There seems to be some strange goings on these days with the marketing campaigns of either primarily co-op or multiplayer games. As a matter of fact, some of the PR firms sound downright defensive when it comes to games being labeled multi-player only and insist there’s at least some single player content. While I’ve long argued that that multi-player-centric games aren’t worth full price, it seems the rest of the gaming community is just starting to agree, or at least are getting more vocal about it. The two most recent games that fall into this category are EA’s Star Wars: Battlefront, and Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six: Siege.
To be fair, Star Wars Battlefront has a history of being a half-baked single player experience, the Rainbow Six franchise, on the other hand, is based on an actual book by Tom Clancy. That implies that some sort of narrative should be included, and prior to launch, Ubisoft promised quite a bit for Siege’s “single player mode.” Six months before the game’s launch, the developers stated on the official Ubisoft blog, “Each scenario is designed with single-player in mind.” Just three months later, they backtracked and confessed, “There is no story mode per se.” This was a complete about-face, and a confession like this so close to launch could be easily be construed as deceptive.
While both publishers claimed that there was a single player experience to be had, especially Ubisoft, the two games offered little more than a tutorial for multiplayer gamers. With fairly recent, big releases like Titanfall, Destiny, and the upcoming Destiny-like The Division, it seems like there’s less and less video games that can be played without a headset. It used to be that multi-player was an extra, a bonus offered for those bought the game. Even the first- and third-person shooters that do offer a complete single player campaign mode are no Half Life 2, Metro, or Bioshock-like journeys.
It might not be readily apparent, but cost actually has a lot to do with the decline of meaningful single-player experiences in AAA games. Cliff Bleszinski of Gears of War fame, recently offered some insight in a video interview with PC Gamer, however unintentionally, about the recent phenomenon. Essentially, he says, three quarters of a game’s budget is spent developing the campaign. On the surface, it reinforces my view that multi-player only games aren’t worth full price, but the issue of missing campaigns actually goes a little farther than that.
To really dig into this issue, we need to take a good hard look at the economics of video game publishing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for cheap video games, and I’m constantly watching game sales, but the current pricing structure of video games is broken. From top to bottom, the whole thing needs to change. I really hate to do it, really I do, but to quote Taylor Swift, “…art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for.” Video games are definitely art, and getting used to not paying for video games, even casual ones, is bad for the industry.
At the other end of the video game pricing spectrum, AAA games run $60.00 for a standard home console game. That’s the same price that Super Nintendo games cost, back in 1991. That’s 25 years ago. I doubt you can find much else that costs the same amount of money that it did that long ago. As a matter of fact, $60.00 in 1991 has the same buying power as $104.41 in today’s money according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator. To further illustrate the point, in 1991 the federal minimum wage was only $4.25.
I know, no one wants to hear it, but maybe, if publisher’s charged more for a AAA game, we wouldn’t be in this mess. The truth is, that they’re scared though. With all of the backlash they receive at the mention of micro-transactions and the criticisms of DLC offerings, they’re more than a little gun shy. I can’t believe that I’m saying it, but maybe AAA video games should cost $100. They could eliminate the annoying micro-transactions, and season passes for single player DLC, and just charge the money upfront. Of course, if you’re going to charge that much, it better be a complete game, and worth that investment.
The more I think about it, the better that idea sounds. First, it would free up some room at the bottom, so indie developers could actually charge something for their efforts. We could also have a lower price tier for multi-player only games. Of course the biggest benefit, of raising the price of console games for the first time in 25 years, is that we’d finally have the high ground in being able to hold the publishers accountable for delivering a quality product. Additionally, a likely side effect would be that we’d get a better variety of AAA games if the break-even unit sales bar wasn’t as prohibitively high as it is now. When a game like Tomb Raider sells over three million units and still doesn’t break even, you know there’s something wrong with the industry.
Considering the current overall health of the global economy, this move is pretty unlikely, however necessary it may be. Don’t be surprised when that day comes, though. Until then, all we can do is to continue to speak with our wallets, and get the word out, about these partial games, like Capcom’s upcoming Resident Evil: Umbrella Corps. On the flipside, don’t be a slave to the negativity, remember that were talking about video games and that it’s important to support the developers that are doing things right.
The opinions in this editorial are the author’s and do not represent OnlySP as an organization.