This is long and ranty. But I feel that it is important.
You guys absolutely got the industry you wanted.
We got here through slow degrees. Like the proverbial frog in the pot – although, it didn’t actually seem that way to begin with. So, very quickly, let’s talk about the divide between modern games and how they monetize and older games and how those raked in the money.
In the bad old days, a game was a once-off experience – for the most part. You bought the game, it had absolutely all the content on the disk and off you went. This wasn’t absolutely universal, of course – even back then we had what were known as “Scenario Disks” and added content through content builders – Things like the Forgotten Realms Unlimited Adventures construction kit.
But if you bought a game you would be assured of ALL the content. At least until a scenario disk/expansion pack rolled around. There was no messing around with day one DLC [a misnomer, but we’ll get there] or very many “added content exclusives.” The game you took home was – generally – the same game your European friends took home on the day of release.
Then, Bethesda cracked open the door through Horse Armor and everything changed.
But it’s important to realize an important thing about this whole fiasco: we can’t go back. We can’t stuff the genie back into the bottle. But we can maybe make executives think twice about fleecing us.
So, if Horse Armor is the divide between the Modern Industry and the Ancient Industry, then we maybe need to talk about everything the modern industry does, because a lot of it is not good for you as a customer. Like Blizzard says: “You might think you want vanilla servers, but you really don’t.”
[Don’t worry, Blizzard, I’ll take aim at you in a moment.]
In summary? You might think you want DLC, but not the way the industry packages it now. [or “free to play” games. Or “shortcuts that would have been “cheat codes” in the Before Times.]
So, the way the modern industry works is that it creates a game. And as it creates the game, it cordons off bits of the game to sell you later as “Day One DLC.” This would have been part of the experience. But executives and advertising people have decided that, no. Instead of buying the game for $60, you need to buy it and slap on a little extra along the side so that the game actually costs $80. In some cases, this is just a flat-out bit of extra stuff – more content that you can go and grab from their servers. In other cases, it’s a bad lock-in mechanism called a Season Pass.
See if this sounds OK to you:
The executives/advertising want you to buy a game – sight unseen – they want you to put money on the table when you haven’t actually seen a drop of game play. Then, they want you to add more money to this pile, keeping you trapped to that purchase in a season pass where you may not actually like the game. This is not good for you.
The only people who win here are the executives, who pat themselves on the back for a sociopath-like “job well done.”
Rule 1 of Game Buyer’s Club: Don’t put money down when you haven’t seen the game in action.
This – loosely – ties into pre-orders. Pre-orders exist to suck you into a purchase when you’ve never seen the game. This has spiralled out in all kinds of weird directions that I shouldn’t even have to touch on, but we’re at that train-stop, so I may as well. Pre-orders now come in all sorts of shapes and sizes that you should TOTALLY AVOID.
The buy-in beta? Don’t do that. If you have to pay money to get into a beta then what you’re actually doing is paying the studio to do a job they should hire people for. I can’t even stress this enough. You are selling your time to do a job that the studio used to actually hire for.
This applies equally to Kickstarters, Greenlight and Early Access. All of these methods of “financing” exist to separate you from your money in a moment of emotional weakness. The internet seems to have fallen head over heels for Tim Schafer, a guy who – habitually – overpromises and under delivers. Spacebase DF-9? You can still buy it. It’s still an unfinished wreck. Double Fine Adventure [And/or Broken Age] – was Kickstarted to the tune of 3 Million Dollars. Try saying that in a Doctor Evil pinky-in-the mouth voice. Because that’s exactly how it turned out. And it wasn’t enough for Tim Schafer, either. He had to carve Broken Age in half and sell you separate pieces, asking for more money along the way because he blew through the three million dollars. Right now, he’s “under financing” Psychonauts 2. On his own platform. Where he can put the money anywhere he likes. It doesn’t necessarily even need to go to Psychonauts 2 development at all.
To put this into perspective: Notch approached Tim Schafer about that game. Tim wanted “about $2 Million.” Then they got into closed talks. And it turned out that the game was really going to cost $18 Million. And that was in 2012. So I think you can take his current “guesstimate” on Fig with a giant grain of salt.
And Tim Schafer’s only the tip of this iceberg.
Rule 2 of Game Buyer’s Club: Buyer Beware. You don’t know when a “beta” is a scam.
So, let’s say – for the sake of this argument, that the game actually makes it out the door. You buy it. But where do you buy it? The modern industry wants you to hunt for “the best version.” So they sell a slightly different version at Target that includes the black vest and neon camouflage. Then there’s the other version with the extra songs and one new class at Best Buy. Exclusivity is terrible. No one wins. Do you seriously want to chase down every version of the game that has now been split into tiny pieces through executive meddling so that you can have the One True Version? And remember – each version costs a slightly different amount. And since we’re talking about – largely AAA games, we’re talking about a varying amount based around the $60 mark. So if there are three versions of the game, then you’re paying $180 to have a “complete experience.”
Count that up. You meant to spend $60. You ended up chasing down three versions. You spent $180. I’m not even counting the cost of the fuel into this equation. Or the fact that you would have to spend money either via your ISP bill reserving a copy or through a phone call to a store clerk making sure they keep a copy for you. It is obscene.
And this gets even worse when you factor in platform exclusives. Executives do this so they can drive sales of a particular platform – whether that be a console or a mobile version or the like – it’s all set up so that you are forced into a purchase you possibly didn’t want to make. You have to buy the game and a console you may not necessarily want.
Rule 3 of Game Buyer’s Club: Exclusivity is stupid. Platform exclusivity doubly so.
And it doesn’t stop. Even when you have the game in your mitts, executive meddling has made sure to add extra purchases on top of an already purchased game. These folks are double-dipping left and right. I mentioned Blizzard, up top? Well, let’s talk about Blizzard, because they’re committing multiple sins all in one go.
Blizzard’s current new kid on the block is Overwatch. Overwatch is a game you can buy that [get this] only has a multiplayer version. That part’s still sort of OK, I guess. It costs $40. Which is silly for a multiplayer game only. But on the plus side…you get all the characters. This is streets better than it’s nearest competitors which insist on forcing purchases on you for each character you’re interested in. [Every MOBA ever, pretty much.]
But then Blizzard insists on doing something dumb. The worst part? The internet is rushing to their defence. And it makes no sense, because it is – again – terrible for you.
So, in Overwatch at each level up, you get access to a loot crate. Loot crates don’t contain any game altering things. You get skins, voice emotes, spray tags, player icons, video clips and poses. So, everything is cosmetic. But you can also buy the loot crates from the Blizzard store. Let’s just call a spade a spade. They’re gamble-boxes. You can’t buy the skin you want. You have to spend – at very least $2, get two boxes and pray. You might spend only $2 and bam! skin unlocked. Or you might spend $5000 and not ever even get that skin. So, you paid $5040 for your “complete game.”
And Blizzard is terrible about “microtransactions.” When I read the word, I automatically think: “this shouldn’t cost more than $1. It’s a “small” transaction.” But because the industry has never sat down and hashed out what constitutes Micro, Blizzard has gone to absurd lengths to push the envelope of what their player-base will accept.
I played World of Warcraft for a long time. Each time that game has an expansion cycle, the expansion costs $60. $60 generally gets you into the door for the new content, gives you lots of new shiny stuff to play with and is – often – a reasonable-ish deal. [I say that, but the quality of World of Warcraft expansions has been cliff-diving for a while now. Witness the all-out disaster that was Warlords of Draenor.]
Alongside the new expansions, they often offer mounts and pets that you can buy from the Blizzard Store for real money. This is already problematic: you can’t find this stuff in the game world. You have to destroy your sense of illusion, insert a credit card and continue after your transaction has been processed. But that’s not even the end of the issue. Blizzard’s mounts cost $25 [!] – there’s even one that’s $30 [!!]
Maths. Because maths is important. Remember when I said that an expansion gives you lots of toys? And new stuff to do? Well. $30 being a new mount means you get one item. One. And it cost you half of what a new expansion would cost. [!!!] [Technically more. Legion is going to sell for $50.]
Rule 4 of Game Buyer’s Club: “Microtransaction” is a misnomer. Don’t buy “microtransactions.”
The gaming industry’s price gouging is an utter mess. But you guys got us here. You voted with your wallets. You wanted this. But hopefully this particular article makes you pause and think and take stock. We can’t put the genie back in the bottle. It’s way too late for that. But we can make the sociopathic executive-types pause and consider us. They will never see us as anything other than money. Or pirates. But we can have each other’s backs. We can stop pre-ordering. Or falling for exclusives. Or buying stuff for money in games that we’ve already spent money on. And maybe that’ll slow them down a little.
Rule 5 of Game Buyer’s Club: Talk about Game Buyer’s Club. Spread Game Buyer’s Club far and wide.
Some images courtesy of Pixabay