I’ve seen some very similar responses to today’s Xbox One news, whether it be the mandatory 24-hour “check-in” or the restrictions on game lending. It’s a defensive sort of reply, brought up by somebody who doesn’t see the news as downright terrible.
“But they’re still letting us trade games!”
“We can still play games if we login once a day!”
All without a hint of irony.
It makes me so sad I can barely bring myself to talk about it.
Is this what the last decade of video gaming has conditioned us to becoming? A market that simply trudges from one restriction to the next, shuffling our way along a road that ends with video game publishers getting the absolute maximum amount of money from us for the absolute minimum of effort?
It’s hard looking back over the years and seeing anything but.
Sure, we’ve always had some form of restriction with our games systems. Region locks have been with us since almost the dawn of time. But the rate at which things have escalated in the “online” era put things like plastic tabs on an N64 in the shade.
And yes, there are benefits to gaming’s modern infrastructure. Instant downloads, fire sales, convenience, connectivity. But those benefits have also come with some hefty conditions.
It would have been absurd if your SNES cartridges only worked in your SNES. Or if Street Fighter II couldn’t be played at an arcade if Capcom’s phone lines weren’t working. Or if Metroid’s “true” ending had only been available as part of a $US5 expansion.
“I just want to buy a video game and play it, whenever and however I want.”
Yet those are the kinds of situations we find ourselves in today. Beginning with the launch of Steam and the first DLC for video games, and going on through online delivery services and online passes, we’ve gradually found ourselves gamers in a market that treats every sale as a rental, every purchase a privilege.
When did the consumer lose so much power? When did the market, the force that should be dictating how these companies behave by refusing to put up with anti-consumer measures and shaping policies with our wallets, roll over and say “have your way with me”?
The answer is we did it 10 years ago. And five. And yesterday. And today. We love video games so much, this wonderful pastime, hobby and artform, that whenever a company that makes money off them places a load on our backs, we endure it, because we’re willing to put up with it to get to the games we want to play.
As they drop each load, one by one, we barely protest, because each small weight on its own seems worth it. It’s only when you look back, and see how much you’re now carrying just to purchase and play a video game in 2013, that you realise, wow, that’s kind of messed up.
I’ve often wondered whether we would ever actually break from the strain, and people would begin to say – en masse and with true intent – that enough was enough. I honestly never thought I would, I thought our tolerance would just continue to strengthen in order to carry the load, but the backlash surrounding the things like SimCity’s launch and now Xbox One’s policies has surprised me.
Maybe we are reaching a tipping point. The space where people draw the line and say, OK, I’ve put up with a lot of crap, but this is too much. I just want to buy a video game and play it, whenever and however I want. These roadblocks you keep putting in front of me aren’t worth it, and no matter how good your games look, I’m not willing to put up with all these restrictions just to play them.
I hope so. We got to this point in time, with people conditioned to accept that publishers are doing us a favour by letting us buy their games, because many gamers forgot a very simple rule about being a consumer: if you don’t like something, don’t buy it.
It’s been a tough stance to stick to in our case, though, because we’re not talking about hand soap or instant coffee here. We’re talking about video games, some of the best entertainment on the planet. Saying no to games is hard.
Yet video game publishers and platform holders aren’t politicians. They don’t respond to public perception, or complaints on forums, or angry messages on Twitter. They respond, as I’ve said before, to sales.
As such, it’ll be interesting to see whether the rising anger over Microsoft’s stance with the Xbox One – and against EA’s SimCity disaster – really does start to impact companies at the register. If so, it’d be a first, albeit a very important one for the market.
And if it doesn’t? Well, keep lugging that load. You’re getting awfully good at it.