Editorial: DLC, Microtransactions, and the Impending doom of DRM

At this point in the gaming cycle, with the new Playstation and Xbox incoming I’ve noticed that a lot of game journalists both professional and amateur hypothesizing how these companies will handle digital content and what dastardly means they might enact to stop the prevalence of used game sales in this market.

One of the biggest evils to gamers is the rise of DRM put on game discs and into the code that requires a constant internet connection to ensure your copy is legitimate. In some cases DRM is handled by tying a particular game to an account much how Xbox handles this by attaching games you can play to a gamer tag and the original console the content was downloaded. Most of these methods haven’t impeded gameplay but as the industry constantly strives to make sure no one is playing these games without having first paid for them there are bound to be errors.

One solution to simplify this is to stick with the tried and true method of requiring a constant internet connection in order to play content. This is one method that particularly irks me as I have the misfortune of living in an area that is prone to net outage which would essentially mean I wouldn’t be able to play any of the games that I paid for. Another suggested use of this is to ensure that people cannot sell their used games to a reseller such as Gamestop for someone else to buy and then play. I don’t agree with this method as I feel quite strongly to my bones that I am paying $60 for a game then I have a right to sell that on when I no longer want to play it, or more common loan said game to a friend or relative to try out before they too, spend $60 on a game they may or may not like. Two franchises, Borderlands and Battlefield have benefited from used game sales at least in my personal case as these were franchises I wasn’t initially interested in and certainly not considering spending full price on in order to satisfy my curiosity. After I purchased the titles I fell in love with them and Borderlands even became my international date game with my then girlfriend who lived in the UK.

At least once a week we would get together and chat over our headsets and play a game together as a couple. Fast forward to the release of Borderlands 2 and I pre-ordered a copy the instant it was available. Had I not been able to take a low risk approach to the first game, it might not have become as important to me as it was. Battlefield is a similar, albeit, less romantic version of the story. I had an interest in the game but already played the annual Call of Duty series and couldn’t justify taking a risk on another shooter that to outward appearances was all but identical. Because I was able to sell off some games I no longer wished to play, I had the spare coinage to buy a copy of Battlefield and I have supported the series since. Again, if I had been forced to either risk the $60 or wait two years for the price to become affordable I might not have given these games a chance and that is one less customer supporting the industry.

I understand that game companies do not see any of the money coming from used game sales, and thus the advent of an online pass was born that required you to at least drop $10 more on a title in order to activate some aspect of the title. I have supported this idea from day one as I love video games and would like more. If paying that extra helps the company at least make some money from a used game sale I support it %100. The addition of micro transactions and more paid DLC were also acceptable ways to me for the company to make money off of their titles. You don’t have to buy that gilded gun that shoots wild turkeys at your enemies, but for ten cents chances are you would risk it.

What I think game companies forget is that people as a whole aren’t dirty pirate scum trying to screw them out of a dollar. One can certainly make the case some are, but the average consumer is not. The reality of the situation is that games are very expensive and economic times have been tough. So unless someone only wants to play one game a year they need to get creative in finding ways to play games, but when a title resonates with that consumer they will support it completely and that is where the serious money starts to come in.

 

The (possible) Solution:

I would personally like to see Microsoft and Sony embrace Valve’s business model that it uses through its online distribution platform Steam. On a fairly regular basis Steam offers new and older titles at a deep discount at which time purchases of the game go up significantly. Often times games that I buy I have no intention of playing immediately but had an interest in and who can argue spending $10 on a new game or add-on. A prime example of this would be the Elder scrolls: Skyrim, I own two copies of this game, and have purchased all of the DLC for both systems. Because we paid full price for the console stuff I often wait for the DLC to be discounted some before I buy on console but the key point to remember is that I am buying two sets of content. If I could get on Xbox Live and go to the marketplace when they were having deals and happily buy my content digitally from the source for a good price than try to find a copy used. I genuinely believe that if Microsoft were to offer “Steam-like” sales on their console platform they would see far more revenue generated than if they forced everyone to buy at full price or wait until the prices drop. The beauty of Steam is that they’re not only offering new titles, but older and Indie titles as well. These are games that I would never spend full price on, but because of the discount I am willing to give them a try.

Another important thing to take away from this as well is that I’m eager to buy from Steam. I look forward to the deals and check regularly to see if there is anything I would like to purchase. If you’re doing something so well that customers are eager to spend money on something they don’t even know exists yet, you’re doing something right and Microsoft and Sony could learn a lot from it. This sort of “Sale” system could even be listed as a perk of having gold level subscription to the Live service, providing further incentive for people to support one console AND the subscription fee which is almost always one of the main reason PC gamers won’t make the switch to console.

In the end, I doubt Microsoft, Sony, or Nintendo would ever enact something like “always-on” DRM. The potential to alienate its consumer base would be too great a risk. If these companies would just embrace the business model which has made Valve the most trusted name in gaming, I think they would see a world of potential revenue gains that had previously been closed off to them.

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