Microsoft has received quite a bit of flak over its Games On Demand pricing, both in the U.S. and overseas. Mass Effect in particular is priced at nearly $100 in Australia, and the American titles are at or above the hard copy prices.
This is not good business. This is not OK.
But I have a solution. Read on to find out what it is.
Simply, change the Games On Demand prices to match GameStop’s used game prices.
This fix will actually help alleviate two distinct problems. A) The Games on Demand will leave people feeling less ripped off, and B) the money made on used games at GameStop will instead be made by the game’s original creators. And isn’t that the point of making and distributing games in the first place?
It would take a bit of programming know-how to link GameStop’s prices to correlate with Xbox Live Marketplace, but I’m sure it’s doable. Of course, there is always the chance that GameStop will completely undercut their own prices to bring down Microsoft’s master plan ($0.99 for Prey? Yes please.), but the solution to that is simple as well: business deal with the enemy! Microsoft tells GameStop not to lower their prices too low, and GameStop gets free in-dashboard advertising or some such thing. Brilliant!
Why would Microsoft feel obligated to do this? First, most of these first-generation Xbox 360 games are no longer worth the current Games On Demand asking prices. Example: Call of Duty 2. Games on Demand price: $29.99. GameStop used price: $12.99. It is over double the price, you don’t get a hard copy, it takes up five gigabytes of hard drive space and there’s no instruction manual (although you can download one off Xbox.com, but it’s just not the same). Where’s the upside to this?
Microsoft did try to defend their pricing model. “It’s convenient!” they say, much like how delivered pizza is twice the price of the carryout special. It’s a weak argument to be sure. Many of the games featured on the service are in fact first- and second-party Microsoft titles, meaning that MS already owns the rights to them. Distributing them is free. And, with no actual tangible product to store, ship, sell, or advertise, costs on the games above extra server space should be nonexistent.
Then why are the prices so high? One word: greed.
Publishers love squeezing every last drop of revenue out of old franchises. Look at Sega. Their Genesis and Master System remake collections account for a sizable chunk of their new releases every year. Why go through the trouble of creating something new when you can simply repackage and resell something you already have?
Nintendo has mastered this as well. Their entire online strategy is based around the idea of re-selling retro games to people who probably already own the originals. But for me, a $20 Link to the Past SNES cartridge with no instructions or box is infinitely better than a $8 digital copy that will simply disappear when my Wii finally has a meltdown.
Sony jumped on the bandwagon as well and brought back some of their classic original PlayStation games on the PlayStation Network in the form of “PSOne Classics.” They are priced between $5.99 and $9.99, and many of them (most notably Final Fantasy VII and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night) really are classics. Also, they can be played on either your PS3 or PSP. Affordable and portable? Good job, Sony.
Microsoft has Xbox Originals. For a mere 1200 Microsoft Points ($15), you can download classic original Xbox titles like Zapper and Grabbed by the Ghoulies. This program has been discontinued, but the games are still available for download and have been added to the Games On Demand section alongside their 360 brethren. Unfortunately, the high price of these Originals is keeping the 360 games prohibitively expensive, because nobody will pay more for an older game when you can download a newer one for cheaper.
The Xbox Originals can be dropped to used GameStop prices too while Microsoft is at it. Sure, that means Crimson Skies will go for $2.99 and even Jade Empire, a whopper of a game, will retail virtually for only $5.99, but it will get people downloading. It will keep them out of used game stores, preventing things like this from happening. Most importantly, it will give the money earned from a game back to the people that created it.
Also, a small Steam-esque incentive to cut the prices, thus allowing even more people to experience their game; developers and publishers will know where their games are being downloaded and played. Regionally, by state, by city – yes, it’s creepy that they can spy on the downloads, but it aids in future marketing and let’s them know exactly how many units are being sold. That’s some handy information for developers when deciding what game to release next. And when they do, they’ll have more money from the Games On Demand sales to (hopefully) produce something truly spectacular.
So how can we, as gamers, expect to enact such a change? Simple: vote with our wallets. Just like we did with Bionic Commando, Madworld, and Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. Don’t buy the games, and the prices will be slashed. Microsoft is a business, and when they stop making money, changes will have to occur.
Conversely, we can let companies like Activision charge whatever they want for Modern Warfare 2 and buy it anyway, setting a dangerous precedent for the future. It’s your call, world.