the same point in time, you will still be faced with this particular issue of dead multiplayer but you have to wait to get something used while it depreciates, and hey, at least you won’t be paying for an Online pass to a dead feature, right? Oh, and by the way, can’t you resurface a DVD the same way you can a game?
When comparing gaming to movies, there is an argument that they are NOT the same because the movie industry makes the bulk of its’ cash in theaters, thus, it is not as hurt by used disc sales as the video game industry is.
It’s true that some movies succeed or die in cinemas but let’s pause at that particular point for a moment (not a pun, I swear). Saying that movies, in general, have that advantage is like saying that games, all retail games, have their midnight launches or some other massive launch events. The reality is that only a very tiny fraction of movies actually make it to theaters.
A lot of films that anyone of us hasn’t even heard of cost millions to make and can only afford to come straight to DVD or have a very limited and insignificant theater release. Most rely heavily on their DVD phase; actually, without a lot of the advantages of the video game industry. Unlike gamers, most movie goers are not as exposed to information about nearly every one of the retail outings, with previews, magazine covers, interviews, trailers, banners, demos, and what have yous. That stuff is usually reserved for the bigger things. I mean, you don’t keep hearing about another Van Damme flick from the major film media, while Gametrailers have done a featured preview video of the fucking War Z... And when was the last time a straight-to-DVD movie launch looked like this:
image by Michael Himbeault
Sure, that’s a rare, massive budget video game title release up there, but there you have it, that’s the video game equivalent of a theater release for big budget titles. These are the huge pre-launch campaigns and launch events that persuade crowds not to wait, and what follows is a grace period when used game sales are not at significant enough volumes to matter. Just like cinema releases, these events cost a lot of money for game studios, and just like for cinema releases, there is a real chance of making it absolutely huge or bombing like the freaking Tsar Bomba: for every Dark Knight there is a John Carter, just like for every Halo there is a Too Human. So, in terms of launch, movies don’t have much of an advantage.
As the video points out, both the movie and the music industries have a variety of other ways to make money: TV deals, rentals, Netflixes, Spotifies, etc. Well, what are all those things and where exactly did they come from? They are all services that were gradually created to birth new revenue streams. Demands had changed, so those industries produced all the various offerings that their customer might want. What does the video game industry do? It decides to wage war against its’ customer instead. It tries to lock everything down with their punch-to-the-balls DRM, shoots up prices to make up for the losses, tries to introduce systems that control what we do with our purchases, makes us create accounts and verify our identities to use said purchases, introduce Online passes, and require a urine test every 24 hours (soon). You just know that this is a young industry, filled with young minds; everything is sudden, drastic, impulsive, and reckless.
Game studios are sitting on valuable, multi-million dollar intellectual properties. They can have all the different ways to make money but it’s up to them to get creative and entice their consumer with exciting new options (instead of farting in their faces while repeating “this is exactly what you want, you just never knew it!”).
Finally, some new things are happening with rentals so we can get our games by mail or right out of a kiosk. Finally, we have an on-demand subscription option in OnLive (though there is room for improvement). Finally, the older games that could basically only be realistically played via piracy (emulation) are getting another life on handhelds (and digital means), decades after they first got released.
The point here is that opportunities are there (and more can be created) and nobody’s stopping the industry from moving forward with them. Why not get behind these new projects and try to SELL something new to gamers, instead of trying to suck money out of them? Seriously, video games is the only entertainment medium that purposefully requires customers to buy several-hundred-dollars worth of hardware consistently to experience specific products, with no other options at all (talking about the precious exclusives here), what the fuck else do you want from your customers when most of your innovation are another weapon against them? This is a perfect case of someone trying to have their cake and eat it too. Sorry but we are not going to come up with options for you .
All these arguments about the advantages of other industries that the video game industry does not possess are offset by one single point – the price of goods offered. A retail game costs several times the book, the CD, the DVD and the damn movie ticket. If you think about it, that’s a shit load, and let’s think about it.
When you are asking gamers to pay $60 for your game, you are drastically limiting the number of people who can purchase it. If you expect an average kid to have a free annual $1000 put away for games (not gaming, only games), you expect him or her to be able to buy 16 games a year. You also expect each of those 16 purchases to be good enough choices to keep the said gamer occupied for almost a month.
That alone makes the comparison with the other media unfair to the other media. While in the eyes of some game companies, even $60 might not seem enough for their end, they have to realize that there are ways to make money by working with the customers on price to make more purchases happen. Why not offer to match a used game price within reason, for those who only go that route? Why not offer us a discount on your next game, if we buy one new? There is a million ways to work that out and earn our dollars by exercising a little flexibility, yet it’s always “$60 or go fuck yourselves!” While there are huge sales in services like Steam for PC gamers, there is no flexibility for console games almost at all and most sales are pitiful in comparison.
A lot of people I know wait for a good Steam sale to buy their games. I can’t imagine what they would do if they were console gamers. I can tell you that it wouldn’t be shelling out that much money for every game, especially not with all the yanked content that would later come as DLC to account for.
Finally, when it comes to console games, there is no sense of ownership anymore. When you buy a movie or a CD, you can usually do whatever the hell you want with it, short of selling copies of it on eBay. Even PC games that are bound to Steam allow quite a bit, from tweaking, to modding, to converting the games into something else entirely. Console games have always been stricter and they are becoming even more frigid with every generation. You cannot do anything but play them in the state and manner that someone wants you to play them in, with the tools they want you to play them with, and on a specific piece of hardware (often only ONE).
Being able to buy used games has (or had) been the last remaining freedom of console gaming. And while being mostly a PC gamer, I don’t have a huge problem buying my games new, I feel like console gamers just can’t catch a fucking break. They don’t have anything anymore, not even the convenience factor of popping a game in and playing it without any bullshit. Now, they have to jump through ridiculous hoops to try and enjoy a (often incomplete) product that they pay $60 for? Maybe, just maybe, this industry wants a bit too much from their customers? Maybe, customers would want to buy new if they didn’t feel like they are being blasted up the rear tear at every opportunity.
A good will and loyalty is demanded from gamers but none are given back. The whole thing is like an airport experience these days. You should be grateful for getting what you pay for, after TSA gives you the experience that will make you fear rubber gloves for the rest of your sad life. Stop bitching, game companies. You don’t have it much worse than anyone else; your loyal customers do. Be smart, make quality games and treat us right and you will do well; you have been. And if you lose out on occasion, despite doing everything right, well, welcome to a thing called “business in the real world”.