Last Level Press

The Gaming Industry: A Victim of its Own Success

By: Cliff Davenport

Who’s already tired of hearing about the Xbox One and its poor reception?  Yeah, me too.  The well-earned reasons for that console’s backlash have already been extolled by many critics, myself included, so I’m going to leave that dog alone as best I can.  There are, however, some issues regarding it that I don’t feel have been addressed well enough, or even at all, by other journalists, and I’d like to take a look at what some of Microsoft’s recent choices represent for the gaming industry in the bigger, longterm picture.  

One of the most volatile points of contention regarding Microsoft’s upcoming policies is their confirmed implementation of asinine restrictions upon the use or sale of used or borrowed games.  Namely, “sharing” games is apparently a feature now, as evidenced by an honest-to-God selling point on the Xbox One’s recent press release.  

Sega Genesis was so ahead of its time, guys.  You don’t even know.

With this “feature,” games may be shared among an as-yet-vaguely-defined “family” of ten gamers, and may only be traded to another user one time before another full purchase is necessary.  Yes, really.  Those limitations may be inconvenient to many gamers, and the corporate greed at work in such a policy is self-evident to the point of laughability, but odds are, they’ll do more damage to many gamers’ egos than to their wallets.  However, there’s an entire gaming demographic standing largely unspoken for in all of this.  Having so limited the future of the used game market, Microsoft has essentially eliminated the vast majority of their low-income consumer demographic.  

Growing up in the 1990s, I had and continue to have a lot of friends whose families are barely scraping by.  Bills, food, and gas eat up their paychecks, and the very thought of spending fifty to sixty dollars on a video game might as well be tantamount to burning that money instead.  It just isn’t an option for them and their budgets, and that situation has only gotten oh so much better in the last ten years.  I’ve known plenty of people, from kids to college students, and all the way up to adults, for whom used (read: cheap) games are the only games they can afford.  More often than not, their very consoles are either very large one-time budget expenditures or outright gifts from friends or family.  

Now, publishers the likes of which the Xbox One panders to, like E.A., may be of the mind that providing for the option of used game purchases takes business out of their own hands and places it into those of used game retailers, but I’m here to say that such isn’t always the case.  Honestly, for many people, like myself throughout all of college, it’s either used games or no games, and the latter, of course, hurts the entire industry.  Used games, at least, can still serve as indirect marketing.  Sure, the buyer of a used title hasn’t given any revenue to that title’s publisher, but if a friend sees or plays that game, and then decides to go and buy it at full price, that’s a sale that very well might not have happened if the original buyer hadn’t had a viable means of acquiring the game at all.  

I’m well and truly of the mind now that the next console war is already over before it ever began, and that Microsoft’s choices have ended them, barring a literal deus ex machina.  It’s simply too late to recant and redesign, and no amount of P.R. can fix the mess they’re in at this stage.  Microsoft, by this point in the game, I should be making Highlander jokes about how invincible you are, even though I’ve personally favored Sony for almost two decades.  

“There can be only One!”

I can’t do that now.  You’ve stolen my funny, Microsoft, and that’s not okay.  You don’t touch another man’s funny.  You’ve also delivered a boldface slap to the face of rental services and used game retailers like Gamestop, Gamefly, Red Box, and Texas’ own Game Over Video Games.  The caveat that “participating retailers” may still conduct sales of used games is hardly a patch on the grievous wounds these choices will inflict upon such business’ revenues, to say nothing of those inflicted upon smaller, independent retailers.  

But wait!  There’s more!  Microsoft has already put a placeholder price upon both the upcoming Xbox One console and its launch-title games.  These prices are not set in stone yet, I know, but on the off chance that the link in the above line is broken by the time my audience reads this, the price is currently sitting at $899 for the console and $118 for games.  From a consumer standpoint, that placeholder price is a representative benchmark of quality.  I’ll break this down into simple terms: dismissing the console itself for a moment, that game price is double that of a current-gen game.  As a consumer, it damn well better be worth it.  For that price, every game had better contain twice the content, twice the performance, twice the entertainment factor of any current-gen title; for that price, any game made for this console should blow any other game ever made away, without exception.  That is the bar you have set for yourself and your elite, non-independent club, Microsoft.  Show of hands, who thinks that’s going to happen?

“That. Is. Crazy.”

Now, we can hope, and even expect, that this price will decrease as the official launch price is announced.  Every marketer knows that it’s better to surprise customers with savings than with anything to the contrary.  Still, that placeholder is indicative of Microsoft’s intention to charge more for upcoming titles than the current industry launch-standard of $60.  By what margin they plan on exceeding that is anyone’s guess, and it is entirely reasonable for publishers to expect an increased price for the increased quality of their products, but as technology advances, it’s difficult to say how quantifiable that increase in quality will actually be.  Moreso, the ratio of quality-to-price will be up in the air as well, sitting squarely in the hands of those behind desks to tell us what’s fair to charge, and I don’t much need to illustrate how slippery that slope can get.

But I’ll do it anyway.  

All of this serves to illustrate just how out of touch the movers and shakers of the gaming industry are from their own consumer base.  “Give the people what they want” is a seemingly simple business tenet, but it can be the most difficult to surmount if you’ve got no earthly idea what it is that people want.  That statement may sound accusatory, but I don’t mean it to be.  It’s simply an observation that, to me, only makes sense when one takes a moment to look at what the gaming industry has become from the perspective of a publisher.  Gaming is now one of the fastest growing, most increasingly lucrative markets in the western world today, and there has come and gone a point wherein a different group of personality types had to take the reins for the industry’s own sake.  

Simply put, the very kinds of people who are willing and able to create and play great games and consoles are very unlikely to also be the kinds of people capable of managing a multi-billion dollar business.  Hence, the developer-publisher relationship.  Likewise, the kinds of people that can manage, budget, and capitalize upon such a business are precisely not the kinds of people that spend hours upon hours trolling through message boards to get in touch with the gaming community, much less participating in it.  They can’t be, and damnit, they shouldn’t be.  They’ve got better, more important things to be doing at literally every hour of the day.


The problem isn’t who’s in charge.  It’s not even who’s making the money.  We know what they’ll do: whatever makes them the most money.  They’re a business, after all, and that’s okay.  That’s what businesses do.  If they didn’t, we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all.  The problem lies in the public’s general misunderstanding of how to communicate with that sort of entity.  Petitions, posts, and emails, with sparing exception, aren’t going to catch their attention or bring about significant change, because, odds are, they’ll never come to the notice of the right people.  Quarterly statements will.  Vote with your wallets, people.  The actions of one company may not represent those of the industry as a whole, but business logic dictates that, if a leading company like Microsoft meets with even middling success in its business practices, its competitors will mimic and answer them in kind.  That’s where we come in.  

Gamers, for the sake of our favorite past time, don’t buy products that represent choices you do not agree with.  

“But….but doggy!  I have to have the doggy, I HAFSTA!”

No.  No, you don’t.  If you want to see our precious industry change, then you have to make it so by the means available to you.  The idea that big business, a term which can now apply to the gaming industry, sad as that may be, is an immalleable mass out of the public’s reach is a fallacy.  It’s a misinformed excuse to roll over and take it, unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to enact our desired change.  The lines of communication and feedback still exist.  They’re just different now, indirect and unable to demonstrate immediate results.  Instant gratification is not the name of this game.  It takes time for business analysts to interpret market data.  It takes time for corporate executives to act upon that data.  It will take an entire console generation’s time for the errors of the coming generation to be undone.  

At this point, at the dawn of the next generation, the responsibility of guiding the future of the gaming industry is indisputably in the hands of gamers.  To play, or not to play.  To buy, or not to buy.  Those are the questions.  Those are the decisions that will shape the industry we so love into a form we can respect again, but it will require both sides of that coin.  Don’t just buy the games you like; do not buy those that represent changes to the industry that you don’t want to see, regardless of franchise, hype, or marketing.  Make that sacrifice.  Make those choices unprofitable for those who made them, and I promise you , they will disappear.  Gamers are the roots of this industry, and no corporation is above that.  It’s time we reminded them of it.  

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Last Level Press © Copyright Cliff Davenport  Est. 2013.   | Legal Notices

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