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gigantor21 avatar 9:44 PM on 11.15.2013  (server time)
Has Online Functionality Ruined The Case For Buying Games New?

(Cross posted from my blog on Pixlbit.)

Over the course of this generation, network functionality has radically changed the landscape of console gaming as we know it. No longer are games a one-and-done deal; the industry is pushing hard to present their games as longer term investments, with a slew of DLC and network features implemented to extend the life of a title for weeks, if not months, after launch. For me, though, this approach has had the opposite effect.

I'm not nearly as willing to buy games new as I was in generations past, specifically BECAUSE of the online functionality that's supposed to make them more attractive early purchases. There are several reasons for this:

- The vaunted online features almost never function properly in the early goings. GTA Online was a mess, SimCity was a disaster, and Diablo III was rendered unplayable. The incentive to simply wait it out while the bugs are fixed is much higher. Games that depend on netplay, meanwhile, are crippled if it doesn't work well. As much as I love King of Fighters XIII, for instance, the terrible netcode has severly hobbled it. That's true of fighting games in general nowadays.

- Games are being shipped out with far more bugs and glitches, under the notion that they can be patched in after the fact. As such, I see little reason to be the first kid on the block to get a new title when I'm not sure it's working properly. This is something that extends even into the offline play; Arkham Origins, for instance, has had any number of serious bugs that Warner is swearing up and down they'll be patching to fix. And speaking of the Arkham games...

- The proliferation of DLC has led to the rise of GOTY editions--enhanced versions of the same game with most of the DLC included for free, released several months to a year after the fact. I find that the rather piecemeal pre-order bonuses and Day 1 content used to counteract this pales in comparison to the shit-ton of money you save by simply waiting for the GOTY bundle. And in some cases they aren't even waiting a few months to do it; Warner Bros. just announced a 3 game Arkham series bundle with the GOTY versions of Asylum and City included with Origins, just a few weeks after Origins was released.

- One counterargument to this idea is the issue of community shrinkage. "If the game revolves around playing online, then waiting it out means less people to play with! And you run the risk of falling behind!"

But the thing is...I'm not interested in riding the initial wave of players who want to try out their shiny new disc, only to lose interest in a few weeks and drop the game entirely. My interest is in games good enough to support sustained communities over time--which may not be as big as they were on Day 1, but are more committed and passionate. A good game will have no problem ensuring there are plenty of those people around.

- But the biggest factor, for me, is simply pricing.

One of the central arguments for the Xone's initial used game policies was that devs were being undercut by a used market they didn't see a dime out of. Defenders of the always-online functionality were quick to point to Steam as proof that a connected future wasn't so bad--and that gamers were hypocrites for embracing Valve while shunning Microsoft. Putting that argument aside for a second...I really don't think the industry would want a Steam-like future across the board.

As much as I like Steam, my relationship with it is ultimately a marriage of convenience. I've never spent more than $20 on a Steam game, and the vast majority of titles on my Library are games I got for $10 or less--usually impulse purchases of games I would never have touched outside of sales and special promotions. Going back to Arkham Origins again, the reason the collection isn't a big incentive for me is that I got the GOTY versions of AA and AC for $5-10 a pop. That's pricing they've had several times on Steam and Amazon over the past year or so.

Without the prospect of simply trading in or selling the games on my own terms, or being able to rent or borrow them in advance, the amount I'm willing to spend on games in the PC space is FAR lower than it is on consoles. It has to be at a price point in which not having those options doesn't matter. And I'm hardly alone in that regard.

Playstation Plus, with it's game rentals and extra discounts, has allowed that same approach to bleed into my Vita and PS3 purchases. Sure, it incentivizes me to buy more digital copy, but it makes paying anything near full price look like an expensive gamble. Why not wait for the digital version to go on sale instead, where I can get a more functional copy for pennies on the dollar? Does the industry really have a good answer to that question in their constant "digital is the future" push? Because I can tell you right now that if we continue to see the same $60 pricing nonsense on digital stores after discs go extinct, I'm not going to be buying nearly as many games.

So how about you? How have stuff like patches, GOTY versions and digital sales impacted your spending habits this generation?

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