No Means No: The Power to Step Away
Posted on Friday, August 24 @ 07:39:59 Eastern by Heath_HindmanI don't always waste money, and that apparently makes me different.
In my previous column, I talked about the need to resist certain things. It was prompted by gamer outrage over a new pay-to-play online ticket system in Uncharted 3; some of the comments around the internet were calling foul due to some peoples' inability to resist buying more tickets after using their free ones. This week, I'm going to explore this a little more, because this mindset is more common than you'd think. It's also ruining things you love and hurting an industry you care about.
Let me tell you what I do when a game is part of a marketing system I disagree with or want to stop: I skip it. I don't play it. I leave it behind and I don't look back. It sounds so simple, yet so few of us actually live by this. Just as importantly, I do whatever I can to contact the publisher and tell them exactly why I skipped it.
We often hear complaints about online passes, those $10 codes one must purchase in order to be the second person to play a game online. Everywhere you look, there's a vocal crowd ready take shots at the practice. Yet sales don't appear to be very affected by the inclusion of these passes. This means, as a business move, online passes are a great idea. But I'm one of those guys that doesn't like the practice, so here's what I do: I don't buy any game that has such a system. Or, with the sports games, I get a second-hand copy whose online code has presumably already been used, because I'll tell ya, I can easily live without the online play, honestly. (I'm an oddball in that way, but we all have our quirks.) This way, I make sure the online pass system makes absolutely no money from me. I used to buy those games new, about every other year, but not anymore.
Am I saying the online pass system is ethically wrong? No, be careful here; don't put words in my mouth, internet hate factory. I am saying that as a longtime game customer, I don't like that idea, and that this is how I deal with it. Doubtless there are happenings within the game industry that you don't like too, be it day-one DLC, on-disc DLC, overpriced content, invasive DRM, lack of a certain feature, or any of a dozen other examples. The point is what you do about it, and hopefully your answer doesn't involve both silence and a begrudged purchase. If it does, then you, my friend, are part of the very problem you hate so much.
These days, it's very easy to contact all parties responsible for making and selling a video game. If you can't find direct contact info, no worries, because every developer and publisher at least has a Twitter account that you can freely blast. From what I can tell, bitching at corporate bigwigs is the only useful function of either Twitter or Facebook, so it'd be a shame to let these opportunities go to waste. Get on Facebook and say "Hey Blizzard, I didn't buy Diablo III because of the DRM business. What's up?" and do the same on Twitter, then send a personal email to whomever you can find. Let your voice be heard where your admittedly small punch in the wallet might not be.
I guarantee you that online passes would either be very rare or already gone from the game industry if Madden sales had been in the basement during the first two years of EA's experimentation with the system. If people could have stood united in resisting their consumerist urges and had told EA where to stick it, those would already be a thing of the past. Again, your opinion of online passes themselves is not what I'm picking at here— I'm using them as an example of a controversial part of the game industry. You can freely swap out "online pass" and "Madden" with any other hot topic and series name, ending up with the same effect.
Two other examples come to mind: Rage and Street Fighter X Tekken. Both of these games looked interesting to me. I saw a gameplay video of Rage, and I was sold. It had been a while since I'd played a shooter, and this looked like the one to end my slumber. The presence of Roy Campbell's voice actor sealed that deal. My money was as good as spent. But then the news came out that the game's disc would include content that one had to pay to unlock. Whoops, kiss my money goodbye. A year after release, I've never played it. I have a feeling someone will snicker and say, "Hur hur your not missing much", but see, that's not the point at all. The point is that I was ready and willing to blow $60, but then I didn't mash Go because, *gasp*, I stuck to my principles. I don't like on-disc DLC and I will never support it.
Street Fighter X Tekken, meanwhile, presented me an opportunity to watch Jin fight Ryu, among other awesome and perhaps hilarious battles. I enjoy both of those series and would definitely like to see them together. Oh wait, there's content included on the disc which I must pay if I intend to unlock? No sale. Funny thing is, I don't even want the content that's on the disc. But fuck that, my money's not going toward this practice. I don't want the problem to get any bigger; my money may just be a drop in the bucket, but I can say with honesty that I'm not part of something I perceive to be a problem.
I've said this in person to some people who sneered and taunted that I was missing out on some great games. "Yeah but now you'll never play that game, like, ever in your life, dude!" came one reply. Cool. I really don't care. Do you have any fucking idea how many amazing games there are out there? Even playing video games 15 hours a day, there's no way you'll get through every single game that you would ever like. There are always games out there that you would, hypothetically, enjoy if you played, but you've just never heard of them.
Or maybe you have, and that's all the worse. How many of us have enormous backlogs? How many of us have stacks and stacks of games we've purchase but never played—maybe never even opened? Cleaning out my various rooms full of storage last month was a huge reality check. I was logging onto eBay and selling video games that I'd never even played, some of them still in their original shrinkwrap. Oh, I had the best of intentions; I just never got around to them. For all intents and purposes, to us as mortal beings, there are nearly infinite hours of quality gaming to be done. Find yourself in a dry spell without many new games that fit your new high standards of being spongeworthy? Start working on that backlog and have all the fun you've been missing.
When you see something you feel is foul play, throw your equivalent of a penalty flag. Some companies have a high tolerance for angry customers and bad press; but if you add low sales to the mix, you've got something impossible to ignore. But in the reverse, some publishers will get the wrong message from a game's low sales and do things like close its development studio or demand that sequels be loaded with the very things that caused the problems. When one votes with both the wallet and the complaint box, however, few businesses can turn a blind eye. Use the power that you have. If you take everything lying down, without raising a ruckus and while still purchasing games you claim to be attached to ridiculous business practices, then don't be surprised when said practices live on. You'll have no one to blame but yourself and people like you.
Stay frugal, my friends.
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