5 Video Game Industry Scams (That Should Be Illegal)
As we prepare to enter the eighth generation of gaming consoles with a waning economy and a previous generation built almost entirely around motion controls and shitty gimmicks it’s arguable, depending on how you see a half-glass of water, that the video game market is doomed to crash again. In 1983 the market for video games became inundated with loads of worthless crap and consumers literally gave up on caring. After letdown after letdown from Atari due to the likes of E.T. and their Pac-Man port alongside the dubious quality and massive quantities of competitor consoles and shady third-party software consumers just said “to hell with it” and Atari ended up burying their trash in a New Mexico landfill.
Having to cower away and bury your trash in the ground is about as ultimately defeated as you can get. Nobody even does that anymore these days but they should (on principle, we can be less environmentally destructive than that today). What’s so different about Americans from the 80’s compared to today that prevents them from saying “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore“? Why is it that something as deceptively simple as a small handful of trashy games from a leading video game company can cause a market crash in the eighties yet in today’s world Nintendo has free rein to greenlight more trashy shovelware than we have trucks to carry it all to an unsuspecting landfill? WHY?
The Wii may be the gold standard in ninth-rate garbage “video games” but their portfolio of shame is nothing compared to these five current business practices that are destroying the market and in some abstract form have got to be some kind of illegal.
“DLC” is industry shorthand for “downloadable content” (e.g. bonus characters/players, extra missions, MMO expansions). Obviously, “download” is the keyword here. This is some kind of add-on that does not come on the game disc and is something you have to purchase separately and store on your console’s local hard drive before you can play it. Again, I’m stressing the fact that this is a game expansion that doesn’t come on the disc. Developers, however, are still selling “DLC” that amounts to nothing more than a suspiciously small file (around 180KB on most Xbox 360 games) that couldn’t possibly contain the data for additional characters or missions. Hell, one high-res JPEG picture can surpass 180KB by leaps and bounds, so what exactly does this “DLC” do?
It unlocks something already on the disc.
That’s not “downloadable content”, that’s “I’ve already paid for this so why are you making me pay for it again content”, and it’s presently completely permissible in the industry even though it’s shadier than Guy Fieri wearing two pairs of sunglasses while standing under an umbrella that’s under a pop-tent under a tree when it’s overcast outside. The counterargument to this bogus DLC is simple: when you paid $60 for that game you paid for that disc and everything on it. It’s yours to do whatever you please. What developers are doing with these DLC “unlock codes” amounts to your favorite band selling their new album but charging you extra fees to unlock the second half of the CD.
The good news is not all developers are fond of the idea of these predatory nickel-and-diming practices. That still doesn’t change the fact, however, that developers such as 2K Games and Capcom have been busted using on-disc “DLC” and hawking unlock codes online. Not even Street Fighter is exempt from dealing under the table, but honestly if you paid the $15 required to unlock character outfits you probably deserved to have been duped as such.
Quickly, what’s the best way to beat your competition in a market? That’s right, make a better and more available product. Or you can do what Electronic Arts has done with their football games and score an exclusivity contract with the NFL effectively shutting out any and all competition in the market. EA originally signed this deal in 2004 for the duration of five years, but they have routinely extended their agreement enough times that it is currently set to expire in 2013 which I only assume will be met with another extension when its expiration rolls around again.
It is no secret that I hate sports games more than I hate myself but for the first time in my life I’m siding with the people who buy these games rather than calling them mean names.
It’s pretty obvious why this isn’t right. Competition is what drives companies to make better products, to take chances and risks in an effort to outperform their competitors. When you nix all competition from the equation you also remove the necessity to execute a quality product especially when we’re dealing with a game franchise that is essentially the same thing every single year. Football is football but when it comes to expanding upon what amounts to running a ball back and forth the real deciding factors of what football game you’ll buy revolve around the presentation of the game. What kinds of neat “little things” did the developers include? Is it a massive replay/camera system? Impeccable voice-overs and fluid commentating? Maybe they focused on in-depth player/roster interactivity? Topless cheerleader mode?
You can throw all that out the window when there’s only one company working with such an open-ended idea. You’ll get their regurgitated shit and you have to like it because there’s no other competition and there won’t ever be so long as Electronic Arts maintains their contract with the NFL. For once I honestly feel badly for people who follow sports as a lifestyle as no other genre of games gets shafted as hard as sports titles has, but this isn’t Electronic Arts’ only shameful action, oh… no.
Remember what I said earlier about buying a game and being entitled to everything the game has to offer? Not only is “unlock code DLC” an example of shady dealings but our friends at EA again decided to take things a step further. Their latest dick move is called an “online pass”, a “product” featured on many of their games such as Battlefield 3, Need For Speed, and every single game on this list at Wikipedia. But just what is this “online pass”? Well, if you can’t be bothered to read the literature I’ve provided I’ll spell it out plain and simple:
If you bought a game used, then you can’t play it online without spending another $10 to unlock Multiplayer mode.
The reasoning behind EA’s wonderful idea is they believe they’re losing money on used game sales and providing a service to people who aren’t paying for it. This is complete bullshit. When the Original Owner of a game buys it at $60 he’s paying for the game and all associated fees for servers, online play, and whatever additional content is provided to him by the developers. When he is tired of using these services and transfers the product to the Secondhand Owner he is no longer making use of them, it is now the Secondhand Owner using the services. They are still paid for by the original purchase. Customers aren’t exponentially multiplying and people aren’t mass producing copies of games without paying for them. It’s not happening.
This kind of bullshit DRM should not be working in the market but the terrifying thing is that it clearly is. Electronic Arts has made at least $15 million dollars of free money at your expense and offering absolutely nothing in return other than online functionality that should have been yours for free to begin with. Stop buying into their shit; call them up and demand a complimentary online pass, and if they refuse to give it to you then inform them where they can shove their should-be-illegal scheme and also tell them that football sucks while you’re at it. Additionally, you can also inform EA that the last good game they ever released was Road Rash 3 on the Sega Genesis.
This is simply unacceptable. Games that feature a one-time key for unlocking online play are the equivalent of a self-destructing message from Inspector fucking Gadget. The number of markets this scam intrudes on is staggering to say the least. I’ve already established how it ruins the used games market by effectively adding a $10 tax to a product and discussed how it also destroys lending to friends, but in a similar vein what about video game rentals? You can’t rent a game like Battlefield 3 to give a test run to see if you like it; you won’t get the full experience. Any kind of business model built upon secondhand merchandise is effectively screwed with EA’s worthless online pass.
Some of our website traffic isn’t domestic so here’s a description of GameStop to our foreign friends who mercifully may not have to put up with their horrendous business practices in their countries. GameStop is an American retailer of used and new video games and assorted gaming merchandise. They presently possess a slice of the “secondhand video game goods” market somewhere close to monopoly proportions. They have done this by purchasing all of their competition. Software Etc? Bought it. FuncoLand? Bought it (and received the hilariously biased in-house publication Game Informer with it). Electronics Botique? Bought it. Rhino Video Games? Bought it. The only retailer they didn’t buy was Game Crazy, a subsidiary of Hollywood Video, that went bankrupt in 2010 with its parent company.
The point I’m trying to make is there’s little competition when it comes to GameStop and just how massive they are. They have thousands of stores in multiple countries; their “competition” such as Play N Trade has under 200 stores in the US and Canada. Clearly there’s a rift between the operating income of these two companies. Other corporations such as Best Buy and Toys R’ Us attempt to compete with GameStop in some wacky imitation of the obstacle course from American Gladiators but these big-box retailers aren’t dedicated video game stores. They just happen to also sell video games.
Companies like Play N Trade can’t compete with GameStop because GameStop has so much money and so many assets in different markets that they can afford to operate in the red with “loss leader” products and incentives and simply make that money back. Play N Trade doesn’t own a shitty magazine that fellates every big-name game that’s coming out and only mocks the ones everyone else are mocking (read: Duke Nukem Forever) and they don’t own an online gaming website full of sellouts either (read: Kongregate). They can’t afford to be stupid with their money and they sure as hell can’t match the offers and incentives that GameStop has intertwined into the market: pre-order bonuses.
Sometimes when you pre-order a game you get a shirt or a goofy little figurine and most outlets who accept(ed) reservations would have one to give to you while supplies last. GameStop goes beyond the standard incentives and has managed to procure deals with various developers to net them exclusive bonus content codes that you can only get if you do business with their company. Sure, these incentives are arguably stupid and worthless — the awful Goldeneye re-remake included the cheat for Paintball Mode — but the fact remains that you’re getting free DLC, sometimes of the suspicious “unlock code” variety, for giving your business to one giant corporation that holds the reins on the market and can now continue to do so all because you wanted to shoot pretty colors in Goldeneye (which is something you could have unlocked yourself on the original Nintendo 64 release if you didn’t suck at it).
Through all of the following practices I’ve covered in this feature all of them in some way or another can be chocked up as “suitably annoying”. You’re getting shafted on DLC purchases, you’re getting reamed on football games, you’re getting cheated on used multiplayer games, and you’re getting robbed by GameStop’s pricing schemes for all of the above. At least you can still play games in some basic form, right? At the end of the day you can still go to GameStop, get the EA-only version of the latest NFL game, and spend an extra $10 because you bought it used, right?
Not when the new Xbox rolls around, apparently. Rumors are circulating like wildfire on the Internet right now stating the newest Microsoft console will simply not play used games at all.
Imagine, if you will, any other decade of gaming out there. With rampant international piracy on the Atari 2600, developers of unlicensed NES games reverse engineering the console’s lockout chip, and import game dealers offering regional keys for a variety of systems, a single feature that would effectively end it all. Everything. One game. One system. One player. Want to loan that game to a friend? Fuck you. Want to save yourself $20 and buy it from a GameStop? Fuck you. Want to do anything other than pay full price for a game and fly blind into a title that may or may not turn out to be a total let down?
“Life finds a way” is a nice sentiment from Jurassic Park and it explains the situation of generations of consoles gone by. Nintendo didn’t want unauthorized third-parties on the NES, but they showed up anyways. Sony wanted to split the Japanese and North American PS1 markets, but they were eventually bridged. Surely there will also be a way to “jailbreak” your Xbox 720 and get it to play used games but since the console doesn’t come pre-modded the release of such a monumental piece of trash as this would effectively destroy the “white market” for Xbox games (as if Kinect didn’t already open that can of worms).
As it stands right now, the Xbox 720 is the worst thing Microsoft has ever created. Windows ME was crap but at least it didn’t punch you square in the dick and bang your mother like the 720 does.
Get mad. Get really mad. Go out and tell your friends just how stupid the average video game consumer has become to let the market slowly trickle down into this. The American economy is circling the toilet right now but one thing is absolutely certain: we need another video game market crash. This has to end, and the only way to stomp it out for good is to make it end in the most spectacularly destructive way imaginable. Tell EA exactly how much you enjoy their “online pass” by coercing free ones from customer support. Don’t buy “DLC” that comes pre-loaded on the disc; don’t give the developers the “okay” to keep doing this. Stop supporting companies who practice such ridiculous highway robbery and criminal dealings.
And then maybe, just maybe, the market will explode and everyone will lose money and the market will return with a few less assholes. Companies like Electronic Arts deserve to die; the lowly employees don’t deserve to be unemployed, but it’s time for the company to go away now.