Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Downloading to Download (Or the fight against buying Used)

May 12, 2010 1 comment

I understand believe me EA, I get where you’re coming from, I get where 2K is coming from as well and Ubisoft while I don’t like your methods I get what you’re trying to achieve.   There is a growing concern among publishers out there, a concern regarding used games and a company called GameStop.   Are they afraid of GameStop, not really because the retailer does sell a lot of new games for them nearly 41% of GameStop’s sales last year were from new games alone, that does not equal GameStop’s profit margins on the same titles as they make significantly less when selling a new game than they do a used one.

The truth of the matter is GameStop is in the New Game selling market for the forseeable future because 41% of all of their sales are new games, now do they make the most profit from new games of course not.   GameStop’s main profit getter is used games and used hardware and they push this on the consumer when they are in the store.   Get an Edge card, get savings, be one of the cool ones buying used games and we’ll also give you a pretty decent although paid off magazine called Game Informer and you can enjoy that along with your 10% savings discount on used games.

Publishers are not stupid, they are well aware of what GameStop is doing and ten years ago it was hardly a threat to them and their bottom lines, but now the game is different.   Games like Modern Warfare II or Final Fantasy XIII cost in the millions to make and if you don’t sell a certain amount of them then you end up loosing money instead of gaining it.   I can see where the publishers are coming from and I can see where those that play only used games are coming from as well.    It’s a fine line to walk, one that is going to take time to figure out.  Meanwhile the publishers have to do something to stop the bleeding on the games, there has to be a place where they draw the line and frankly so far I think some of them are trying to play it smart.

Ubisoft is making the most mistakes especially with its PC games, the whole you have to be online to play the game is a horrible idea and it should not be repeated by anyone.   Imagine being in the middle of your game and all the sudden it shuts off because you lose your internet connection.   Or the server from Ubisoft goes down.   There have been numerous articles on this fact in the past so I’m not really going to dig into it for now.

EA on the other hand is doing something different with its console games.  I actually like EA’s approach and I know a lot of you are going to say that I am insane or that its stupid or whatever.  I disagree for the most part, there is a new approach that EA is trying with its sports games this year that seems horrible but I’ll get into that later.   Up first is Project 10 Dollars itself.  The project is designed in such a way that when you purchase a new game you get an online code that gives you access to free downloadable content or even a network that will provide free downloads in the future.  In Mass Effect 2 it was called the Cerberus Network, and since that’s the only game I’ve seen it on in action I can use it in context for this article.

The basis of the Cerberus Network is that you get the network and any content released on it for free when you purchase the game at full retail price as a NEW copy.   Now if you decided that you weren’t a big enough of a fan of the original Mass Effect-by the way what’s wrong with you?-and you wait till the second one is at 40 bucks used lets say and you go into GameStop and buy it used guess what?  Yup that’s right if you want all of that free Cerberus Network DLC you have to pony up 10 bucks to EA in order to get access to the network and download the extra content.

Some will say that this is a horrendous system, that it makes those that buy used games feel as if they are being cheated.  Are you really being cheated?  A study done by GameStop themselves not too long ago proved that most people who buy used games do it to save money, or they buy them because they weren’t interested in them enough when they were full price and new.   EA sees these same things as well, and they figure if GameStop is going to make 100% or more profit on a game when they sale it used shouldn’t EA see some of that money to help with their own software costs on the same game?   Its $10 is that really a lot of money?  If you want the cool DLC that was provided for FREE to those that purchased the full $60 dollar game then you’re going to have to pay that 10 extra dollars and get the content.   I think EA is being smart about this.

Lets say EA releases a game that costs $50 million to make which means they have to sell around 85,000 copies just to break even on the cost of the game.   Oh but wait it’s not a popular game, in fact EA took a risk on a new franchise with it and it only sells 60,00o copies new but it has some really cool DLC and word of mouth starts to spread and people start buying it used instead of new because the price has gotten so low on the used one because it doesn’t sell but it was traded in like crazy.    So Gamestop sells another 30,000 copies of the game Used at $30 dollars and EA sees none of that money at all with the old system Gamestop just made $900,000 and EA made zero dollars.  With EA’s new idea of $10 dollars we’ll say that Game stop sells those same 30,000 games and 20,000 0f  them decide hey I want that DLC that everyone’s talking about, so they pay the $10 dollars to EA which gives EA $200,000 dollars more off of a game that they had written off already.

This of course is magnified if the game is a bigger game with more sales on it and even better great reviews.   It helps EA make some more money off of the game to help re-coup the losses from those that only buy used.    EA is in the business of entertaining us, the gamers but in order for them to do that they have to make money on the goods that they provide.  EA actually lost money last year as compared to the year before and they sold more product which in the end also cost more to produce.    If there was no used game market like in Japan the sales would have been even larger and EA wouldn’t be trying out things like the $10 plan.

On the other side of the EA $10 plan is the bad flip, EA is planning this year with Tiger Woods and Madden Football to make it where if you purchase the games brand new you get a subscription code so that you can play online for free.   If you buy the game used you have to pay $10 to get the same pass that is included for free with the new copy of the game.    Some lament that this is bad practice, in the end because of the high turn over for sports games.   I am hesitant because some people will probably comment down below on this, but I think EA is actually doing a good thing here again.

From Gamasutra:

In an aim to incentivize players to buy its games new rather than used, Electronic Arts says it will offer one-time codes for online content with each of its Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 sports titles bought new at retail.

The “Online Pass” for EA Sports titles will let users enter in a code for “premium” features and content — but those who purchase an EA Sports title second-hand will need to pay $10 to purchase the Pass for the same content.

The pass comes free for those who buy a new copy of EA sports games, which lets be honest here MOST Madden purchases are new because they have to have it on release date, its one of the biggest selling titles all year long!  So you don’t have to pay the $10 because you got the game new.

EA is also being good to those that buy the game used:

EA will offer 10-day trials of Pass content so that users can see what they would be getting. So far, EA seems to be limiting the premium add-on experiment to its sports portfolio.

Giving you a free 10 day trial of the premium server package for the games.    I don’t see why people don’t like this idea, except of course I know the people who don’t…those that buy it used who are doing so to try and save a buck.   In the end all I can say is this is how its going to go down.  EA is already experiencing Success with the program and will continue to do it.  Others will see this and start doing it as well, hell the BioShock II developers already have as the game came with DLC already packaged on the disk that you had to enter a code for that came only with the new release of the game and could only be used once.    There was a comment in the Gamasutra article about how the programmers don’t care if the game is bought new or used….I disagree I think most programmers do care and I’d like to see him come up with the proof because if your game is bought  new 50,000 times and then bought used 50,000 times its already too late because the game was a flop and you might never get to make a sequel to it or even another game.   Used is Gamestop’s world New is the publisher and programmers world because Gamestop doesn’t pay either the publisher or the programmers a dime.

Gamestop though has come out to say that they like where EA is heading:

According to the retailer, encouraging premium content add-ons still benefits GameStop, since it sells PlayStation Network and Microsoft Points cards. It praised EA’s Online Pass as “forward-thinking.”

In the end this isn’t going to go away, EA and other publishers like them need to find a way to make money in order to keep making games and selling games to those that like to play games.   If charging an extra $10 to a person who buys the game used in order to get all of the games content helps them make money to keep making games then I for one cannot fault them for doing it.   In the end I play more New titles in a year than I do used ones and that’s a preference thing having nothing to do with DLC as I buy very little DLC or even play with very little DLC.

We can argue about it until the end of time, some people will always say it’s a bad idea and some will always say its a good idea.  Me I’m still not sure if its good or bad, but there is one thing about it that I can say for sure: its here to stay.


SciFi can it Survive?

The Future of Science Fiction on Television

There is a small list of shows that I watch on television and most of the shows that make it on the list are usually science fiction shows, or shows that have some kind of science fiction element to them like Fringe. I have always had a love affair with Science Fiction because it can be so much more than just a simple show about ships in space going from planet to planet although Star Trek: The Next Generation is the show that introduced me to the idea of SciFi.   I do not only watch Science Fiction shows on television as I also watch other shows its just I have a love affair with SciFi and i want to see it survive on television.

Can it survive, that is the question, in this world of DVR’s and people having less and less time to watch television shows and all of these networks putting the same kind of show on the same night makes it hard.   Science Fiction is stuck in a sort of limbo on television, the one network that was dedicated to it and only it a few years ago now is putting wrestling on or reality shows that have nothing to do with science fiction.   On top of that is the fact that all of the SciFi shows on all of the major networks have failed to really capture an audience beyond a small amount as compared to some other shows.

In the past few years Science Fiction has had a sort of revival with the popularity of movies with science fiction themes within them and at the same time it hasn’t really captured with audiences on television.   If you look at DVR numbers you will see that a lot of people are still watching these shows but even after DVR numbers shows like V or Flashforward are not coming near puling in the numbers that Lost has in all six years of its life.   This could be debated endlessly by people as to why these shows don’t pull in the same numbers, and I can tell you now why they don’t after watching both all season long.

Science Fiction isn’t dying because we’re not watching, its dying because the studios still don’t really get it and for the most part neither do the creators of the shows.   We’ll look at Lost first, what did this show do that no show since its debut has been able to do?   Why does Lost still pulls in around 10 million viewers a week so we know from these numbers that people out there still want to see Science Fiction.    Why then is no one watching say V which is on the same network and even airs an hour after Lost? V retains about half of the audience from Lost, bringing in perhaps 5 million people and it starts right after Lost. Is V a horrible show, is this why it doesn’t retain the audience from Lost?  Or is it that these people have been watching Lost for six years and are just hanging on now to see how it ends?

I watch V, it is a good show, fast pacing, interesting episodes, but-yes here it comes the thing wrong with V-does it have any depth?   V is shallow, its staying in that safe end of the pool where the little kids play.   V doesn’t push our boundaries or make us stop and think.  V is very similar to Battlestar Galactica there is a lot in both shows dealing with Science Fiction in a more realistic way, but V doesn’t do it good.    The trick is doing it in a captivating way, with deep characters who have deep underlining things as to why they act the way they do.    I knew that V was going to be a problem with the first episode, it was going to be a struggle to retain its audience.  It moved quickly and had a lot of action and even a great first thirty minute hook…but it was shallow and without real character depth.

In the pilot episode of Lost there was a lot of action and a great first hook that made you want to keep watching, but you know what really hooked people into the show after the first hour?  It wasn’t the flashy special effects or the cool concept of flashbacks, or even the strange mysterious smoke monster.   It was quite simple actually, the thing that kept people watching and wanting more, it was the characters.   Jack Shepard the surgeon who is also a leader but doesn’t want the responsibilities of being a leader.  Sawyer the con man who on the surface appears to be abrasive and callous but deep inside is caring and protective of others.   I could go on but you get the idea.   Even the villains in Lost are not one-dimensional.   We didn’t know what to expect from Ben when we first meet him, and as we got to know him we came to love the complex character that he is.

V doesn’t get this, the characters in V are at best two-dimensional.   Why for instance are they so sure that the V’s are evil?  They didn’t do anything evil that the humans saw but they just don’t trust them which is human nature I suppose.  At the same time it’s just all so shallow, Juliette..oh sorry umm Erica has so little interesting about her that it makes it hard to believe this is the same woman who played Juliette on Lost and made us love her, but then again perhaps it’s not the actresses fault but the writers.    If you think that V is bad about this then you’d be mistaken to forget the biggest offender of this: Flashfoward .

V may have some character flaws but those can be and are slowly being fixed as the season goes on, though I think it’s going to be too late to save he show, but it doesn’t compare to the other ABC show.   Flashfoward suffers not only from pacing issues and character flaws but it also has a great idea that is squandered and has been made almost useless by now.  Flashfoward is a big mess by now showing on real reason why we should even bother trying to save it.   The whole idea behind the show about everyone seeing their future for a few minutes and then trying to find out how they got there or why they saw that future was interesting for about two episodes.    Then the show got bloated with characters who we didn’t need and stories that we could care less about.   At the same time nothing happens for episodes at a time and then ABC wonders why no one is watching.

ABC isn’t the only station that doesn’t get what makes Lost so good, NBC has the same problem on an even larger scale.  NBC has tried two times to replicate what ABC did with Lost.     The first attempt was a show called Surface that came out the following year after Lost was a huge success.   Surface was actually a really good show with some really well-developed ideas but besides three characters the show had no depth, no real Character it was just about the story of why the oceans were flooding and what these strange creatures were.   Their second attempt was Heroes a show that actually lasted more than one season but after its first season become so bloated with characters that it became uninteresting.

Basically Heroes kept adding character after character to try to flesh out the story and the show but they forgot to add substance to these characters and the ideas behind what made them interesting.  Eventually Heroes and its stories became so convoluted that people stopped watching.  Heroes tried to fix its problems but by then it was too late.   In fact Heroes has done more to harm Science Fiction in primetime than any other show out there right now.  At times like this we have to ask ourselves a question, is SciFi dying on television?

Fringe, lets talk about this one for a minute.  Fringe is perhaps one of the best new Science Fiction dramas on television.  The show has a deep mythology behind it, characters who each have their own reasons for doing things and most of all real meat to its Bones.    There is no doubt in my mind as to why Fringe is the way it is.   As you watch Fringe you learn about the people involved, why they are motivated into doing what they are doing.   Walter and Peter are both so interesting that you want to keep watching them and learning more about Olivia over the last two years has been fun as well.    Yet at the same time Fringe manages to keep some things a mystery and that leaves you wanting to watch more.  Fringe has about the same amount of people watching it as V, but is actually a little more succesful at retaining that audience.

Fringe does Science Fiction correctly, and i believe this has something to do with the ones writing and working on the show, namely Bad Robot (J.J. Abrams production company).    They seem to get Science Fiction and what makes it great television.  They seem to know how to make you want to watch and also make you love the characters that are created on their shows.    The question is ultimately will this be enough?  If the networks keep putting out half-done quickly produced Science Fiction shows with shallow undeveloped characters people will stop watching and Science Fiction really will die.

Or they can learn from Lost and put out shows that are deep in character not deep in action and force plot points.  We won’t know until a few years from now, but for now with the upcoming Fall schedule and already some more Science Fiction/Fantasy shows on the docket for most stations it’s not dying yet, in fact its sort of thriving despite the bad shows.   It’s possible that in the end the networks will learn from their mistakes and will find a way to make the Science Fiction Dramas survive after all….there is always hope and if you love Science Fiction then you like me will be tuning in this summer and this fall to the new shows to see if perhaps one of them will be the next Lost.

-this is just an opinion of one guy who likes Science Fiction, if you agree cool, if not well that’s okay too-