Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 31, 2014
Ben Kuchura at Polygon ventures the opinion that – in light of a very obvious trend in the industry right now from certain major publishers / platform holders (particularly EA) – in the future, nobody will own video games anymore. It’ll all be a rental. Or at best, owning a license for indefinite access to a game which is treated as a service, rather than a product. But – like canceled MMOs – the lights will eventually go off and the game will disappear into the mists of time.
We saw hints of it with Diablo III and Sim City. Even playing a game solo, with no intention of interacting with anybody, required logging into a server which might not be there in a few years (and often wasn’t functioning very well at launch). EA Access on the XBox One is a major step in that direction.
It sounds like s a big publisher’s paradise. You lock customers into your particular service pretty much forever. You can force people to play your new, hot games by phasing our their predecessors, without needing to make any major improvements to encourage the migration. You insulate yourself from hit-driven economics… you need the hits to attract new customers and increase retention, but it’s no longer a live-or-die affair. Without having any actual sales, there’s no such thing as royalty rates, which means they are allowed to structure bonuses to hit-making dev teams and studios in a far less open-ended fashion… basically screwing over dev teams without resorting to creative accounting practices or obviously lousy contract points. And, of course, it finally allows them to combat piracy in an effective way.
As a player – or potentially as a third-party developer – there is nothing but depending upon the publishers to be “nice guys” about i. Meanwhile, the publishers can just keep ratcheting down the bar on what constitutes being a “nice guy” to earn that good will.
Furthermore, Kuchura argues that most gamers won’t care. We’re already being programmed that way now, smoothly sliding down that slippery slope. The entirely predictable losses and frustrations won’t happen until we’re too far down the path to turn back. That’s how these things are done. Always.
I want him to be wrong. As a gamer, I desperately want him to be wrong.
But he’s probably not. This depresses me.
Now, as a developer, I admit there are some kinds of games – even primarily single-player games – for which this kind of model makes sense and the ol’ Idea Fairy keeps hitting me with things I’d love to try. So it’s not like I reject the entire concept. Just the idea that there’s a push to stuff all games in that particular box.
After all, I’m a retro-gamer, and I’m still playing games from companies that have long since disappeared. I’ve still got frickin’ floppy discs in my closet (and a drive on my computer to read them!).
All I can say is… the free market can work wonders, sometimes.
Don’t like it? Vote with your wallet. Support the indie games and publishers that don’t treat you like a wallet with an email account. Buy games direct and download them. If given a choice to buy a game either directly or from a place like GOG.COM that allows you to own and download the product, do that instead of a service that controls your access to the game (*cough*Steam*cough*). Maybe it won’t reverse the trend, but it will help make sure that there will always be alternatives.
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