The Gaming Ecosystem: Change is gonna come

Developers, publishers, marketers, websites, blogs, magazines, resellers, used market, advertisers, pre order exclusives, console exclusives, project 10 dollar, dlc, system exclusive dlc, collectors editions, downloadable games, steam, big box retailers, mom and pop retailers, the gamestop, casuals, iPhone games and you, the gamers.

There is a lot going on, a lot of factors that go into deciding what gets made, how it gets made, who gets to make it, who's carrying what, what bonus there is for the pre order, release schedule, on and on and on. These things are all working at the same time, some things work together, others are at odds. Today I want to take a look at the volatility of the situation and how change may be on the horizon.

Now obviously we can't get into everything today because this thing would just go on and on. We will look at a couple of the larger pieces and how they affect gaming. A lot of these things are in direct relation as to how decisions are being made so some of them will be lumped together.

1. The war on used markets: Project 10 dollar.

Now many would take project 10 dollar as a direct attack at Gamestop and the massive amount of money they make off of used games. Charging consumers 10 dollars for the ability to play games online or some other feature if they buy a used game. For the most part this would be the right assumption. However, Gamestop is responsible for a large amount of market share on EA titles sold brand new. Raking in those Madden and NCAA pre-orders, the relationship between the two companies has to be tentative at best. Gamestop sells a ton of new games for EA but EA may be losing out on a larger number of sales due to the used market. Now Gamestop makes very little profit for new game sales but having major launches gets customers to the store, increases their dollar share over other businesses, and maybe helps restore a little good faith with the publishing companies by holding big events for these games, we all know the first week is the most crucial for a games success and the first 48 hours being extremely important. Gamestop has also started selling many of the same online passes in their store, did you buy a copy of Bad Company 2 used? No problem, they sell the VIP membership there. This part is another attempt to help repair the relationship, that money from the VIP is going right back to the publisher (well most of it anyways). So to just assume that EA hates Gamestop and is trying to take their business back would be an exaggeration, however here we can clearly see two forces fighting over the same dollars and are currently engaged in a symbiotic relationship. Sure, EA could just stop letting Gamestop carry their games but with about 5000 locations across the United States that would be a very foolish thing to do. Gamestop needs EA's games because the majority of them are marquee titles and increase traffic in the store.
So, what happens now?  Your guess is as good as mine, but things won't stay this way forever. Whether it's Gamestops eventual demise (It's not coming as soon as some of you might hope, but that day will come) or will EA eventually back down? The truth of the matter really is that the companies have to co-exist, but one way or the other the relationship will change. THQ's Cory Ledesma was quoted that buying used games was "cheating"now this isn't really a shot at the retailer but more a shot at the gamers who choose to buy their games used. The only silver lining here is that maybe a gamer who picks up a used game buys dlc for it that the original owner wouldnt have, or tries out Bad Company 2 used, really likes it and is first in line to buy Battlefield 3 when it comes out.

2. Downloadable gaming is quietly saving the industry.

Anyone play Super Meat Boy this year? How about Pac-Man DX? Or better yet, my personal favorite game of the year Limbo? Low budget, easy to make, great for indie developers and supplemental revenue streams for major publishers, downloadable games are big business. Publishers love them because they don't have to worry about the re-sell, gamers love them because they are cheap affordable fun and new way to breathe life into games they may have missed. Developers love them because its a great way for them to break onto the scene.
Now this section doesn't really have a conflict, but I believe were going to see a drastic shift in the way these titles are being handled and reported on. The first thing that needs to happen is that we need an accurate way to track sales for these games. Most companies will release milestone numbers but there is no reporting for these games in any kind of accurate way.
This year we saw several indie success stories including Limbo and Super Meat boy. But not only those, put big time publishers have found also generated a lot of success and a lot of money by going downloadable. We may see a significant shift in the trend here as well, companies re-aligning release schedules so as to put up a downloadable game up on a week where retail releases seem less competitive, or better yet, releasing a game to hit a target market that isn't being addressed on a given week, in that situation everyone wins. Also, definitely giving gamers more advance notice as to when their game is being released (we didn't know x-men arcades release date until 6 days before hand). Of course we will also continue to see the downloadable space as a place to relaunch older games, put a new spin on a franchise to re ignite interest and maybe the one im hoping for is take a chance. Give us something crazy, don't just play it safe.
The most positive impact we get from this is that games that never would've succeeded at retail have found a real life in the downloadable space. It has given developers a chance to get creative and really push our boundaries as to what a game can be. It brings new talent into the industry and gives their art a chance to enhance the medium as a whole.
One word of caution though, 800 points was first then it was 1200, pretty sure 1600 standard pricing is right around the corner. Just saying be ready because that day is definitely coming, sure theres been a couple games that have already gone that high but thats one trend thats going to sneak up on us.

3. Timed Exclusives, pre order exclusives and retailer exclusives need to stop…but they won't

I gotta tell you, this is one thing that doesn't really get my goat. But I see the problem here, while choosing between which Transformer I get with my game doesn't really bother me there are gamers out there who really do care. Rightfully so, its their hard earned money, why shouldn't they get all the game has to offer for sixty bucks? Even worse why should they have to pay for that different costume down the road because they got their game at one store instead of another? The bottom line is this, retailers pay for this stuff, they want it, they think they need it to give them an edge over their competition when the truth is really the only people suffering are gamers. Maybe a small minority, whos to really say how many of us out there get upset about this thing in particular but either way it's gonna keep happening because theres money to be had.

Timed exclusives are frustrating for me, I'm lucky enough to have all systems so if it ever comes to light a certain system gets the dlc before others im not SOL, but theres a huge problem here. They are basically deciding for me which system I get my game for, the even worse side of it is that it shows that timed exclusives are working. This is something thats only going to get worse especially as the PS3 and XB360 get closer and closer in terms of install base so those two will start duking it out over who gets what dlc first. So far Microsoft has this pretty much locked down but I wouldnt be surprised if Sony wises up and starts paying out the mega bucks that Microsoft is to lock this stuff down.

Pre-Order exclusives are pretty upsetting, I'm going to buy your game when I can, why should I have to reserve and buy it day one in order to get this content that is ready to go into the final game? I understand the business side of it, they need to secure orders in order guarantee some day one purchases, I get it but dont make it for something thats already done. Alan Wake did it the right way last year, they did it for something that was announced but definitely wasn't going to be ready for the final product. In the future this trend is only going to get worse, bottom line is that it works. It gets orders it drums up excitement and once again the only people suffering are gamers, times are tough all around and a new game may not be in the budget for a lot of people so they get stuck with having to pay for that extra level or quest or whatever.

Exclusives may give retailers the edge, or may give a certain console the edge on a multiplatform game and even help set publishers minds at ease but with the anger level rising in many gamers they are going to need to find a new to approach it. I would site Ubisofts Uplay as a step in the right direction, hopefully other publishers attempt the same thing.

4. Our own private soapbox

Magazines, Blogs, Websites and gaming forums have become the best places to get engaging conversation about games. Used to be I had to get all my Goldeneye information from the playground, but now everything is just a click away. The biggest trend we've seen here is how communication lines have opened up between gamers and developers. We all have online communities we participate in so we can discuss our favorite games and the things that upset us. But most companies are just an e-mail or a tweet away. This is a precarious situation for developers and publishers, they know you spend your hard earned money on their games and they want your opinion, yet they still rely on focus groups. They have a huge well of resource to tap for feedback on their games and upcoming projects. The change I hope to see here is companies really going after their communities for feedback, we've seen a lot of this already with community days for certain games and "ask" developer sessions. We saw that this year with Sega finally switching over the Sonic business model, though opinions of Sonic Colors and Sonic 4 are divisive at best it is definitely a step in the right direction for them.

The medium is still young, it's growing very fast and sometimes it feels like were all on for the ride, I used to wonder what amazing things in gaming I'd see as an older man, now I look forward to industry change every year. This year has been declared the year of the PS3 by many already, and while it may appear that way, I'm more excited to see if it truly is then how it will affect how Microsoft does business, and also laugh while Steam continues to rake in untold amounts of dough and going basically unchallenged. The funniest part is every single one of us is affecting it. The games you buy, the sites you visit and the things you voice your opinion on, all of it matters. It's all going into the bigger picture.

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