Although I don’t play PC games at all, many people that I follow on Twitter and around the internet do… and with the release of Diablo III, there were a lot of upset people because of errors and server maintenance that seriously limited the amount of available playing time on launch day. Many fingers were pointed at the “always online” aspect of the game, which solo players arguably felt unnecessary. If you believe what people say online, a fair amount of people took time off from work (sick time or vacation) to play Diablo III on the first day… which is understandable given how long fans have been waiting for this third installment.
Some of the reactions were admittedly over the top, just as we saw with the Mass Effect 3 situation a couple of months ago… but I get where this anger comes from. Paying $60 for a game that doesn’t work when you bring it home is a frustrating experience. I’ve had issues with buying games during midnight launches before, as certain online components or content were disabled for 12-18 hours after I brought the game home. It’s upsetting. Sure, the problems did eventually get fixed, but that doesn’t at all excuse the fact that they happened in the first place. I’ve railed about not being able to access my DLC content when I bought my copy of Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition, and again when my online pass for NHL 12 failed to authenticate. The Diablo III situation is different, and arguably worse, but the idea is the same: Consumers did not get the experience that they paid for on launch day.
Unfortunately, a member of the gaming press thought to publish a piece that attempted to slap consumers into reality about the Diablo III situation. The author believes people should know that “the first few days of any popular release are going to be patchy.” He tells consumers to “shut up” and “do some work”, or to perhaps “spend some time with your family”.
I don’t know whether the intent of this article was to be funny, or whether the author was serious about trying to quell anger about the botched release. Either way, it’s very poor form and the same kind of antagonistic writing that I strongly believe to be unnecessary in the realm of the gaming press. Maybe PC players are, as the author points out, used to broken launches… but if this happened to me as a paying consumer, you can bet that I’d be vocal with my anger regarding the situation. It’s not the consumer’s responsibility to understand why software launches go awry and why their games don’t work as advertised after they’ve been purchased.
I get that some people are more understanding than others when it comes to situations like this. That’s great. If you want to tell the complainers to stuff it, do it on your own blog instead of using a more prominent bully pulpit to rebuke others. You know what the better course of action is? Don’t publish content like this at all. Let consumers complain themselves out, then smile when Diablo III finally works as advertised and the initial wave of anger goes away.
All an article like the one I’ve brought to light here does is damage the credibility and respectability of the web portal that publishes it, all in the name of drawing reactionary web traffic.
I’ve been reading some comments to some articles relating to Cory Ledesma‘s verbal slap at used game buyers and about Sony’s decision to at least consider using some sort of Online Pass system for their games, and I’m disappointed in what I’ve seen. It’s one thing for industry workers to be so defensive or to say some pretty dumb things, as they believe that used games affect their bottom lines. It’s another for gamers to point fingers at others and basically tell them that they don’t belong to the Gamers’ Club.
Let’s take a look at some examples:
1. “If you can’t afford a $60 game, you shouldn’t be playing video games.”
I love this argument, which generally comes from a group of commenters that I like to call the Industry Defense Force. It’s similar to the “You’re not a real gamer if…” argument in that there are apparently rules to becoming a video game consumer which aren’t clearly stated when you buy a game. It’s bunk, of course. The console gaming industry went through its strongest period of growth by expanding its potential user base. During the previous two console generations (PS2/Xbox/GC and PSX/N64/DC), console hardware and software prices were generally under control and it was all about selling the best value. Yes, the Nintendo 64 did have higher software prices for a time, thanks to Hiroshi Yamauchi’s decision to stick with cartridge-based media, but these prices eventually fell into line with its competition. Now, publishers have happily tacked on a $10 “HD tax” to games for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, citing higher development costs… and, unsurprisingly, software sales have trended down thanks to a recessed economy and games that feel incomplete or rushed.
Please note the term recessed economy. The Federal Government may claim that the Great Recession is over, but look around you and you’ll see a different story. Foreclosures are still happening. Layoffs are still occurring and new job creation is occurring at the speed of molasses. Unemployment has gotten so bad that the rate is inaccurate because some people have been out of work for so long that their benefits have ended. Credit is tighter. Taxes are going up to try and help states that are on the verge of going into receivership. Despite all of these things, the console gaming industry and the Industry Defense Force both insist that $60 is not that much money. The Industry Defense Force will cite pointless inflation comparisons and mention that we’ve been “due” for a price hike. Really? Now? Despite economic reality? The same economic reality that’s sent the industry into its first bonafide downturn in over a decade?
2. “It’s only a $5 difference. Don’t be cheap.”
No… not really. Depending on the retailer, that difference can be $10 or more if certain conditions are fulfilled. That’s enough for a quick lunch, a bit of gas for your vehicle, or extra cash in your pocket that can be spent elsewhere. In tough economic times, it’s not the amount of the savings that is important– it’s the fact that you’re saving any money at all that’s the key. Sometimes you have to wonder how many of these commenters have actual bills or financial obligations, because the value of money seems to escape them. Try this math: Even if you do only save $5 for each game and buy one per month for a full year, you save enough to buy an extra game each year… or two if you partake in discount programs from GameStop or Play ‘n Trade. It adds up, and the bottom line is what matters the most to consumers in times like these. Consumers will continue to be cheap, and they frankly don’t care if the Industry Defense Force calls them out for being that way.
3. “Better for the developers to get money when you buy new than for GameStop to get all of your money.”
Ah, the new version of The Crusades. Let’s forget the fact that the developers got their money for games sold already. Let’s also forget that GameStop isn’t the only source for used games around. Do developers get any money when you trade used games on Goozex? Nope. How about eBay? Nope. What if you see a game at a yard sale or flea market? Negative. Developers and publishers stopped getting their money’s worth of a rented title after a few rentals at GameFly or Blockbuster. Besides, why should gaming consumers care about the industry and how much money it makes when the industry has made it abundantly clear that it doesn’t care about consumers? As for the GameStop stigma, it’s downright laughable how commenters hang onto silly memes and attack a retail chain based on hearsay and the “cool to hate” factor. GameStop, like any other retail chain, has its share of problems and business policies that make consumers cringe… but it’s still a video game store, and there just aren’t very many of them left. The used games problem seems to have GameStop at its core, but there are many other retailers who deal with pre-owned games, both in online and brick-and-mortar spaces.
4. “Servers cost money to maintain. They aren’t free, you know.”
Oh, I know they’re not free. The problem is that the same number of people who own the game have the ability to play it online. In order for a game to be pre-owned, somebody had to buy it first before selling it or trading it in. The seller no longer plays the game online; the new owner does. There’s no additional stress on the server. With the Online Pass program, the $10 is basically free money for the publisher, and it’s not at all guaranteed to go towards server maintenance or upgrades. It’s like a gas tax in some states; ideally, this money should be going to road repair, but it usually goes into a different government fund. This is a shallow and impossible-to-defend argument.
5. “People who buy used games deserve to get a lesser experience.”
Since when? Consumers have been buying pre-owned games for decades, but only now do we vilify them? I don’t think so. Contrary to prior belief or notion, buying used games isn’t a crime, it isn’t a new fad, and it should not be a punitive situation. I’ll agree that, if you buy used, you should expect certain possibilities… like missing instruction manuals, cracked or missing cases, and possible physical damage to the media… but the games are still expected to work like they should. This business of locking content away as a deterrent from buying used in order to generate “a lesser experience” is a cash grab from publishers who decided that used games are the reason for the current business downturn.
Having said all of this, I’m going to step away from the matter once again as I’m trying not get back to writing basics rather than continuing to harp on the same topics. I will say that this issue isn’t going away and is going to likely worsen in the coming months. What will be interesting to see if how consumers respond and whether there will be any pushback– or if they’re just resigned to their fate of having to pay more to play what they want. In the meantime, I’ll be back to writing impressions and reviews soon.