There was a day not so long ago when you would buy a computer game and play it. If there were bugs, you’d expect the developer to fix them and release a patch. But subscriptions? Microtransactions? Expansions? DLCs? None of those things existed.
It was a kinder, gentler day for the video gamer. Your only goal was to beat your own high score. Your only audience was you. Progression, if there was such a concept, was in the eye of the player.
And then there was the Internet. You know, email, online porn, and cat videos? The Internet suddenly made it possible to play with other people, and not just play with them but compete against them. Progression no longer meant I set a new high score or got to a tougher level than I’d ever seen before. Now it meant that I did better than you. It doesn’t matter what I did, so long as you have to acknowledge that it was better than what you did.
And that meant games couldn’t be stagnant any more. Companies that developed games had to keep developing them. Whether the games involved direct player vs. player combat or simply players trying to out-do one another, they had to keep moving the finish line. Games that constantly evolve and grow are, no surprise here, expensive. And expensive games require ongoing revenue.
What kind of a revenue stream depends on which game we’re talking about, and even then companies waffle back and forth and change their minds. Case in point, Destiny. When Bungie released their MMO shooter to great fanfare last year, they promised a schedule of two major updates per year sold as DLCs or expansions (the difference between a DLC and an expansion is largely semantic, expansion came from computer games and DLC, or Downloadable Content. from consoles, but both mean “new stuff that you have to pay for if you want it”). Now that Destiny has been out for a while, Bungie is hard at work on Destiny 2, due to launch in the Fall of 2016. That in turn has made them unwilling or unable to produce additional big chunks of content for the current game.
Instead they’re releasing new content in small updates, free of charge. Their revenue model has changed to microtransactions. They’re selling cosmetic items in their online store. Dances, emotes, and enhanced visuals–for now. Who is to say what they’ll add if the income stream fails to meet expectations? Today it’s a dance and tomorrow it’s a BFG (from the video game way-back machine, BFG was the Big, Uh, Freakin’ Gun from id Software’s Doom and Quake games). Once you found the BFG, stuff was getting killed in a big hurry.
Gamers take this reality in a few different ways. Sometimes they’re realists, they understand that it’s expensive to keep servers online and new content coming out, so they grin and bear it, deciding that the entertainment value is worth the price.
And, sometimes…they’re in deep, deep denial. They rage against the system, declaring that they won’t participate in any “pay to win” schemes, implying that there is something morally superior about not paying anything to support the game they’re playing, and mocking those who do pay as being weak.
It’s time for us to change that attitude. Because, as I said when we started this, you don’t simply buy computer games any more. Now you also buy the ongoing support model. It’s something else to consider before you decide which games you’ll purchase, and just because they choose one method at the start doesn’t mean they won’t shift gears if there aren’t enough dollars to keep the lights on.
The Internet has rendered the game cartridge and CD or DVD moot. It’s a mad, mad, connected world out there. And expensive, which is not likely to change. That’s Into Gaming, I’m Mark Lautenschlager.