My biggest problems with the video game industry lie with video games as an industry– the focusing on milking gamers for loose change is a greedy tactic that has been stripping the art of video games from their beautiful and relaxing nature. Now, instead of spending $60 to get a game, you’re spending upwards of $200 in installments as the game is released piece by piece. In this essay, we’re going to look at the business aspect of the gaming industry, EA/Activision, loot boxes, pre-orders, and DLC, and how each of those is poisoning the entire video game experience.
Since there is a lot to cover, it’s probably best to break this editorial up into bullet-pointed notes and expand on them individually. So, let’s start with pre-orders as they, chronologically, take place first.
Ever since 2010 or so, video game retailers have pressured me into investing my money into a game before it’s released (and specifically, before it even has a release date). Crowd-funding and donations are one topic, but for large publishers to demand customers to start paying off the $60 price tag based solely on the name of the game is a cruel and dishonest practice. By offering “exclusive” bonus items to people who preemptively purchase a game, retailers/publishers/developers bully the audience into sacrificing (and gambling) money before they even know what it’s for. Nowadays, when you preorder a game, you a) don’t know when you’ll actually get the game, b) if the game will actually be any good and c) if you’ll even end up still wanting the game when it is released.
My philosophy on this is simple… it’s theft. Think about pre-order bonuses like this: developers make a game (Far Cry 5, for example) and create a lot of really great in-game characters skins, vehicle designs, and gun camos for the player to use. Then, they take out 20% of those items and lock them behind exclusive pre-order walls for only certain players to receive. To anybody else that, say, is a thoughtful consumer against practices such as these, they’ll never see those cool in-game items even though they assumed the $60 price tag would cover the full game. Of course, the companies who make these decisions will claim that these exclusive items are not part of the $60 game and are, in fact, actual bonuses for certain gamers. Whichever one has legitimacy to it, they are both greedy. If the bonus items are actually just that, then the retailers paid the developers to make in-game items in order to persuade consumers to shop at a certain store and not others, which is even greedier than what I expect happens.
Could you imagine an action figure being sold with pre-order bonuses? Bonuses that don’t simply contain extra colors that you can add to the outfit, but the ability to make your toy objectively better than the other kids’? I don’t mean subjectively neater but maybe now, your toy can move on it’s own Small Soldiers-style and decapitate the other toys, forcing the other kids to spend more money to make their toys compete with yours? I know, it’s a crazy thought…but it’s what a game like Star Wars Battlefront II did just 7 months ago…
DOWNLOADABLE CONTENT (DLC)
Keeping with the theme of Far Cry 5, let’s talk about Editions of games. Normally, you’ll see a game on a shelf and that will be the full game but for many Triple A game companies, you’ll also be asked if you’re interested in any Deluxe editions, Gold editions, Complete editions, Game of the Year editions, bonus bundles, DLC packages, season passes, and other travesties that commonly pressure customers into spending more money for what should all have been included in that $60 price.
Don’t get me wrong, there are quite a few DLC packs that are well worth more money, but they shouldn’t actually cost more money. Horizon Zero Dawn’s The Frozen Wilds is one of these such DLC’s but it’s more an extension of the game you already paid for rather than an entirely new game in and of itself. RDR’s Undead Nightmare is another example of this but Bioshock Infinite’s Burial at Sea is really something that should have been a part of the release title especially since it’s one of the few elements of that game that tie it into the Bioshock series’ overall narrative. In my opinion, Burial at Sea is the proper third act to Bioshock Infinite and having it be a separate game is pretty cruel to anybody invested in the narrative of those games.
My philosophy on this is also simple… either the game, or the DLC, need be free. To break this down, I’m going to be talking about a few games specifically: Halo 3, Fortnite, and Call of Duty Black Ops 4.
Halo 3 is notable because it was a full game released with a full online multiplayer and many other modes such as Theater, Forge, and Custom Games. When Bungie released more maps, they simply added to the many that were already present, but asked $10 or so for each individual map pack (containing around 3, if I remember, maps per pack). Soon after, Halo 3: ODST was released as it’s own spin-off title and came with the entire collection of Halo 3 Multiplayer maps, including the aforementioned DLC maps but also including an entirely new mode called Fire Fight. ODST was also $60 at launch (which many players thought was about twice as much as it should be) but for the combined price of $120, gamers received two full-length campaigns, 24 multiplayer maps, theater mode, custom games, and forge-mode capabilities on each individual map.
Uniquely, Fortnite Battle Royale is a game that is completely free to play, and only asks that players who want to customize the look of their character purchase cosmetic upgrades. I have absolutely no problem with this for a few reasons, the first of which being that your enjoyment of the game doesn’t exclusively hinge on you paying extra for it, it’s simply a subjective change to fit the individual gamer. Players who want to support the game have the ability to do so, and the purchasable skins are really the new version of Action Figures for kids. I mean, being able to buy a skin in-game and then do anything of it is something that I wish I was able to do with my toys as a kid but now, kids can get these characters and have a lot more fun. Fortnite is a great example of how smart business can let the game, and gamers, flourish. If Fortnite wasn’t free, I wouldn’t play it but since it is free, I’m more than happy to play it AND buy all the skins, emotes, and harvesting tools that I like simply because I respect their decision to respect the consumer.
Furthermore, for just 10 bucks every 10 weeks, Fortnite hands you an incredible amount of cosmetic items that keep players playing as they update the map each week for free, just for fun and to keep the audience happy. Fortnite doesn’t offer map packs that you have to pay for, they keep changing the map in order to tell a story, and update the seasonal theme (Space, Superhero Movies, Adventure, etc), and bonus-modes like the Avengers: Infinity War-themed Infinity Gauntlet mode…again, for free.
On the other hand, let’s talk about Black Ops 4… a full-priced $60 game for no campaign at all, only multiplayer. A campaign that has been traded in for a Battle Royale mode, and an entry in a series that only gives players around 10 or so maps at launch, with the rest locked behind expensive DLC map packs. With the “game” being priced at 60 and the “season pass” being priced at 50, players are asked to spend 110 bucks to get the “full experience” of Black Ops 4 which, again, has zero campaigns.
Don’t get me wrong, Battle Royale modes are fun but video games have historically been single-player campaigns with bonus multiplayer maps stacked on top for added incentive. Games that flip that paradigm on it’s head or even strip the campaign from the game altogether are simply hopping on bandwagons and using their titles as monetary vampires. The thing that I absolutely hate about Battle Royale is that your overall experience (as in, enjoyment) is completely based on luck. Sure, there are elements of skill that guide you but the majority of your skill is sifted through the game’s many mechanics based on luck. If Call of Duty Black Ops 4 is charging 60 bucks for a Battle Royale mode, I hope this is the game that finally teaches greedy publishers a very important lesson: gamers want unique titles that offer quality experiences, not more of the same template that de-popularized titles like Guitar Hero and the LEGO games.
Halo 3 and ODST did DLC very well, Fortnite does DLC perfectly, and Black Ops 4 is the single worst marketing plan I’ve seen in a very long time (or at least, since Star Wars Battlefront II EA a few months ago).
Okay, so there’s not many things I could say to add to the conversation that has been going on, but I do have a fantastic idea of how loot boxes could be handled much better: make them free, but limited. If players want more, they can pay for random items, but there must be a cap on how many they can buy per day AND an alternative acquisition method needs to be offered…
FREE DAILY LOGIN REWARD: 1 Loot Box (3 secret items)
PURCHASEABLE LOOT BOXES: 3 Loot Boxes (plus bonus item) for $3 (limit 1 purchase per day, no protection against duplication)
CHOOSE YOUR ITEMS IN SHOP: All Items are $3
Of course, any duplicate items you receive reward you with either XP (Experience Points) or in-game currency that can be used to buy more loot boxes, or cosmetics.
So, instead of loot boxes being unlimited and offering players a secret, random, and certainly un-rewarding collection of crap, allow players to make their own shopping decisions and they will reward you GREATLY. If Fortnite did cosmetic loot boxes, kids would be furious, parents would be broke, and Epic Games would be out of business.
Needless to say, EA and Activision are the companies most discussed when conversations of inexcusable loot-box greed comes up and since it’s been talked about a lot, I won’t cover much of it aside from this disclaimer. Instead, I recommend checking out great YouTube channels such as PrettyGoodGaming, GameRanx, CleanPrinceGaming, LegacyKillaHD, and other editorial-type game channels that often cover gaming news such as the EA/Activision shenanigans.
In a nutshell, I suppose my wish is that games simplify themselves: a $60 price tag offers everything advertised without locking …”bonus”… items behind a pay wall. Alternatively, having a game be free to play whilst offering in-game cosmetic upgrades to interested players is equally acceptable. What is not only unacceptable but actually infuriating and borderline criminal is asking $200 for the “full experience” and not advertising exactly what the consumer would be getting at launch. Black Ops 4’s season pass is a good example of how this theft has taken ahold of gamers and honestly, I’m ecstatic that some countries are looking into legal action against loot boxes, pre-order scams, and other cons such as these (loot boxes being referred to by many foreign legislatures as examples of companies getting children addicted to gambling mechanics).
I miss the old days when gamers paid what was asked and got what they paid for: a full game. Releasing the game in pieces after launch, and asking for MORE money post-purchase is insane. I’m devastated that many of my ex-favorite franchises are doing this, but also happy because now I’m going back and playing older games. Bonus: while I play these older games, the prices for the new games drop, and complete editions are released for the advertised $60 price tag. So, a little patience goes a long way.
This essay is mostly for seasoned gamers, and parents of children who like playing video games — in hopes that we’ll all be educated on the business strategies of these companies and maybe fight back by saying “no” with our wallets. Seriously, just get a PlayStation Now subscription or hop onto ebay and look through “game lot” collections. Get some old games, and you’ll get a contemporary “$60 value” for, like, $4-8 per game. It’s unbelievably rewarding. I can’t wait to buy last year’s Assassin’s Creed Origins in about a year when it drops down to $20 🙂
I’m not sponsored by anybody at all (I wiiiiiiish I could be) so, let me just plug a little something for fun: LOOT CRATE. For a set amount each month, you’re given a box of nerdy goods that follow a certain theme that is often timely (as in, released around the same time as a popular movie release or video game release, etc) and rewards you with exclusive goodies that will always please you. This is the real-life loot box and my, is it glorious. If only video game companies could follow this company’s business strategy…
As always, thanks for reading, and I hope I was able to offer a little insight to anybody who needed it. Also, I posted another ELITE CHALLENGE recently and, as promised, will be getting the COMMERCIAL BREAK workout routine posted as well within the next 24-48 hours.