There has been a ton of venom pouring out of gamers the last few weeks and months, so much so that I can hardly keep track of it all. I do my best to cover it when I can on other sites, but today I wanted to discuss it with you all here.
There is a rising anger among the gaming community about being abused by the very institutions they once trusted, be they developers, console manufactures, retail stores or even websites. Not all of the reasons why are interconnected, but a few of them are, and I wanted to examine why each of these brands is currently so hated, and whether or not it’s actually justified. Feel free to let me know your own thoughts about each and any of these.
There is a die hard contingent of anti-fans who seem to hate Activision with a passion regardless of whether or not they have a legitimate reason. Yes, they come out with a new Call of Duty title every year that rarely changes anything significant and still manages to break world records each time. This may be lazy to a certain extent, but it’s not inherently evil, or something you can actually point to as a poor business practice. It’s actually quite a good one, and the model will remain in place until we, the consumer, stop buying each new game every year regardless of how it is or isn’t moving the genre forward.
Activision was also at the forefront of the DLC debate a while back. The controversy used to be about their $15 map packs, which usually offered levels that were little more than reskins of old maps, with maybe a few new ones thrown in. Surely, not worth 25% of the game’s asking price? But again, we need to learn a lesson that worth is determined by what people are willing to pay for. If Activision benefits by pricing things this high that theoretically could be free, it’s only because they sell massively well, and reap massive profits for little work. Most COD titles will end up having three map packs, or $45 worth of bonus content. That’s 75% of the entire price of the game, and all it took was a few weeks working on some multiplayer maps, or even better, porting in ones from old games.
Activision’s latest controversy centers on the “Call of Duty Elite” subscription service which costs players a monthly fee to do…what exactly? It’s not paying to play online, and it hasn’t been made explicitly clear what the paid features of the program is. If it’s something that significantly affects gameplay, then that’s horrible, if it’s not? Then let idiots pay an extra $5 a month if they want to. All in all, Activision seems fairly clean compared to these other brands. Lazy, but not satanic as the above Google searches would imply.
One mention of Sony in this list, and what do you immediately think of? Obviously the hack, which has made the brand synonymous with a lack of security. The PSN takedown was one of the biggest data breaches in history, and millions of customer information was compromised and credit cards even had to be cancelled left and right. It was a massive headache, and made the brand look inept as its competitor’s online services remained intact.
Much of this was Sony’s fault, as they should have definitely had a more secure system. But in today’s day and age as hackers get more and more advanced, you may think you have proper security but the bad guys simply bring bigger guns to the fight. Recently a hacking group called Lulzsec has been taking down everything from EVE and Minecraft servers to Senate and CIA websites. You never can quite know if you’re secure enough, and it’s unclear if they’ve even fixed the problem to a manageable degree.
Fortunately for Sony, they had a pretty good showing at E3 which finally made people stop talking about the hack at long last. I was impressed with their game line-up and even the PS Vita, which I would actually consider picking up. But they might have just looked competent because of the horrible Microsoft conference that had just taken place hours earlier. Anyone would look great in comparison.
No, this is not someone actively involved in the production of games, but it’s hard to remember the last time I’ve seen a website get this much hate. Perhaps its sister site Gizmodo, but that’s about it. As a website EIC myself (albeit of a much smaller domain), I can understand a lot of the stresses with running a site and dealing with criticisms and what not, but Kotaku seems to be handling everything the absolute wrong way.
Their issues started a while back, when they started veering in and out of journalism by getting facts wrong or skimping on articles that should have been more in depth. Rather than report news, they often just pull things to fill space. Take a look at this recent post. One line and a picture. Now, some of you may say, “Hey, you guys do that too! Don’t tell me you wouldn’t feature that picture as it has Pokemon in it.” Yes, that’s true, we might, but I would certainly write more than one line and more importantly, we are two guys running a website about quirky fun stuff in the entertainment industry, not a fully staffed video game news outlet with the backing of a giant parent company. There are different standards and Kotaku’s seem to be dropping rapidly.
The most popular post I ever wrote for Forbes was this one, published a few days ago detailed the big mistake EA had just made regarding upcoming DLC and pre-order bonuses for their game. The amount of traffic it got should indicate just how much of an misstep the community believes EA has made, and now Call of Duty‘s overpriced map packs look generous compared the kinds of shenanigans EA is trying to pull.
The core concept comes down to the fact that EA is offering exclusive weapons and attachments for Battlefield 3 only to those who buy the game from a certain retailer in a certain format. This is not a new concept in itself, as preorder bonuses have been around for lots of games recently, but it’s different because of the game in question. Not only is Battlefield something of a sacred cow to its fans, discouraged by this sort of maneuver, but as this is an online multiplayer shooter, removing certain guns and attachments and giving them to “special” players has the potential for disastrous things in the future. EA has since backtracked as of yesterday and said that all these items will be made available eventually to all players, but that doesn’t mean this won’t come up again in the future, as it undoubtedly will, and they’ve opened a can of worms.
It’s a slippery slope. EA says that the items will not unbalance the game, despite listing them as “essential” in the item description. But even if they don’t, the principle is that they’re removing content from a game to give to a few select people, and what’s to stop that from becoming something that does in fact unbalance things down the road? How much of a game can be assigned to select people before it starts to feel like its missing pieces?
And now we have our number one, Gamestop, who is responsible for the above problem and in fact many of the issues plaguing the industry today. Publishers try to bribe Gamestop with exclusive preorder bonuses to make them push new copies of the title. The reason for this is that Gamestop is absolutely ravaging the console industry with their used game sales.
You can see how big the issue is when you use a few simple bits of math. Gamestop sells a game for $60, they get a $10 cut of that. Not great, but not bad. The player beats the game, and wants to sell it back. Gamestop says that they’ll give them $20 for it. They turn around and sell it for $50. Someone else buys it, putting a full $50 into Gamestop’s pocket with nothing going to the developer or publisher. The new player beats the game and sells it back a month or two later. Gamestop says they’ll take it for $10, and then immediately flip it for $40. Off one copy of a game, Gamestop has made $70 while those who actually made the game got far less.
It’s a double edged sword. Used games offset the massive $60 investment that almost all titles are these days, but by buying them, we provoke these sorts of incentivized preorders that the cute girl working the counter tries to shove down your throat whenever you’re in there. Moving to online distribution might be convenient, as it will effectively kill Gamestop and these preorder bonuses, but it will also kill the used games market and the price of games won’t go down. You think publishers will bump the price down to $50 just because Gamestop isn’t getting their cut? That’s cute.
So as you can tell, a lot of these places are doing some shady, greedy things that are bad for the industry. But the main problem a good majority of the time is us. Don’t like $15 map packs? Stop buying them. Don’t like exclusive retailer bonuses? Stop preordering games there. The fixes for these things are simpler than we imagine, and the industry will continue taking advantage of us as long as we let them.