It’s the dawn of a new age in gaming, and publishers seem to have declared all-out war against the front-line workers of the gaming industry. That’s right, the same people who are literally responsible for selling their product.
Well, rather than working hand-in-hand with retailers, many publishers have created their own digital storefronts. Cutting out the middle man, as it were. Steam is of course the most well-known, and the best. It works, and works well. It’s simple, and keeps all my games in one place, forestalling me from having multiple launchers open and getting me straight into the game.
Steam is one thing, but game publishers nowadays are so hell bent for leather on keeping their sales in-house that we’ve started to see many inferior Steam clones pop up. UPlay and Origins, I am distinctly looking in your direction here.
Is there anything inherently wrong with a company creating its own storefront? No, not at all. But the consumer shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to play the games they’ve bought. It shouldn’t be a hassle.
And digital storefronts aside, publishers have threatened brick-and-mortar stores in other ways. Remember when companies like Microsoft floated the idea that they might not allow pre-owned games to be used on Xbox without a fee or a licence transfer? This is the kind of thing I’m talking about. Thankfully, there was an outcry from the community and the idea was nixed.
Overall, the experience of buying games digitally leaves a lot to be desired in comparison to the traditional retail experience. I find value in going in to EB Games for several reasons. Getting a chance to see friends is an obvious plus. Beyond that, when you go to an actual store, the employees there will tend to go above and beyond. For example, when I was attempting to purchase my Xbox, my local store didn’t have what I wanted in stock. So, the clerk at the time called around, found a store that had the bundle I was looking for, and had it shipped from there to here. I was able to pick it up the next day.
There’s also my Edge card. Granted, I pay $15 a year for it, but I get a lot for that $15. I receive a monthly edition of Game Informer, a magazine I was buying off the rack every month and now don’t have to. I get extra trade-in value on games, a different price on pre-owns than non-members have, points that can be turned into store credit, and a seven-day mulligan on all new release games in the store. Whether I’ve opened the case and played it or not. And that last point is huge.
When I buy a digital copy of a game directly from a publisher, or even from an online store, that’s it. There’s no returning digital games. The publisher takes your money, says thank you very much and skips merrily away. This was my experience for the PS3 edition of Shadow of Mordor. It was awful, but I was stuck with it.
So, what do publishing houses need to do better with their digital stores?
First and foremost, realize you aren’t Steam. You never will be and you were better off with them before trying to strike out on your own. As I’ve said before, there should be as few barriers as possible between me and my game. Your crummy launcher is probably one of them.
Second, if you are the direct creator or publisher of a game and are offering it on your own storefront, why are you insisting on charging me as much for a digital copy as EB is charging me for a physical one? EB’s profit margin is scant to begin with. They have to buy the games from the publisher, ship it, and pay staff. Any business owner will tell you that this leaves little room for profit. Gamers want value for money. So, offer us a deal. There is no reason why a digital game should still cost $69.99. It’s not a physical thing, and surely some of that cost is the production and transport of the item.
Or, short of making the game itself cheaper, how about offering in-game incentives? Publishers are all over offering incentives for pre-orders at physical stores. So why not offer some of the same things or, better yet, a different selection of items for a digital copy?
And stop treating people who buy pre-owned games as criminals. Sometimes we can’t afford $69.99. This has been the case for me many times. In these situations, my only options are to either buy pre-owned or wait for the publisher to drop the price. Usually both.
All this boils down to one salient detail, game industry: you need us. We are your customers and, speaking as a customer, you don’t do nearly enough to court my interest and affection. One day, it’s going to bite you in the butt, and I’m not going to be here supporting you while you whine like petulant and petty little children.
Offer us a deal, and we’ll buy from you. Don’t? Well, you’ve already seen the result. Every quarter EB’s pre-owns become a larger portion of their profit. Not that great for you. Great for me. Great for EB.