Some say it all started with the horse armor.
When Bethesda SoftWorks released The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for the Xbox 360, gamers had an option to pay a whopping $3 for horse armor. This horse armor didn’t really do anything to protect your horse. It was just a skin that you could buy if you were feeling generous and wanted to give more money to the developers. There was quite the outcry at the time; especially since that same horse armor was free in the PC version of the game.
In the years following Oblivion we have seen a number of practices in the video game industry and each have had detractors claiming it would ruin our hobby. You will probably remember some of these arguments: DLC was taking away content that should have been included in the main portion of the game. Microtransactions force us to pay for things we like cheats that we used to get for free in games. Microtransactions in games we pay for is double-dipping. We are paying for games that are completely broken when they are released and require massive download patches to fix. I am going to guess that all of these rants will sound familiar to any gamer who has gone online in the last decade. While I think they are all legitimate gripes to some degree, I never really bothered to get too angry about any of them. My philosophy was to just buy whatever I felt was a good value, wait for a sale on the things I felt were not worth it and if somebody else chose to spend their money on something I didn’t like, well, that is their business.
However, one fairly recent gripe has something to it, I think. On Friday, July 3rd I had noticed that ICXM writer and PR person Cameron Mines rant about Slightly Mad Studios and Project Cars. Like any writer Cam then followed up his Twitter rants with an article listing his problems with the studio and the game itself. I’m not going to repeat his article verbatim but I do think he made several valid points. I encourage you to read it for yourself. Cam and I are in complete agreement with the gist of the matter, Slightly Mad Studios took funds from donors and promised a Wii U version of Project Cars only to cancel it later, delivered a game that ran like a hot mess on consoles and even on PC has serious quality issues. Now the developers are appearing before the gaming community again with hats in hand to ask for more money to make Project Cars 2 while the first game – not even two months old as of this writing – still has major issues to be fixed.
As always, people are free to spend their own money however they like but to this outside observer of the Project Cars funding phenomenon this smacks of a particularly abusive relationship. I can’t help but picture someone faced with the prospect of a broken romance and being kicked out on to the street so he or she goes back to their lover and promises things will be better this time. No more black eyes. Really.
And of course the lover weakens and the cycle of abuse continues.
I am probably not above this. I have funded projects on Kickstarter, purchased DLC, bought in-game items through microtransactions, preordered games and even preordered digital games. If the video games industry has any Horsemen of the Apocalypse then I have probably funded one of them.
Alas, I have no special wisdom that will solve the problems of the gaming industry. Even if I did nobody would read it anyway. All I have is an observation that many gamers will happily accept mountains of abuse. More so than customers of other products. When we receive a meal that is prepared poorly we send it back to the kitchen. When our cellular phone service doesn’t work as promised we make them fix the problem or we take our business elsewhere. What happens when our games, networks or consoles don’t work properly? Why, we accept these issues with a smile and then go online to forums and social media platforms to defend the latest transgression. “Our gaming network breaks down a lot but yours broke down twice more than ours did last month. Therefore our network is better!”
I am not entirely unmindful of the situations developers and publishers face. Video games are monumentally expensive to make. The market is brutally competitive. retail games don’t have much of a revenue tail anymore and increasing numbers of gamers are conditioned to wait until a game goes on sale for $5 or show up as a free title in Games with Gold or PlayStation Plus. Most game developers hae volatile careers and bounce from studio to studio. However, I am pleased to note that I write from the perspective of the consumer. Our role is to get the best deal we can for ourselves. That is how the cycle of business usually works. A customer hands over some money and the business hands over a product in exchange. At the end of the day the customer holds the power and can influence how the company behaves. Sony may well have canceled The Last Guardian if not for the outcry from gamers. The Xbox One itself is a vastly different system than the one that was revealed back in 2013. Gamers can change the shape of the industry if they really wanted to.
So I ask, how much abuse are gamers willing to take as consumers? How many broken games will we buy on launch day? How many times will we tolerate gaming networks that bork themselves despite the fact we subsidize these networks with paid subscriptions? How often will we let game companies push us for more money even when their products don’t work?
My guess is a lot. We like the abuse.
Image Source: Pixel Bedlam