Modern Gaming Scams, They're Subtler Than You Think

By Adam Ma on May 12, 2011, 11:12PM EDT

It feels as though that over the years companies have had to find new means of making money from gaming, not just through hard sales but through other means as well. Constant internet access and downloadable updates have long changed the way that video games are marketed, sold, and even resold in some instances. Companies have had to become quite savvy in finding new ways to keep value in their products, combat the constant threat of theft and piracy, and of course squeeze out a few extra bucks from an already existing IP. But while some of these 'bonus' updates are acceptable add-ons, other 'features' over the years have become a little out of hand in what they ask customers to tolerate. Here's a list of a few of the more memorable gaming scams in recent times, some of which simply want gamers to part more frequently with their money, while others are a lot more subtle in their deception.

Patches on release day
Releasing any product in an unfinished state is pretty unacceptable, so it's rather puzzling why any developer would feel the need to rush out a game for any reason. Perhaps its due to publishers rushing development for marketing reasons, but considering that most of these developers apologize shortly afterwards, it's pretty clear how the cycle goes. Devs like Obsidian Entertainment will release a game like Fallout New Vegas based on demand, only to patch the title after it's release, letting players sit with a buggy game for a few months on end before finally offering any kind of solution. It would be excusable if it wasn't for the fact that the same thing happened a short while later with their DLC, or if Bethesda themselves didn't have a history of releasing relatively unfinished products.

But this problem isn't really unique to one development team. There are quite a few developers that would rather see a game launch in time than launch with as few bugs as possible. Stardock had an equally embarrassing string of issues with their bug riddled release of Elemental. Call of Duty has maintained a pretty abyssal reputation on the PS3 for frequently broken (or hacked) online modes. For developers, it means early profits for a little less work, but for gamers it means many hours of frustration, unworkable quests, and relatively empty promises. Nothing is worse than picking up a title you've been hearing about for the past year or more only to find out that the final product was intentionally released before it was finished, let alone at its best.

On-disc DLC
Knowing that developers have content planned long after the release of a game is pretty encouraging, regardless if you're going to be paying for it in the near future. It means that, assuming you enjoy a particular title, there's no need to worry about putting the game down once you have finished; the adventure simply can continue at a later date. But what about developers that make plans for content that are blatantly well within reach? The last few years of gaming have seen a dramatic increase in developers offering bonus content that's already on the disc from day one, which most really wouldn't consider a bonus. In fact, it's pretty much a rip off.

The logic is really that if the developer had enough time to make content that could be placed into a final product before release, and that said content is already on the disc being purchased, then paying for it a second time is really just a developer double dipping. No one has ever had an issue paying for DLC before because ultimately gamers were buying extra content that comes after a competed game and that they had to be downloaded, but without the 'downloading,' what customers are now doing is simply paying to unlock content that's already on the disc. It's like having a fridge installed in your home only to find that in order to use the attached freezer you need to pay more immediately afterwards. It doesn't make much sense in any other line of business, but that really doesn't stop developers from attempting to justify it and with quite a few gamers out there dedicated to data mining every newly released title, its a wonder why companies like Capcom or 2K think they can get away with hiding content for a later sale. Gamers haven't even approached such a topic with subtle dislike, it's been a subject that has fallen to openly aggressive criticism from gamers as a whole. There's no real grey area here, it's just a scam, plain and simple.

The Online Pass
Gone are the days where it's possible to trade a game with a friend and experience the multiplayer for yourself before buying. In a time when publishers are looking to find more ways to discourage used games sales, no single addition to online gaming is as awful as the Online Pass. Similar to the 'Day One DLC' concept, customers buying a brand new game will get access to bonus features free of charge. Except the only difference here is that while for a game like Mass Effect 2, the Cerberus Network really only just adds a few missions that won't largely impact the success of the game as a whole. Without Cerberus, gamers can still enjoy the main plot, participate in every non-downloadable mission, and ultimately enjoy the full experience without really knowing they were missing anything. Without a multiplayer pass, gamers mainly just have half of a game. The single player half.

It's pretty hard to determine what the logic is behind the multiplayer pass, outside of simply encouraging new game sales. If anything, it's personally discouraged me from trying out quite a few titles that may become potential purchases, and likewise friends are equally disinterested in searching for a new FPS experience with the pass tacked on. What a company like EA, one of the few that is spearheading the Online Pass initiative, has done is set a standard that if I can't find a justifiable reason to play the game for a very long time, then there's no reason for me to run the risk with a purchase. In a game like Battlefield, filled with a consistant stream of free content for those who have the pass, it's a concept that works. However, the second that free DLC starts to dissipate, or for a game which cannot provide the same level of support, the investment no longer becomes all that clear.

Video games are an entertainment platform sold primarily through word of mouth, much like a good movie or show, but unlike those other venues the investment isn't simply to sit down for a good couple of hours. A good investment in any game is something that's measured in days, weeks, or months, and when a gamer cannot picture themselves putting in that kind of time, the value of the title immediately drops. Why companies would ever want to associate themselves with the Online Pass these days is a mystery really, it's pretty clear that their positive effect on sales is almost non-existent. Save Bad Company 2, there really are no good examples of Online Pass helping a game sell better, or helping a consumer find value in their product. It's just another way of trying to get gamers to pay more, in this instance for trying to save money buying second hand.

There's a few different types of DRM, some of which affect customers far greater than others, but the fact of the matter is that for as well intentioned as DRM may be, the damage it can do is greater than the good it potentially holds. Implemented as a way to discourage (or stop) piracy, the system has arguably had little effect outside of annoying paying customers. Considering the other shifty business practices on this list, DRM is most definitely not as bad, but the fact remains that the cost that comes with playing a game installed with SecuROM is just rather agitating, infuriating even, to customers at best. The obvious one is being forced to play online, regardless of the game having any online or multiplayer features whatsoever. It's a hassle for many gamers, particularly when one takes into consideration that not everyone out there has a constant connection to the internet to begin with.

Couple that with being forced to consistently download from third party servers, having a limit as to how many times a game can be downloaded and installed, or in a worst case scenario, possibly being forced to repurchase a game simply because of a few too many reformats. DRM also makes things very difficult for anyone who needs technical assistance, as many companies involved in this sort of data protection do not work together, making it difficult to tell who is to blame when anything goes wrong. A long list of intrusive problems mesh together with hackers who feel that the installation of such a program is more of a challenge than a form of discouragement.

Episodic Games
There's nothing wrong with an episodic game for storytelling purposes, but in creating one developers need to work hard to ensure that there's enough content for the price point. It's hard to criticize a company like Telltale Games when what they're creating is obviously non-standard to the rest of the industry, and certainly the Half-Life series is a fantastic example of how releasing a storyline in bits and pieces can be a fantastic ride. But what about Sonic? What sort of experience does a multi-episode platform game have to offer? Not a better one that's for sure, and if anything, it places developers in a far worse position than they previously were, particularly in the eyes of the consumer. Sega's decision to split up Sonic 4 into smaller pieces was quite simply, a greedy one, meant to extend how much cash they could draw from their fanbase while at the same time try to figure out how to get a series that has fallen so far back onto the right path.

Some developers will argue that smaller episodes gives them the time to figure out exactly what went wrong with the previous title and then fix the mistakes from there, but really that's a statement that applies to any final product in gaming. Customers expect future titles to always be better than the ones in the past, so who exactly Sega is trying to fool with this one is beyond me. Particularly, when one considers the price point, 15 dollars for five levels that have almost no replay value is a bit of a joke. Perhaps they figured that fans would be more willing to accept bits and pieces of the franchise rather than an entire game that may disappoint fans, but the fact of the matter remains that a developer who is willing to break down a series into smaller pieces must work hard to ensure that customers are getting their moneys worth.

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