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Consoleation: The war on used games—greed-ality!

Peter Skerritt's picture

Mortal Kombat Screenshot

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 pre-order 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 pre-owned 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.

Mortal Kombat Screenshot

Pre-owned 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 pre-owned 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 à 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.

Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360   PS3  
Key Creator(s): Ed Boon  
Series: Mortal Kombat  
Genre(s): Fighting  
Articles: Editorials   Columns  
Topic(s): Business   Game Design & Dev  

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Keep up the good commentary

I really like your posts, Peter, and am in total agreement. In a way though, this whole trend has (with me at least) had a negative impact in the amount I'm spending on games... I will never preorder now, and I'm ditching franchises (like Dragon Age 2, and Batman if what you say is true) when the publishers start playing silly games with content; like you did, out of principle. My only hope is that, sooner or later, publishers will realize there is a sizeable "niche" of mature gamers that don't buy into all this nonsense.

Blame the free market, not the industry

As always, a thought provoking article from yourself, but as always the standard economic reasoning applies to the bigger picture: price discrimination. The shifting of economic benefit from consumer to producer without lowering overall economic output.

Somewhere, somehow, seemingly exponentially rising investment costs in future games development need to be met with higher revenues. It appears that the industry has reached a stage whereby obtaining higher revenues through marginal pricing is becoming more effective and less risky in relation to doing so using attempts to expand demand via normal channels such as advertising, marketing, new devices etc.

While the former may cost producers somewhat in terms of lost marginal sales initially (your cancellation of Mortal Kombat as case in point), the initial gain to the producer is where the hardcore fanbase pay not only full $60 retail price, but also extra for the DLC.

Clearly however, the economic benefit to most of being able to experience the full game (all DLC included) at full retail price at initial release is lost to the consumer. But firstly, consider the short duration that game will retail at $60 on Amazon (a few weeks at most), and how thereafter the game will retail at a discount with which you can subsequently spend on DLC. Consider the inevitable release of the Ultimate-All-DLC-Included version somewhere down the line and consider the eventual entry of the game into the bargain bucket.

Eventually anyone who would have bought the game would be able to buy it at a **preferred** critical price and ultimately, the whole industry (producers + consumers) gains. Producers increase revenues by pricing marginally, and consumers still get to play the game (albeit over time).

Secondly however, and most importantly, contrast the relatively low risk by which revenues can be raised using price discrimination with the unenviable task of trying to expand demand of what is, as you succinctly put it, a 'silly entertainment' good using advertising/marketing channels in an inflationary economic environment of over burgeoning private and public debt. While this form of demand expansion always has a role to play, you begin to see why from the IDF point of view at least, that price discriminatory behaviour is a rational capitalist outcome.

As I have responded to you before: blame the free market, not the industry

*standing ovation* Couldn't

*standing ovation*

Couldn't agree more.
This is the very reason I don't bother with DLC (although I make an exception for Bethesda since they always offer huge amounts of content in the first place). I hate the direction the industry is going in at the moment.

I have to state my appreciation for Nintendo in this regard. Their Online functionality may leave a LOT to be desired, but at least the Wii doesn't allow for developers to bleed gamers dry.

I too share your appreciation for Nintendo

Quote:

I have to state my appreciation for Nintendo in this regard. Their Online functionality may leave a LOT to be desired, but at least the Wii doesn't allow for developers to bleed gamers dry.

I too share your appreciation for Nintendo. To be honest, they don't gain nearly enough credit for sticking to a more traditional -- better -- method of releasing their games. When I bought Mario Galaxy 2 what I got was a 100% finished product with everything already on the disc and ready to be accessed. It's that simple, yet so rare now.

Unfortunately, with publishers no-doubt raking it in from dubious DLC packs and online passes, I can see Nintendo finally giving into it at some point. They're a business after all, and the lure of easy money is hard to resist.

Quote:

(although I make an exception for Bethesda since they always offer huge amounts of content in the first place)

Although, ironically, Bethesda perhaps were the first to start this trend when they released horse armour for Oblivion which should have already been in the game. They deliberately held back this minor content in order to test the water, and in the end it turned out rather good for them.

The industry will never self-regulate

Zolbrod wrote:

Couldn't agree more.
This is the very reason I don't bother with DLC (although I make an exception for Bethesda since they always offer huge amounts of content in the first place). I hate the direction the industry is going in at the moment.

It's a shame when pricing strategies price-out the marginal consumer by choice or by necessity. But this is the world we created and capitalism has until now, proved to be the only political/economic philosophy that has stood the test of evolution.

1001 articles can be written complaining about DLC and $60 pricing but ultimately, games are non-necessity goods and we have the implicit freedom to chose where our money goes.

The industry will never self-regulate so long as current practices are conducive to stable and expanding markets, and it is entirely in the power of the consumer to determine this.

So vote with your wallet by all means, it is the correct thing to do, but don't cut your nose off to spite your face.

Price gouging, lame gimmicks

Price gouging, lame gimmicks and lack of quality content is what led to the comic book industry to crash in the 90's. The video game industry is on the same path right now with their ridiculous nickel and diming, less content for higher prices and release gimmicks.

I don't know why there are people who rush to defend the industry for these practices. The industry is starting to show that they don't care about their customers, that they expect them to throw money at them blindly regardless if their product deserves it or not.

Funny how you bring up the word entitlement and how it used against consumers who want their money's worth. If anyone is suffering from entitlement issues, its the publishers and developers themselves. We should throw our money away and march onward to their tune not because the product is worth it, but because they are entitled to our $60+.

DLC is inflating a bubble that is already starting to crack. If the Industry Defense Force(as you call them) really wants to save the developers and publishers, perhaps they should try and stop them from crashing the industry straight into the grave.

Peter--don't you work for

Peter--don't you work for Gamestop?

Does it Matter?

Does it matter?

"tired of reading that

"tired of reading that consumers are responsible for the well-being of the video game industry"
"and now that internet-connected gaming and DLC has given the industry the opportunity to finally charge for these things à la carte, consumers should just accept it. How about no?"
Now you're a member of the IDF, or what?

Does this article make any sense?
Consumers might not be directly responsible for the well being, that's still the job of the publishers, but they are responsible of how the present and the future of the industry looks like. And they quite clearly decided that they accept DRM, DLC and free-to-play microtransactions... everything you don't seem to accept as part of reality.

"We're paying 20% more for new games on average"
Really?
In Germany/Austria we pay less today. SNES games did cost over 1000 Schillings, which is about 70€. 1300 not impossible...
New games today cost up to 70€ (which is currently about $100...) for a new game if we take the offer in mainstream stores. Including inflation in the formula: it got cheaper. Considering that 70€ is now the upper limit for a normal version and wasn't in the past: it got a lot cheaper.

Quick question about the canceled MK:
How many characters were included in the Original? Eight, ten?
How many do you get in this Mortal Kombat reboot? 20, 30?
You really want the "same level of content and the same feature sets"?

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