Industry Publishers Need To Clean Up Their Act

By Adam Ma on July 19, 2012, 10:14AM EDT

Gamers lash out at developers and publishers pretty hard for 'features' like on-disc DRM and pre-launch DLC announcements, but only because it's the more recent wave in a tide of economics. Placing a pre-order for beta or early game access, exclusive content or gear that gives some players an inherent advantage over others in a multiplayer environment, and lifetime subscriptions are just a few of the other ways developers have tried parting us with cash in order to have us 'better' enjoy our favorite games, and more often than not there are plenty of complaints regarding whatever new policy the bigwigs come up with. Some of it is just hot air blowing, which is to be expected as the majority of gamers have their own vision of what the perfect future of gaming should be. There's no use throwing a fit anytime some new anti-piracy script restricts playing a game offline, or some new computer program that's required as a useless launch platform. These things are just a quick (but expensive) toe dips to see what works and what doesn't. But what about when a company asks you to pay full price for the demo portion of a game that may take up to 72 hours to unlock completely?

What's truly bothersome isn't the fact that Blizzard considered this as an option, but rather that it was actually implemented. Paying for a demo was never something that went over with any major popularity. Despite Square Enix charging for Dissidia Duodecim's gameplay sampling other developers never really caught on to the idea, so why any gamer would subject themselves to purchasing themselves the right to access only a small portion of a game for full retail price, regardless of when they'll receive the full version, is beyond my comprehension. The best part is this policy was put into place to protect the integrity of the auction house, a service that really exists completely independent of the game itself as multiplayer. It's also a service which almost circumvents the concept of integrity, as it allows players to purchase with farmed in-game gold (or worse, real cash) items that they have failed to get in game through luck or perseverance alone. Their explanation just doesn't make sense, and does more to insult their customer base than to really provide a logical explanation as to why anyone should tolerate paying full retail for a partial product.

This is just the tip of a larger iceberg for Blizzard, who has also recently been forced to provide full cash refunds for their terrible server stability overseas. On one hand it's to be expected for a game to have some issues on launch day, although we hate to admit it there are some things that a development team simply cannot prepare for. But when a multi-billion dollar company somehow is unable to maintain server stability for a game which they know is set to draw in millions of players it's fair to ask why there this was even a problem in the first place. Since many of these companies love to play fast and loose with what players are paying for in the first place, isn't it our right as consumers to have the gaming 'product' clearly defined?

Amid a wave of term agreements to prevent lawsuits, nondisclosure agreements to prevent early leaks and TOS agreements to remind us that the MMO characters we pour so much time to are not actually in any way ours, a line must be drawn. There's no reason why gamers aren't taking firmer stances on unacceptable business practices, similar to the way that Korea's Federal Trade Commission stepped in to protect their consumers. As these games start to shift into encouraging independent player economies (on top of bonus content that generally must be purchased) it becomes harder and harder to determine exactly what the value of a game is. That doesn't mean companies have the right to define the cost in their favor, but rather they should be working alongside gamers to come to a conclusion.

In the same way that the Free-To-Play business model lets gamers decide how much they want to invest in a particular title, publishers should be looking at ways to make gamers into loyal repeat customers rather than resentful participants. The difference between a perceived cash grab and an acceptable strategy is whether or not anyone feels like they've gained value from their purchase, which is why DLC will always be a part of the future of gaming; content that is poorly priced for what it offers will fail to sell, and those who spend an inordinate amount of time on a single title really don't see 15 dollars on five map packs to be a bad deal. They're not really playing anything else anyway, there's no harm in investing a little more cash in a game that's provided them so much joy already. It doesn't matter whether or not the DLC was already on the disc available from day one, or if it required fifteen minutes of internet wait time; odds are the developer had decided that DLC was going to be available from the very beginning. And though it may be insulting to know that the 'downloadable content' is already sitting right on your disk the development time for those side projects is often entirely separate than the actual game. It's hard to swallow, but DLC is not the real enemy.

There is no acceptable reason to release a game like Elemental, broken and riddled with technical issues, missing game modes, and with the expectations that players will simply buy the product to have it be fixed in the future. Nor is there any reason why players should ever pay for the right to play a demo, or be given a demo as a replacement to the full version of the game because a company failed to implement the appropriate security measures for a feature they knew was being launched over a year in advance. More important than how insulting these policies are how their unfair business practices target a customer base that values honesty and loyalty above anything else. It's not as though there's no precedent for a major publisher explaining the reasons for their decisions, just take a look at Atlus and Persona 4's region lock. At the end of the day if they wanted gamers to be patient during server downtime, or to better understand staggered distribution, or to give feedback on a broken authentication system all they really needed to do was ask.

TAGS: Diablo III, PC
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