Sometimes too much choice is a bad thing
Red pill? Blue pill? Can't there just be one!
Microsoft versus Sony, Battlefield versus Call of Duty and Forza versus Gran Turismo. These are some of the rivalries that can get people talking about console wars. “Game On or Game Over” is your place to get inside the minds of Nicholas and Andy as they seek to find the true meaning of gaming and tackle some of gaming’s most controversial subjects. Both are award winning authors – although the awards haven’t been mailed or created yet — but trust them. Would they lie to you?
Nicholas: I know we say this from time to time, but this month more than ever, it’s a great to be a gamer… or is it? October marks that time in the year where the heavy hitters from each of the major gaming publishers begin to flood the market. Within the next 30 days we’ll see the likes of Battlefield 1, Titanfall 2 and Batman: Return to Arkham hit shelves, not to mention that within the past week or two we’ve already seen titles like Rise of the Tomb Rader: 20 Year Celebration, Gears of War 4 and Mafia 3 land on our shores. In short, we’re absolutely spoilt for choice.
But before we touch on that, I wanted to get your thoughts on a release coming out very soon, from arguably one of the biggest franchises out – Call of Duty. In the first week of November Activision will be releasing Infinite Warfare, the latest instalment in the series, but alongside it will also be the remaster of Modern Warfare, one of the most praised shooters of modern gaming.
To start off this week I wanted to ask you, is this going to be a good idea or is Activision shooting themselves in the foot? From a business perspective there’s a whole lot to gain by bundling these two games together, but from a gamers perspective, do you see this as a blessing or is there a downside when we’re essentially given two games at the same time?
Andy: There are two ways to look at this, it just depends on which side of the fence you want to be on. From the Activision side it makes perfect sense and is actually multiple forms of sneaky when you really think about it. What I mean by that is this. Activision knows there are rumblings of a good portion of gamers losing interest in the Call of Duty franchise and/or not liking the direction the series keeps going they needed to do something to keep those lofty sales numbers high. They know how revered Modern Warfare is so they are hedging that will keep the numbers up. It also allows them to jack up the price a little bit for the “Legacy” edition that includes the two games and season pass. It’s typical Activision behaviour.
If you are a gamer who doesn’t like the direction of CoD but want to replay the game you loved all those years ago, well you’re shit out of luck unless you want to spend $120 USD for a game (and season pass for it that you don’t want) just to play a title you do want. And, let’s not forget the total dick move that Activision pulled last week. They tried to sneak the information out on the sly but it didn’t work. In order to play Modern Warfare you must have the Infinite Warfare disk. It seems like a weird caveat being that MW is a digital code. But, we can all read between the lines and see that Activision is trying to curb anyone getting IW just for MW and selling it, returning it. That just leaves a nasty taste in my mouth. There is no legitimate reason to require the IW disc in order to run MW.
As long as we’re on this subject let’s call out the Activision lie that everyone knows about, but Activision doesn’t want to admit. Right now they are saying that they will not sell MW individually. Yet, I promise you by early next year it will be available for sale on the Xbox One store and the PS4 marketplace. Everyone knows Activision wants their money and it would make no sense for them to keep that one on the sideline. I mean if they can sell a remaster copy of Prototype for $40 there is no way they won’t try to sell MW. I used to love Call of Duty but the last three games have really turned me off of the franchise and Activision in general actually.
I know you’re not much of an FPS gamer so you are mostly on the outside looking in at this whole issue. You really don’t have a dog in the fight per se so I’m curious what you think of this whole thing? Is it a logical thing for Activision to do or are they really just an evil money grabbing company now that doesn’t care about gamers, and only cares about their stock price?
Nicholas: From the outside looking in, bundling Modern Warfare with Infinite Warfare (OK seriously, they need to come up with better names other than ‘Something Warfare’) is a clever move. Not only do they ensure the sales from those gamers who want the new instalment in the series, they also get sales from those gamers who want to either relive that nostalgia from the last generation, or for those like me, experience what everyone has been racing about. Whether people buy the bundle just to play MW or not, the sales will reflect well on IW regardless of how many people actually play it. It’s smart.
From a gamer’s perspective, the decision to force gamers to have the disc doesn’t really come across as a big deal to me. If MW was put on its own disc you’d need to use that, so them forcing you to use the one with IW as a verification check isn’t so bad. Is it a dick move as you’ve said? Yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s a big deal. You mentioned that this prevents gamers from simply buying the bundle, downloading the remake of MW and returning the game, and to me it makes sense why both the publisher and the retailer would want to do that. From a convenience point of view I can understand why we’d rather just launch the game without a DVD, but I can see why it’s been done like that.
You asked whether the above makes Activision seem like they are money-hungry. To me it’s clear they’re trying to make a good profit, but it’s not like they’re trying to stitch over gamers in the process – not severely anyway.
While we’re on the topic of IW and MW I wanted to get your opinion on the following. You’ve already mentioned that there’s a segment of the community who are getting bored of CoD’s direction and the remake is a bit of refreshment that they’re after, but do you think bundling the two gamers together is going to hurt the communities? We all know that the strength of FPS titles lies in their multiplayer. By offering two games with two multiplayer components, will this only prevent in a reduced online player-base across both games? Would it have been better to either release them a few months apart or perhaps combine the online modes together, so players of both could interact with each other?
Andy: Oh I absolutely think it will hurt the community who want to play MW. In a couple ways actually. First, you have those who want to play MW, but don’t want to play IW so they pass it all together (I would be in this group). I refuse to spend money on something I don’t want, just to get something I was interested in. Second, there is the group that wants to play IW, but can’t fork over the extra cash to get it, so they pass as well. Then, you have the group that gets the bundle and now they have to make a decision on what to play. You’re absolutely right, it will split the community – but not as much flat out not offering it as a solo purchase.
In Activision’s rush to gobble up as much profit as they could I think at the end of the day the way they are doing it is going to backfire on the gamers. Like we mentioned already, Activision will get their sales – and you won’t be able to tell who bought the bundle and flat out didn’t play IW so their numbers will still look good. There seems to be a better way of releasing MW, and I have to believe you’re right in releasing it with IW is only going to be a disservice to the entire CoD community. I would have released MW in August or September in an effort to increase interest in the latest game.
I really want to get your opinion on this part that I mentioned earlier. Activision is still being insistent that they won’t sell MW on its own for this generation of consoles. If you were a betting man, do you think Activision will hold true to that statement or will it be like everything else and in a couple of months they announce that they will in fact be selling it separately due to “over whelming demand by gamers”? If you think they will, when do you think that will be and how much do you think they will charge try to fleece gamers for it?
Nicholas: Decisions like those don’t make a lot of sense to me. A remake of Modern Warfare for shooters sounds like a remake of Need For Speed Underground for racers – there’s no denying that the demand is there. Once again, I can understand why Activision have decided to bundle the games together, but for them to come out saying that the MW remake won’t be available separately at any point, it does sound a little too farfetched to me. Realistically I can see them sticking by their guns for the next six months and then after that point they’ll come out saying that they’ve changed their minds. I want to think of it like the release of Rise of the Tomb Raider for the PS4. It was a timed exclusive for Xbox and then a little while later they packed it up again and released it to the masses.
At the beginning of this article I mentioned that the game releases are really starting to hype up now and we’ve discussed this idea of choice. Sticking with this, I wanted to get your thoughts on this regular occurrence where publishers flood their biggest titles in the space of two months this time of year. We’ve mentioned before how you’re gaming preferences are far more vast than mine, but even I’m finding it hard to conceive how I’ll start, let alone get around to all these new games without finishing what I have already.
Just last month I purchased the BioShock collection and I’m almost done with the first game, but then Forza Horizon 3 was released and now I’m playing that. Then, one week later Mafia 3 was released and I have no idea when I’ll buy and get to it. We spoke about segregating gamers with too much choice above, do you think this is another example of that? Is too much choice a bad thing, especially in cases like these?
Andy: It’s funny you bring up that point, because I was just talking to a friend about that last week. He shared your opinion that this time of year there is an absolute glut of games coming out that he wants to play. In the past I have certainly said that very same thing. I would buy up all the games as they come out and then look at my stack of new ones, and the games I had yet to play and then… wonder what I should play next. It was a never ending cycle. It never gets better either. Heck, I still have Shadows of Mordor and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate to play.
So, with that said I made a conscious decision this year to not get as many games right away. For a couple reasons. One, it’s impossible to play that many at one time so it feels like a waste of money. Two, I like to focus on one or two games at a time. Preferably different genres to keep things a little fresh. Three, it seems like in a month (or less) games go on sale now. So if I’m not going to play it right away why not hold off a little bit until Black Friday, or even into early next year when there are fewer games coming out. Three of the games I would get are single player anyway so I don’t have to worry about the multiplayer side and being under powered. I’m looking forward to Watch_Dogs 2, Dishonored 2, and Mafia 3. Yet, some of the stuff I’ve seen on Mafia 3, it seems like a good thing to wait. The game looks good, but man I’m seeing a lot of glitches and bugs in it.
I do agree though, that the game industry probably does itself a disservice by releasing so many titles in such a short time. In my case with so many games coming out I had to choose what not to play, not what to play. So, by forcing me to make those choices they have inadvertently lost sales. Because, by the time I get around to those games, and others, I’ll probably grab a used copy to save me even more money and we know the developer/publisher doesn’t see any money off of used sales. I want to support the creators but there are times like this when they make it pretty hard to do so.
The logical part of this discussion then moves to how do we fix it line of thinking. I’m an eternal optimist and even I don’t see a solution here. There is no way you can get all the developers agree to a schedule on who releases games when. Then you’d also have to account for delays. We both know no publisher is going to agree to release their game in April and let another publisher release their game in November. It’s just one of those things that we will have to accept and live with. That begs the question though, why are publishers so enamoured with the holiday release dates? Call me crazy but I don’t mind the February, March, April release dates. There are so few other options during that time you can get a good market share. Why do you think developers don’t take advantage of that more often?
Nicholas: At first I thought it’s because publishers want to bank on sales from parents as they buy gifts for their kids for the holiday season. That said, when we talk about a lot of the releases coming out none of them are really child-friendly. Further to that point, there are studies that show the average age of gamers is 30 (or in your case, a little older) so you’d think that most of the sales would be made by adults for adults. It just doesn’t make sense that so many publishers would rush to release their games at this point of the year when for the average person, it doesn’t make a difference.
It makes me wonder whether this time is chosen each year simply because it’s become tradition and these companies want to stick to it. Like you’ve expressed, there’s no reason why gamers would need to wait until November, because I’m with you that having them more evenly spread across the year would make buying and playing through them all so much easier. I suppose what could be happening is each publisher is trying to show-boat and beat out there competitors – sure it might come at the risk of losing some sales to another franchise, but the one with the most sales can brag, “we’ve dominated the holiday sales”.
As we approach the end of this week’s article I wanted to double-back our discussion of the Modern Warfare remake. If Activision do decide to release it as a stand-alone product down the line, either digitally or physically, would you consider this as a backflip or more-so a response to gamer’s requests? Just lastly, you’ve mentioned which games you are looking forward to above. Excluding Mafia 3, are there any other big titles that you think you might miss simply due to the problem we’ve mentioned above?
Andy: The best way I can answer the MW question is this. I don’t think it’s an “if” but more of a “when” they will release it as a stand-alone. So I don’t consider it a backflip or a caving to pressure. I think it will be part of their initial launch strategy for it. They will milk gamers for as many IW sales as they can, they will then trumpet those sales numbers to show that the CoD franchise is still alive and strong, then they will say something along the lines of “due to gamer’s requests” then they will release it as a stand-alone and piss off the people that bought IW just for MW. At that point it won’t matter because Activision would already have their money and sales figures.
I can name one game I probably will never play, even though I want to, based solely because of its release window. Titanfall 2. I really enjoyed the original Titanfall, but because I’m not getting it on, or at least near, it’s launch window I have a feeling that if I did pick it up – say in February, everyone else would be so over-powered and used to the game it would be no fun for me. The last thing I want is to buy a game that would be pure frustration and no enjoyment. It’s a shame because if they release that game in late January or February you can get the sales of people who are looking for something different to play.
Like you said, I understand why there is such a glut of games around the holidays. Publishers want to capitalize on those looking to give gifts and what have you. It probably is some macho “pound on our chest” type behavior too. “My game is best look at the sales!”, type of mindset. In my opinion they are only cannibalizing their figures. There is a finite amount of money gamers want to spend and once you hit that the sales are done. I would rather release a game with very little competition and maximize their profits than release a game when 10+ others are competing for the same dollars and time commitment. Just because it’s always been that way with the holiday sales doesn’t mean it’s the only way… or even the best way.