In what must have been one of the biggest U-turns in gaming history, Microsoft recently announced that they were lifting all the restrictions on used games and game trading with the Xbox One. After a huge backlash from users, most of us breathed a sigh of relief, or as one Twitter user put it “at least now we don’t have to pretend we like Killzone”.
Of course, there are bound to be some rather disappointed individuals in the game publishing and development scene. Talking about taking away the right to resell games gets peoples tempers flared, but as Lee Perry’s excellent article points out, as a gamer, you should have the choice to buy a used game, but you should also choose not to. It’s all very well to tell publishers and developers that second hand games are a fact of life, but clearly if somehow second hand games were abolished, there would be a lot more money going back into developers pockets, which of course means much more incentive to develop the innovative, new kinds of games we want to see, rather than free to play efforts and more safe franchise sequels.
The problem with Microsoft’s proposed strategy was that the user it punished the most was the most loyal customer. The kind of gamer that wants to buy new games and keep and treasure them in his or her collection was effectively being sold an installation disc for a time-limited product. In restricting second hand sales to a select few retailers, Microsoft was effectively snubbing games collectors and enthusiasts, for whom videogames are traded like commodities between other enthusiasts, much like comic books and collecting cards. With a system that could, in theory at least, render your entire games collection unplayable at any point in the future, it’s no wonder gaming enthusiasts met Microsoft’s proposals with such disdain.
Of course, as has been discussed at length, we’re in this mess because of the greed of companies like Game, Gamestation and Gamestop. There was never any problem with users trading and selling games amongst each other, but when the likes of Game found out what a lucrative market it was to simply cream the used game market we entered this downward spiral where budget re-releases ceased to exist and games got basically one shot at selling before the trade-in market took over. That’s all been discussed at length before and the chances of Game/Gamestation having a change of heart are slim to none. What’s needed is more ways to monetise games that don’t interfere with the gaming experience and more points of sale. Games do not get the benefit of a release at cinema, followed then by a release to the rental markets, then to Blu-ray and finally onto TV many years later, but selling games in stores, be it physical or digital, isn’t the only way to get content to consumers. Below are a few ideas that could help monetise games more effectively, both at point of sale and afterwards, or at least discourage games from being traded in.
In game advertising – Before you all start sending me hate-mail, consider this one more carefully. Yes, you could simply slap an advert onto a loading screen without causing a great deal of aggravation to your player. There’s more subtle and interesting ways this could be done too however. Consider a game like Grand Theft Auto. If the billboards around the city changed regularly, that would actually make the game more realistic. If the advertising on the in-car radio changed then again that would actually help make the game more immersive. Of course, this won’t suit every game (seeing an advert for the new Ford Focus while playing LA Noire won’t exactly help improve the games realism) but when done correctly it could still be a win-win situation and of course, it won’t matter if the original purchaser or a new player is playing the game.
Customer loyalty programs – I really don’t know why Nintendo don’t publicise their Stars catalogue program more. I’m forever encountering people with large Wii or DS game collections and when I ask them what they got from the Stars catalogue with all those points, being met with puzzled stares. For those not in the know, Nintendo’s reward program offers you completely free goodies for simply registering your game and filling in a short survey. The kinds of things on offer are often very desirable too, from classic controllers to Kirby notepads. Of course, you only get the reward points if you buy new and needing 500 more stars for a Super Mario Galaxy soundtrack is quite the incentive to buy a new Nintendo game rather than one that’s been traded in.
In game events – This is a no-brainer really. Nintendo’s Animal Crossing game is one of the least traded-in game cartridges. The reason for this is because the game is constantly adding new events, tournaments and suprises that keep you coming back day after day. Now that many games players have permanent or semi-permanent internet connections, adding new events to games is even easier. Imagine if Ruffian Games dropped in 100 new orbs to find in Crackdown, for instance, with 100 extra gamerscore for the first person to find them all.
Tournaments – Pretty self explanatory. Rather than just focus on the more popular games, second tier games should get special events and tournaments. PSN/Xbox live can see what games you have in your game list and special events could be organised easily. Additional trophies and gamerscore for the winners and high ranking players would encourage players to take part and to keep hold of their games for upcoming events.
Modding communities – The PC still dominates the modding and customising scene, with console manufacturers reluctant to give such free reign over their tightly controlled boxes. There’s something to be said for a passionate fan-base though, considering what’s been created for Skyrim on the PC, Bethesda basically gets expansion packs, upgrades and other tweaks created for them for free.
Downloadable content – Downloadable content has been abused as a way to make more money from retail games, but it need not be this way. The extended “spartan ops” campaign in Halo 4, for instance, not only provides tremendous value for money but also encourages players to keep their game in anticipation of the next episode of DLC. Frankly I am surprised that the spartan ops DLC wasn’t charged for, at least for those picking up the game second hand.
Playstation Plus and similar models – PS Plus is hopefully just the start of many new ways of getting games to gamers. PS Plus is an interesting model, giving gamers various content for a monthly subscription fee, rather than selling them a game outright. There are many ways that similar models could work. Imagine a Game channel, like a TV channel, where various games from 2 or 3 years ago were available each month ad-supported. Before the month was up, the player could choose to buy the game and keep it or simply move on to the new selection.
Digital distribution opens up all kinds of possibilities like this and it should be about giving the customer more choice, not punishing the most loyal games players. Instead of tolling the death bells of innovative games and claiming that free to play is the only viable business model, the games industry would do well to think a little more creatively about how to make money from traditional video games.