Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer
CC2K’s Big Ross argues for customizable game content in the future of digital media.
It seems inevitable as the video game industry moves forward that at some point down the road, maybe in 5 years, maybe 10, that the day is coming when going to a store and purchasing an actual game disc will go the way of 8-tracks and Betamax (or casettes and VHS tapes, for you younger readers, or CDs and DVDs for you REALLY young readers). Instead, gamers won’t leave the comfort of their couches to buy the latest release. They’ll just go online to XBL or PSN and download a digital copy of Halo 6 or Madden XV or whatever the latest must-have is. But in this brave new world of convenience and digital media at your fingertips, my question is, why not put a system in place to allow gamers to customize a game to their own personal tastes?
Customization is already a reality in the entertainment and communications industry. Most of the major cable TV companies (Cox, Time Warner, and Comcast) have started providing internet and home phone service. At least one major phone company (SBC) has branched out to provide internet and cable TV services. And pretty much all of them now allow the customer to choose exactly what products they want in customizable service bundles. Want the fastest internet connection available but only basic cable and no home phone service? No problem. Want long distance home phone service, the full digital cable package with premium channels and HD service, but internet connectivity on a budget? You’re covered too. It’s nice to pay only for the stuff you want.
This idea has long been a desire of cable TV subscribers. For every ESPN, BBC America, and Discovery Channel, there’s CSPAN, EWTN, and Oxygen. Wouldn’t it be great if there was an a la carte pricing plan that allowed you to go in and “buy” only the channels you wanted? In fact, that possibility almost became reality back in 2004 when a Congressman lost his head for a minute added an amendment to a bill pertaining to satellite TV company practices that would allow for that very sort of thing. Unfortunately, the amendment was quickly removed, and likely cable providers and media conglomerates have lobbied hard in the intervening years to ensure a la carte channel subscription never comes that close to being realized again. Too bad, though hope might not be completely lost, considering even the freakin’ chairman of the FCC thinks it would be a good idea.
I bring this up because it relates to the thesis of this article, that video games are ideally suited to this sort of a la carte, games by demand design.
Think about it. Video game developers have already gotten into the practice of releasing small digital bundles of game content post-market. Multiplayer map packs, new weapon & armor sets, and even campaign expansions that can add hours of additional gameplay. It’s become so common that gamers practically expect post-release game content to be available online in the weeks and months after release.
With that in mind, instead of putting new games in their traditional format with the industry standard $59.99 price point, why not bundle games into smaller, more discrete downloads to cater to the different tastes of gamers. There could be many out their who couldn’t care less about the campaign of Halo: Reach. The Covenant invade, the Spartans fight valiantly, but ultimately get their asses handed to them. Yawn. But man, they might be chomping at the bit to see what Bungie has come up with for the online multiplayer component. Conversely, I (for one) don’t care for online multiplayer. They may have added multiplayer to Bioshock 2, we’ve received confirmation that it will be included in Batman: Arkham City, but frankly I don’t give a shit. I very likely won’t spend 5 minutes with the online multiplayer of the latter; I know I played through the entire campaign without for a second considering trying the multiplayer of the former.
So why should I pay for a major portion of a game I will never play? Why should any of us? Wouldn’t it be great to have options? To take another current example, the full version of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 could be made available for download for $49.99, the solo campaign alone for $29.99, and the multiplayer portion also for $29.99. With such a pricing scheme, there’s incentive for people to download the full game, but options for those who really want one or the other.
Granted, this only works for a specific subset of video games (those with discrete single- and multiplayer portions). But that doesn’t have to be it when the future of how we play video games is considered. We’ve already seen the downfall of video rental chains like Hollywood Video and Blockbuster in favor of mail order services such as Netflix and Gamefly. But Gamefly relies on physical game discs. What happens when the video game industry goes fully digital?
Why couldn’t developers and publishers get together with Microsoft and Sony to implement a game rental system directly into the online services for the Xbox 360 and PS3 (and their future incarnations). Forget woefully limited demos for games. How about charging gamers $9.99 for a code that gives them access to a game for a week or so? If they like it enough, they have the option to purchase the game outright (at a discounted price that reflects the $10 they already paid), and (this is key) whatever progress they’ve made in the game is saved (unlike the current situation where you essentially have to replay whatever level you played in a demo). I’m convinced gamers would go for it, and I would think it would allow developers to cut out the middle man (Gamefly) and pocket all those “rental” fees themselves.
Obviously, this is all pointless. It makes about as much sense to speculate on just what the future of gaming will be as it does to pick a Super Bowl winner or BCS Champion within the first week of the NFL and NCAA seasons. And these are just a couple of barely-outside-the-box ideas. I’m sure more creative people than I could come up with even more inventive ways to customize game content in the coming digital age.