Maybe It’s Time We Stop Buying Games on Day One
From a business standpoint, one can hardly blame publishers for their behavior. The video game industry, especially when it comes to the biggest publishers and their biggest franchises, is driven by hits. And hits, more and more, are made at launch, not in the months following. The first week after the launch of a big title has become just as important for the gaming industry as it is for movies, and franchises can live or die by how it goes during this period. Furthermore, quarterly and yearly earnings projections provide a strong incentive to make certain that games are released according to a very strict schedule. So long as sales are good, it doesn’t matter if the game itself is.
But of course, it does matter to gamers, and in the last few years, the purchase of a game at launch date has morphed into a kind of punishment levied against them for being a loyal customer. Consider the day one DLC debacle that came along with Mass Effect 3 (not to mention Mass Effect 3′s other debacle); the numerous bugs that plagued The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and continue to deprive Playstation 3 players of expansion content; the continued bugginess of Assassin’s Creed 3; the “ending sold separately” gambit Capcom pulled with Azura’s Wrath; Black Ops 2′s Nuketown 2025 map, a pre-order bonus, was rendered inaccessible except in custom games (although that seems to have changed because of player backlash).
Those are all infuriating problems, but do developers care? Increasingly, they don’t have to. In the last five years, publishers and developers have absolutely railed about the problem of piracy, but their solutions to the problem have largely consisted of making it much more difficult for legitimate purchasers to do what they like with the game once they take it home. Digital unlock codes for critical content, always-on DRM, the classification of digital copies as “licenses” rather than purchased products, these are all designed to ensure that once you buy a game, you’re stuck with it, at least until its true owner – the developer – decides not to support it any further.
This should piss you off. Luckily, there’s also an easy solution.
Gamers often call for boycotts of games when they’re unhappy about them, but these displays rarely have a notable impact; often, they tend to show how impotent we as a community really are. For some reason, we really will take whatever we’re given with a smile, or at worst, a snide remark on the Internet. But we don’t stop coming back, largely because we hold out hope for the next over-hyped title, even though we’ve been disappointed before. However, there’s one powerful way to strike back at developers and publishers to make grievances known, and it wouldn’t even require you foregoing the next installment in your favorite franchise.
Just don’t buy a game during that first week. Then watch what happens:
First, you’ll be better-informed about the game before you decide to buy it. Critics and other players will have had a chance to get into the game and judge its quality and character. That’s the point of the review process, after all — informing you of what to expect. Theoretically, you won’t be stuck with a buggy lump of code you can’t resell; or at least, you’ll hopefully know that that outcome is a possibility beforehand.
Second, skipping launch week would be a highly effectual way to make your displeasure known to publishers about things such as day one patches, day one DLC, weak PC ports, online passes, excessive DRM — the whole lot. If enough players who find themselves actively angry about anti-consumer practices from publishers just refused to buy in the first week of a game’s launch, the effect on the bottom line for those publishers would be felt like a seismic shift. In some cases, it could be devastating. And it doesn’t even require you to boycott the game entirely; it just means you need to spend that first week playing something else.
It’s true that a blanket adoption of this policy will also affect developers who generally make a good faith effort to provide as much information as possible about their games in a timely fashion. But the point isn’t merely to ensure that review copies are sent to news outlets before launch, it’s to encourage industry-wide better behavior as the default standard. The only way that works is if the industry agrees overall that the emphasis on first day sales, relevant information be damned, doesn’t work like it used to. For that to happen, every company with skin in the game needs to be affected, not just the chronic bad actors.
The simple fact is that, more than ever before, the people who make games as a business are in a position to take advantage of you, the consumer, and they’ve proven themselves very much willing to do so. You can rage about day one DLC while you’re downloading it and ponying up that extra $10, or you can stop dancing when a publisher pulls the strings. Next time you lay down your cash for a pre-order, ask yourself what you’re actually buying. If we’ve learned anything from the disappointments of 2012, it’s that usually, it really isn’t worth it.
This piece is a collaboration between Phil Hornshaw and Ross Lincoln. Read more of Hornshaw’s work here and Lincoln’s work here, and follow them and Game Front on Twitter: @philhornshaw, @rossalincoln and @gamefrontcom.