Are Gaming Studios Betraying Early Adopters?
The gaming industry is one that still relies heavily on initial sales and launch windows for success and failure of a new game release. Even the rise of “live service games” that may even be free, initial numbers of a game may make or break a hit game. Apex Legends launched in an unusual method relying almost entirely on word of mouth, streamers, and the intrigue created by a surprise free release. While exceptions exist, games big or small, free or full price, all often live or die in that first month of sales. Used games, game sales that offer developers ZERO profits from a game have really contributed to this rush of “launch”, because developers can quickly loose a competitive edge to used game copies. However, even in an era of the rise in the digital sales, that first month is still key. We know this because overcrowded release windows still cause a world of hurt to sales of many games. EA has learned the hard way with sales issues with Anthem, Battlefield V, and way back with Titanfall 2. They failed to learn. Other great games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Hitman 2, and others hurt sales last Holiday 2018.
(Credit - Eurogamer)
I understand this need to get a game out and sell a lot of it as close as possible to launch. Games take years (sometimes even a decade) to build, and the real window of profitability to studios is small. For this reason, I personally try to buy exclusively new, and within that launch window of studios I really want to support. I also typically preorder games I am most interested in as this also helps studios know gamer interest. From deluxe editions to a preorder list 10 games long at all times, I am an EARLY ADOPTER. If I am not sold on a game to buy it at launch, I will try to still pick it up new down the road.
Sometimes the pressure to sell a lot during launch week is so high on a studio that “pre-order” controversies arise: on disc Day One DLC, essentially partioning a part of the existing game off to preorder; blocking off entire modes, save slots, or even difficulties to preoders. “Online Passes” caused a lot of stir as used games sometimes lost access to key features of the game. The list goes on, but suffice to say, may studios have panicked about launch windows and been accused of being “predatory” when it comes to pre-order bundles.
Recently the gaming industry has taken a strange negative turn, in actually starting to punish the people they are attempting to attract. Most pre-order controversy “punish” the people who don’t buy the game near launch. Lately, gaming studios are getting greedy and are starting to punish people who ACTUALLY DO buy it at launch, or pre-order. This I find to be puzzling and actually self defeating. Why are gaming studios starting to make decisions that are going to discourage people from pre-ordering or buying at launch?
I have written about the dangers of gaming studios increasing desire to cluster game releases to their own detriment before, but Holiday 2018 was one of the most crowded game release windows I have ever seen, and the negative consequences are starting to show. Multiple major games released during Holiday 2019 had to see 20-50% discounts within WEEKs of launch in efforts to entice gamers. What they fail to realize is that discounting heavily so close after launch is starting to alienate their main customer base. Why should players purchase at launch if major discounts are right around the corner. If pre-orders and the first month is the most valuable to gaming companies, why are they trying so hard to teach us to wait? Hitman 2, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Fallout 76, Call of Duty Black Ops 4, and even more recently Anthem, and more, all saw major discounts extremely soon after release. They are trying to teach us that pre-orders and launch purchases may no longer be wise. What happened this week is way worse.
The prompt to make me write all this was an example of the most predatory example of a “pre-order” I have ever seen. While all the examples so far could maybe be excused as a misguided last ditch effort to drive sales, this one is just down right anti-gamer tactics.
Black Desert Online is a game I reviewed pretty harshly during its Private Beta on Xbox One. The game is years late, it was supposed to be a launch-“ish” title for the One X, and it still plays like a buggy beta F2P game. All that being said I still wanted to play the game. An ad popped up in my feed that surprised me like none other.
For the past months the game has been available to pre-order there have been three options, Standard, Deluxe, and Ultimate. This terminology is pretty common in the gaming industry. Standard is ALWAYS the base game, plus maybe a pre-order/early buyer bonus. Deluxe is 10-20$ more with a few upgrades, and Ultimate is usually the “best”. Sometimes Super, Gold, or Collectors is substituted or in addition to Ultimate. The fact is these terms are quite standardized in the gaming industry and is a common bundling system for launch games. Black Desert was no exception, and had a 29$ Standard Edition, a Deluxe Edition for 50$, and an Ultimate for a whopping 99$. While I initially disliked the beta, I at least gave them props for admitting that that this game was not worth a AAA price tag with the usual 60$ launch price. A starting price of 30$ was “more fair” in its current state.
What followed is shocking and disgusting anti-gamer abuse of players who pre-ordered the “Standard Edition”.
As much as it sucks, (and a bad idea for game studios) to see a game receive a whopping major discount a few weeks or a month after you bought it, you at the least get some solace in knowing you got to play a game you were excited about at least slightly earlier than those that waited? Now imagine that you pre-ordered and paid full price, and at launch there was a 66% DAY ONE DISCOUNT for those who didn’t?? That’s right, Black Desert for Xbox One on LAUNCH DAY suddenly had a never before seen, never once mentioned, 10$ “Base Game” version. That’s right, a “base game” that is somehow NOT the “standard edition”?
This is nothing but an inexcusable anti-gamer predatory pre-order tactic that is setting a dangerous precent for the gaming industry. It would be one thing if only the “Deluxe and Ultimates” were available to preorder, implying a cheaper standard would be available later. It would be one thing if Deluxe and Ultimates were available with months or weeks of early access. This is actually common for free games to grant early access before going free with exclusive “founders packs”. People don’t mind supporting launch of free games. None of this was done.
They used a commonly known term for a base game and sold it as the "basic starting version" when it was actually a 20$ premium version in disguise! There is just no defending this at all. This isn't about 20$, this is about their deception. This isn’t a hotly demanded physical copy that could be sold out without pre-order; this is a digital only game! Digital only game preorders auto charge and background install so you may not even notice the new version. What does the 20$ premium for the pseudo-“standard” edition get you? A pet, a vague “value pack”, and a Meer 500 in game coins. That is not worth 20$ or 200% the value of the entire game! At the very least it is not worth 20$ to be decided for you. I know we live in a era where 20$ buys a single skin in Fortnite now a days. But those extreme prices are in free games and are voluntary support. If your game is only worth 10$ lying to everyone who pre-ordered to tell them it is worth at least 30$ is extremely dirty. This isn't even soley about their misuse of the term "standard" They could have had the 10$ version "Base Game" availble to preorder this whole time! It would have been confuzing, but honest.
I thought launch month 20-50% discounts were bad and going to have a negative impact on the gaming industry sales; I can’t even imagine if more developers try to copy extremely predatory sales strategies like this. We as gamers must say NO. "Standard Edition" MEANS BASE GAME. Period. End of Discussion.
I understand we all love games, and getting games cheaper may sound like it always a good thing. But, when developers start doing this, it preys upon gamers who support games early. If gamers start to lose trust in supporting studios early, it will hurt smaller games sales. We will see more polarization of game success. Mega hits will only grow larger, while medium sized games will suffer from "buyer beware" because briefly waiting to buy results in lower and lower prices. If those discounts don’t come quickly enough some games may become old news and fail all together; we may miss sequels we desperately want. As more and more games launch in inexcusable states (Anthem, Fallout 76), and more companies do questionable post launch discounts, some game studios may simply fail from nervous buyers.
Feedback needs to be given to major game store fronts like Steam, Xbox, Sony, Amazon, and Gamestop, that we want 60 day price guarantees on games to protect us from this dangerous trend in immediate discounts of launch games.