Next Gen Console Game Business Models


One of the main changes going on in gaming right now that traditional console gamers vehemently resist is the increasing influence of online integration and microtransactions. The closer we get to the next hardware cycle and the more people seem to resist, the more game developers and publishers seem to defend this vision of the future. Like all advances forward, it’s probably gonna go through a lot of stumbles before the industry as a whole really figures it out.

For a little while now it seems like we’ve been looking at an all-out assault on the very idea of a video game as a singular piece of content, or as a creative work for that matter. The latest stated intentions come from people like EA and Crytek, basically saying they’re doing away entirely with the old notions in an attempt to get people to stop trading in their games, with seemingly no room for coexistence.

EA wants all of their games going forward to include microtransactions. Forward-looking statements like this rarely end up being 100 percent true, but I also don’t like the idea of EA moving forward with a blanket approach to every game they publish. I could only imagine what Need For Speed, all EA’s Sports games, and Battlefield will look like laden with microtransactions, but I believe Dead Space was the most egregious example because of its history as an atmospheric, isolated experience with game elements focused on a narrative instead of profit in and of themselves.

Crytek’s statement that completely isolated singleplayer games are going to disappear is just as much of a speculative blanket statement as EA’s is. It says to me that they aren’t really going to think about whether free-to-play is really a good thing for this particular game or that particular game. I have no idea how they’d implement it into a singleplayer Crysis game.

Cliffy Bleszinski has recently tried to defend companies like EA, and he’s right in regards to how varied the free-to-play and microtransaction-based model of gaming is. Very few have really figured out good ways to do it. He also makes a point that, apparently, people do buy these microtransactions. The market has generally accepted them, which brings forth the point that the core gamers so vehemently against these new business models are a minority. It’s actually kind of scary when you think about how only a minority of gamers actually care about the idea of a game being a singular creative work, rather than a service with which to generate revenue.

One game that a lot of people (including Bleszinski) seem to bring up as a great example of melding singleplayer and multiplayer is Dark Souls. I actually see Dark Souls as a great example of not ceaselessly pushing forward with online-connected gaming in every single product a company makes.

Maybe a reason I’ve gravitated back towards Japanese games a little bit is because Japanese developers don’t seem to feel the need to cram online into each and every one of their games. When they made Demon’s Souls and later Dark Souls, From Software didn’t just slam token multiplayer or microtransactions onto the game in order to keep people from trading it in. They actually thought up a genuinely unique idea for a game that happened to require an internet connection. People have probably given Nintendo crap for not making enough online-focused games for the Wii U already, but I applaud them for simply sticking to what makes their games fun, whether it be connected or not.

Maybe however this is because online gaming isn’t as big in the Japanese market. What is big over there is local multiplayer for handheld games, as well as passive communication between devices. That’s why so many handheld games have tried out Monster Hunter-style local multiplayer features and why Nintendo implemented Streetpass as a system-wide feature in the 3DS.

Still, I think market differences like that, as well as the continuing demand for wholly singleplayer experiences will result in a landscape next gen that’ll be a hodgepodge mix of such games alongside the fully-connected ones. We already have publishers like Nintnedo, Bethesda, and Rockstar who still primarily make singleplayer games.

Nintendo and Rockstar can do this because their games sell well enough already. You never seem to find used copies of Nintendo games, and their prices never seem to go down at retail, even five or six years after launch. With a game that sells as much as Grand Theft Auto, you don’t really see Rockstar complaining as much about the second hand market either.

Bethesda is the kind of company that can put out Skyrim — a game with no online features whatsoever outside of a few rather large pieces of DLC, and sell over 10 million copies. You never see them complaining about the used market, likely because they made a game that people can spend 100 hours playing. Plus, you’re also probably still gonna have a lot of indies releasing games of all kinds, including those strictly based around singleplayer.

I think the appearance of microtransactions and free-to-play on consoles next gen is inevitable, but what’s also inevitable is that there will be a greater variance of business models and price points for console games.


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