The Clash Between Remasters And The AAA Game Business

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All the headlines I’ve seen about Activision forcing buyers of physical copies of Call of Duty Infinite Warfare to keep the disc if they want to keep playing Modern Warfare Remastered act like it’s some massive surprise. I’m not interested in a discussion about whether or not you should be disappointed, but if you think for a little bit it makes perfect sense for COD in particular and for Activision’s business model. You at least shouldn’t be surprised.

First of all think about why MWR isn’t even sold separately — Activision still wants people to buy Infinite Warfare. It doesn’t want there to be any way for customers to avoid buying Infinite Warfare to get to MWR. That includes supposedly buying Infinite Warfare, downloading MWR, and then trading Infinite Warfare back in. More importantly though, think about how the whole concept of remasters conflicts with the business models of Activision and the rest of the biggest console game publishers.

This post I made just shy of a year ago about why EA hasn’t been doing remasters pretty much applies to Activision and maybe Ubisoft as well as Take-Two. If these companies ever do remasters, they do them very selectively. Why? Because these mega publishers are all about games-as-a-service, a business model that depends on keeping customers on the latest thing.

COD in particular relies on each new game sucking all the air out of the room for 12 months. The season pass, DLC, and other things that follow release are a service that depends on keeping players locked into that one game. Remasters encourage people to take a look back at older games. Not only that, but the ones we’ve seen so far are generally static products focused on telling one story or putting players through one route of challenges. They’re windows back into the old way of selling and making money off of console games. Look at this list of console remasters Game Informer put together in July. Almost none of them are from the aforementioned mega publishers that are focused on games-as-a-service. The one outstanding exception I see is Grand Theft Auto V — ported to PS4 and Xbox One mere months after its original release, likely to allow owners of the new consoles to spend money on GTA Online, essentially transferring Take-Two and Rockstar’s service onto new platforms with more users.

So how do you fit a remaster into the games-as-a-service system? Package it as one of the products to be obtained after customers buy into that service, that service in this case being Infinite Warfare. You can almost think of Modern Warfare Remastered as a really hefty piece of DLC.

Actually, I think this is pretty similar to what I believe are the only two remasters EA has done so far: The HD version of Medal of Honor Frontline it packaged with the 2010 Medal of Honor, and the HD version of Dead Space Extraction it packaged with the PS3 version of Dead Space 2. EA is only going to re-sell old console games as a part of the new services it wants you to buy into. I should note both of those examples were eventually sold individually. Ubisoft’s Ezio Collection this year makes a little more sense because it doesn’t have an Assassin’s Creed game coming out this year.

Don’t act surprised if EA offers a Mass Effect remastered trilogy next year but forces you to buy Andromeda to get it. I don’t think most other publishers are going to start doing this. Most that are doing remasters now are still fine selling games on their own in the same way a publisher might sell a new edition of a book or a remastered movie on Blu-Ray. It’s just that this way of business is leading to shrinking profit margins for the most expensively developed games, and the EAs and Ubisofts of the world have chosen games-as-a-service as the answer.

BULLETS:

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