Friday, January 18, 2013

Bad Technology

I was listening to the Scriptnotes podcast tonight and the guys on there talked about the future of watching movies and how it is more or less inevitable that everything will be delivered digitally and it reminded me of something I'd been meaning to write about: copyright technology as it's seemingly going to be deployed in the next iteration of the Playstation (though maybe not). It's a big, controversial topic in the gaming world and it strikes me not so much for the disruption in the sales model now in existence for gamers (buy games you really want right when they come out, buy stuff you're less excited about used in a couple of months) but for the problematic implication of the game delivery systems themselves. We're getting an entire extra round of games being sold on plastic discs.

I get that the availability of the kind of fast and secure internet that would be sufficient to stream games at super high res with little to no distortion isn't there right now but a new system is going to be a flagship for at least 5 years, more likely 7-8 years. So the gaming companies are locking into this whole physical presentation for at least that much longer. That's kind of awful, isn't it? I, for one, like the future that is promised by DLC even if the pragmatic reality is much more cynical in nature. Sure, gaming companies are only putting out DLC to ring a few dollars more out of a gullible or, at least, prone public but the system is in place to download entire games straight to your system.

It makes my soul itch to think that I need to own discs. I really don't. Streaming/downloading games would actually help the bottom lines of the companies if you accept that gamers would pay the same price for their electronically conveyed entertainments that they are currently paying for physical delivery. I don't think that's much of a leap. There isn't the same sort of cult of display for games that there once was (thankfully since abandoned) for movies. The portability of downloaded content is as attractive for me, at least, as any silly special edition boxing could ever be. So I could buy a game to my system and then play it, or at least some pared down version of it, on any device that I might own. This could actually be the boon that Sony hoped for with PS Vita and Nintendo assumed with Wii U: games can be ported across platforms and carried into and out of the home but the system needs to be more sleek and attractive.

I have always held that DLC is poorly implemented in the first place and actually inhibits some growth in the sales of video games. EA Sports does itself some bit of disservice (obscured by already gargantuan sales) by forcing gamers to buy full versions of its sports titles on yearly basis when for the vast majority of consumers all that's really important are roster tweaks and stadium improvements. If you released Madden every other year or every couple of years when an entirely new game interface needs to be presented and made people pay for updates to rosters and such as DLC for a lower price point, my guess is that a floodgate would open in the sales. Charge $15 for an update at draft time, another $10 for an update at the start of preseason, $20 for an update at the start of the season that implements all jersey, stadium, firmware updates, and $90 for the hard copy of the software (with an activation key like you use for MS Office) and you will take out a lot of the worry about used copies eating sales while also getting casual repeaters (those who buy the game every couple of years or wait to find a cheap used copy) to repeat every year while also shoving the revenue that was going to Gamestop straight into the pockets of EA. It's easy, right? It also fends off a resurrected nemesis like 2K sports because the investment cost will make people think twice about jumping to the upstart. It's sinister and beautiful and slows down the overcrowded dev cycle for sports games in particular, but it can be of similar use to other games as product platforms (though a franchise like COD or Red Dead might need to stick with a software cost of closer to $60 to entice customers).

Not that anybody comments here but if you yell at me on twitter about my bloggering then tell me if what I'm saying here is organized enough to even make sense. I've got a clear idea in my head of where gaming needs to go but I don't know if I'm imparting a plan or a series of lines from a couple of unconnected sketches. So let me know, if you would be so kind.