What is the Future of Gaming?

This is the question I’m putting to myself as I see all these analysts and theoreticists talking about the future of the gaming industry with the codenamed Durango and Orbis supposedly “putting an axe to the used games industry”. And I really worry about this, as someone who wants to be in a position sometime in the future of wanting to be in the gaming industry as a part of the gaming industry, that companies are so vividly adamant about killing off used games simply because they are not getting any of the profits from it. Because, let’s cut no bones about it, the only thing that’s pushing these companies to go to such lengths is money. But will that really fix anything? Would killing off a used games industry improve profits?

I might not have been bothered by this, but then this article really got me thinking about how far the publishers would go to make this happen – how far Microsoft and Sony would go to make this happen – and how many people they would cut out of their fanbases for doing so. With unemployment on the rise across many places around the world with the financial crisis (and people in the UK would be familiar with this story all too well), people aren’t going to be able to afford new releases without significant hardship upon themselves and their families. Yes, I was able to buy Mass Effect 3 and Skyrim close to release, but that was thanks to minor loans I now have to spend half a year paying off which, when you’re only getting approximately £65 a week on JSA, is a substancial chunk of money to think about.

And not everyone can do that. Some people can’t afford to take out a loan because they’re supporting a family by themselves, live by themselves or have recently lost their jobs, but these children hear about their friends having computers, their parents are then pressured by those children for them, and the cycle goes on with personal debts/social exclusion, depending on the parent’s determination. Even if excluding the children for the time being, if a gamer enjoys playing games, but have lost their job, buying new games isn’t an option unless you can cut loose half of your bi-weekly shopping list. I’d imagine people who do that would only want to do that when another loan payment crops up because they needed a fridge freezer before an Xbox 360.

This is talking about the industry now, I should emphasise. What will happen when new games enter the market without any hopes of games released 2-3 years down the line being any less expensive than initial release? That game, initially sold on the Orbis for £40, is still £40 when you check for that game 2 years later when you’ve managed to secure a job and got the console? Heck, an even scarier thought – the games may have stopped being released those two years later for whatever reason. Games have stopped being made for the PS2, you won’t find a new release of Halo 3 anymore, so what’s to stop the next generation of games being refused sale to the public at a company’s request?

Admittedly, there are some companies out there making substancial profits off single used game sales (I saw Forza 4 locally being sold for £40 used) and I think THAT particular bullshit needs to stop. But what about those that don’t make such a profit from used games? The ones selling games 2 years or older that you can pick up for £5 aren’t making huge profits from those games (for you financial analysts, while £1 buy and £5 sell does make 400% profit, it’s still only £4 per game, so fuck you) and they’re usually games that are off the “buy new” shelves by a year or more. They’re insignificant to the point of not being a concern for anyone, and the exclusion of pre-owned games won’t hurt them much as long as a previous generation console can still provide.

“So the only thing a new-only market will hurt is the unemployed consumer?” Not quite. While it is true that, selling every game for a premium price while excluding the option of “second hand sale without the additional features” is a pain in the ass for those without the financial stability to afford it, who’s to say that this would stop publishers being picky about the IP’s they invest in? Who’s to say that developers would start to make new games, instead of churning out the same game for ten years running? If people buy used, it’s because someone bought new and that product disappointed them to the point of recovering their personal losses, and that used product then gets passed on looking to get into the same game but not willing to pay the premium because of the opinions of their friends or colleagues.

Money does not equal quality. This is becoming an ever-increasing fact in the gaming industry, and the fact that no gaming business is interested in developing new products, new IP’s, new gaming icons that is the true crippling device in the gaming industry as it stands right now. Halo, Call of Duty, Battlefield, Final Fantasy, Mass Effect, The Elder Scrolls, Forza Motorsport, Gran Turismo, Resident Evil, Silent Hill…the list can go on for hours on the major IP names in the gaming industry at the moment, but how many of them are less than a year old as an IP? How many games sold so well that they’re planning a sequel for two-three years down the line and making it into a franchise? And of those IP’s, how many have made such changes that they’ve set a new bar for the industry to follow? And how much of this IP-fuelled industry will go back into creating new, innovative content and new IP’s?

So what if developers, publishers and consumers all decided to work on a quality product that provided entertainment and replay value to the point of not wanting to drop the product in a bargain bin? I’ve kept a hold of Skyrim because of it’s replay and entertainment value. I’ve even bought the 5th Anniversary of Oblivion because I enjoyed that (and felt the Shivering Isles DLC was overpriced). I’m doing a Let’s Play on Space Marine through the single player campaign because I find it a fun thing to play and do. Some companies are capable of putting out good quality products that make you want to keep those games even after completion.

That article I linked at the start of this goes on to say that all this was possible, but at a greater cost to the company. Most of the argument was against GameStop which I cannot comment on, being British, but that point I can see. But there wouldn’t be such a big issue if games weren’t so saturated with the same old stuff we’ve seen before. If you want to attack the business practices of companies like GameStop, go right ahead if that’s for the benefit of businesses, but deal with the resident problem first – the lack of innovative and entertaining games that people want to keep a hold of for years, not days – before outright attacking the entire used games distributors for selling products that are 90% of the time out of print.

And frankly, if the company is investing more money to make a higher quality product, nobody’s going to mind if it’s worth keeping.

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