I know it’s only April, but if I had to name the big theme for the gaming industry in 2012 I’d say it’s the rapidly developing animosity between players and developers/distributors. Seen from one side, it’s honest working man David vs. bad business practices Goliath. From the other, it’s entitled gamers vs. art and market realities. I’m usually pretty firmly in the former camp, as can be attested to by the quasi-socialist rants I keep posting on other people’s blogs (sorry, Azuriel) about personal purchasing power and not puttin’ up with crap from The Man. However, to be completely honest I haven’t actually followed any of my own advice.. until now.
I bought the Day 1 DLC for Mass Effect 3 even though I do not in the least accept the argument that DLCs are created in some magical free time when otherwise talented video game professionals would be put out on the streets. (I was literally told by a fellow who works for a known MMO company that denying the legitimacy of Day 1 DLCs is condemning small children to starvation. Why do I hate ART and BABIES?) Despite my misgivings, I am stupid for Shepard and there was no way I was going to miss out on an arguably critical piece of lore like meeting a Prothean, so I held my nose and bought the DLC.
So anyway, now I find myself staring at the Guild Wars 2 pre-purchase website. Not pre-order — pre-purchase. Blizzard really formalized the idea of selling MMO beta access with their Annual Pass, and Arenanet has run with it and decided that only people who pay for the game in its entirety right now will have beta access. This is a game, by the way, that is already years over their first admittedly optimistic estimated release date (they’ve had a “playable demo” at the last three PAX Primes I’ve attended), and in fact there still has been no indication of when players can expect to actually play the thing.
To be fair it would be incredibly surprising if Arenanet were to disappear with everyone’s pre-purchase money, and common sense says that the game will be on the shelves before the end of the year. However, I really do not like the new business practice of selling “beta” access. (I put that in scare quotes because if I’m paying for it, it’s not really just bug testing.)
What am I buying by giving Arenanet my money an estimated six months in advance (and that might be a generous estimate)? Broken down to its purest economic logic, that $60 could be sitting in my bank account accruing interest instead of doing the same for Arenanet. And let’s face it, it’s not like some indie Kickstarter* where they need the money to even create the game.
I have frequently joked with friends that all MMOs that are under development are amazing while all released MMOs are trash, and I’m sure distributors have taken notice of that hype cycle. Why NOT try and get our money now, when the future is filled with promise and Reddit hasn’t yet turned on you like an army of angry, neckbeard-ed howler monkeys? Hell, The Secret World is letting people buy Lifetime Memberships now, and even the gaming press hasn’t seen half of that game.
I regret my decision to buy the ME3 DLC. I liked the content but I really should not support bad business practices, and with that in mind I’m not going to pre-purchase Guild Wars 2. I feel it just opens the door to routinely selling beta access as a game perk, I don’t want to encourage companies soliciting full retail or subscription payments before even having a release date, and I think we gaming types should be more demanding about trying before we do any buying.
I am just as notoriously bad as any gamer about following through on my purchasing threats, but it seems I really do have a line in the sand and today.. today I’m not crossing it.
* Speaking of indie Kickstarters, the folks at Glass Bottom Games would like our help in creating an anti-gravity racing game for desktop computers. I know a few good folks at GBG, and I loved Wipeout way back when, so now I’m letting you know.