We hit revolutionary crossroads in the video game industry multiple times in a generation. There’s the obvious things, such as improved specs on new systems, quirky controllers, uninitiated technology, and far more, sure, but what about those unpredictable things? The kind of stuff that makes people say, “hey, this’ll catch on and change everything!” to “this is lame, who cares?”
The point being, of course, the unpredictable aspect of that statement. A lot of that stuff that “no one” cares about ends up being the most influential part of a system, like the Wii’s controller or the 360′s Kinect; most things that are thought to be instant money-printing machines, though, don’t do much to advance the industry, let alone themselves.
So, what makes me want to sit here and write about yet another aspect of our favorite entertainment medium that’s relatively new and, with all likelihood, completely independent of consumer thought and opinion? That’s simple: it needs to be at the forefront of consumer’s minds. Sure, it’s not something that’ll ruin the industry, but it’ll definitely turn into a matter of “good” or “bad” for consumers. I’ll explain exactly what’s good and bad in a bit.
Now, I don’t want people thinking I’m greedy. I don’t want to hear people telling me to go and pay for each version of the games I want to play, that I only need one version of a game anyway, etc.; it’s not about that. There are literally dozens of contradicting points to what I’m about to say. The difference, to me, is that none are as relevant or important to the industry and it developing with the consumer in mind.
Now, we’ve seen cross-platform content in a variety of ways over the years. The PC embraces the ideology quite well with Steam and game platforms like Desura, wherein games are DRM-free and can be activated on multiple PCs, and so and and so forth. But I’m not talking about that kind of “cross-platform” acceptance. I’m looking towards consoles, specifically, and the future systems that we really know nothing about yet.
Just because we can’t analyze the future, though, doesn’t mean that we can’t speculate on the present.The Playstation platform is the best source for this kind of rampant BS, as the Vita has proven itself to be the true testing ground of cross-platform functonality. Playstation owners know that plenty of games are “buy one, get one” on the Vita and PS3, and tons more have found the joy of cross-compatible DLC, save data, and more. Even some games prove to have pure cross-platform use, like the awesome ability to stop playing our game on the big screen and take it on the go with us, ala Metal Gear Solid Collection, MLB The Show, and more.
But that’s not good enough. Again, I don’t want to come across as whining. I’m merely concerned for the viabilty of such as unique, cherishable opportunity that the video game industry has dived straight into. There are a lot of problems with this model, though.
For one, those cool features I mentioned above? They’re all limited to some games for Sony’s platforms, not all. Sure, platform-exclusive titles can’t get in on the action, and smaller developers probably can’t afford to give an entire version away for free, and so on. But there will always be outlying circumstances, no matter what we’re talking about. For example, if you were to argue that a dev can’t give a copy of their game away for free on both systems, who’s to say that someone would necessarily want to own it on both anyway? Who knows if the individual owns both a PS3 and a Vita? There are a lot of specific issues to deal with, and those aren’t what I’m interested in here.
The Wii U is another console that I’d like to get into in a separate article, mostly because it’s rather unique while also falling in line with this situation. You see, when a console game is instantly compatible with its handheld associate, yet the handheld is tied to the console, it creates a decidedly unique situation.The major point, I suppose, is that publishers need to realize what they’re doing. When a publisher releases a game for the Vita for $40, and a PS3 game for the usual $60, and they’re completely cross-compatible, some people might find this to be merely an awesome gaming opportunity. Others? They’ll be impressed, but not swayed due to the price. Most people, of course, won’t even bother to consider the proposition of a $100 purchase that’s the same experience across both platforms.
Publishers need to realize that value isn’t created per game or per console. Just because their game is compatible on the Vita, and the PS3, and can share the save data doesn’t mean that the price of each game is worth it to owners of both. No, the value is specifically designated to the content that they’re providing.
If publishers priced their game based on the value of their content, I could almost guarantee you that Vita/PS3 game titles would skyrocket in sales. Pricing two games at full retail for two different platforms is almost pointless, since hardly anyone would willingly shell out full-price for what is, really, the same experience with added portability or big-screen goodness.
Now, you might think that the developer would lose out on sales if they simply packed in another full game with its counterpart on another system. First of all, I’d argue that the majority of buyers wouldn’t bother to redeem the free game anyway, and more importantly, the prospect of receiving a full game for free with the purchase of another is a selling point that probably drew more cautious potential buyers in than would have otherwise.
If a PS3 game comes with a code redeemable for the Vita version that requires verification of ownership, i.e. they didn’t just rent the damned thing to get a free game, it’d go a long way in streamlining and improving this process. No one would try and scam the system, people without a Vita wouldn’t be losing out on anything, and no markable sales would be lost because you can’t gauge how many individuals would have bought both versions to begin with. There’s also the whole “digital versions save publishers cash” point of view, but I’ll let you keep that to your own equation here.
Some retailers have already proved the problem with expecting people to buy two games just to use one feature. MLB The Show 2012 , for example, was significantly discounted at Best Buy if a consumer was to purchase both versions of the game on the same receipt. And, really, that’s a great start; if it stayed like that with all future first-party titles, I wouldn’t complain.
We’ll never see games on consoles that are completely cross-platform, of course. I won’t be able to play my PS5 version of Call of Duty: Black Ops of War 7 on my Xbox 1080, and my Nintendo Quad-Screen Portable won’t be playing games online with my Playstation 3 Portable. What I do think we’ll see, though, is a fair and reasonable approach to digital media and propogating “free” games with legitimate purchases. It does do a bit of harm, in some scenarios, but who could argue that the harm outweighs the benefits a publisher could gain? The good will from customers, the potential raise in sales otherwise unobtainable, the brand perpetuation…
Would you rather see this particular issue evolve into what Valve has created with the Steam platform, or what Nintendo has bludgeoned on to an inch of death with their Wiiware and eShop? By not bothering to intervene with issues such as this, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment.
I won’t pretend to be an expert industry analyst. I will say, however, that we’re at a point where our favorite industry could head down a path of annoying mediocrity and neglect, or one where consumers, hardware manufacturers and publishers benefit alike. And, it’s all up to the consumer. Sure, it might not all be determined directly by us, but advocacy of the issue certainly can’t hurt. I’d rather see the industry’s growth aimed at the benefit of the people who buy the games and play them, rather than those trying to find extra profit out of a situation that’s likely to be abandoned without the care it needs.
What about you?
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