[As always, Josh Sibley’s opinions do not reflect those of the JKP! group at large or, indeed, most reasonable people. Gird your loins.]
There are times when I wish I had a hobby whose community I could be proud of, a hobby whose fans for once in their angry, entitled lives took a step back and made a real effort into not being utterly ridiculous. Then I soon realize other hobbies have to deal with this as well and I’m brought back down to Earth, shaking my head all the while (I’m sure Harrison has to deal with fellow propmakers who whine about the cost of resin or some shit, but I digress).
I am astonished at the wailing and gnashing of teeth every single time a game comes out that features an online pass of some sort, Kingdom of Amalur being the latest one to be blindsided by this irrational wave of fury. Curt Schilling, head of 38 Studios, quickly made himself one of my new favorite people by basically going “We stay alive by you buying this game new and we’d like to reward people that do that”. And still you hear the howls of the entitled echo into the night.
This entire thing is one of the times I’m honestly ashamed of my video game hardcore brethren and their short-sightedness. Since before I was born, developers and publishers have been trying everything they can think of to curtail piracy and used sales, oftentimes to the detriment of the final product, but always with an undertone of trying to punish the offender. They’ve tried everything from intentionally hobbling the game itself to shackling it with intrusive DRM, and don’t doubt for a second that a big reason why MMO’s and other online games are still so attractive to publishers even though WoW has consumed basically every one of them is because they’re impossible to pirate. Guess what? Every single method has failed. There isn’t a protection method out there that has ever lasted more than a week and there has never been a game that I could not have gotten for free had I so desired. Piracy and used game sales aren’t going away. Ever. They’re here to stay. That’s why every attempt to legislate the problem away has both been toxic and toothless, because it’s like trying to shoot a rainstorm. It’s too big and ethereal to effectively grab hold.
So if negative never ever works, then you have two options: You can utterly ignore the problem, or you can take a positive route instead. Do you guys not understand what a fucking breakthrough it is that a massive corporation like EA is trying to use positive reinforcement rather than hammering away futilely at an unbeatable, un-hittable enemy? Guys, the music and the movie industry would set fire to piles of their money outside your bedroom window before they would ever consider starting an incentive program. Publishers are trying to give you free shit to reward you for paying them for a thing they made, and you are yelling at them for it.
I have heard every argument under the sun regarding this issue, and while every single one of them is stupid, they range from wildly impractical to straight up Occupy Wall Street temper tantrum. However, none of them has been able to answer this one question: Why in the name of Gabe Newell should a company care what kind of experience you’re getting from your slab of entertainment you paid a wholly unrelated middleman to obtain? Keep in mind, I’m not against used game sales. Nothing wrong with a used market for anything. At the same time, I can see why people who actually make things instead of simply pawn things may want to push back against the secondary market. I appreciate that some publishers are doing this via giving me free shit in Mass Effect 2 rather than trying to lobbyist and lawyer the secondary market into oblivion.
Keep in mind, I’m aware that there are multiplayer online passes that end up being linked to one gamer profile, so multiple passes have to be bought for multiple gamertags if an entire household wants to play multiplayer, and that’s bullshit. Unequivocally that’s absolutely terrible, but I’m not a multiplayer gamer at all, so it’s not really in my wheelhouse. I’m coming from a strictly single player experience.
But this is more about the fan reaction to this strategy is, rather than the actual strategy itself. People who have no stake in this subject, no leg to stand on whatsoever, armed with the most ridiculous arguments I’ve seen this side of a feminist gaming blog are taking stands left and right, almost unanimously. I’ve heard “I hate that they’re nickel-and-diming us”, when what in reality they’re doing is trying to make at least some profit off their product that you managed to get in a way that nets them nothing whatsoever. I’ve heard “You don’t buy a car in pieces”, and there’s a reason car companies advertise certain things as “standard” on their car, because there are tons of bells and whistles that are extra. I’ve heard “piracy/buying used doesn’t necessarily equal a lost sale, so the effects on actual revenue are impossible to measure”, and while that is true, it’s a safe bet that the actual amount lost isn’t negligible. I’ve heard “gamers selling used games gives them more money to buy new ones”, which would be valid except Gamespot gives you roughly five cents for turning in a popular game a week old, so that argument’s right out. I’ve heard “The developers are already paid, it’s the big publishers that see your money”, which shows a deeply, profoundly stupid ignorance of how the industry and commerce works in general, and I’ve even heard “Well, every game company should have their own used game store”, which is the flat out dumbest, most unwieldy and unworkable idea I’ve heard since the live action Akira movie.
If you buy a used game or pirate, you’re not their customer. You’re not even a potential customer. You have had a product presented before you at a standard price point, and you’ve gone “No thank you”. The BEST case scenario as far as that company is concerned is that maybe you’ll be so taken by their game that the NEXT one they make you’ll buy on day one. This is like going past a restaurant that has a sign in the window that says you have to pay extra for bread sticks if you want them added to your meal you fished out of the dumpster behind the joint, except imagine the meal is as full and pristine as it was on the table inside. Now imagine being furious at that. As much fun as games are, the people that make them are a business, and businesses exist to make money. If you choose not to give them money, that is the power you have as a consumer, that is how you let your voice be heard, and it’s a wholly valid, good option. The only downside is that once you exercise that option, that’s it. You don’t get to go “I think it’s awful what you’re doing to people who are not relevant or supportive of your efforts in any way”. I mean, you could assume that people cancel their preorders or just don’t buy games that they were once planning on getting new because they disagree with the online pass strategy, but let’s be honest, no they don’t. If they do, they are exceedingly, caveman-level mentally deficient on many levels, from objecting deeply to being given free shit to disagreeing with a company trying to combat a secondhand market that allows you to purchase a product identical to the new version for less money. I bought Mass Effect 2 new and I got a free character, several free guns, a bunch of stuff. There’s the whole “That stuff would have been part of the normal game fifteen years ago” argument, and while that’s more of a DLC issue, I’ve still heard people say it regarding this, and it’s silly in both instances. Since I bought the game new, My guns and characters and whatnot are part of my game, from now until the end of time. In Arkham City, the Catwoman sections aren’t “DLC that was cut out”, it’s just part of the game I play through. It’s that “sectioned off, DLC only” part to those people who bought it used, but those people don’t matter. They used their voice to say “this game isn’t worth full price/any price at all”, and no one except entitled assholes would expect anyone to care about them or pay attention to them beyond sending that message. “I know I told you to go fuck yourself, but where are my breadsticks motherfucker?”
What’s sad is that there IS a valid alternative to the online pass shenanigans, and it’s so fucking simple. It’ll never happen, but it would deal a major blow to the used games industry overnight, and here it is: Price your games what they’re worth. Have a varied pricing structure for new titles. Currently, a game like Skyrim that boasts literally hundreds of hours of play-time and wins game of the year awards from every corner of the Earth is the same price on day one as some shitball FPS like Homefront that’s lucky if it gets a 6 out of 10, and the method the Homefront team is hoping will pay off is that people will ignore the millions of sources that will tell the consumer in detail just how shitty and disappointing Homefront is, and hopefully just enough people will have been fooled by the hype and marketing for just long enough to make those precious, regret-filled day one purchases. After that, it plays out like this: Your average consumer can wait for roughly fifty years for a new shitty game’s price to fall to the point where he might actually waste his time on it, or he could buy a dirt cheap used copy that is crowding the shelves a week after release because there’s not a single person alive for whom Homefront is a valued addition to their library.
You’re not going to fool me. I can read reviews for literally hours from many different sources on any given game release, and I can probably gauge pretty accurately just how much I’d be willing to spend for any given experience. Not surprisingly, the amount is very rarely “Sixty American Dollars Plus Tax”. What’s insane is that I have very limited options at that point: I can just straight up not procure said game ever, I can wait a little while and get it used for about half cost, provided it has a PC release I can just straight up pay no one anything, or I can wait 8 months for a new title to drop slightly in price. The only option there that’s in any way beneficial to the company that made it is the least likely thing to happen there. That’s why the used game market is thriving: The market tells you what your thing’s worth, not the other way around. You can either listen or you can not get a sale.
The market right now is FULL of examples of variable pricing structures obliterating rigid ones. Handheld markets are on the verge of being wiped out, in no small part due to the fact that iPhone games, while mostly shitty as they can be, are all mostly a couple dollars as well. Meanwhile, good luck finding a piece of shit on the DS or 3DS that’s under twenty. There’s plenty of indie games that have sold their full releases for a “pay what you can” price structure and have made millions, and most of them are Mario rip offs, except this time it’s all with shadows and it’s sad or it’s starring a piece of pixelated meat and it’s hard. Steam regularly has entire libraries on sale for fifty percent off, and meanwhile retail game sales MIGHT hack off five bucks. Back in the day, the first Serious Sam was twenty bucks new. It ended up being one of the best FPS’s of all time, but even if it’d been garbage, who gives a shit? Regardless of its extremely stupid cover, I bought that game right then and there without a second thought. Hell, Nintendo was in fucking massive trouble with the abysmal 3DS launch, and all it took was a heavy price cut for Nintendo’s fortunes to turn around. Keep in mind, there was still fuck all to play on the thing, and the games that everyone was excited about were announced long before the price cut happened. Literally all it took to turn most people’s opinion from “No thanks” to “How awesome!” was a price slash. Just today I went from potential pirate to legitimate customer when Steam offered Skyrim to me for 40 bucks.
Is a full on war against used game sales a bad idea? Most assuredly. Aggressive deafness when it comes to your customers telling you what your products are worth never ends well. Is there any reason under the sun you can give that any developer should care about you once you’ve told them you’re not giving them any money for what they’ve done? No, you really, honestly can’t.
SUPER UPDATE: Well, I’m glad I waited to post this, because Bioware has just given me the opportunity to show what the other side of the equation might look like in this whole scenario. JKP is nothing in its rants but fair and balanced, after all. They announced that a DLC pack featuring a new crew member and mission would be available for free on day one… for people who bought the collector’s edition. Which is already sold out lots of places. People who buy the standard version new on day one? Well, they get to pay ten bucks if they want that new content. Not a freebie in sight.
See, THIS is the definition of nickel-and-diming your customer. “Collector’s Edition” should never mean “Complete Edition”, and you should never regret a day one purchase. It’s a real shame to see Bioware’s big magnum opus finisher being taken advantage of like this, but at least there’s no Shepard flavored gamer-fuel.