Over the last 40 years, video games have gone from blips on a screen to experiences that rival some of Hollywood’s best offerings; From a niche hobby to a multi-billion dollar industry. However, the business has evolved over the last 10 years, and it seems game publishers and developers are looking to maximize profit while delivering sub-par games. They say that history tends to repeat itself, so let us take a look back in time, shall we?
In 1983, video games were on the rise, but game companies like Atari were looking to maximize their profits while putting little effort into sub-standard products. The market was being over-saturated with Pong clones, Pac-Man rip-offs, and games that were even unfinished. This all came to a head with the release of a game based off a classic film you all may have heard of: E.T. for the Atari 2600. This game, almost single-handed, caused the video game crash of 1983. Retailers began losing money on games and the general market had lost interest. This went on for about two years until a Japanese trading card company called Nintendo decided to take a risk. The Nintendo Entertainment System was originally disguised as a toy, rather than a gaming console, as it included a robotic counterpart named “R.O.B. the Robot” to deter retailers from thinking this was merely another gaming console that was destined to bomb. Fast forward a few years later and just about everyone on the block, from kids to adults, had an NES. Video games were on the rise again, and they hit another boom in the 1990’s as the rivalry between Sega and Nintendo heated up. I’m sure older gamers will remember the commercials, “Sega does what Ninten-don’t!”
Fast forward another 10 years to the rise of broadband internet and online gaming. Game sales have gone up even more and on the other end, so have the sales of used games. As a way to make extra money, game developers began selling downloadable content that would add new content to the games. Even with the booming success of the video game industry, which today makes nearly double what the film industry makes, game developers are looking for ways to squeeze more money out of your pocket. It wasn’t too long ago that they started calling “foul” on the used game market, saying it’s hurting their business when it’s been proven in the past that used media sales stimulate not only the economy, but the sales of video games in particular. People trade in their games usually to buy the overpriced new ones. The First Sale Doctrine is there to protect your right to sell, trade, and give away a copyrighted material if you’ve legally obtained it. Any product that you pay money for and not expected to be returned is considered “sold.” Of course, game companies are trying to combat this by saying that you’re not purchasing a game, you’re “licensing” it. Bull. Video games are the only industry I’ve ever heard whine about used sales. I’ve never heard Hollywood executives complain about the sales of used DVDs, or artists complain about their album being purchased used at a record store. Why does the gaming industry feel they’re the exception?
Let’s say a new series comes out and even though the game has gotten good reviews, someone wants to wait til they can get a decent bargain on a used copy. They play it and love it, now they’ve become interested in your product and if a sequel or DLC were to come along, they’re more likely to purchase. On the other hand, if someone purchases a game brand new and they don’t like it, you’ve likely lost a customer who will no longer invest in that series. It’s simple business. Has either of these situations happened to you?
It’s gotten to a point now though where companies are locking away content on the disc in order to charge you a separate fee for it. Maps on Gears of War 3 are locked away, wrestlers on WWE ’12, fighters in Mortal Kombat, courses in Tiger Woods PGA. The list goes on and continues to grow with each game released. Imagine playing Tekken 2 and all of those unlockable characters were on the disc, but you had to pay a separate fee for them rather than working hard to play, beat the game, and unlock them all. There’s also this thing that started not too long ago called “pre-order bonuses,” in which they’re taking content on the disc that you’ve already paid for, and offering it to you as some sort of “bonus” if you pre-order it at a certain retailer. The sad part is that often times different stores will offer different bonuses, so if you pre-order the game at Walmart because you get a cool gun, you’re missing out on the content (that’s on the disc you paid for) being offered at other stores. You’re no longer getting the content you deserve for the dollars you have paid. Yet, game companies are trying so hard to sell you this illusion that the video game industry is hurting and how this company or that company are not selling enough products. A lot of the time, you can go right on their website and read that they’re pulling in record profits and sales. For example, EA turned a record 3.828 billion dollars in profits in the 2011 fiscal year, they they continue to claim that the used game market is hurting their business.
You may recall a statement made by Quantic Dream CEO Guillaume de Fondaumière:
“We basically sold to date approximately two million units, we know from the trophy system that probably more than three million people bought this game and played it. On my small level it’s a million people playing my game without giving me one cent. And my calculation is, as Quantic Dream, I lost between €5 and €10 million worth of royalties because of second hand gaming.”
This has to be one of the most selfish and nonsensical statements I’ve ever heard in my time as not only a gamer, but a journalist. How many of you share a copy of a game with other people in your household? How many of you have lent your games out to a friend or borrowed one of their’s? How many of you have multiple accounts? Sure, there may be a few used game sales in those numbers, but you have to ask yourself why on Earth someone would be so egotistical to make such an asinine statement in the first place without even giving a second of thought to the matter.
It doesn’t even stop there. Now gaming companies are pushing towards digital distribution, to completely cut out the middle-man. When you buy a game digitally, they get 100% of the profits which is great for them, but it strips away your right to do what you please with that product you purchased; sell it, trade it in, lend it to a friend, or burn it in a fireplace if you please. The game will have absolutely no value when you are done with it, other than the numerical value of which it takes up on your hard drive. This also stabs every retailer that has sold their products for the past 40 years right in the backs as a digital distribution model will hurt retailers like Walmart, Target, and Best Buy who will make cuts to soften the blow and rely on the sales of other products to balance the loss. Manufacturers will take hits as they will no longer need to press discs, print the artwork for the case, shrink wrapping, and even the delivery guys who drive the games to the stores will end up facing cuts. The digital distribution model is unethical and uneconomical, especially in a time when, here in America, unemployment rates are already way too high.
Digital distribution will also greatly hurt the long-term replay value of games. I’m sure many of you still hook up your Nintendo 64 or any other older console to play some games. With digital distribution, this will likely be no longer possible as the servers that host the downloads of those games, their updates, and their downloadable content will have been shut down. Not to mention, hard drives don’t last forever, so when they crash, all of your data will be gone and if there’s no way to download it, that product you’ve purchased is lost forever.
I’m a gamer first, but I’ve been blessed with a platform in which I can make my voice heard and I want to do it for the greater good of all of us, the entire gaming community. Let’s take a look at what happened with the endings for Mass Effect 3. Fans were unhappy, came together in legions, and now you’re getting what you want. On the other hand, it’s disheartening to see that the same thing isn’t happening when it comes to the integrity of the companies and often-times incomplete software that you buy. While there are definitely groups of people that are speaking out, most gamers just go with the flow and say “oh well, it’s only $10.” If more people were to speak up, you wouldn’t have to pay that extra $10, and you could go out and buy a used game that you’ve been wanting to play for a while, but never found the extra cash to purchase it. A dollar saved is a dollar earned.
Things are only going to get worse from here unless you speak up, all of you. Where it goes from here depends on you and your actions (or lack thereof). If there’s a series you want brought back, speak up. If there’s a game that you feel has overpriced DLC, shout it out. Go to YouTube, a game or company’s forums, the comments section of a news site, Tweet them on Twitter, anywhere you need to be heard. 10 years from now, do you want to live in a world where you’re stuck paying $80-100 for a game you can’t physically own, which has content locked away within the files you’ve downloaded, even though you’ve already paid for it? How about playing through a game only to find out you have to pay $10 to see the ending cut-scene? Just take a look at Final Fantasy XIII-2‘s “to be continued” ending and the DLC released this week which has the endings. It’s already happening.
Divided we are weak, but together we are invincible.