This nonsense with microtransactions and loot boxes has to end.
I‘m sure I speak for everyone when I say this, but enough. The devaluation of video games in an attempt to generate higher revenues (to match higher development costs) has gone on for far too long, now. DLC, season passes, online passes, pre-order exclusives, microtransactions, subscription fees, and the latest, loot boxes- faced with ever increasing development costs, and an inability to expand the base they sell games to, western AAA publishers are sinking ever lower in their attempts to milk the base they do have and generate more revenues.
It’s sickening, and there is no defense possible for the kind of abusive practices that are best characterized by a game like Star Wars Battlefront 2, currently caught in the midst of a backlash thanks to its egregious monetization (although EA and DICE have currently paused microtransactions for now). This is, truly, the end game of western AAA that Nintendo tried to warn against years ago- more sophisticated hardware, a never ending arms race for better looking and more technically sophisticated games, rising costs, studio closures, publisher buyouts, games bombing even after selling millions, and a race to the bottom in trying to monetize a userbase.
"There is no defense possible for the kind of abusive practices that are best characterized by a game like Star Wars Battlefront 2, currently caught in the midst of a backlash thanks to its egregious monetization."
But look, I can almost understand why publishers are doing what they are doing- games are getting more and more expensive to make as time goes on, and the user base they sell to is not expanding linearly with their costs. Unless users are happy with mid tier AA games like Persona 5 and NieR Automata (which, by the way, I am- they are among the two best games of this year; the problem is, most of the larger audience wouldn’t be happy with anything less than the latest graphics telling an ‘epic’ story), this arms race is not going to end.
What do publishers do, then? Of course they have no choice but to try and leverage as much revenue from the base they do have as possible, right? And hence, we get this nonsense. But I have a compromise- a compromise for publishers. Raise the price of games. Raise it to $80.
Now, many of you either blanched at reading that sentence, or got really angry, or closed this article in disgust. If you’re still reading, let me explain- video games have cost $60 since 2005 now, when the Xbox 360 first came on to the scene. Development costs have risen exponentially since, and this is without factoring in inflation over the last 12 years. Put simply, we are paying far less relative to purchasing parity and development costs now than we ever have before. We are ignoring the average rate of inflation (which has been roughly 2.4% on average annually in the US for the last ten years), and not accounting for how steeply costs have risen with the advent of the HD consoles- of course it’s financially unviable for developers to sell a game at $60 and leave it at that. Right?
"Video games have cost $60 since 2005 now, when the Xbox 360 first came on to the scene. Development costs have risen exponentially since, and this is without factoring in inflation over the last 12 years."
Okay, so raise the cost to $80. Do it- but that comes with the understanding that if these publishers do, they will not shoehorn any of your other bullshit into the game. No microtransactions, no lootboxes, no car passes, online passes, piecemeal DLC, none of that. Feel free to sell expansions and content packs if they want to- but no more nickel and diming, no more exploiting their consumers, no more taking us for a ride, no more devaluing their own game and the work of their developers. We pay them $80, once- and that extra $20 you get per copy is an insurance we pay to ensure that they don’t continue to ruin our games.
What do publishers get out of this? Why would they go for a one time cost (admittedly an increased one) rather than recurrent purchasing and revenue? Because my belief truly is that it will balance out for them in the end. Look, by charging $80 upfront, they get an extra $20 from everyone who buys the game- rather than getting $60 from everyone who buys the game, and then $30 for the Season Pass from a fraction of that userbase (or recurrent spending on microtransactions from an even smaller pool of the people who bought the game). Recurrent spending spreads out the revenues over time, sure- so more stability in income in terms of your financial statements. But in the end, by ensuring an additional $20 from every purchaser, you are still in the end getting the same amount of money (just upfront). Hell, since they are getting an extra $20 from everyone who buys the game, they might even earn more in the end. There- there’s the benefit for them.
It’s not just that, either- they avoid the intangibles this way, too. No bad PR, no backlash, no negative publicity, no disenchanted developers, no brand devaluation. And if this leads to a net increase in their total revenues (which, maybe? It’s unclear if it might), then maybe they even feel bolder in terms of making less homogenized games, trying out different things, not just putting a different variation of the same thing to the market once a year, every year.
"Those additional $20 per game will sting- but think of them as an insurance policy we pay to ensure that the specter of abusive monetization is kept away from our games forever."
Now, to be very clear, I am not asking for every game to be $80- only the ones that feel it necessary to nickel and dime a customer to achieve profitability and growth. If your game is so expensive that you don’t see how it will make money without you shoehorning in microtransactions and lootboxes or exploitative season passes- well, don’t. Charge $80 once, and be done with it. Games that right now can afford to be single player titles without inane monetization policies, like Wolfenstein, The Evil Within, Prey, Persona 5, and NieR Automata– these titles, too, should remain $60. If they can be profitable at $60 now, they will have no problem being profitable at $60 then (and, in fact, by being at a slightly lower price point, they will even induce people to pick them up by looking better value in comparison to $80 games).
I also don’t want this to mean the end of meaningful post launch add-on content- if The Witcher 3 charges me $80, I don’t want it to mean CDPR can’t sell an Expansion Pass with Blood and Wine and Hearts of Stone additionally, because that is meaningful add-on content that earns the extra money (after the base game has already earned the $80 to begin with). Ditto for Horizon or Mario Kart, which both have had great post launch DLC support, too.
But that’s as much leeway as I am willing to give. So, publishers- here’s a compromise. Stop ruining our games (and the games your developers spend years of their lives working on). Stop nickel and diming your customers. Stop feeding the spiral that will inevitably lead to a crash of the AAA market. Just stop- instead, charge us $80 per game, once, upfront. There- you made your extra money honestly, without having to resort to scam your players. As for us, the players, the people who play games? Those additional $20 per game will sting- but think of them as an insurance policy we pay to ensure that the specter of abusive monetization is kept away from our games forever.
It’s not a win-win situation- but it’s the only fix to this goddamn mess that I can see for the time being.