Skip to main content

Pushed Around by the Industry

Bully - Indian burn on the playground

We had a lengthy discussion on this week’s Jumping the Shark about the next console generation and how Sony and Microsoft may use their next-gen hardware to clamp down the used game market by locking game purchases to specific consoles or user accounts. Don’t worry, this is not another diatribe over whether or not it’s okay for the used game market to exist. I’m on record as being fine with it. I don’t buy games used and I very rarely sell them back to a place like Gamestop, but I’ve no truck with the process. What I don’t particularly like, however, is just how brazenly the heavies in this industry are poking their fingers into my life and pocket book and justifying the action by insinuating I’m some sort of degenerate if I’d prefer to bargain hunt for the best value on my ever scarcer dollar.

These companies are waging a war with gamers right now and their weapons are $60 price points, season passes, day one DLC releases, mandatory online connections to play, etc. At the rate we’re going, to play games in 2028 you’ll have to have a publisher representative in the room with you while you play and you’ll be the one paying for his time.

EDIT: Per VRaptor117 in the comments section, this representative will henceforth be known as your friendly neighborhood In-house Fun-gineer.

Here’s the thing: When I’m not busy acting like a complete douche, I consider myself a decent enough bloke. (It’s okay. My grandmother is British so it’s only 70% phony for me to use their colloquialisms. Right, Matt?) I don’t steal my games, or my music, or my video. I pay for my books or get loaners from the library. Owing to this whole No High Scores project I do things I wouldn’t ordinarily do as a consumer, like buy games on release day and then buy day one DLC, because I feel obligated to write or talk here about whether or not said DLC feels like it’s supposed to be part of the game. The point is this: I do my part to support the work of the people making this stuff. So does the vast majority of other gamers. So as much as I am sympathetic to the need of developers and publishers to make money, I get really, really tired of these guys talking about their customers as if we’re the reason they’re not making enough of it to justify their obnoxious development and marketing budgets.

READ ALSO:  On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 in Review

Hell, most of the time they’re devoting those sums to the types of games I couldn’t be less interested in anyway. Given that, the more they go out of their way to make the simple process of buying and playing their product a complete and total pain in the tookus, the more I don’t want to play their product at all. And, although it’s not here yet, the day is coming when I won’t.

I am, quite frankly, tired of being pushed around by this industry. I’m tired of characters in games sticking their hands out to me, in the game, telling me I should buy still more product to make the game I’ve already paid for better. I’m tired of paying for DLC and wondering the next time I load the game if I’ll still be able to pick up my save game should the publisher’s servers be down that day; because that never happens. I’m tired of seeing stories about how gamer X went in a forum and acted obnoxiously, only to have publisher Y disable access to games that person paid for and should be able to play offline. Now you’re telling me I’ve violated some sacred covenant because I want to lend my buddy my copy of Arkham Asylum so he can see if he likes it?

Here’s something the 37-year old me can say to a game maker, without a hint of reservation, that the 22-year old me would never have said: I don’t need to play your games. I love games. I’ve always loved games. But my life, and my ability to find contentment in it, is not tied to this business and that’s true of each and every gamer in existence, whether they know it or not. We do not need game publishers. We don’t need game developers. They need us. Maybe, just maybe, the loudest and whiniest among them should take a minute to consider that the next time they go off about how gamers are making it too hard for them to make gobs and gobs of money for their asshat shareholders.

READ ALSO:  Jumping the Shark Podcast #110

What’s really interesting to me about all this, though, is that the more desperate these guys get to rake in every last possible cent to cover their outlandish budgets, the less interesting their games are getting. I played the first two Call of Duty games and had fun, but not even the move to a “modern” setting could interest me in playing another one, let alone the variety of me-too knock offs that come out every year trying to ape the formula. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the games I’ve heard about the past few months that have got me the most excited -your FTLs, Banner Sagas, and Wasteland 2s- are smaller projects for which larger publishers couldn’t be bothered to give a second thought.

I have never been a big indie game guy, but that is where the spirit of not just innovation and variety, but also of basic fairness and balance, has gone. Michael Barnes wrote an excellent piece this week on how the best indie games today aren’t just retro affairs, but games that take the best of modern design sense and long-abandoned gameplay styles to produce something wholly unique. And guess what? They’re not charging $60 on one hand, while demanding constant access to your Internet connection with the other, and then holding back features for future DLC with some freakish third hand you didn’t even realize was there until it made a play for your pocket.

They don’t need to do these things because theirs is a much simpler equation: Put everything you’ve got into making something good, try your damndest to get people to notice, and, if you’re successful at both these things, make some money. It’s not an easy equation by any means, but it is a fair one, both for them and the people playing their games. And guess what? I’ve never spoken to an independent developer or someone working for a smaller dev outfit that wasn’t wholly appreciative of their customers. They have to be or they don’t stand a chance and they know it.

READ ALSO:  Jumping the Shark Podcast #68

Publishers today make such big bets on their titles that they’re terrified of the uncertainty of a failure because any such failure could be catastrophic to the bottom line. I get that. But that’s the price you’re supposed to pay. Big reward is supposed to require big risk. But they want the big reward without the risk and instead of re-examining their flawed, budget-busting business models they’d rather rig the playing field under the deluded notion that the only obstacle between them and easily repeatable money-printing success are gamers who are getting too good of a deal off all their hard work. Talk about doubling-down on a terrible bet.

Now more than at any point in the last 30 years, gamers don’t have to play their games. There are plenty of other options and, if they keep trying to tighten their grip, they’re going to learn that lesson the hard way.

 

Todd Brakke

Todd was born in Ann Arbor with a Michigan helmet in one hand and a mouse in the other. (Never you mind the logistics of this.) He grew, vertically anyway, and proceeded to spend over 16 years as a development editor for Pearson Education, publishing books, videos, and digital learning products under the Que and Sams Publishing imprints. Because that wasn't enough of a challenge, Todd has also been a 20-year part-time snob about video games, writing reviews, features, and more for multiple outlets. Follow him on Twitter @ubrakto or check it out his website at ToddsFoolery.com.

34 thoughts to “Pushed Around by the Industry”

  1. If people would just say no to these assholes instead of throwing r money at preorders and DLC…

    If we don’t star saying no now, we are FUCKED in the next generation.

    1. I think the path is probably set for the next gen consoles. Nothing short of a catastrophic disaster for their business models and practices (which I think could well happen) will change how the heavies in the business approach their methodology.

      1. I wouldn’t be so sure that even a catastrophic disaster will do it. There are clear parallels with the music industry here. We can only hope that the relative youth of the games industry will help them see the wood for the trees.

        1. The market could still crash or face massive losses.

          Likely, there’s no changing what the next console generation will look like, but that’s not to say that it can’t change over the course of its duration. Look at how utterly different this gen is than it was in 2006, 2007.

          I’ve been playing some older games from 2007, 2008 and it’s almost WEIRD how they’re longer, more content-rich, purpose-built, and don’t deem like storefronts for DLC.

          If consumers reject- and I mean DON’T FUCKING BUY, not buy and then complain- things like the lack of backward compatibilty, the required internet connection, and so forth- these new consoles then it could be another video game market crash.

          Remember that- it crashed before. It can crash again.

      2. Todd – you made a key point in your article – “that the 22-year old me would never have said” – this is part of the issue. I’m not bashing all young’uns (I’m 41) but I remember being that age and absolutely HAVING to have a game. Now, I’m not even considering buying Diablo 3, for example. Unfortunately there will always be people that ‘have to have it’ no matter their age and that is that. All we can do is try to influence the decision through articles like this and other websites.

        As for next gen consoles – not going to happen for me until next next-gen, or if and when my two year old twins are old enough to seriously decide they are into gaming to justify the purchase. For now, they will learn on the Wii, and PS3 to a lesser extent.

        1. I’m 30, and I’m beginning to fall into this demo. I’m not even casting a sideways glance at Diablo 3. The thing is, we have nothing to do with the younger demos who are jumping on day one releases.

        2. I’m 24, and I’ve been in that mentality for a while. When more alternatives become available, age doesn’t really matter.

          1. To be more specific, I only bought a PS2 used in 2005, completely skipping the consoles of that generation until then. I also skipped the next generation until about 2011 when I got a Wii. Jumping in toward the end of the lifecycle is great for the prices; not so great for online.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly. I’ve already decided to pass on the next gen consoles for as long as possible by building a new PC. In fact, I’m hard pressed to think of a single real reason to invest in the next gen.

    I know that the big publishers exist on all platforms, including PC. I just feel like the titles on PC are more frequently discounted. Plus I honestly wouldn’t mind getting out from under the thumb of Microsoft and Sony and their ever-failing hardware. I have friends on their third or fourth current gen consoles, and I am currently on my second PS3. I find the unreliability of the current gen to be staggering.

    Nintendo seems to be the only one sticking to the old model, but I think that’s namely because of their network limitations. I’m sure the Wii U will nickle and dime us all the same.

    Ugh… sorry, I feel like my response is all over the place. Truth is, I don’t know what to say about it anymore. First it was online piracy, now they’re punishing us for using a perfectly legitimate capitalistic system that’s been in place since gaming’s infancy. The publishers, and some developers, have simply grown too large and are no longer sustainable without current practices of revamping (ie duplicating) working titles (CoD), or selling their titles in fractions (DLC). We all know that used games are not the problem. They’ll learn the same soon enough.

    1. The Steam factor was heavily in my head when I was writing this one, because a lot of these indie games are most heavily distributed through Steam, which when you think about it, isn’t a whole lot different from locking game purchases for consoles to a user account. I ended up ignoring that factor for this piece. I need to chew on that longer and perhaps revisit.

      If the same game you buy on disc for your next gen xbox is locked to an account the same way buying a new release through Steam is right now, is it really that different? I want to say that it is because Steam is so easy to install anywhere you like and have easy access to everything you’ve purchased. But console makers could make that equally easy, I suppose. Perhaps even easier if you’re just moving the disc around. On the other hand it’s easier to wait out for a better deal on Steam. I dunno what to think about all that yet.

      1. I love Steam. I don’t know why I love it, but I do. It’s a little bit different, I think. First of all, I’m often floored by the sales that are frequently advertised. I can’t tell you how much content I’ve bought during amazing deals. Second, yes it may be tied to your account… but it’s also easily transferred to your new (albeit less frequently upgraded) rig. It’s the best display of backwards compatibility. Not to mention the sheer volume of indie games finding the perfect distribution channel through Steam. Valve is doing it right. I’m not against DRM, honestly. Just don’t punish me… like if Steam charged a fee for reinstalling your already purchased games on a new machine.

        With GOG and Steam, and hopefully other distribution channels… we win. Why should we be tied down to Microsoft’s and Sony’s network.

        1. I like having the titles tied to my account, because Steam is basically managing my library for me. I don’t have to worry about losing discs or files. Luxurious!

      2. This is what I don’t understand about your piece. I agree with the broad strokes, but I think the argument is weakened when you consider that this already happened to the PC market. I had been hearing about Steam for years, and just figured it was a PC game store. Then I started to use it and realized that it was also a DRM program. I wasn’t super thrilled.

        Anyway, I’m not happy with how console manufactures/publishers are dealing with their customer base. Especially when they still keep producing shitty products that take about 8 hours to beat but still cost $60. But, PC gaming is still alive and even going through a bit of a resurgence with a very similar game-to-account-locking scheme. So, I feel its best to keep a bit of an open mind and wait for more details to emerge on exactly how this system is going to work.

        1. As I think more on this today, I think part of the difference is that the motivation matters. Steam came about as a desire to fill a gap in the marketplace – finding a successful model for digital distribution. Locking games to account was a logical solution to a legitimate problem in many respects and if gamers didn’t like those restraints, well, there’s the retail boxed product. There was fair choice for the market. What the pubs and console makers are doing is trying to remove choice from the market and I think that’s a big difference.

          Or maybe I’m willfully trying to find a way to give Steam a pass.

          1. But aren’t there a lot of games that are only available through Steam? Pretty sure you couldn’t find Crusader Kings II in stores, and that game is bigger than what you would normally see in a PSN title. Plus, finding stores with a good PC game selection can be difficult I mean, you were talking about that on the podcast this week.

            Or, maybe my hatred for Valve is coloring my view of Steam.

          2. My problem with Steam isn’t that purchases are tied to a particular account, my problem is that they are tied to Steam.

            If I build a new machine, if my hard drive dies (happened just this last December!), Steam still has to be there, up and running, and still supporting every game they’ve ever supported to get my games back.

            No thanks.

          3. No, you’re right (AngryOgre), it’s a not a perfect point. But at the time Steam was launched, those alternatives were there. The industry has changed around (an in part because of) Steam to where that customer choice isn’t as easy/vibrant as it was a few years ago when Steam started up. But that’s where I go back to intent. I think Steam *tried* to strike a reasonable balance between digital download convenience and locking down content to avoid theft (whether they succeeded is a different question, although they certainly did commercially), but here the pubs and manufacturer’s are just talking about locking down content because they can so as to deliberately restrict choice.

          4. @ Michael S: You can gift games at the time of purchase, or if you already have a copy of that game and buy another one (as i did recently with Dawn of War II, I bought Gold Edition at a bargain price and having already bought DoWII on Steam, I now have a copy of that game to give away) but you can’t gift any game from your account.

            I find Steam to be a very amenable compromise. I don’t view it as DRM software at all, I think to take that view is a little hard-line. It’s a package deal, a bargain you make with the distributors where they provide easy, one-stop access for your games and you agree not to take those games and go elsewhere.

            I’ll accept that there is an element of trust that you will be able to get access to your games if the service went down tomorrow, but the fact that Steam can already operate offline and give you access to your content (even multiplayer content that doesn’t rely on the Steam servers) bodes well for that relationship. The sheer size of Steam as a marketplace also guarantees to a certain extent continued access to your content. There is just so much money in play here, so many vested interests, that the idea of just shutting down the service and denying so many customers access to content they have paid for is kind of absurd. I’m not sure on the Steam EULA stance on this issue (not sure there is one) but it’s been well proven that EULAs are not legally defend-able where they violate basic consumer rights.

            Where Steam goes wrong in my opinion is not setting certain boundaries to protect their customers. Publishers should not be allowed to add further layers of DRM over Steam’s content control. They should also enforce that as far as is practical, content should be available in offline mode. Steam provides access to the game without an Internet connection, the game should be required to honour that functionality by providing access to content that does not by nature require a connection- so single player content, essentially. This would protect consumers from idiot publishers and provide a consistent user experience for Steam customers. I feel that Valve/Steam are a big enough force in distribution to make these calls now. Sure, some of the big publishers might take their ball and start their own service (Origin, anyone?) but fact is they would probably have done that anyway, as the idea of handing over a % of their sales income to Valve would become unpalatable past a certain level anyway.

            tl;dr: I don’t think steam is so much of an issue in this argument, but games that are distributed by steam and also inflict a layer of DRM on top of that I take issue with (and don’t buy).

        2. Steam is so popular only for one think-Steam sales!You can get your 50 euro AAA title 6 months later for 15 or buy hole publishers packs with over 50 games in it for the price of one new game(Paradox had all their games for 80 euro in last big sale). Hardly see them as place where you buy day one releases and for myself I never buy steamworks games full price too.

          1. The comments need to have edit option please!!!

            Steam is so popular only for one thing-Steam sales!You can get your 50 euro AAA title 6 months later for 15 or buy whole publishers packs with over 50 games in it for the price of one new game(Paradox had all their games for 80 euro in last big sale). Hardly see it as place where you buy day one releases and for myself I never buy steamworks games full price too.

      3. This is very glass half full but is it not possible that the next gen is looking at steam as a leader in the digital market place. Digital is very clearly the future and steam is very clearly the market leader in that space.

        What is being reported on is the “no used games” because that has been a much debated issue but that could very easily be the consequence of a digital future that new consoles need to compete in.

        1. Someone will correct me if I’m wrong (I’ve only done this once), but I think with Steam you can buy a game and gift it to another Steam account, but I don’t think you can buy a game for your account and then transfer the rights to use it to someone else.

          Did a quick Google search (and it’s just a forum thread, so take that for what it’s worth), that would appear to confirm that:

          http://forums.steampowered.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1013933

          1. there is some experimental stuff happening with being able to send games you haven’t ever installed to other people I think. It might be on very limited titles though.

      4. I love Steam. I love the ease with which it lets me buy games and DLC, and the seemingly large amounts of love that Valve has for PC gaming (with good reason, but I won’t fault them for that.) If I had to choose one thing wrong with it, its that in order for my fiance to play a game that I bought at the same time as me, we have to go through the process of logging in under Offline mode and then there is no way that we can play together.

        This is one way that console games have PC beat, in that for us to play a game co-op, the price doubles. I don’t really know who’s fault it is honestly. Do I remember a time where we could install a single game on two PCs and LAN it? I’ve done that before, right? Maybe I have, maybe I haven’t. I really can’t remember. I wish there were an easy fix to it all.

  3. A-fucking-men Todd. I know exactly what you mean about changing priorities as you get older. Even though I’m 27 instead of 37 (just a baby!) I’ve been having a real change of perspective about console games especially over the last couple years. I’ve had various letdowns like the third instalments of major franchises like God of War, Uncharted and Mass Effect; bullshit DRM schemes from the likes of Ubisoft and EA; bullshit DLC schemes from pretty much every major publisher, exemplified most recently by Capcom and their on-disc Street Fighter X Tekken DLC (absolutely no excuse for on-disc DLC, ever, I don’t care what the fuck Capcom thinks). Between that, and a PC resurgence lead by indie developers and people like Good Old Games that actually care about their customers, I don’t think I’ve ever been so apathetic towards the mainstream games industry.

    Personally, I just played through some classic games thanks to GOG and emulators, started learning guitar thanks to Rocksmith (a rare example of a major publisher actually doing something innovative and successful) and got back into my model train hobby. Until they manage to pass a law that says we have to buy their games no matter what, the power is still ultimately with us. There is so much stuff you can do with your spare time these days, even just counting media, that you don’t need them. Just walk away.

    1. Per my Steam comment on OminousFog’s post, GoG’s very open service is a terrific counter to Steam. Now that they’re officially moving in the direction of just supporting good games, however new/old, they really could end up becoming my preferred platform for buying games.

  4. ” At the rate we’re going, to play games in 2028 you’ll have to have a publisher representative in the room with you while you play and you’ll be the one paying for his time…”

    Me in 2012: “Hmm. That’s a humorous exaggeration to make a point.”

    Me in 2028, sitting next to Brad, EA’s “In-House Fun-gineer”: “Todd Brakke is/was Nostradamus.”

  5. To be honest, there’s a point where you just throw your hands in the air and say, “fuck it, I’m done.” Is that next gen? It might be for me. Or, at the very least I may end up strictly PC this time. Consoles always won over PC for me because shit just worked. I didn’t have to deal with everything the PC throws at you, and Gamefly (or borrowing from roommates back in the day) helped alleviate the costs. If they kill Gamefly, as I’m sure they’d love for rental to be caught in the crossfire against used sales, that severely kills the viability of console.

    And, you know, if that happens it happens. I’ve got a lot of hobbies — too many, in fact, for my available free time and income. Perhaps their moves will be the catalyst that scales back one of my more expensive hobbies. It’s unfortunate, but I’m done hand-wringing over them. They’ll do something stupid like this, because they’re misguided and greedy, and I’ll probably walk away. If enough people do the same, the industry can die off like a wildfire and come back with new companies.

  6. I’m very glad (yet also rather sad) to see I’m not the only one that’s feeling this way lately.

  7. I cant help but compare Steam to what EA is doing, and I have to say the difference is largely in the mandate of the company. EA acts like gamers are the problem, mindless sources of money to be squeezed at every turn, whereas steam goes out of its way to draw gamers in and give them a good deal. EA rushes half finished games to market so they can sell DLC for them, and steam lets you get games on sale while still supporting the studio.

    Steam at least tries to respect its users, and make a service they want to use.

    EA does not respect its gamers, or its studios. And I think that will hurt it greatly going forward (though it might already be too late for Bioware).

  8. It was The Crash in the 1980s that led to gaming’s rebirth and resurgence, and while terrible at the time, was ultimately good for the industry in the long run, leading some very innovative and forward thinking people to bring us memorable games. The PS2/Xbox/Gamecube generation, I believe, was the climax of this current iteration, and just like in 1982, its begun to become bloated by greedy people looking to make nothing but a quick buck. We just have better technology now.

    The industry as it is is merely stagnating. They are playing it safe and screwing customers over to try and keep the status quo and its only going harm them in the long run. The “indie” scene has it right. Low budgets and intelligent individuals reinventing genres and gameplay and using modern sensibilities in tangent with just making a good game, one that they themselves might like to play.

    Maybe another crash is imminent. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe some new up and comers can come in and rebuild again, just as Nintendo did with the NES/Famicom, and the industry can once again push forward and grow.

    There is so much I want to say about how fucked the current industry ideologies are, what they are doing wrong, and pondering why they themselves are blind to it when practically everyone everywhere is pointing it out to them. It would take an essay to do so, and I won’t waste anymore time from anybody. Let’s just let nature take its course and the greed of these big publishers (because, let’s face it, it’s mostly the greed of ignorant publishers who have probably never played a game,video or not, in their life) can bite them in their deserving asses and bankrupt them, officially making them go away (curing the disease instead of the symptom?).

    Bah. Its late. Time to go enjoy gaming as it was instead of currently is. ^o^

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.