This article is inspired from the following article on Kotaku, where the authors describes the problems of buying comics on the iPad. At the same time, Dragon Age 2 is featuring a pre-pre-ordering purchase bonus, where you get a special DLC for free if you pre-order before a certain date.
The model for selling videogames has changed quite a bit in the last 20 years. To purchase an Atari game, my younger self we would look at the back of the video game boxes for something looked interesting. It was not a big risk as 10 CAD was not a steep investment.
When the Nintendo came out, this strategy wasn’t as effective, as games would cost around 40 CAD. In that case, renting game at Nintendo Corner was a effective strategy to try games before bying them. The rental would cost about 2-3 CAD for a day, and discounts would be offered for multiple rentals. Even more innovative, the place had game stations where you could play the game directly in the store for about 2 CAD for 15 minutes.
For years, the model didn’t change much: buy video game magazines to learn about new games, rent them to try them out, and buy them if they were good. When the Internet came out, people stopped buying the magazines, but still rented the games.
Fast forward to a time where game consoles are connected to the Internet and people can purchase games digitally from their home. At the same time, Steam was gaining popularity on the PC market. However, the videogame market had two big problems, triple-A games were freakishly expensive to develop (millions of dollars) and stores like GameStop were drastically cutting into the revenues of game makers with used games, as game makers make no money from the sale of a used game.
It took a couple of years, but the video game industry is reacting to this. Unfortunately, the solutions aren’t always avantageous to the players.
At first, the concept of pre-ordering bonus is cool, you get extra feature for ordering the game early. The reality is more nefarious: by not ordering the game early, you are punished by having less content than someone who would. It’s a kind of extortion, buy the game before it is done, or do not get feature X. It gets more complicated as each store want a different bonus. You are then forced to choose your retailer based on the bonus you want. In this scenario, you will not get the complete package, as each retailer holds a piece of the puzzle.
At the same time, DLC has evolved a lot in the last few years. Initially, DLC was designed to enhance the gaming experience, with new costumes and extra weapons. Nowadays, DLC is also used to sell extra game content such as chapters or new areas to explore. These add-ons are pretty important if you want to get the whole story. I can understand selling add-ons for the game experience, but it’s frustrating when content is kept back to be sold as DLC. The more glaring example is Assassin’s Creed 2 where two of the middle chapters where omitted from the game and released as DLC. This means all players will have to shell out an additional 10-15$ to have a complete game with all the chapters.
Finally, digital distribution has revolutionized how games are sold. It has also redefined the notion of owning a game. For example, when buying a game with several popular digital distributors, you do not own the game per-say. Instead, you are given a non-transferable license of the game. You are not allowed to sell the game or your account. You are not even allowed to lend your game to your friend. This hurts the consumer because he is not able to do anything with a game he has finished. Worst is the fact that the digital distributor retains the right to cancel the player’s account (thus taking away his digital property) if he feels the player has violated the distributor’s agreement. The distributor has all the rights and there are no appeals.
The game distribution war has gotten very ugly. Between the used sales, the software pirates and the rising costs of putting games on the selves, game developers and distributors have gotten very aggressive protecting their revenues, often at the expenses of the players. But what are the rights of the player? Who protects their rights? Who will champions their cause?