Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo: Evolve or Die?

Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo: Evolve or Die?

The games industry is currently boiling with big changes, and it’s difficult to determine how everything will wind up when things settle back down. Developers and publishers are constantly tossing out bits of advice to other developers and publishers, warning them that resisting change to any degree will mean eventual extinction.

Did the aquatic life forms living in Earth’s prehistoric seas also fling warnings at one another? “Dude, the sea’s on its way out. One year from now, nobody’s gonna want to live in the sea. You gotta grow legs and get outta here.”

Indeed, some game publishers are convinced that the “old ways” are going to die out completely. GameStop will shutter its billions of doors, microtransactions and free-to-play models will replace the full-price retail title, and buying a new game will be as easy as going online with your credit card. In fact, THQ executive Brian Farrell recently told the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference that Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft need to “evolve” and re-think their pricing strategy for boxed products. Specifically, gamers should have the option of buying part of a game at a low price point (say $30 versus the usual $60+), and then adding to a game’s content through DLC funded by microtransactions.

“What we really need, and we’ve been talking to them about it, is for Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo – if they really want to stay at the cutting edge of the games industry – they need to adjust their business models to allow for these new consumer experiences. Consumers are going to demand it, in our view,” Farrell said, according to CVG. THQ is experimenting with its own retail/downloadable hybrid game: A new installment of its off-road racing series, MX vs. ATV.

THQ’s new sales formula could conceivably work well with games that are inherently based around player choice. For instance, a racing game could allow players to purchase certain kinds of cars, or a sports game could allow for the purchase of certain players and stadiums. Even an MMORPG would benefit, as players might opt to pay only for the quests they want to complete. But there’s not whole lot of “consumer demand” for THQ’s new system, otherwise. In fact, selling half a game at retail and then expecting the player to fill in the rest via microtransactions would breed a great deal of consumer rage in certain situations. What would happen if Nintendo released a Legend of Zelda game for $30 and told people they could explore half of Hyrule, but would have to dish out money to explore the other half? That goes against the very nature of the beloved game franchise: For 25 years, we’ve been encouraged to wander with Link from border to border. If we were suddenly hindered by a roped-off portion of the map and a tollkeeper with an outstretched hand–well, our mood wouldn’t be pretty.

The Last Guardian is set to be one of the PlayStation 3’s biggest games. From the trailers alone, we can surmise that the world the game takes place in is an airy fantasy world that’s unlike anything on Earth. Nothing would ruin that rare environment faster than forcing us to pay for it bit by bit. Sega already tried asking people to pay for Sonic 4 in bits and pieces. The request didn’t go over well.

The hybrid method of game sales would also put a strain on retailers and less savvy game consumers. What kind of profit would game merchants see from a lot of $30 games? More importantly, how do you explain to a grandmother that the game they’re buying for their granddaughter is only half an adventure, and that she’ll have to connect online and pay more money for the other half? That would add up to a lot of sad birthdays.

Finally, not everyone in North America has access to an affordable broadband Internet connection. Rural communities are chronically under-serviced, which makes downloading game content a nightmare. For that reason, and many more, lots of gamers are still satisfied with just plugging in a low-maintenance game they bought for full price at a store.

THQ’s sales experiments are admirable. The more choice we have as consumers, the better. But it’s unnecessary to warn Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony that they need to change with the times, or die. Not everybody is going to want to leap on every industry change as it occurs, and it’s the responsibility of a platform designer to ensure that as many people as possible can enjoy themselves.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

2 Comments

  1. On the other hand, what if a follow-up downloadable purchase of Zelda was more akin to a Second Quest, a Master Quest, or even the Stone Tablets Broadcast Satellite pseudo-sequel to A Link to the Past?

  2. I’m not quite agree with thq business models. Have to pay again for the half of something we’ve been paid before is completely a rip off for customer. Valve business model are way much better than THQ, just sell the complete game and update it for free every few month (just like TF2 and left 4 dead). Its been proved to be able to increase teir sales when the new update arise!

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