Pay to play, pay to win
October 17, 2011 10:34 AM   Subscribe

"The days when you could buy a videogame one day and get an expansion a year later are, sadly, lost in time. Instead, it seems there's a constant bombardment of DLC and microtransaction items all vying for our credit card numbers. They're in everything, from MMORPGs through to singleplayer shooters, and it's only getting worse as time goes on." - An investigation into microtransactions and gaming.
posted by Artw (114 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oh noes. It's the end of the world. I'm powerless before the power of DLC. I must mindlessly purchase everything...
posted by CarlRossi at 10:45 AM on October 17, 2011


I wonder if this is why I don't really play games any more.
posted by melt away at 10:45 AM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Because you have to pay for cosmetic items?
posted by munchingzombie at 10:47 AM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


They're not even hiding it anymore with things like Season Pass.

What's absolutely infuriating is DLC that's 600KB which just unlocks stuff which SHIPPED ON THE DISC.
posted by Talez at 10:47 AM on October 17, 2011 [12 favorites]


But but but TF2 is Free-to-Play!
posted by infinitewindow at 10:48 AM on October 17, 2011


People were buying and selling items, gold and pre-leveled characters long before free to play MMOs and DLC. If there is a black market for such things, and people are making money, the devs are going to get in on the act. I'd rather have it be above board than conducted in the back alleys of ebay and secret forums.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:48 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Phooey to you CarlRossi, I've come to despise DLC, which in many cases is just a way to soak players for money for features that should have been part of the core game. I still haven't forgotten that Xbox 360 Katamari game that charged for access to levels that were on the game disk. That thing is more common than you'd think. It uses the fact that manufacturers have more control over the game system than the person who bought it to enforce money-based feature unlocks, effectively extorting money from the player to get access to code he already has. It's rife on iOS-based systems.
posted by JHarris at 10:51 AM on October 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


~~~ RTFA SPOILER ALERT ~~~

We went into this investigation expecting to be infuriated by every game we came across. We knew TF2 was fine in terms of playability, but thought the pay-to-win situation had become rife and that microtransactions were ruining everything they touched...

...It turns out we were wrong. Everything outside of Battlefield is either cosmetic or available for free, which is the absolute right way to do it if you’re going to at all...

...Microtransactions have allowed Team Fortress 2, Realm of The Mad God, and League of Legends to be completely free without upsetting their communities. This is obviously a good thing, as these are all excellent games - and the more people playing them, the better.

posted by pokermonk at 10:53 AM on October 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


On the flip side, there were never this many cheap "indie" games so easily available. Plants vs Zombies, Braid, Minecraft, the list goes on. Then we have efforts like GOG.com, selling DRM-free classic games. Or Telltale Games with their "episodic" old school adventure games.

As I see it, it's a side effect in an otherwise remarkably diverse market. You don't have to buy every big name game anymore these days...
posted by Harry at 10:54 AM on October 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


What is DLC?
posted by KokuRyu at 10:54 AM on October 17, 2011


Oh nevermind, it's an airport in China
posted by KokuRyu at 10:55 AM on October 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


Downloadable Content
posted by griphus at 10:55 AM on October 17, 2011


DLC is gunhorse.
posted by Artw at 10:56 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


What's really astonishing, however, is that none of the items available in either EVE or WoW do anything, or they replicate the functions of other items you have already.

Someone who buys a monocle for their avatar gives themselves no advantages. They're advertising that they have more money than sense and making themselves a more entertaining target. I don't see a problem there.

In EVE people can turn real world cash into in-game money. That's a real advantage, but not one that seems to unbalance the game. It's paying to avoid spending time earning cash on the in-game market, not paying for an uber-gun that's otherwise impossible to get.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:56 AM on October 17, 2011


Thank you!
posted by KokuRyu at 10:58 AM on October 17, 2011


It's rife on iOS-based systems.

Flash games and iOs games, which are either free or next-to-free, defiantly seem to be cashing in on the pay-to-play stuff as a way of expanding revenue beyond advertising. That;s not entirely shocking, given that users don't pay much for them up front, but it's irritating when you have to pay to progress in the game you've just been playing (remember that shopkeeper game that was linked here a while back?). Full price multiplayer games with paid content that gives you a leg up like Battlefield is pretty worrying.
posted by Artw at 10:58 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think it's useful to separate cosmetic from non-cosmetic items. For TF2, that gives us:
Costemic:     Total=526,06#,   N=136,    AVG=3,87#
Non-cosmetic: Total=137,03#,   N=97,     AVG=1,41#
It sorts of gives an advantage in play, in that you can use the new shiny weapons without waiting for them to drop (although you could also trade for them). This might be most useful when a new weapon is overpowered -- you get more use out of it before Valve nerfs it.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:58 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Someone who buys a monocle for their avatar gives themselves no advantages. They're advertising that they have more money than sense and making themselves a more entertaining target.

FWIW, this is why you by a monocle IRL as well.
posted by chavenet at 10:59 AM on October 17, 2011 [40 favorites]


If you're freaked out about microtransactions driving games, you are not South Korean.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:59 AM on October 17, 2011


I still haven't forgotten that Xbox 360 Katamari game that charged for access to levels that were on the game disk.

That sucks. OTOH, I like the game, and it feels plenty "complete" enough to me without buying anything extra. So I get that people boycotted the game over this but have to wonder if their message got through -- they may have been lumped in with those who had no interest in the game. Meanwhile, my transactions clearly indicate I liked the game, but refused to buy the DLC. I do hope this trend (to unlock content included in original shipping) goes away.

I now get DLC that interests me (after the reviews roll in) and forget about the rest (really forget; I don't let it bug me that it's not the "whole" game, or something). As usual, completists get screwed, but that's nothing new, and kinda their own fault.

Items are a whole other story, and it's important to separate the cosmetic stuff (which ends up in weird player-driven tulip bubbles anyway) from non-cosmetic.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:00 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Industry based in technology pursues different revenue streams as technology changes to accommodate them. Film at 11.
posted by HostBryan at 11:00 AM on October 17, 2011


Gaming in general is becoming a poor value, at least if you buy at retail price. If you're willing to wait a few months to a year, you can usually pick up most PC games on Steam for maybe half price, sometimes less. Batman: Arkham Asylum, for instance, has hit $5 a couple of times, and it is an INCREDIBLY good game. (it's sort of Metroid in the Batman universe, with really, really good hand-to-hand combat.)

I rarely buy DLC. I'll often buy the original game if I think I'm going to get my money's worth out of it, and then I'll wait for a super-duper sale on the DLC once the publisher has moved on to something else. F'r instance, I bought the original Fallout 3, played all the way through it, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Ignored all the DLC. Then, earlier this year, they had a sale for $20 for the game plus all the expansions, which I grabbed -- this was way cheaper than buying the individual DLC packs would have been.... $20 instead of $45. It's still not the screaming deal that, say, Batman was, but I'd say the three expansions were worth $20.

Games that require online checks to play (ie, Ubisoft), or games where players can pay for advantages, I skip entirely. There are so many games available now that it's kind of silly to tolerate bad behavior by publishers. There are noises that they're going to be very nasty with the DRM on Mass Effect 3, which may mean I'll never finish the series.

And I'm okay with that. There are more games than I can play anyway, so I don't buy in if I feel abused in any way. Nickel and diming me is an excellent way to get me not to buy a game. I haven't bought an Activision game in years, and I think it's quite possible I may never buy one again. Diablo 3's DRM is so horrific that I may actually try to pirate it, purely out of spite.

And let me tell you, if you can tolerate older graphics and UI styles, GOG.com is a treasure trove.
posted by Malor at 11:01 AM on October 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


It sorts of gives an advantage in play, in that you can use the new shiny weapons without waiting for them to drop (although you could also trade for them). This might be most useful when a new weapon is overpowered -- you get more use out of it before Valve nerfs it.

This is sort-of-negated in that Valve just started a new policy of letting everyone check out one item each week for free. It's clearly designed as an incentive to get people to use the in-game store, but it does mean that people are no longer solely beholden to the drop system or paying money if they really need THAT ONE WEAPON OMG.
posted by cjelli at 11:03 AM on October 17, 2011


Yeah, GOTY editions are the way to go if you don't mind waiting. That's how I ended up with Fallout 3 and Borderlands, though had I realized how good Fallout 3 would be, I wouldn't have waited, and if I'd realized how unimpressed I'd be by the Borderlands add-ons, I'd not have waited for a different reason.

But then I went out and pre-ordered L.A. Noire, and it not only sits unfinished but erased from my 360's hard drive, so my instincts have returned strongly to waiting things out, checking reviews, and buying much later (except you, Skyrim, oh no, not you).
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:06 AM on October 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I kind of lost touch with gaming a while and this microtransaction B.S. doesn't make me want to get into it again at all. (Other the Starcraft 2, which I did get)
posted by delmoi at 11:09 AM on October 17, 2011


Oh, one set of DLC that I actually did buy at full price was for Mass Effect 2. That was probably my favorite game last year, and for just that one game, I was willing to make an exception to the general rule. I think there were three packs, and I only bought two of them, but they were extremely well-done, probably better than the original game. (Kasumi could have been better, but was still fun, but The Shadow Broker was outstanding.)

I also read somewhere that one reason publishers are going to DLC is because people just aren't finishing games anymore. Maybe they never did, but for the first time, publishers can actually get stats on what people are DOING with the games. I'm pretty sure I saw that only about 10% of all players finished Red Dead Redemption, which is a classic 'long form' game, and publishers are taking that to heart. Why spend all that effort, they figure, pleasing just 10% of the audience?

What I think may happen, if they keep making games shorter, is that the 10% may rebel -- if their online voices are helping to move titles, then sales may drop as a result. A higher percentage of the playerbase may finish the game, but they might sell fewer copies by not keeping the hardcore players happy.

They also might not: I'm not sure anyone really knows how much word of mouth matters in the overall gaming business. The Wii certainly sold like crazy, even though the hardcore gamers weren't all that thrilled with it.
posted by Malor at 11:10 AM on October 17, 2011


What's absolutely infuriating is DLC that's 600KB which just unlocks stuff which SHIPPED ON THE DISC.

I'm not sure how infuriated I'd really be about this. I feel like the purchase price is for a software license and the DLC is an addendum to that license, for an additional amount. I think the prices are ridiculous, but I can see the sense in it.

My previous job was at a company that makes avionics for small airplanes. Essentially, ruggedized computers that live in the airplane instrument panel - they show a moving map, your flight plan, weather, traffic, engine information, fuel totalizer, etc., etc. Each box shipped with a media card that contained all the software and all the functionality for every aircraft make and model that was supported. The installer picked the airplane it was being installed into and the feature set was loaded based on that.

However, the purchase price of the box only included the most basic functionality - moving map and flight plan was basically it. If you want the engine information, that's an extra few grand (plus the cost of the instruments that need to go in the engine). Weather? That's another few grand. Terrain information? Pay up.

It makes sense in a way because it provides a lower bar to entry and if you want the extra bells and whistles all you have to do is write a check and you get a USB key that plugs in to the box and activates the software that's already there. What would make this a broken system (and I think gaming is going in this direction if it's not already there) is when you pay the base price for a product that is fundamentally unusable. Like, if you buy a game but can't see the ending until you buy the DLC.

Airline tickets are a bit like this, too. Pay your base fee and you get a ticket, but they've broken the system by reducing the "functionality" of that ticket by not allowing you to check bags unless you cough up more money.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:13 AM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wii sold like crazy because anyone that saw one fell in love with it... in this case the "hardcore gamers" were running contrary to the word of mouth...

Of course, the Wii had a tendency to end up forgotten in a corner after that brief burst of enthusiasm, because beyond Wii Sports nobody figured out much to do with it.
posted by Artw at 11:14 AM on October 17, 2011


I've got loads of use out of my Wii watching iPlayer.
posted by permafrost at 11:17 AM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


The upcoming Tribes game has been shifted to be class based because that way they can charge you to unlock classes instead of just, ya know, selling you an entire game at once. This wouldn't be a big deal to me but it's really going to mess with the classic Tribes style of gameplay to not have more variety in choosing your own loadout.

It's also going to make it hard to open the game up to modders. I think more companies should consider free to play for a month + a small monthly fee later if they really don't think the good old retail model will work.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:20 AM on October 17, 2011


Isn't DLC also a cash flow/resource management strategy? Put a small team working on DLC, and have them bring a bit of fresh cash while the rest of your people are working on $next_big_thing. The fact that hat makers have made $2M means that Valve, with a small team working on TF2, is adding to its pile of money while the rest of the company is slaving away on, er..
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 11:20 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Airline tickets are a bit like this, too. Pay your base fee and you get a ticket, but they've broken the system by reducing the "functionality" of that ticket by not allowing you to check bags unless you cough up more money.

I think the anger stems from expectation. When I buy a game for my Xbox or PS3 or PC, especially when I pay full price, I expect to be able to play the game. My perception is "I bought this, it is mine." If there is going to be a price to pay for extras, that's fine, so long as I know up front. When I buy a car, I know how much the extras will be: our government has mandated how a sticker price is posted. When I get the airline ticket I know that there's going to be bag fees, and plan accordingly.

But to ship a game, and then find out after you purchase it that "oh yeah, there's this part of the game that we already developed and it's on the disc you paid for, but you need to cough up another $5 to play" that tends to leave a nasty taste in your mouth.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:23 AM on October 17, 2011


It will be interesting to see how Diablo 3 fares with its real-money marketplace (in addition to its in-game-gold auction house). They're incorporating into the game something that was taking place on ebay and the like, thinking (apparently) that if they couldn't beat them they'd co-opt them. Whether this becomes the pay-to-win system prevalent elsewhere, I'm not sure, but it does make me think twice about buying it yah right as if, i'm so there
posted by waraw at 11:25 AM on October 17, 2011


Oh man, you mean I'm not finished Mass Effect 2?! (that's so, so awesome)

I'm pretty sure I saw that only about 10% of all players finished Red Dead Redemption, which is a classic 'long form' game, and publishers are taking that to heart. Why spend all that effort, they figure, pleasing just 10% of the audience?

Huh. I almost never finish games, and there was nothing that was going to keep me from finishing RDR.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:25 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Monday, stony Monday, they better be slaving away on Half-Life-2 Ep 3 or Half-Life 3. I don't know how one would integrate DLC into City 17, but if anyone can figure it out, it's Valve.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:27 AM on October 17, 2011


%n: "Gaming in general is becoming a poor value, at least if you buy at retail price. "

DLC is an attempt to have cake and eat it too. They could eliminate used sales by making games downloadable only, but if you price at standard retail they lose a lot of sales, and if they price it lower they lose some revenue from the person who would have bought new and never resell.

I've been thinking about it, and there's a subtle effect of DLC on the used market. The bulk of retail sales come in the first three months, so limiting the supply of used games will shift the marginal used gamer into retail prices. The lure of DLC keeps people like me from reselling until retail sales have tapered off, resulting in more expensive used games.
posted by pwnguin at 11:28 AM on October 17, 2011


I'm torn because it really is just an issue of how passionate you are about a particular game.

I pre-ordered Arkham City because I want to be Batman RIGHT NOW. But the number of pre-order "bonuses" for the game became comical--there are like seven different costumes you can get and you can only get one of them depending on which store you pre-order. Meanwhile they just announced that part of the in-game content is unlocked via a code that comes with the game (translated: fuck you, GameStop) and all the various pre-order stuff will be DLC.

End result? I bought it on Amazon because they offered me $10 off.


On the flip side, there's Call of Duty. I literally did not buy Black Ops because the "real price" wasn't worth it to me. By that I mean: they are going to release 2 or three DLC packs. Which I would HAVE to get to play with my friends. Modern Warfare 3 is even more absurd and there's nothing we can do about it. That game's going to make more money than Hollywood.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:30 AM on October 17, 2011


Ok, so I'm really low on sleep atm but would someone please confirm for me that the Psychos in Borderlands don't scream "Pay to play! Paytoplay!!!!!" cause now that's how I'm remembering it.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:39 AM on October 17, 2011


Gaming in general is becoming a poor value, at least if you buy at retail price.

Poor value? Compare even retail games to movies. Buy a 2-hour bluray movie for $20. Buy a video game for $60, you'll probably have 8-20 hours of gameplay through a single player story. Buy a game like Dark Souls or Civilization, and you can be playing it for a very long time.
posted by demiurge at 11:40 AM on October 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


Monday, stony Monday, they better be slaving away on Half-Life-2 Ep 3 or Half-Life Portal 3.

FTFY.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:40 AM on October 17, 2011


I have the sinking feeling they're all just making more hats.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:42 AM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Valve office's wall of hats.
posted by Artw at 11:44 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm tempted to say that anyone who isn't drowning in too many great games than they can ever hope to have time to play doesn't really like video games that much.
posted by straight at 11:48 AM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well, you know, Steam sales and all...
posted by Artw at 11:48 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Luckily, games are not essential items, so there is some limit to how much the game companies can piss of their customers before they stop paying. As long as I'm clear in advance on how much of an enjoyable game experience I can get for a given amount of money, I am not really worried about how they are making me pay for it. It's just a question whether the game is worth that much money to me or not.

There is even an advantage to paying for a game in instalments. If it turns out you don't like it, you can stop paying for it and forget about it. This works as long as you do have that clear perception of what you are getting for your money and how much you expected to pay in total for the so-called full game experience.

So, I dunno how else to put it: Be an informed customer. Support game reviewers who write honest reviews. Let the game companies know if you are not purchasing their products anymore due to their overreliance on pay to play and DLC. Let everyone know if some company steps over the line, in fact. They should wise up if enough people keep doing that.
posted by tykky at 11:48 AM on October 17, 2011


On Monday they released the Scribblenauts game for iOS. I was "BOOM" going to get this, because we missed the DS version. I looked at it and thought, "okay, $5, hmm that's on the high side for an iOS game but maybe... oh. 40 levels. I see. You're going to soak me $5 for a couple hours of play and then in a month drop another 40 levels with a price tag, and then again, and again, and ... well, no." The thing is this: there's lots of Scribblenauts levels already developed; they put them in the DS game. They could just as easily put them in this one but... they think: CH-CHING!

So I think, nnnnope, I'm still playing FF XIII actually, there's a half dozen GOTY PS2 games upstairs I haven't got to yet and then there's Infamous which we got by way of "apology" for the whole "haw haw PSN security haw haw" thing. So, really, if they're going to price Scribblenauts like a console title revenue source, then I'm going to treat it like one: not buy it, because I got lots of console games I haven't finished yet. As opposed to the dollar games which are HAHA COOL I can play that on the bus, it's just a buck. So, fuck 'em.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:49 AM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]




Funnily enough, I don't remember a single expansion worth buying, yet I've had good experiences with DLC.
posted by slimepuppy at 11:56 AM on October 17, 2011


This complaint boils down to "the gaming industry is kinda shitty" which is true of most every industry in different ways. If you don't like it, don't spend your points on it.
posted by curious nu at 11:57 AM on October 17, 2011


You're going to soak me $5 for a couple hours of play and then in a month drop another 40 levels with a price tag, and then again, and again, and ... well, no.

You can buy Scribblenauts for the DS for $15 at Amazon. It has 120 levels (including the tutorial). The iOS version is $5 has 50 (40 from Scribblenauts and Super Scribblenauts and 10 new ones). The iOS version looks like a better deal to me.
posted by demiurge at 12:00 PM on October 17, 2011


I've never really quite understood all the antipathy towards on-disc vs downloaded DLC. I mean, as long as it's clear up front what you get in retail. If the game doesn't feel complete or worth the cost without the DLC, it sucks just as much either way.

Retailer-specific preorder bonuses, BTW, need to die. Though apparently it's allowed some people to make some nice coin off of suckers. People were paying $60+, even $100+ on ebay for some of the pre-order costumes in MK9, essentially meaning the sellers got a free game or even more for their pre-orders. And then a month or two after release, all the costumes were sold in a pack for five bucks.
posted by kmz at 12:00 PM on October 17, 2011


In EVE people can turn real world cash into in-game money.

Blizzard is releasing a bind-on-use pet next patch that you can buy for real money and sell in game for WoW money.

You can buy Scribblenauts for the DS for $15 at Amazon. It has 120 levels (including the tutorial). The iOS version is $5 has 50 (40 from Scribblenauts and Super Scribblenauts and 10 new ones). The iOS version looks like a better deal to me.

Yeah, I bought the iOS Scribblenauts and have enjoyed the hell out of it. 50 levels for $5 seems fine to me.
posted by Huck500 at 12:03 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, you know, Steam sales and all...

Steam sales have revealed scary things to me about myself. Namely, that I often get as much of a thrill out of owning a digital copy of a game at a good price as I do playing it.

It's like that show Hoarders, but on my hard drive.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:06 PM on October 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


Expansion packs are now smaller, cheaper, and more numerous. I fail to see the problem with this.
posted by LogicalDash at 12:10 PM on October 17, 2011


SpacemanStix, I know what you mean. I have resisted the urge to buy 5 games that I wanted to play 5 years ago for something like $5 a piece numerous times. I just don't have the time to play all the good games out there. I try to ration my games to buying only a few a year. My list is full: Deus Ex (got it and beat it), Skyrim (waiting patiently), Mass Effect 3 (should be out by the time I beat Skyrim). If I bought all the games that were good and I would enjoy playing, my steam list would be filled with uninstalled games.
posted by demiurge at 12:12 PM on October 17, 2011


Meanwhile they just announced that part of the in-game content is unlocked via a code that comes with the game (translated: fuck you, GameStop) and all the various pre-order stuff will be DLC.

This is actually a much more interesting (and annoying) development, since it basically penalizes people who buy second-hand or who rent their games. Not only will they have to pay for the used game (or the rental fee), but they'll have to pay an additional fee to unlock actual parts of the game (not DLC) (e.g., the new Batman game, which is locking a portion of its single-player campaign to discourage used sales/rentals).

Everyone's a rentier nowadays.
posted by longdaysjourney at 12:12 PM on October 17, 2011


Hah. None of this compares with the cluster-fuck that was the original Halo mappacks which served no purpose beyond deprecating the features that you were originally given by buying the game.

Every 3 months they made a new mappack. If you didn't buy it, you were locked out of big-team battle, or literally only allowed to play in the most simple multi-player settings. Don't have the latest big-ice-fire map pack? Then all of your previously purchased maps, which were the furthest things from the cutting edge of map game design by the way. Who the hell designed these things?

All I want to do is play the same god damn game with my friends from different parts of the country once a month, and this is on top of paying XBox Live.

New Halo game? Yeah? Pass.

Fuck your extractive feature deprecating business model.
posted by stratastar at 12:14 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile they just announced that part of the in-game content is unlocked via a code that comes with the game (translated: fuck you, GameStop) and all the various pre-order stuff will be DLC.

You know, the funny thing is that the discounts that GameStop etc offer are just so shitty for so long that I don't mind that.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:17 PM on October 17, 2011


SpacemanStix, I know what you mean. I have resisted the urge to buy 5 games that I wanted to play 5 years ago for something like $5 a piece numerous times. I just don't have the time to play all the good games out there. I try to ration my games to buying only a few a year. My list is full: Deus Ex (got it and beat it), Skyrim (waiting patiently), Mass Effect 3 (should be out by the time I beat Skyrim). If I bought all the games that were good and I would enjoy playing, my steam list would be filled with uninstalled games.

Steam's model is so brilliant in this regard, I'm always in awe of it, even as I feel like I'm being taken advantage of. The brilliance is in making it seem like it's almost a moral imperative to buy, as it's such a good deal compared to full price. How can I pass it up? Then they make a zillion dollars in volume from people who feel the same way. Additionally, it gets around the psychological barrier where people associate a lower price with lesser quality, because we all now that Mass Effect 2 used to be $49.99, and now it's $5.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:20 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


All I want to do is play the same god damn game with my friends from different parts of the country once a month

The original Halo didn't have online play.
posted by kmz at 12:24 PM on October 17, 2011


This started with Halo 3. I'm sorry. It still makes my blood boil.
posted by stratastar at 12:28 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would miss book stores, record stores and comic stores if they all went out of business - whenever one closes down I feel a stab of pity for it, maybe a little guilt if I wasn't buying there.

Videogame stores? Meh. They could all burn down tomorrow and I'd just shrug.
posted by Artw at 12:33 PM on October 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


They could eliminate used sales by making games downloadable only

Retailer-specific preorder bonuses, BTW, need to die.

You guys are vastly, vastly underestimating the power that retail stores have in the industry. None of these things are going to come close to happening until publishers can demonstrate that they can create the kinds of sales through download-only games that they get currently from box stores, which means that publishers rely on and are subject to the pricing strategies of those stores. But since those stores make a large portion of their profits on used sales, which really is having your cake and eating it too, the industry is subservient to a retail sector which would happily burn it to the ground if it meant a couple million more dollars. Those stores enforce high retail prices both physically and online, then offer used versions for $5-10 less starting a couple days after launch which look a lot more attractive because they're priced lower than the artificially-high prices the stores set in the first place, which trains consumers to look for the used versions instead of the new ones, and those stores make way more money on the used ones. It's a pretty awesome racket, when you think about it. The thing that you like about Steam is exactly the thing that makes GameStop piles of money, except that that money doesn't really find its way back to developers.

Publishers are greedy motherfuckers too, of course, so there's a whole piece of the pie they're not getting and that makes them mad. But there's a bunch of people playing their game who didn't "pay for it" (read: pay them for it), and that also makes them mad. Hence DLC content and new-purchase unlockables. People keep buying their games without paying them, so they're going to make sure they get paid. They also like it when people pay them twice for the same game, just like GameStop does, and enough people are willing to do that.
posted by Errant at 12:37 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


This doesn't apply to the multiplayers/MMOs they're talking about in the article, but single-players usually eventually release an Ultimate or Game Of The Year edition with all of the additional content a few years after their release. I'm betting ME2 will come out with that a bit before ME3 comes out so people can spend a month or two replaying it with Kasumi and Shadow Broker and that asshole bounty hunter or whoever while they're getting all excited about the next one.

That's what happened with Dragon Age, anyway: I'd gotten less obsessed with the whole thing by the time DA2 came out but after getting all obsessed with DA2 all over again I bought the ultimate edition of DA:O and spent some time doing all the fun expansiony stuff. The stuff that's been coming out for DA2 has been pretty solid so far (I have, granted, only gotten the stuff that comes with a new purchase-- Sebastian + Black Emporium + Dog and Legacy; haven't played the Felicia Day Is Awesome And Every Nerd Has A Crush On Her pack yet); it's less than $10 and adds an extra good hour or three with what seems like some good replayability if you're the kind of dork that wants to play through everything with a different party. (I am that kind of dork.)

I rarely play full price for games, though. I have a Gamefly subscription; if I want to keep a game I'll usually pay them to keep it one I get a hankering to replay it a few months after it came out, so it ends up being less than $20.

Regarding the actual point of the article and not our little derail, I think it's interesting-- and very telling-- that people are willing to spend actual money for cosmetic changes. It's like your avatar is wearing designer jeans with a prominently displayed logo. I can see why people do it from a non-conspicuous consumption reason; people pay extra for more costumes/skins for single-player games too; I won't generally spend money on cosmetic changes but I'll take a pretty significant stats hit to keep wearing an awesome-looking set of armor after I ought to be wearing something stronger. But the showing off to other players thing is particularly interesting to me, especially 'cause it seems like it'd occasionally spark resentment between players who will pay for, I don't know, baby pandas that are also on fire that follow them around in-game and people who won't. I'm not sure what kind of ramifications that sort of thing has on the game world, but the whole thing's interesting to me. This may just be because I read For The Win last week and I'm still in that headspace.
posted by NoraReed at 12:40 PM on October 17, 2011


No, I definitely meant Half-Life, not Portal. Portal is cheap, fun, and easy. Half-Life is more spendy, harder, and more fun for me.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:40 PM on October 17, 2011


On the other hand, since OnLive has turned out to actually work better than expected, I can't imagine I'll ever buy another PC game. Subscribe to a game just long enough to get bored with it and then move on, total cost under $5.
posted by nomisxid at 12:40 PM on October 17, 2011


You guys are vastly, vastly underestimating the power that retail stores have in the industry.

Oh, I realize pre-order bonuses aren't going away anytime soon. I still hate them though. And fucking GameStop. Ugh.
posted by kmz at 12:45 PM on October 17, 2011


But but but TF2 is Free-to-Play!

Well, it is. Most of the "new" weapons are, at best, sidegrades, and a lot of them are downgrades which people like to try out for novelty value or different playstyle strategy. The hats and miscellaneous items are purely cosmetic: you won't even see them while you're playing TF2. Only other players get to see them!

And TF2 gives you free items at the rate of three or four per week. (Granted, some of these will be crates, which are only useful if you spend money to get keys to open them.) It gives you additional free weapons through achievements.

And here's the thing: most of the "new" weapons are, at best, sidegrades, and a lot of them are out-and-out downgrades which people like to try out for novelty value or different playstyle strategy. With a few exceptions (the Ubersaw for the Medic, the Equalizer for the Soldier, the Dead Ringer for the Spy and the Degreaser for the Pyro), the "basic" weapons are almost always the best option for new players or experts.

If you play enough TF2, you'll get all the stuff people pay for - and on top of it, you'll have played so much TF2 that you realize you don't need any of it.

Except for hats, of course. NEED MORE HATS.
posted by mightygodking at 12:49 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


"What's absolutely infuriating is DLC that's 600KB which just unlocks stuff which SHIPPED ON THE DISC."

I want to add that there's a variety of reasons this kind of thing happens. DLC is really difficult. Extensive DLC (like new levels, new gameplay features, new weapons, etc.) really needs to be integrated into the game in some way before it ships as a disc because you can't just keep modifying the code and adding a millions assets at will later. There's complexities.

The game itself needs to be done and released to manufacturer 1-2 months before it hits stores. That's why day-1 patches and quick turn-arounds for DLC happen: developers have 1-2 months to keep working while the factory makes the discs. Most of the time they are fixing awful last-minute bugs (day-1 patches) but some of the devs are working on DLC (and sometimes, like with big games like Call of Duty, it's another whole studio working on the DLC).

There's no excuse for games that have full features on the disc that just require an unlock 'patch' that you purchase, but I want to point out that not all these stories of "unlocking content ALREADY ON THE DISK" are entirely accurate.

"The thing is this: there's lots of Scribblenauts levels already developed; they put them in the DS game. They could just as easily put them in this one but... they think: CH-CHING!"

Not true - I speak from experience. It was not simple or easy to port the levels from the DS.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 1:04 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]




It seems like the same people who get furious about DLC and microtransactions are also the ones who throw arguments like "change your business model or die" in every piracy thread. Guess what, entitled nerds, this is the game industry adapting to piracy and the used games racket.

Parceling out games or releasing periodic tidbits seems like an overt cash grab from the point of view of Valve-loving PC gamers like me, but it encourages console gamers and Gamestop-shoppers to hold on to their game a little longer, keeping it out of the used bins. That's vital not just for publishers, but for developers who need to show them decent sales numbers in the short term (preorders - first 3 months) in order to continue to make things for you to love.
posted by Freyja at 1:59 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


this is the game industry adapting to piracy

Fair enough.

and the used games racket

and the what now? Really? It's a racket that I can sell something after I'm done with it, or buy it after someone else is done with it? Why do IP owners think their property is more restrictable than any other sort of property? It's shit like that that makes me want to pirate it in the first place.
posted by me & my monkey at 2:13 PM on October 17, 2011 [9 favorites]


TBH I suspect the industrialized behemoth that is used games in it;s new, fully optimized incarnation does far more damage to the bottom line than piracy ever did. With used games you *know* someone is getting paid, it's just not the publisher.
posted by Artw at 2:19 PM on October 17, 2011


What's absolutely infuriating is DLC that's 600KB which just unlocks stuff which SHIPPED ON THE DISC.

So what? I can kinda understand the mental fallacy behind this annoyance but it's just as irrational here as it was when people got irked that the binary versions of different Windows versions were all one distribution that was differently enabled depending on your license.

You're not paying for the physical disc, you're paying for the product you want to use and which was advertised. Which, more to the point, cost the organization money to develop. The additional features in Windows took more labor to create. That downloadable Already Downloaded Content also took time & effort to make.

If the additional content is crap that's a valid complaint. If the base game is overly slender without the content - ie, overpriced - that's also a valid complaint. But if the game as provided is a good deal if the DLC doesn't exist then it's still a good deal if it's available.

The fact that it was provided on a disc so you could be saved the download time (and if it's a console then potentially the storage space) doesn't change anything else. I don't see any way you advocate otherwise (assuming the content is good and the base game a good deal) unless you're suggesting that just because they were done with it by Ship Date X means they have some obligation to give it to you at no additional cost.
posted by phearlez at 2:25 PM on October 17, 2011


and the used games racket

and the what now?


He means this.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:32 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm okay when this is used to support $1 indie and iPhone games but it's annoying on console games, especially when it's stuff like weapons - wouldn't that change the balance of the game?
Half the things that sold me on Saints Row 3 are apparently DLC.
plus I have only intermittent Internet access, so for larger DLC I'm fucked
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 2:38 PM on October 17, 2011


@kokryu

what is an airport
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:41 PM on October 17, 2011


$99.00, $179.00 for the long range version.
posted by Artw at 2:42 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


and the what now? Really? It's a racket that I can sell something after I'm done with it, or buy it after someone else is done with it?

Of course not. It is a racket when retail game stores drive business overwhelmingly to secondhand sales, by inducing a significant financial disparity between new and used sales and constraining the firsthand market to adopt that overall strategy by throttling alternative distribution vectors. No one gives a shit if you give your game to a friend when you're done. Really, it doesn't matter at all. The retail secondhand market is a perfectly legal, perfectly ethical market that wreaks havoc on IP creation. All those things can be true at once.

It's shit like that that makes me want to pirate it in the first place.

People pirate the Humble Indie Bundle, every year. You can buy that bundle for a penny. Wanting to stick it to the man is a post-hoc justification for piracy, not the cause of it.
posted by Errant at 3:05 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


subject_verb_remainder:
I want to add that there's a variety of reasons this kind of thing happens. DLC is really difficult. Extensive DLC (like new levels, new gameplay features, new weapons, etc.) really needs to be integrated into the game in some way before it ships as a disc because you can't just keep modifying the code and adding a millions assets at will later. There's complexities.

Then SELL IT AS PART OF THE MAIN GAME.

I am adamant about this because this is something I've seen coming from miles off, for over a decade. Computer gaming has been slowly working itself towards the point where people buy the right to play something vs. actually buying a game. As systems became more locked down and insulated from user modification I knew this was in the offing some day, and I was dreading it every step along the path. It won't stop here either, not unless players rebel against it.

There's no excuse for games that have full features on the disc that just require an unlock 'patch' that you purchase, but I want to point out that not all these stories of "unlocking content ALREADY ON THE DISK" are entirely accurate.

Demanding that people pay for a bug-fix for content that's largely complete is not any different in my mind.

Not true - I speak from experience. It was not simple or easy to port the levels [from Scribblenauts] from the DS.

Please elaborate. Not only are there fewer levels, but they're much less feature-rich than the DS games -- the mode that asks you to replay levels without using the words you used before is missing, there is no rating system and thus no incentive to solve levels using a minimum number of words, and there is no purpose for Ollars other than three achievements. To my eye it looks like a classic example of a rushed port in order to sell DLC later. Whether it actually was rushed or not, that's the feeling I get from it.

Most of the levels I've played so far seem more like strangely obtuse trivia questions than game levels. "Pick three things you need to form a government! Oh, and we're not telling you this ahead of time, but laws, money and capitol buildings don't count." I always thought the real difficulty in building Scribblenauts was coming up with that huge database of words and art. (I will admit, I still get a thrill out of summoning up Cthulhu.)
posted by JHarris at 3:25 PM on October 17, 2011


It's a value proposition, ultimately. And a bit of the old, "what do you think I am, stupid?"

The horrible thing about iOS is also the best thing. The hundred million customers and the App Store.

The benchmark price for a really entertaining game, just like a shitty game, is a buck. And if your game is more than a buck you had better be really really entertaining or I'm going to feel ripped off.

So maybe your assets cost a half million dollars and you got a team of a dozen for a year. So you're talking two million bucks including marketing. You got to shovel that on barely 3% of devices to get into the black, and every fucking day there's another hundred thousand hungry hungry customers. I am not saying that Rovio spent two million bucks on Angry Birds, but I am saying that the value proposition trail they are blazing with that product is enormously successful both from a financial perspective and from a customer impact perspective -- they are the benchmark.

So if your iOS game is five bucks because you think it's a niche product, instead of a buck like a casual game, maybe that's okay because you've got a compelling concept, then you have my attention, but again you better have something really special. So that's where we are: five bucks for a kind of niche game. But I expect a lot of really special value for that five bucks. So the proof is on you to make that sale.

So I am looking at your dubiously already because you aren't following the prevailing pricing model, but now it's obviously clear that you're holding shit back for DLC later: there's not many levels, the game that's already been developed isn't all there, it's like a "sampler" edition. So now I am also coming to the conclusion that you think I am a chump.

And while you might convince me that your game is really just that fucking good, I really don't like being treated like a chump. So I'm just not going to buy your game. Because I got lots and lots of games to play that don't treat me like a chump.

It may be a dumb comparison but look: if I go to a restaurant and order a plate, then I expect to walk out of the restaurant reasonably well fed. It's okay if I'm not carrying leftovers, but I certainly don't want to be thinking, "that was a fine meal, how about lunch?"

Anyway, that's the line that DLC walks. Make your game an excellent value proposition for the original price. I should be sated with the initial offer. That's good value. If I get hungry for more later, which I will if your game is compelling enough, that is the perfect time for DLC.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:36 PM on October 17, 2011


I'm perfectly comfortable with microtransactions being used for "quality of life" issues, like being able to learn a set champion in LoL. I'm also not above buying cosmetic upgrades. Thus far the only DLCs I've bought are for Bioware RPGs, and that's because I want to see the story. And really, as others have said I pay a lot less for games now, with MAYBE one big new title a year at full price and the rest being indies and Steam sales.

I loathe "pay to win" microtransactions and companies that hold back completed content for future DLCs. I think the industry will push both of these points as far as they can go, and it's our job as the gaming consumers to tell them to shove it up their bottoms.
posted by jess at 4:36 PM on October 17, 2011


All this has done is remind me that I was going to go buy my latest Sims 3 heir a new hairstyle this weekend.

Do I have to drop 75 cents on new hair for an imaginary computer person? No. But I like to, every once in a while. It's one of those situations which so abound in These Modern Times, where one can (if one wants) exchange money for goods or services.

That's a problem how?
posted by ErikaB at 4:37 PM on October 17, 2011


Do I have to drop 75 cents on new hair for an imaginary computer person?

This really only makes sense if you can sell it to make virtual wigs.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:33 PM on October 17, 2011


Forza Motorsport 4 - Turn Left DLC Available Now!
posted by tumid dahlia at 6:05 PM on October 17, 2011


I used to play Worms clone Gunbound, and I think I was tempted to buy a nice hat for my character.
Hats are so embedded in nerd 'fashion' that it almost makes sense.

Forza Motorsport 4 - Turn Left DLC Available Now!

But that may destroy the universe!
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:06 PM on October 17, 2011


of course it is grotesque to waste money on such frivolities, only a spoiled first worlder etc. etc.

now let me show you how to make a disposable razor last for three months in this video i took and wait where are you going
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:25 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is going to be long, sorry, because I've been mulling over it all day.

If you (a general you, not anyone in particular) want only free DLC, then it's just not going to get made nearly as much. You'll get exactly what you get now, except no option to buy more. Fewer options, not more.

1-2 months of extra development time working on typical DLC (and if it's released with the game's launch, then it's been worked on longer than that) is still expensive. It's not like those devs would be doing nothing but playing ping-pong. They would be put to work on the next project. More dev time is budgeted against recouping the costs from DLC. Sometimes a company will create a DLC striketeam a few months from shipping to make more content - again, hedging the costs of that team against the money made back on DLC. That team would otherwise be working on something else, or laid off.

If they weren't going to make money off of it to cover the costs, then the vast majority of the time they just would not make it.

(Now, hats and pretty hair and other skins are something I really can't rail about because obviously the dev time for that is pretty cheap compared to the money they earn. I am largely talking about large DLC content, like maps, weapons, new missions, etc.)

Developers could get away with more free 'DLC' (map packs and whatnot) back when it was cheaper to make games, but it costs a whole lot more to make next-gen content. Console makers (Sony and Microsoft) charge developers for DLC bandwidth, so it's not free for anyone then. Valve can do it because Steam is just a steady stream of money. MMOs do it when they have a steady subscriber base. Basically, 'free' DLC still requires some revenue from somewhere.

Another reason why DLC, microtransactions, and other free or pay content has risen in popularity is the idea that one way to fight piracy is to present games as a service model rather than a one-time product. Steam - and Valve - provide an excellent ongoing service to gamers that is valuable and convenient to them. More developers (or, rather, publishers for the most part) are trying to figure out ways to provide ongoing support for players as a better way to fight piracy than the laughable DRM restrictions everyone hates. But providing support costs money (see: dev time not being free). Most developers don't have giant pockets to dip into, and their publishers are conservative about where they put their money. (Obviously some of the methods to support games with more content have been totally out of sync with gamers and backfired.)

AND add onto all that... Game sales drops precipitously after launch, so the best time to release DLC is, well, just after launch. Otherwise, people have already forgotten your game, finished it, and it's in the bargain bin or filling the used games rack. No one's buying your game OR buying your DLC. So, if you make DLC, you should make sure it's finished not all that long after launch. which means working on it at least somewhat concurrently with the final phase of the main game.

AND (last "and" I promise) modern games are really expensive to make, which is why you see a lot more sequels and trilogies. It's hard to break out a new IP and recoup costs. It's hard to create a 'brand' that people recognize and buy. It's risky. DLC is a good way to keep a game in people's minds in between sequels or just act as mini-sequels themselves. I know this sentiment makes some people turn sour because it's a business-y approach to their favorite hobby, but I'd like to remind people that this tactic means companies get the money to fund their next new, risky IP. It's kind of a necessary evil for larger games, and DLC is part of that system.

My big point is that it all adds up to the environment many people bemoan, and it is not all about greedy developers wanting to nickel-and-dime poor gamers. Some of it is, sure (I'm looking at you, Call of Duty). I'm not really a fan of DLC or microtransactions myself, and have never spent money on either, and I certainly share a lot of the sentiments already expressed here. I can still understand that there's a lot of factors beyond corporate greed that's led to this trend, for better or worse.

JHarris: Demanding that people pay for a bug-fix for content that's largely complete is not any different in my mind.

I meant it's not largely complete on the disc, except for the most egregious examples (like Katamari), but there needs to be prep on the disc in order to even include it in the first place, regardless of how much time it takes to finally release the DLC. Some people don't realize the waters are typically little muddier than "it's all on the disc!" and "it's all downloaded later!"

On hindsight I wasn't as clear as I thought, and it sounded the opposite of what I intended.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 6:33 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why not just sell expansions though? Maybe I'm atypical, but take Red Dead Redemption. I loved that game, and I'm willing to drop an extra $20 or $30 after I beat it for extra content.

Or I can do what I did, which is rent the DLC. Oops.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:52 PM on October 17, 2011


And of course, just as this comes out, we get a free DLC release for Portal 2.
posted by yellowcandy at 6:53 PM on October 17, 2011


As long as the next version of Isle Wars comes out I'll be ok
posted by onesidys at 7:00 PM on October 17, 2011


I don't think there's much difference between expansions and DLC, except the scalability implications. If I release a single map for competitive multiplayer, if I call it an "expansion" then suddenly people are upset because it's not enough content. If I call it "DLC" then it makes more sense. Mostly semantics.

Expansions were also typically in retail boxes as well, so you buy the game and later you buy the expansion, and later the game is released again as a bundled set. The return on investment is much, much lower because brick-and-mortar stores and manufacturers take a much larger piece of the pie than download sales.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 7:10 PM on October 17, 2011


I struggle with DLC just because of how things used to be. Take RTCW as an example, over 10 hours of single player (no idea how much, 15+?) and fantastic multi. Then with every patch there were free new multiplayer maps.

These days you buy a first person shooter and the single player campaign is 4-5 hours max, and extra maps need to be bought. In the mean time the price has doubled (Australian Steam price for the next COD game is $100, Rage is $90).

Obviously games cost a lot more to make now and that is understandable, but paying a lot more for less playing time, and then being asked to pay even more, to still have less playing time, is tough to take.
posted by markr at 7:24 PM on October 17, 2011


I don't think the author has touched on what I consider the main reason why DLCs are so prevalent nowadays - it's because game developers have figured out it's what gamers want.

It's the reason why Diablo and WoW are so addictive - acquiring new items, virtual or not, dings the pleasure centres in our brains. Without a constant influx of new items to acquire, how can players then lust for them and achieve pleasure by either grinding points in the game to buy them or purchasing them outright for money?

More and more, games succeed on the "social effect" - they need to get to a critical mass where new players start playing because their existing friends are playing. The only way to keep people playing the game is to keep doling out the items and prizes in the game. Once players have "won" the game by playing it to the end or acquiring all the items, participation drops, and once the active player population drops below a certain level, no new players join as well and the game is dead.

League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth have gotten this balance mostly right - the core gameplay remains untouched by the 2-weekly DLC - a player spending $0 on the game could play with someone who spent $1000 on it just fine - so everything is either cosmetic or just about getting earlier access to a hero or rune than you otherwise would. Yet there are 2-weekly updates which bring more "skins" into the game (changing the look of existing heroes) and maybe an update every 2-4 weeks bringing entirely new heroes into the game. This keeps player population high because they're either in part of the cycle where they're gleefully trying out this new thing they bought, or else they've moved past that and are just playing to accumulate currency to buy the next new thing that they know will appear on schedule with the next update.
posted by xdvesper at 7:39 PM on October 17, 2011


Why do IP owners think their property is more restrictable than any other sort of property? It's shit like that that makes me want to pirate it in the first place.

I'm no cheerleader for IP fascism, I myself acquire the majority of my entertainment through alternative if not outright illegal means (I have all kinds of super valid justifications, of course). I'd prefer if the companies that make the stuff I enjoy would provide that stuff in ways I find convenient at a price I find fair, and avoid treating me like a criminal in the process.

But the thing is, I am an IP criminal, millions of other people are as well. I realize that by torrenting content I could be paying for (were it not for my excellent reasons not to), I'm entering into a somewhat conflictual relation with the publishers and producers of that content. But I'm also someone whose livelihood depends on people buying games in ways that generate revenues for my company (and not, say, Gamespot), so it'd be nice if we could all find a way to get along.

So I try to support companies that explore alternative revenue-generating or distribution methods that treat gamers as allies and patrons: Humbles Bundles, whatever awesome business model Valve is trying this week, and DLC. Yeah, there are egregiously bad value propositions, nobody is saying you gotta buy a monocle or horse armor. But setting a baseline value of all content at a buck (or free) is equally unreasonable.

Plus everything subject_verb_remainder said.
posted by Freyja at 7:48 PM on October 17, 2011


It is a racket when retail game stores drive business overwhelmingly to secondhand sales, by inducing a significant financial disparity between new and used sales and constraining the firsthand market to adopt that overall strategy by throttling alternative distribution vectors

...

the retail secondhand market is a perfectly legal, perfectly ethical market that wreaks havoc on IP creation.


First, one of these things is not like the other. Either it's a racket, or it's not.

Second, how do retail game stores do this? They don't have any control over the price of new games. All they can do is keep the price of used games low. That may suck for the publisher, but it doesn't rise to the level of "racket".

I'm also someone whose livelihood depends on people buying games in ways that generate revenues for my company (and not, say, Gamespot), so it'd be nice if we could all find a way to get along.

Well, we all get along now. But what you really want isn't just to "get along", but rather to get rid of that annoying right of first sale. What makes your company's products different from, say, automobiles or refrigerators or books? If I buy a used car, the original manufacturer doesn't get a cut. Why should you? What you're looking for, now that's a real racket.
posted by me & my monkey at 10:50 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I can't wait for the "High Beams" expansion, these level 1 headlights just aren't cutting it.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:11 AM on October 18, 2011


I have no problem with micropayments to unlock parts or the game that are already installed, or have to be downloaded, but only if the original purchase price is cheaper. We pay exorbitant amounts for games in Australia. Usually about $100au for a recent release, which is probably about $115us these days. To then be told we need to pay more to unlock content we've already technically got offends me, especially at those prices.

If the prices here were more reasonable like they are in the US and Europe, I'd have no problem with paying a bit extra to unlock or download extra content, once I've decided I actually like the game.

I like the model of 'pay about $30 to get the base of the game, decide if you like it, then pay for expansions as you see fit'. But $100+ just for the base is ridiculous.


posted by Diag at 1:20 AM on October 18, 2011


The racket is that Gamestop pays a pittance for used games and then sell them for barely lower than new price. The last time I sold those bloodsuckers anything was 2 years ago. Since then we've been exclusively using Goozex, craigslist, etc to get rid of games we don't want to keep.

And holy shit, y'all are getting gouged in AU. I think Japanese and EU prices are usually higher than US too.
posted by kmz at 1:26 AM on October 18, 2011


What makes your company's products different from, say, automobiles or refrigerators or books? If I buy a used car, the original manufacturer doesn't get a cut. Why should you?

First, one of these things is not like the other. Either IP is real tangible property, or it's not.

If games were cars, the cost of that first sale would be much higher and the client would expect and accept a certain margin of depreciation when they buy used. Also, they'd pay out the ass for technical support (maintenance) and patches (spare parts). And the penalty for opting to not pay for a game would be jail, and awesome movies would be made about Fast and Furious torrenters. You can see where that comparison breaks down.

With used games retailers, nobody wins. That, whatever, 5$ discount you get comes at the expense of both the gamers who resold their property for fuck nothing and the developers (not just the publishers) who are missing out on a new sale. The only party who wins in this transaction is the middle man, who's also exerting much more control than you think on pricing schemes and engaging in shitty practices of their own, like demanding those exclusive preorder bonuses or ripping out competitors coupons from sealed boxes and selling open games as new.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have DLC to launch...
posted by Freyja at 5:50 AM on October 18, 2011


I get the outrage on a lot of microtransactions. TF2 gets called out for this too often, when Valve has done a superb job of enabling its community to be involved with the game and still profiting enough to keep supporting it themselves.

Why do I know this? As a custom mapmaker, I (and the rest of the mapping community) had been making maps for quite some time before Valve ever expressed interest in buying these maps from us (compare to other games, that either offer no custom map support or allow maps to be used in the game with no hope of monetary compensation.) Having been paid for two of my maps I didn't expect anything more from the company, but Valve, seeing that the %-based compensation model they had implemented to support custom modelmakers (hats and weapons) was giving those contributors serious revenue, went beyond to add a virtual item the purchase of which would support contributing mapmakers.

These virtual stamps offer very little to the purchasers, except for a hat with the purchase of at least 1 stamp. 100% of the profits after tax go to the mapmakers of and contributors to the maps that have been bought and are now distributed with the game. I have been blown away by the generosity of TF2 players(edit on preview: link seems to be broken as those #s seem... inflated) to buy these stamps and support us mapmakers. With the advent of the new Steam Workshop I'm excited to see what direction Valve leads the gaming industry towards in terms of enabling community contribution in very tangible form.

So sure, you can complain about the sliding art direction of the game, and the sometimes ridiculously priced cosmetic items, but I don't know of a game out there that has been supported to this extent for this length of time with absolutely no mandatory price increase(hell, the game is free)-nor of a developer that has supported a gaming community so strongly.
posted by MangyCarface at 7:33 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


The racket is that Gamestop pays a pittance for used games and then sell them for barely lower than new price.

Businesses become rackets when they make too much money?
posted by LogicalDash at 8:31 AM on October 18, 2011


With used games retailers, nobody wins.
Except the used games retailers. Now, I understand that you don't like what they're doing and that their business practices are crappy, but they're a business doing what's best for them and disregarding everything else. If your argument is that this practice is somehow invalid, then you're really cutting the entire "games as a service and make sure you buy the DLC" idea off right there, since that's just the game developers doing exactly the same thing.

That, whatever, 5$ discount you get comes at the expense of both the gamers who resold their property for fuck nothing and the developers (not just the publishers) who are missing out on a new sale. The only party who wins in this transaction is the middle man, who's also exerting much more control than you think on pricing schemes and engaging in shitty practices of their own, like demanding those exclusive preorder bonuses or ripping out competitors coupons from sealed boxes and selling open games as new.
You don't like their business practices? Stop doing business with them. When Gamestop says "You need to give us a preorder exclusive or we won't stock your game", you respond "Goddamn right you won't stock my game". This could have two effects:

1) Your game is small enough that a loss of impulse buys will actually have some effect on sales. Well, bummer, but if you keep supporting Gamestop and letting them get a cut of your new game sales you're only making things worse. Take the little hit and move on.

2) Your game is big enough that venue is irrelevant and so you don't even feel it. Did Arkham City need to offer Gamestop an exclusive preorder bonus? Were they really going to lose a ton of sales not putting boxed copies of their game in the world's most derided software outlet? Completely ridiculous. They could easily have said "This game is a highly-anticipated sequel to an immensely popular and well-regarded action game and ALSO IT'S ABOUT THE FUCKING BATMAN, so you will stock it how we tell you and thank us or you can just do without".

Developers are always peddling some sob story about used games this and piracy that and retailer pressure and so on, but the fact is that they usually demonstrate no interest in actually fixing these problems. Somehow it got into the head of the AAAs that the consumer is the adversary, and so every solution to every problem has to end with "and then the consumers lose". Gamestop being evil? Make sure the consumers don't get the entire game! Pirates stealing madethefuckup% of your profits? Better tighten the DRM leash! Publishers breathing down your neck and trying to force out unfinished, low-quality products? Well, guess who's getting the short end of that too!

If the developers want to get all the impediments to great game production out of the industry, the consumers are their only friends. When the developers start getting screwed (by thieves, poor management, or whatever), passing the screw down to the people buying the games is the worst possible long-term play, even if the short-term prospects seem acceptable.
posted by IAmUnaware at 8:58 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


If games were cars ...

I notice you went for the low-hanging fruit there. How about books? Should we not be able to resell them either? They don't really depreciate any.

As much as I love ebooks, this to me is the biggest problem with them - they'll end up being treated as a service rather than as a good, because publishers will be able to get away with it.

With used games retailers, nobody wins. That, whatever, 5$ discount you get comes at the expense of both the gamers who resold their property for fuck nothing and the developers (not just the publishers) who are missing out on a new sale.

Clearly, in your equation "nobody" == "not you". Gamers aren't forced to sell the games they don't want any more, and they're not forced to buy them used rather than new. You think you're entitled to a new sale for everyone that plays your game. You're not.
posted by me & my monkey at 9:41 AM on October 18, 2011


People pirate the Humble Indie Bundle, every year. You can buy that bundle for a penny. Wanting to stick it to the man is a post-hoc justification for piracy, not the cause of it.

It's also absolute, concrete proof that not all acts of piracy are lost sales.
posted by Malor at 9:48 AM on October 18, 2011


People pirate the Humble Indie Bundle, every year. You can buy that bundle for a penny.

Buying the Bundle for a penny costs somebody more than a penny in transaction fees, so I'm sure they'd much rather you "pirated" it. (It's hard for me to think of that as piracy when the Humble folks are explicitly offering to sell the games to you at a loss by allowing you to choose a price that low.)
posted by straight at 10:18 AM on October 18, 2011


I too have anxiety about developers taking a "complete" game and cutting bits out to sell later as DLC. But that idea of the "complete" game is almost never a reality. Games are much more fluid than that. Almost every game has a list of features or levels or ideas that are set aside ("saved for the sequel" the list is often called) for some reason or another. Sometimes the game is crippled because the team didn't have the resources to implement what should have been a key feature. Other times the game is stronger because the team focused on a few things and didn't let feature creep dilute their efforts.

2D Boy supposedly made 3x more levels for World of Goo than they actually shipped with the game, keeping only the best ones. And most people would say the game is much stronger for that decision (I was definitely "sated" as seanmpuckett put it).

Now suppose 2D Boy decided to release a few of those deleted levels as DLC. Maybe some people like the game so much they'd be willing to pay for more levels, even if they're not as great as the original. I probably wouldn't buy that DLC, but I also wouldn't feel cheated that those levels had been left out of my original purchase.
posted by straight at 10:29 AM on October 18, 2011


Second, how do retail game stores do this? They don't have any control over the price of new games.

They are the only ones who have control of the price of games in their store, and I'm a little surprised you don't know this. Retailers can sell items for whatever they want, whenever they want. Further, through market pressure, retailers inflate the cost of digital distribution to match their preferred price point. Why do games cost the same on launch day in Steam and in stores? Digital copies don't have wholesale costs, shipping and storage fees, physical materials. So why do they cost as much? Primarily, it's because retailers will throttle their orders if digital distributors lower their costs, and they can afford to do that because more of their money comes from reselling than from new purchases. So they don't lose that much, but publishers and developers lose significantly more. And GameStop will stock their game anyway, they'll just stock the used copies and make their usual killing.

Did Arkham City need to offer Gamestop an exclusive preorder bonus? Were they really going to lose a ton of sales not putting boxed copies of their game in the world's most derided software outlet? Completely ridiculous.

If by "completely ridiculous" you mean "yes, they would actually lose a shit-ton of money and market penetration if GameStop understocked them", I agree with you. GameStop was a $9b business in 2010. While the game industry as a whole goes through flat or negative growth, GameStop continues to post margin increases quarter after quarter. GameStop comprises somewhere around 20-25% of the overall US retail market. "World's most derided software outlet"? You don't have any idea what you're talking about. Here, read these two articles. Pay special attention to the last bit, about threats to the business model. Digital distribution is, fairly obviously, the single biggest threat to GameStop, and they control around a quarter of the retail sector. You think they're just sitting around waiting to die?

It's also absolute, concrete proof that not all acts of piracy are lost sales.

Sure. I've never made that argument, though, nor do I think that the secondhand market is tantamount to piracy, just to be clear.

Buying the Bundle for a penny costs somebody more than a penny in transaction fees, so I'm sure they'd much rather you "pirated" it. (It's hard for me to think of that as piracy when the Humble folks are explicitly offering to sell the games to you at a loss by allowing you to choose a price that low.)


That doesn't really seem to be their perspective.
posted by Errant at 2:41 PM on October 18, 2011


If by "completely ridiculous" you mean "yes, they would actually lose a shit-ton of money and market penetration if GameStop understocked them", I agree with you...GameStop comprises somewhere around 20-25% of the overall US retail market.

Wal-Mart and Best Buy carry Batman Arkham City. If GameStop understocked the game, Rocksteady would lose some sales, but a whole lot of those people would just pick up the game elsewhere. I'm not sure I believe GameStop would be willing to forfeit their share of a big game like that if Rockstar refused to play the preorder bonus game.

That doesn't really seem to be their perspective.

Well they're not going to explicitly say, "We'd rather you pirate the Bundle than buy it for a penny," since they actually don't want people to do either one. They'd rather people pay $10, $20, $30 or more. And maybe they believe that someone who bothers to pay a penny today is more likely than the pirate to pay real money later. But just from a financial perspective, they lose a lot more money from the guy who pays a penny and uses their bandwidth than from the guy who gets the Bundle from a torrent.
posted by straight at 8:22 PM on October 18, 2011


The problem there is that most of the people who pirate the Bundle use their servers anyway, since, as part of their "no DRM" stance, the serial-number checking only determines whether you have a valid code, not if it's been used before or by whom. So they're pirating the games and directly costing the devs money.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 4:43 AM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


A whole lot, sure. How many first-run sales do they lose, though? It really doesn't take much of a dip to turn a game from profit to loss, and it doesn't take much lost revenue to shutter a studio or displease a publisher's shareholders. Add to that the fact that GameStop wouldn't lose nearly as much, because they'll happily buy back used copies and resell them, thus maintaining a sufficient stock for their customers. In fact, a game like Arkham City is precisely the game over which they have the most leverage, because it's a single-player game that people finish. They'd have a more difficult time trying to strongarm multiplayer games like Gears of War, but 25% of the sector gets you a lot of leeway. Plus, if the publishers are doing something to sufficiently piss off Gamestop, chances are that same thing will piss off Walmart and Best.Buy too.
posted by Errant at 5:23 AM on October 19, 2011


LogicalDash: "Businesses become rackets when they make too much money?"

Maybe this is an argument about what it means to specifically be a racket, but yes, there's a number of people who consider large margins to be a sign of unjust transactions. Certainly, I'm not too fond of their business model of exploiting the least informed consumers.

For what it's worth, I find that Glyde and Gamestaq are both pretty good methods of exchange with hints of market pricing. They still charge a transaction fee, but they also insure against the risks of fraud and non-delivery. I actually made a profit holding Orange Box for a month and a half, to give you an idea of how much lower the margins are.
posted by pwnguin at 9:11 AM on October 19, 2011


And in Eve news... (effect of boycott?)
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:07 PM on October 19, 2011




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