Monday, March 31, 2008

Editorial - Premium Content and the Xbox LIVE Marketplace

Xbox LIVE is, without question, the premiere online gaming service for both this and last generation's group of consoles. Running off of Microsoft's own dedicated servers, gamers are treated to a stable and secure gaming arena where they can play, chat, type, and even shop all in one convenient location.

Of course, to access the Multiplayer features of Xbox LIVE, Microsoft charges a subscription fee for a Gold Membership, which many gamers find negligible and a small price to pay for the quality of service that they enjoy, however a Gold Membership usually has little barring on the network's store and its content, the Xbox LIVE Marketplace.

While extra content and even Xbox LIVE Arcade games were available on the original Xbox via Xbox LIVE, this content was always accessed and added, like everything else, through the game's themselves; Microsoft only fully integrated Xbox LIVE into the console's nature with the Xbox 360.

After a few Dashboard Updates, Microsoft has further refined and streamlined the Xbox LIVE Marketplace. Now, you simply go to the Marketplace Blade right on your Xbox 360's Dashboard, and you can quickly browse for new content, movies, Themes, etc., as well as quickly manage any downloads presently taking place. The service itself is very nice, and in my opinion, a solid step in the right direction for console games. It used to be only PC games where you could download original content, and the fact that this is now possible on console titles so seamlessly greatly enhances a title's potential life cycle.

Unfortunately, Microsoft Game Studios, as well as other publishers, are looking to capitalize on this as much as possible, as much of this content comes at a fee (in Microsoft Points, of course). Now I know what you're thinking: "Not another rant about paying for premium content! If you don't like it, don't buy it and let me get back to my new Halo 3 maps!"

Well, you're right, but only to a point. It's your money, and who am I to tell you what to spend your hard earned cash on? The point of this editorial is not to tell you not to buy premium content, its to educate you and alleviate some of the misconceptions I commonly see stated about it.

As previously mentioned, PC Gamers have enjoyed so-called premium content for their games for about 15 years now, and almost all of it is free. That's right. Blizzard Entertainment released free multiplayer maps, both traditional and objective based, for their real time strategy games for years. In fact, they were releasing a new map every week for at least one specific title for roughly half a decade. They even released brand new single player content on occasion, all for free, for various games.

id Software would often release new multiplayer maps for free as part of game patches for their first person shooters, and even Bethesda Game Studios released several free plug-ins for the PC version of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.

The point to these statements? When new content is announced on Xbox LIVE and people complain on cost, there's a surge of people who snap right back at anyone who's criticle. "It's only $10.00, who cares?", "Get a job!", "The developers worked hard on these, and I want to make sure they're fairly paid for their work."

Well that's all wonderful, and you're right. $10.00 is not a lot of money, but that $10.00 is also two regular lunches or one good lunch for me. I do have a job thank you, and no, you're not paying the developers, you're paying the greedy publisher.

Don't believe me? Why do you think, Microsoft Game Studios, as a prime example, really pushes for Multiplayer Map Packs and not single player content or honest-to-God full expansion sets? It's because Multiplayer Maps are a breeze to make, costing little in time and resources, don't have high-priced actors for dialogue sessions, don't have complicated testing periods, etc.

In short, they are dirt-cheap to produce. So, why are we paying 800 Microsoft Points for 3 simple Halo 3 Multiplayer maps? Why are they able to re-release them for free after a few months? Why was Epic Games unhappy with Microsoft Game Studios for tagging a price onto the Hidden Fronts Map Pack when they wanted to release them for free right from the get-go? Why does Bungie constantly remind us that they don't have anything to do with the pricing, that its their publisher's decision?

Because Microsoft Game Studios, as well as many other major publishers, are ripping us, the gamers, off. First off, the publisher pays the developers to make this new content, so the people who actually make the maps get paid regardless. Secondly, the publishers already profited insanely well from the sales of these games. By charging an overpriced cost for these maps, they're simply milking you, the gamer, for that $10.00 you don't care about.

Heck, take a look back at when Xbox LIVE first launched. New content was available then, and guess what, a lot of it was free. The Yavin Station content for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, two new Multiplayer Maps for Doom 3 brought over from Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil, a new multiplayer map for Star Wars: Republic Commando. I reference these titles simply because they're ones I own, but there are others. Heck, even the first round of Halo 2 Multiplayer Map Packs were free from the get-go, it was only after that that Microsoft Game Studios started to milk us gamers and indulge their greed.

So what happens when you spend $10.00 on maps? Or a couple of bucks on Themes and Gamer Pics? Sure, you get that extra content, but you also encourage and re-inforce to these greedy publishers that charging for such simple content is acceptable and most of all, profitable. Why would they stop? In fact, why not increase the cost? Well they've done just that, simply look at the cost of the Halo 3 Map Packs compared to previous content of the same quantity.

Now think about this: What if no one purchases the Halo 3 Legendary Map Pack that's coming up? What if Microsoft Game Studios isn't able to milk us for it? Why, that'll get them thinking, won't it. Instead of milking us, perhaps they'll turn around and find a sponser like the first Gears of War Multiplayer Map Pack. Wouldn't that be something? Free maps, free Theme, Microsoft Game Studios gets its cash, and the sponsor gets its prime advertising space!

But of course, nothing like that can be easily pushed with so many people just anxious to snatch up whatever the publishers toss their way, at whatever inflated cost that'd be. So remember, the next time you're downloading a Map Pack and wondering why the cost is what it is for something so simple, remember that it could be instantly free, that content like that was instantly free for a long, long time, and that to find who's to blame, you need only look in a mirror.

1 comment:

Jay said...

Great post.