The march of technology is supposed to make things better for consumers, but these days it seems videogame makers strive to find new ways to take more of our money and give us less in return.
We are not communists here at Game|Life. We want publishers to make financially prudent decisions so they can continue to deliver games that fuel our addictions. But some bone-headed business moves benefit everyone except us.
Here are the 10 worst offenders:
10. Xbox 360ís Expensive Memory
Want a bigger PlayStation 3 hard drive? Buy an off-the-shelf laptop drive and slap that baby in. Need more room for all the WiiWare games youíve downloaded? Hot-swap a generic SD card. Running out of space on your Xbox 360 hard drive? Bend over. The biggest hard disk you can buy for Xbox 360 is the 120-GB model, and it costs a whopping $140. For purposes of comparison, thatís the MSRP of Western Digitalís terabyte drive. Need 512 MB of portable memory for your Xbox? Only $40, which would buy an 8-GB SD card.
9. DRM and Piracy
Digital rights management schemes, which limit the ways we can play legitimate copies of games, are annoying. But piracy is worse. If you think itís a victimless crime, consider the case of publisher Stardock. It releases its games without DRM, as a sign of courtesy and respect to its customers. But the ambitious online mode of its recent PC game Demigod has been plagued with problems, partly because even though only 18,000 people bought the game, 120,000 people have been logging in and playing. Stardock has spent a lot of extra time and money supporting these freeloaders, and that sucks. But what really sucks is that the pirates are mucking up the performance for those who bought the game legitimately. Dear 100,000 people who pirated Demigod: You are jackasses.
8. GameStop-Exclusive Powers
In Sonyís inFamous, Cole McGrath learns electric superpowers by frying enemies. Except for the Gigawatt Blades power, which he learns by you paying money to GameStop.
Giving out plastic tchotchkes in return for putting down a reservation fee on an upcoming game is a nice touch, but working out a sweetheart deal with a retailer to hold back in-game abilities unless a player hands over five bucks ahead of time is downright sketchy. Not to mention the fact that if you miss the preorder deal, itís impossible to unlock the content at any time thereafter. GameStop gets more preorders, Sony gets advertising sponsorship and the rest of us get a gimped game.
7. Old Game, New Price
We can argue all day about whether paying $8 for a Super Nintendo game download is worth it, but at least thatís the highest any game publisher charges for 16-bit relics anymore. Except for Square Enix, which took the 1995 game Chrono Trigger, slapped it onto a Nintendo DS cartridge with only the barest of extra features, then charged $40 for it ó 10 bucks more than a standard DS game. Icing on the cake: Complaining about the gameís sales, as if itís consumersí fault for having the audacity to spot a raw deal.
6. PSP Go
Arenít game machines supposed to get cheaper over time? Sonyís new PSP is microsized in every way except the price: $250, an $80 premium over the current model. The only advantage is the smaller form factor, and we doubt that the smaller screen counts as a gameplay plus. Otherwise, the Goís features are downgraded over the original PSPís ó no disc drive, no swappable battery pack (and no upgrade to the expected battery life to counteract either of those).
So why is the price the same as when the unit launched in 2005? Sony says itís because retailers are taking a bigger cut off the top, since they wonít be making money on sales of game discs. No matter who is to blame, consumers lose with PSP Goís price. With any luck, the accompanying shift to downloadable sales will make the PSPís software catalog cheaper than retail, but weíre not holding our breaths on that, considering Ö
5. Downloads Priced Same as Discs
There arenít as many test cases here yet, because few console games have been released in both downloadable and disc versions, but the data we have is disheartening. Itís much, much cheaper to sell a downloadable game: You donít have to print a disc, and middlemen donít take a cut. Win-win, right? More like win-lose. Gran Turismo 5 Prologue costs the same $30 as a PlayStation 3 disc or a PlayStation Store download. The disc is undeniably more valuable, since it can be resold. If the prices are the same, digital versions give gamers less for their money. (At least the IRS isnít taxing downloads ó yet.)
4. Guitar Hero: Smash Hits
The ability to download in-game content was supposed to revolutionize music games, because you could add new songs to keep the experience fresh. The makers of both Guitar Hero and Rock Band have embraced song downloads, but the gulf between the two companiesí approaches is staggering. Harmonix gives gamers a better deal: The company lets users add hundreds of new songs to existing Rock Band games on an a la carte basis, while Activision has minimized downloads while churning out disc after redundant disc.
Prime example: Guitar Hero Smash Hits, a $60 collection of previously released Guitar Hero songs that wonít work with older versions of the game. The result? Guitar Hero players end up paying more for segregated song lists.
3. Nintendo Sitting on Games
Want to play the latest game in the Fatal Frame series? Too bad. Itís just one of many Wii and Nintendo DS games that Nintendo holds the publishing rights to, but has refrained from bringing to America. Disaster: Day of Crisis, Mother 3, Soma Bringer and Another Code are other examples.
The rationale is almost understandable: Releasing niche titles like these is fine for smaller publishers with lower overhead, but Nintendo is the worldís biggest game publisher, and needs to focus its energies on surefire hits. So why not license these games to smaller publishers? Why hoard publishing rights to so many quality games, especially when titles like Disaster are better than 99 percent of Wii shovelware? (To say nothing of the stranglehold that the company has on Virtual Console classic game releases.)
2. Region Locks
Releasing games only in certain regions wouldnít be so bad, if not for the region locks that restrict game machines to playing software from a single territory. Concerns about language barriers and international shipping already keep the vast majority of gamers from buying titles from other regions, so arbitrary regional lockouts only serve to annoy those who want to experience games from all over the world. Nintendo DS, PSP and PS3 have the right idea ó the vast majority of games for those machines arenít region-coded. If only Wii and Xbox 360 would follow suit.
1. Funny Money
The biggest rip-off of all is when game publishers take your money and give you nothing in return. Want to buy a $2 app on the Nintendo DSi? Sorry, youíll have to pony up the $10 minimum charge for 1,000 Wii Points. Why should we give Nintendo $8 to sit in escrow while we wait for it to release something else we want on the download service?
At least Nintendo uses a comprehensible exchange rate. Xbox players arenít so lucky: Ten bucks gets you 800 Microsoft points, a ridiculous exchange rate that makes it more complicated than necessary to figure out how much youíre really paying for the digital doodads youíre piling into your virtual cart. Thanks, Sony, for using real-dollar transactions in the PlayStation Store ó even though you can only add funds to your ďwalletĒ in $5 increments.
Chris Baker, Tracey John and Nate Ralph contributed to this story.