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Consoleation: Under lock and pass

Peter Skerritt's picture

Batman: Arkham City Screenshot

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.

Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360   PS3  
Developer(s): Rocksteady  
Series: Batman  
Genre(s): Stealth   Open World  
Articles: Editorials   Columns  
Topic(s): Business  

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Right conclusion, wrong reasons

I agree that with this DLC, we seem to be a step further down the slippery slope (part of the justification behind the online passes used to be the money involved in running servers, providing online stats, and policing the community). However I think your reasoning towards the end of the article is flawed.

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First let's set up some vocab.
By "Type As" I mean people who mostly buy games new, then trade them in.
By "Type Bs" I mean people who mostly buy games used.
There are other types too, but they're not so relevant.

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You say that "fewer trades means a decreased pool of funds for consumers to acquire new games with."

That's certainly the effect on the Type As - they'll have less money because they get a smaller return on their trade-ins.

But presumably the Type Bs won't be buying so many used games anymore. So they'll have *more* money to spend on new games. [worried that they'll be priced out of the market? Don't be. New games in a sale are often cheaper than used games off the shelf anyway.]

So the Type As will spend less money on new games, but the Type Bs will spend more. Overall it balances out. In fact it might even mean more money for publishers in the short-term, because there'll be less money taken out of the system into the pockets of Best Buy and GameStop.

This is why I think your claim that "fewer games will be sold. That's not a possibility. That's a certainty." is wrong.

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It's the long-term consequences of this that bother me. If trading in becomes less attractive, more people will buy online through Steam, XBLA etc - games that already have no resale value.

Coupled with (presumed) falling trade-ins, and shops on the high street will suffer. Some will close; advertising budgets will fall.

And that would be a huge loss to the gaming industry, because those colourful high-street prescenes actually drive a lot of sales and awareness, especially amongst kids.

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So yes, this could be dangerous to the gaming industry. But I don't think it's because of the reasons you cited above.

Batman: Arkham City is

Batman: Arkham City is actually the very first game I refuse to buy outright due to this DLC/pre-order bulls**t. I actually would really love to play the game, and would likely enjoy it, but enough is enough really; it's too much of a piss-take for me to justify paying-for now.

Will likely be the same with future titles now I reckon. Ah well.

Online Passes putting the "used" in "used games"

Quite frankly, it’s about time used gamers actually experience the “used” part of their purchase. Software isn’t like a car, or clothes, or most second-hand objects people always try to compare them to. If I pop a game into your console, there’s no way for you to know if it’s used or not. The experience is exactly the same, and that’s troublesome. Plus, there really isn’t a concentrated, corporate effort out there for any other entertainment medium like there is for second-hand games (and movies and music also have other avenues for revenue generation, like theaters and live shows, that games don’t have). Gamestop’s used games business raked in an estimated two BILLION dollars for the company back in 2009. That’s pretty wild. The makers of Heavy Rain recently revealed that even though they sold around two million copies of the game (which is great), over three million people have shown up online playing the game (and that’s just those who played it while online). How many of those sales were a result of the second-hand market?

These are HUGE numbers, and to think the games industry shouldn’t react to this is foolish. Of course they should. Gamestop is killing the goose that laid the golden egg, plain and simple, and it’s bad for game developers and gamers. These efforts to share a little piece of the used games market (to the people who, you know, actually created the content in the first place) should be expected and applauded. There SHOULD be a used-games market out there, but given the unique nature of video game software, it should also be fair to the people who created it in the first place. Gamestop, and the people who buy used games in the first place, should drop their inflated sense of entitlement and respect the content creators, not begrudge them for wanting to benefit from the fruits of their labor. I mean, what monsters, right?!

Listening to gamers actually defend the industry’s vultures is something out of bizarro world.

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