One of the biggest problems with the video game industry is how expensive it is for the audience to enjoy the product. With consoles retailing for several hundred dollars, PC games requiring an ever upgrading system to keep pace, and most modern games themselves costing upwards of fifty dollars, it is no wonder that gamers have become increasingly selective in what products they buy. This in turn has led the game publishers to generally only green light products that fall within easily defined categories and then endlessly vamping the same old thing because they know it will sell. Indie games, and games that think outside the box, the core source of innovation and experimentation in the medium, have become harder and harder to fund.

Outside of the movie industry, few things are a bigger financial gamble than the production of a video game. Video games require years of production and cost millions before even a single unit is sold. Gamers know the production cost per unit is relatively tiny they expect a low price on the market. However the production cost is so radically divorced from the development cost millions of units must be sold for publisher and developer companies to even recoup what they had already spent before profit can be seen. A nasty symptom of this is that publishers’ advertising departments spend even more money hyping their games to the point of sometimes buying good reviews. Unfortunately, the majority of gamers are cynical snobs who take every bit of professional acclaim with a big bowl of salt instead relying on word of mouth, community reviews, and the previous work of the developer.

All this adds up to making games more expensive which results in gamers waiting for price drops, borrowing games, piracy, and buying second hand. Again, these actions encourage publishers to raise prices to recoup their losses. Then gamers…It’s a vicious cycle of penny pinching is what I’m getting at.

One of the ways publishers, more specifically EA, have come up with to combat this is something called “Project Ten Dollar”. The idea is that, since publishers only make money off of new units sold, why should stores be able to theoretically buy back and resale the same unit an infinite amount of times without offering up any of that revenue to the publisher? Project Ten Dollar, and its derivatives, is a business model in which new copies of games come with a one time usable code to unlock some on-disc content or access to “day-one DLC” for free. It is essentially a method of DRM that costs new owners “nothing” while charging anyone who buys or “procures” a game second hand a fee for full access to the game.

In theory, this practice is about protecting the developers and publishers so that they may more easily recoup loses and not have to so drastically downsize their workforce if a game takes a long time to show a profit. Similar to exclusive pre-order bonuses, these companies need to guarantee sales in order to fund further projects. In execution, however, Project Ten Dollar leans a bit more to the insidious side of the scale.

Some games, like Mass Effect 2 and 31, Batman: Arkham City2, and Street Fighter X Tekken3, have been found to have significant files related to what were supposed to be DLC packs shipped on-disc. Some have claimed these incidents to be the companies removing finished parts of the games in a scheme to get more money out of their customers. Others who either don’t or can’t have their consoles and gaming machines hooked up to a constant internet connection feel taken advantage of. Especially for games from EA or Blizzard which require the player to be logged into the company’s servers every time they play their games in order to use the content that has already been downloaded to their machine.

DRM is not an inherently bad thing, there just isn’t a way to do it that will make everyone happy. Problems arise though when companies approach the concept of DRM by assuming every one of their customers has intentions of piracy.

1: Developed by Bioware. Published by EA.
2: Developed by Rocksteady Studios. Published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.
3: Developed and published by Capcom.

--An August FactQuest--

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