Epic Betrayals

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As you might be aware at this point, Epic Games has released the newest iteration in their Halo-sequel game series, Gears of War. For me, Gears of War isn’t really interesting except insofar as it is a distillation of negative trends in the game industry: Poor storytelling, cinematic experience bereft of the benefits of an interactive medium, hypermasculinization and deintellectualization, and so on.

There’s also the angle in which we can look at Gears of War as a prime example of a PC-focused developer turning into a console-focused developer, and the implications of the two platforms. I am not one for the “console wars,” but I think that PC-gaming and console-gaming serve different markets, in much the same way that movies released to theaters serve a much different market than direct-to-home-video movies do.

For PC developers, the giant bugaboo-slash-boogeyman is “Piracy.” For console developers, piracy is significantly less of a problem, for both demographic and technical reasons. But console developers have their own boogeyman, and it is “Used game sales.” Here’s what Mike Capps, President of Epic Games, has to say:

“The secondary market is a huge issue in the United States. Our primary retailer makes the majority of its money off of secondary sales, and so you’re starting to see games taking proactive steps toward that by… if you buy the retail version you get the unlock code [for DownLoad-able Content, aka DLC],” he said.

While I think GameStop’s practices of buying used games for pennies on the dollar and reselling them at 1000% markup of what they paid are nigh-criminal, it is seriously wrongheaded to attack the used game market as a destructive force in gaming. My own general price guideline for a game is $50, which means that the vast majority of new console releases are outside of my price guideline. I may be willing to spend up to $50 on a game, but console games regularly retail for $60 and up. These prices can be even more punishing if you’re in a foreign country. My more regular price-point for games I am unsure about whether I will like is $30, and even for games that are a few years old it is unusual to find games at this price point.

The natural answer, I think, is to understand that gamers are not fountains of endless cash and that new games need to be competitive with the used game market (if that is what they are competing with) in order to remain a successful venture. Most people, myself included, would choose a new game over a used game if the differential was, say, $5.00. But once you move into the $10 and $20 differences in price…

So what does Capps think might be potential “final solutions” to the “used game problem”?

“I’ve talked to some developers who are saying ‘If you want to fight the final boss you go online and pay USD 20, but if you bought the retail version you got it for free’. We don’t make any money when someone rents it, and we don’t make any money when someone buys it used – way more than twice as many people played Gears than bought it.”

The animus behind this idea here is so… incredibly hateful towards fans who do anything other than pay full price, I literally don’t know what to say. I think it would be right and just for any company that contemplates creating a product that intentionally breaks if resold to be sued out of existence. This is nothing more than attempting to use technological means to make it impossible for someone to exercise their right to resell an item they own. If game developers think that existing copyright law is such a burden that sabotaging their products to eliminate the rights of their customers is valid, then perhaps it is also right for customers to simply ignore the copyrights of the developers themselves.

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