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Game Sales Are Strange…But They Don’t Have to Be
Over the past ten years, we’ve seen a war brewing within the gaming industry. Publishers have lost money over it, development studios have closed, digital downloads have begun their rise, and brick and mortar stores have persisted despite the growing digital sphere.
That war, my friends, is the war over used games.
THE BUDGET-FRIENDLY OPTION
It’s been happening since the beginning of games themselves. Stores are known for offering to trade or buy your used games, which they then turn around and sell to other consumers for a price marked up from the sale.
Used games, much like anything you can purchase used, are a much cheaper option, which is what draws frugal gamers in the first place.
It’s an understandable approach; we love games, and with the litany of releases we see each year, we want nothing more than to get our hands on as many of them as possible. But at an MSRP of $60, it’s not necessarily feasible to afford it. Even buying 5 games will set you back the price of a brand-new console. So, when can you can pick up a used copy for a marked-down price, why wouldn’t you want to save a few bucks?
ON THE OFFENSIVE
Of course, the sale of used games brings to light another problem: who gets the profit? Since a new copy of a game has already passed through the hands of one consumer, there is no longer a way to track that copy if a consumer decides to sell it at a store. So, when the store takes it and turns around to sell it to someone else, not a penny of the money made on that copy is seen by those who created the game. This becomes problematic for a number of reasons; 1) it has led to the eventual bankruptcy and shutdown of multiple studios, and 2) actual sales numbers of games becomes inaccurate, which can effect the possibilities of sequels or publisher support, and 3) can do more financial harm than good to the industry in the long run.
So what’s to be done? Used game sales are perfectly legal and take place every day, continuing to be one of the most popular methods of game sales.
To combat the sale of used games, however, publishers have taken a number of steps to keep games in the hands of the original consumer and off the store shelf.
1: DOWNLOADABLE CONTENT
In this twilight of our current console generation, DLC is steadily becoming a standard part of game development. From player skins to separate story missions, it’s fairly safe to assume that a majority of large retail titles (and even some downloadable) will see DLC after the game’s initial release.
And sometimes before that, too; DLC is often offered as a pre-order bonus for many games, offering players an incentive to purchase the game new rather than used. The promise of forthcoming DLC is used to entice gamers to hold on to their copies rather than play through them and trade them in. And although DLC can typically be accessed with a used game copy, the profit from DLC goes directly to the game’s creators.
2: ONLINE PLAY
With the likes of multiplayer-heavy games like Halo or Call of Duty, online multiplayer has become all but necessary in a new release. Love it or hate it, a majority of games released today feature their own spin on the gameplay mode. And while some are more innovative than others, multiplayer continues to be a popular part of any game’s release.
Companies have seen this and jumped to capitalize on this as well by implementing online passes to access multiplayer modes on used or rented games. It’s stirred up an outcry from many, but remains a viable way to keep players invested in the purchase and discourage them from buying used.
3: DIGITAL DOWNLOADS
The digital market has exploded over the years, giving rise to great indie titles like Limbo and Fez while also offering full game downloads in a games-on-demand style format. Digital purchases are great for the industry; by bypassing physical media, the middle man is cut out, and all money made goes straight to the creators.
So despite the steps being taken to persuade gamers to buy new, the war still persists, forcing companies to become more firm in their offensive. This is especially made evident by the rumors of no disc drive or used game locks on next gen consoles.
But the argument still stands; gamers frequently accuse games of being too expensive to simply buy new.
SALES ARE WONKY…BUT THEY DON’T HAVE TO BE
At $60USD for the standard MSRP price of games, it could be argued that, after taking into account inflation and the evolution of the market and quality of gaming in general, games are actually cheaper today than they have been since their humble beginnings. In the NES and SNES era, some games sold for over $100, and not even as special or collector’s edition bundles.
Of course, saying that games are cheaper today does nothing to assuage the tight-budgeted gamers who hate having to make the choice between two titles when they’re limited to three Andrew Jacksons in their pocket.
So, gamers are then forced into another option; wait for six months for the possibility of a price drop on new copies, or buy used.
However, if sales for a title persist at $60, a price drop won’t happen for some time, or at least until sales start to dip and they give it a boost by lowering them. But here’s the oddity in gaming pricing; if gamers wait about a year, they’ll often be able to pick up Game of the Year editions for big titles (whether they actually won game of the year or not).
These editions typically contain the game plus a majority (if not all) of the DLC released for it to that date. The strangest part? These editions are often released at a price cheaper than at the game’s launch. Take the recent announcement of Dead Island’s Game of the Year for example; it contains not only the game, but a sizable amount of DLC as well, including a weapon blueprint exclusive to pre-orders. And the best part is, it’s available for $29.99. That’s half the price of the original release with almost double the content.
And in the digital realm, full game downloads are available with same-day becoming more and more popular. But on a space like digital, with all physical media expenses cut out, we are still charged $60 to download it on Steam or the PSN. Now, it’s possible that there are other fees required in order to sell the game on a digital service, but the reality is this; like it or not, this industry is headed to an all-digital sphere. Why not figure out a way to sell retail games on day one for a reduced price to digital users? Granted, there are a number of issues that arise in the implementation of an all-digital world, but this might be a step in the right direction to get players to embrace the idea.
And in the case of new purchases, companies might do well to approach game sales from a new angle. Rather than punish used game buyers and rip off early adopters, the industry needs to look to a more reward-based approach to help players justify an expensive game purchase. Instead of releasing a much cheaper and content-heavy Game of the Year edition after launch, why not give initial $60 customers a voucher code for all DLC after the game’s release, and charge it full price to used game buyers and those who wait for a price drop? In understand manufacturers wanting to make as much money as possible. In fact, I am in support of a great majority of them. But its this odd nickel and diming of consumers that I feel is harming the industry and making the war against used games an ugly one, particularly to the unsuspecting person who doesn’t have Scrooge McDuck-like money piles to jump into.
Of course, I’m not an economist. I’m a gaming journalist who actually happens to be really bad at math. But no matter how you look at it, our current approach to game sales is nothing if not strange.