#Gamergate exposed both gaming industry and press as a corrupt, parasitic relationship, though it was hardly the first indication that the industry and press were in bed (pun intended)—see the XB1M13 scandal, which involved Microsoft paying YouTubers for positive coverage of their Xbox One games. Or read up on the recent exposure of the Yogscast. I could go on.
The gaming industry, which has repeatedly disrespected its own audience in speaking out against #gamergate, a movement which reasonably wants no corruption in the gaming press (the animals!), was disregarding their customers long before #GamerGate broke. Here are what I consider the three most vile practices of the Gaming Industry.
Games are, admittedly, a massive investment. The average AAA game can have upwards of five years of development time and several millions of dollars invested, covering everything from the cost of the game engine (whether developed or licensed), sound and music, 2d art, 3d art, modeling, motion capturing, and the list goes on. What better way to take your customer’s eagerly offered money than by having them pay you in advance for a product, the quality of which is by no means certain?
Previously, pre-orders were a way to ensure you could play the game as soon as it came out. This is a relic of the days when games were primarily on disc or cartridge and there was a finite supply on launch day. Now that the digital marketplace has arrived on PC and consoles alike, there was no need to pre-order. That is, until some money hungry publisher got the idea to create the pre-order bonus.
A pre-order bonus, for those of you who are unaware, is a small part of the game that is otherwise unattainable unless you pre-order. It can range from the cosmetic, harmless stuff like an outfit, to an entire series of missions you would not be able to otherwise play. Developers are essentially chopping a piece out of their game to incentivize your pre-order. Here’s the rub, though. Clearly the game, whether we’re talking plot or gameplay, can survive without that bit they chopped over to pre-order. So my advice? Suck it up and go without that extra weapon or hat.
Clearly it wasn’t important enough to include in the entire game, and it’s not worth the risk of spending $60 on a bug-ridden mess. Ask anyone who pre-ordered Aliens: Colonial Marines if it was worth the risk.
When a publisher is about to lay a very expensive egg, they know it. They know because they employ large Quality Assurance teams to chase bugs and play the game in every possible manner it can be played. But since games, particularly AAA games, can be an investment of tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars, they can’t afford not to launch the product. So instead, they exercise their collusion with the gaming press and create an embargo on reviews until after the game has released.
You might ask why a member of the gaming press would ever agree to an embargo in the first place. Well, the big publishers control the review copies, and only certain outlets receive those review copies. The readership of a review drops off dramatically if you’re not the first site to post a review. Publishers know that, and stipulate via contract when exactly a review can be posted, and if you don’t comply, you don’t get a review copy and there go your clicks and ad revenue. Publishers having the gaming press in this position is why things like #gamergate happened in the first place.
The point here is, if a review embargo is the release date (or, as was recently the case with Assassin’s Creed Unity, twelve hours after launch), you can be fairly certain the game is a turd. But again, this is the publisher’s method of keeping that information from the public until the first wave of customers have forked over their money. Typically a publisher that has a good game on their hands will let the reviews drop early in order to let that press sell the game for them. Take Dragon Age: Inquisition for example, whose reviews dropped a week prior to release and currently sits at 87 on Metacritic.
Early Access/Public Beta
For those who are unaware, Early Access is the term for the customer having the ability to purchase a game and then play it when it is not in its final release state (excluding post-release patches). Public Betas are essentially tests in which the Public plays the game before it is in its final release state and then provides feedback (or not, their option) to the company. Public Betas, once free, are now usually tied to pre-orders.
And both are complete and utter bullshit.
In the name of allowing the customer to play a game he is looking forward to early, publishers have effectively outsourced Quality Assurance to the customer! And the best part is you’re paying for the privilege. Allow me to repeat for emphasis—they are taking what is the work of a paid Quality Assurance representative and selling it to you, allowing you to pay them for what they pay someone else to do.
As a man who respects game, I am actually in awe of the balls this takes. In no other industry are you sold the experience of working for them while also paying them for the privilege. It’s incredible that people who have the ability to earn money would spend it on this. You are literally taking your money, which you earn at your job, and paying it to someone else in order to be able to perform a different job.
Early Access started innocently enough. Indie game developers who didn’t have enough money to finish their game sold Early Access to fund the game to completion (although at the time of writing, only 25% of Steam Early Access games have been completed, many having been on the service for over a year). But like all things which start innocently enough, the publishers took this and used it to their benefit.
My personal favorite in this category is Bohemia Interactive. They sell a game called DayZ, which is based on an ultra-popular mod to their game, ArmA 2. Seeing the popularity of this free mod raise their years-old game to the top of the Steam sales charts caused them to hire the young developer, Dean “Rocket” Hall, and give him a team to turn DayZ into a full-fledged game.
DayZ, like so many other games, decided to go the Early Access route, and many, myself included, bought the game because we loved the mod. Yet a few months after release, with DayZ nowhere near finished, Mr. Hall announced that he would be leaving Bohemia by the end of the year, even if the game isn’t finished.
Pointing out to a publisher that they have to finish the game you paid for is like pointing out to a con man that he never gave you the deed to the bridge he sold you. The publishers have our money, why put any more resources into finishing the game?
The Bottom Line
The gaming industry is a business, and the objective of business is to make money. The longer we let the gaming industry screw us over with anti-consumer practices (by buying their games anyway), the more they will do it. Do yourself a favor—never pre-order, never buy a game that isn’t complete, and always read reviews before you buy. Our purchasing power is the only power we have as consumers. Don’t waste it on bad games.
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