The Gamer Rebellion
(This is another edition of </RANT>, a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not reflect those of GameFront.)
Capcom hasn’t endeared itself to savvy consumers this generation. Its policy on downloadable content is nothing short of ridiculous, with games like Asura’s Wrath selling the full story incrementally, on top of the original purchase, and Street Fighter x Tekken shipping with a bunch of characters locked behind a pay wall on the disc. While some folks don’t care, and believe they still get their money’s worth, others feel cheated and they’ve not been shy about expressing it. Usually, however, the rage is impotent as gamers complain about something while still happily putting their money in the publisher’s pocket. That’s why I’m so encouraged by what happened to Capcom lately, and why I hope against hope that we’re finally seeing a push back from the consumer.
See, while Street Fighter x Tekken did okay at retail, it sold below Capcom’s expectations, and certainly below what a crossover between two immensely popular fighting games should have sold. Having shipped 1.4 million discs, the game has performed behind the critically demolished Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. Meanwhile, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 hadn’t even broken a million by the time Capcom shared its first quarter financial report earlier this month.
While we can’t completely credit Capcom’s falling profits and underperforming games to the ire of gamers, there’s certainly a strong clue that consumer rebellion has had an effect. That effect is a rare show of humility from Capcom, with the announcement that the publisher is reconsidering its DLC policy and may not ship content on discs anymore. Part of this announcement seems to be damage control, with Capcom preemptively admitting that Dragon’s Dogma would ship with on-disc paid content (and there’s going to be a LOT of DLC for that game), but the fact that Capcom felt the need to preempt that outrage seems to be a pretty strong indicator that the company is a little less confident these days that gamers will happily swallow whatever shitty business tactics a publisher feels like pulling.
For most of this generation, the business behind games has gotten worse in spite of the software getting better. As I discussed last week, I love games as art but hate them as corporate products. It took me a long time to draw the distinction, however, and I think many gamers took just as long. For years now, we’ve all tagged along and allowed companies to take liberties with DLC. Our willingness to forgive and forget has sent the message that, no matter how angry gamers become, they will ultimately let publishers get away with murder. Electronic Arts started this generation a little humbled, losing industry first place to Activision, with a CEO who seemed to genuinely care about games. We had new IP, bold ideas, and a company that just tried its best. But it poked, and it prodded, and we let some bad ideas slide, and now EA is universally reviled again, forcing all its games to boast the same dull features, cramming online passes into everything, and attempting to scam users with sleazy takes on the free-to-play model. In months past, we’ve let this shit slide, forgetting our grievances as soon as the game is in our hands. Lately, however, there is dissension in the ranks, and I love it.
The Mass Effect 3 outrage demonstrated that gamers aren’t willing to get bored before their concerns are addressed anymore. That controversy lasted weeks and weeks, far beyond what our short attention spans are used to. Where usually, EA and BioWare would ignore the problems until people got distracted (as they did with Dragon Age 2), this time around their hand was forced and they announced the new “contextual” DLC for the Summer. It’s a small step, not an outright revolution, but the growing rebellious attitudes among the gamer populace are starting to show that folks aren’t so willing to lie down and take this bullshit anymore. These are only baby steps. Too much shit has been allowed to slide for far too long for there to be any major changes in the industry. But gamers are getting more vocal, and their vocality is starting to be matched with a bit more action. From organized groups to consumers actually voting with their wallets, small dents are starting to be made. That can only be a good thing.
Meanwhile, pro-consumer c0mpanies are getting rewarded. Good Old Games, Valve, and other companies that make their services convenient to use and provide benefit to the customers are doing very well, as gamers recognize and patronize those corporations that demonstrate they actually give a shit about their users.
Naturally, there’s still a lot that hasn’t changed. Electronic Arts, despite the hatred, is still making money hand over fist. There are a lot of gamers who don’t follow the business, and just purchase games regardless of what’s on the disc. That’s cool, and their prerogative, and their absolute right. Not judging them at all, and I don’t think it’s anyone’s abject responsibility to not buy games. But those that are sending messages, those are are starting to be more selective about who they do business with, those who are organizing a collective voice that speaks out against the treatment of consumers as dumb cattle … those people are awesome.
As a supporter of games as art, the idea of boycotting certain titles is a cause of real conflict for me. But I will always support consumers making a stand, and in certain cases, the refusal to play ball with the publisher is a long-term great idea. At the very least, continuing to put pressure on a company to make changes, as Capcom is looking to do with DLC, benefits us all, and ultimately benefits videogames as an art form, as the creative side takes precedence over the corporate side.
Some small changes are being made, but the fact that any change can be made in an industry riddled with hubris and self-confidence, is absolutely monumental. Slowly, everso slowly, publishers are being made to shed their attitude that they can charge what they like, do as they please, and make a guaranteed million. It’s not universal, and it’s going to take ages, but gamers have started chipping away at the mountain.
Fucking good for them. Damn fucking good.