Unless I’m misreading how people feel about the gaming industry’s economic climate, they’re sick to death of microtransactions and DLC. However, instead of rallying against these business models, folks are opening their wallets, and I can’t for the life of me understand why they’re not seeing the forest through the trees. The average consumer should be ashamed of how often they’ve fallen for the carrot-on-a-stick routine… but I guess from their perspective, ignorance is bliss. While that’s okay for some, I’m the kind of guy that would rather be bummed by knowledge than be oblivious to what’s going on. But unfortunately, consumer complacency reigns supreme, and some recent headlines have brought to light a new business model which hopes to further exploit that. And what is it? The illusion of choice.
First, let’s talk about Sony.
They’re taking a proactive approach to consumer grumblings. Instead of allowing minor complaints to fester into nasty headlines, they’re finding creative ways to appease their audience. That said, Sony’s peace offerings have been rather inadequate.
PS+ has changed a great deal since the initial launch, but much of the good will it’s garnered comes from a single perk: ‘Free’ AAA games. We’re talking Infamous 2, Bioshock Infinite, Demon’s Souls, Uncharted 3, Shadow of the Colossus, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Dead Space 3, and the list goes on.
Have gamers been spoiled? Perhaps, but Sony implemented this strategy to combat the multiplayer paywall known as Xbox Live. But that’s lost on them nowadays. They, too, have shackled multiplayer behind the bars of subscription fees, and those ‘free’ titles have devolved into an eighth generation indie-thon. Not that indie titles are bad, but it’s not what PS+ subscribers have been conditioned to expect.
I don’t think anybody expected Sony to give us retail games in the PS4’s first year. If they did, they were naive and just looking for a reason to bitch. Why would they cannibalize sales just to satisfy a few loose-lipped idiots on the net? But now after two years in this generation, we have yet to see so much as a launch title on the program. Are Killzone and Knack REALLY still selling enough copies to warrant their exclusion from PS+? I doubt it. Hell, even Microsoft – who, by the way, are still losing money per console sold (once taking research, development, and marketing into consideration) – have given Gold subscribers Tomb Raider and Rayman Legends. So, what gives?
This means the value of PS+ is plummeting, regardless of whether consumers care to perceive it that way or not. The promise behind this program, specifically in regards to the Playstation 4, was to strengthen both their servers and quality of ‘free’ content, while enhancing their community-based features.
I’d argue they haven’t done that.
Their servers are weaker than their (direct) competition. The quality of ‘free’ games have gone downhill. Their community-based features are nearly non-existent… unless you count clicking the ‘thumbs up’ button on a game or app a ‘community feature’.
And little by little, people have taken notice. So, Sony have invited PS+ subscribers to collectively vote for one of three indie titles… which is smart. VERY smart. When you give your customers the power of choice, they feel appreciated and shower you with good will. But in the business world, very few – if any – decisions are made with our best interest in mind. This vote was manufactured to extract good will, and more importantly, make people forget the ‘where’s our AAA’ discussion. And unfortunately, if the comments I’ve seen can act as a decent barometer, it worked. People don’t get that this was a diversionary tactic. They’d rather believe Sony are gracious and altruistic.
The next headline that fits in with this ‘illusion of choice’ theme, is the recently unveiled Deus Ex: Mankind Divided ‘Augment Your Pre-Order’ program.
Pre-order exclusives have plagued this industry for a long time. Publishers have held content for ransom unless you’ve promised to buy their products sight unseen, and when you do, you’re STILL missing out because of retailer specific pre-order exclusives. “Buy it in advance, FROM US, or fuck you.” That’s the gist.
How much worse could it possibly get?
How about Kickstarter-inspired reward tiers based on pre-order numbers? The more people that pre-order, the more content they’ll get! Isn’t that GREAT?!
So, let’s break down why this sucks major donkey dick:
Kickstarter is meant to fund projects that wouldn’t exist without some financial help. But Square Enix and Eidos Montreal aren’t doing this to bring a passion project to life, but to sucker people into a ‘buy before you try’ agreement.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a loyal fan of the franchise, either. If enough people don’t pre-order, these companies are basically going to punish you and say, “Too bad, so sad. You should have told all your friends to pre-order, too.”
Now, pre-order DLC usually consists of cosmetic items, but the third tier for Mankind Divided features an in-game mission.
Last but certainly not least, three of the five tiers force you to choose between one piece of content over another. That means there’s no possible way to acquire all the extra goodies in the ‘Augment Your Pre-Order’ program… unless you feel like buying multiple copies..
Of course, the whole idea of ‘Augment Your Pre-Order’ isn’t meant to make you feel like you’re being raped by the anal splitting cock of a minotaur. No, it’s supposed to make you feel like you’re in control of your own destiny.
All gamers really want is to get a complete game at the complete price. But is there an option for that? Of course there isn’t. And why? Because ‘fuck you’. That’s why.
The ‘choose your own rewards’ mantra, much like ‘vote for your next PS+ game’, is little more than marketing bullshit to make you forget how hard you’re being screwed. I sincerely hope consumers are wise enough to tell Square Enix and Eidos Montreal to shove it up their ass. If that message isn’t delivered loud-and-clear, make no doubt about it: We WILL see more of this. A LOT more.