On Judiciousness and Double-Dipping

I understand that early adoption comes with an inherent risk. First generation hardware is sometimes flaky at best (See RRoD) or lacking a complete feature set (See iPhone 3G or iPod Touch). Other forms of can also fall victim to lackluster premieres. DVDs frequently experience quick re-releases known as the “double-dip” offering additional bonus features that could (read “should”) have been included in the initial release. Recently there has been an increasing trend in Video Games being repackaged and released as a “Game of the Year” or updated-collectors edition. While I respect the fact that companies exist to make money, this is getting ridiculous.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, I need to clarify a few things. First, allow me to elaborate on the DVD double-dip comment. My problem is with the Super-Extended-Mega-Uber-Awesome-Director’s Cut of the the Director’s Cut Edition that comes out less than 45 days after the initial release in stores. Multiple versions from Day 1 are not my nemesis. Some people don’t care about all the extra goodies, your loss. But at least the option exists equally for everyone. People seeking the extra content are the ones who will be disappointed to find out that studios held back on content to offer another version of the DVD. These are the consumers who are likely to buy back into the movie, again. To complete the picture, movie studios are using the same chip (their movie) for more dip (our money)…double-dip. Now there is a difference between the double-dip and something like a Criterion Collection version or a 10 Year Anniversary release simply because there is an appropriate amount of time between the newer release and the initial street date. If done right, these re-releases are packed full of additional content that either wasn’t initially available, offers even more analysis and commentary or has been reprocessed in a higher definition. They are no joke, and certainly worth your money if you are a fan. However video game publishers, it would seem, have yet to learn the maxim about patience being a virtue.

With respect to Downloadable Content (DLC), I am not against developers and publishers offering additional content post-release for a fair price. Anything that enhances the gaming experience of a great game is certainly worth my attention. As long as we aren’t talking about unlock codes for modes that already exist on the disc (See Resident Evil 5 perhaps?) or a lame attempt at a money grab via new costumes (See Street Fighter 4) developers are well within their right to charge what they believe is a reasonable price for additional content. More power to you. Unfortunately the world does not work as simply as you or I would like. With publishers forced to compete for a spot on the continually changing shelf space in brick-and-mortar stores, there is barely a 3 week window of opportunity to maximize sales before real estate must be made for the next big release. In this battle for exposure, only the strongest games will survive. Darwin would be proud. Of course Darwin didn’t drop $600 on a PS3 at launch. The limited shelf space available for games means that publishers have to get creative, and creativity isn’t always a good thing.

My issue is with these so-called “Game of the Year” (GotY) Editions. Maybe it is an issue of timing, but Bethesda announcing more (paid) content planned for Fallout 3 along with a planned GotY Edition including previously available DLC seems like a media dump, an attempt to hide an important nugget of information. Their GotY disc “will include the original game plus all five add-ons” for the appropriately adjusted price of exactly what it cost when Fallout 3 first launched. More content for the same price? I’m not sure if it’s this jawbreaker I just popped in, but there is a sour taste in my mouth. And I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. All the gamers who lined up for a midnight release, who queued up these downloads as soon as their Microsoft Monopoly Money was processed suddenly found out that they’ve over-invested in their product. Those who decided to wait will receive the benefits of their prudence in purchasing. Early adopters are out at least 2400 Microsoft Monopoly Dollars, and were rewarded for their loyalty with numerous issues in downloading and playing content as it was initially released. Thanks, Bethesda. I love you too.

Now I know that DLC is not this new and exciting experience for gamers. We are starting to accept that a business plan now includes DLC as a planned revenue stream. Fine. Just don’t rip us off on pricing. However the prevalence of GotY Editions and their kin with previously available DLC (for pay) could lead to disastrous consequences. Anyone down for some rampant speculation?

Suppose Game A is released, critically well received and commercially successful. Game A gets 2-3 shots of adrenaline via DLC over the next 6-8 months at a reasonable price. However less than 12 months later, all of the previously available (for pay) DLC is repackaged with Game A for a spiffy Game of the Year Edition with a new case, and maybe even new cover art all for the same price of the original release. The masses are bitter because those who waited are rewarded for their judiciousness with a more complete game.

Game A’s sequel, Game A2 is announced and appropriately hyped. Gamers anticipate the planned DLC for A2 and decide to wait to purchase Game A2 for the complete package. Enough gamers delay their purchase to make an impact on the sales of A2 to the point that the budget for future DLC is cut, there is no GotY Edition and the publisher and developer get punished for trying to make a buck. Game over.

While I don’t think that scenario is likely, the idea of deferred sales due to gamers exercising their caveat emptor on a new game is a realistic threat to game sales, possibly to the point that gamers will be less likely to support a game out of the gate in expectation of the inevitable re-release down the road. How many of you were bitter when you found out about the Gears of War 2 Add-on pack featuring all the previously available DLC along with the new stuff on disc, all for the same price as the new content available strictly via download over XBL? Screwing over consumers who bought the game Day One only to find out the money they spent could have been saved for a later date to buy a more complete game than was initially available.

I’ve identified Fallout 3 and Gears of War 2 as offenders of the Video Game Double-Dip. But they are not the only ones worthy of an orange jumpsuit (Mass Effect?), and there will likely be more convicts in the future. Publishers are out to make money, but at whose expense? Can the possible number of relationships ruined with existing consumers be offset by the potential financial opportunities by a re-release? Can these companies thrive without the backing of the midnight launch-early adopters? If everyone waits for sales to justify DLC and yield a re-release, will it still happen without the initial sales? John Nash would be proud.

Source(s): IGN Interview, Bethesda Press Release

According to Article A, Section 2, Clause 343 of the “I am Spartacus” Charter of Win, this post has been featured on Talking About Games

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