I blame Call of Duty. I think a lot of other people do as well.
Don’t get me wrong, I own copies of a lot of first-person shooters, including Call of Duty 1, 3, 4:MW, World at War and Black Ops and I’ve played all of the entries in the CoD series other then 2. I’ve enjoyed playing all of them, although the plots in nearly all of them are utterly forgettable. Other then a few exceptional scenes, the series as a whole is reasonably inoffensive, with considerably broader appeal then games such as Manhunt .
Since Call of Duty 4 came out in 2007, they have also been multiplayer juggernauts, regularly featuring as the most played games on Xbox Live and Playstation Network. This, in turn, has led to a yearly schedule for new releases, allowing game publishers to continue to profit through the introduction of new features and new multiplayer modes, and more recently online passes which mean that a person buying a second-hand copy of the game must pay an additional fee before being able to play their game online.
Last year, not long before the launch of CoD: Modern Warfare 3, Activision finally announced the holy grail of long-tail charges: Call of Duty Elite. Serving partially as a subscription model for additional downloadable maps, Call of Duty Elite and the competing Battlefield 3 Premium service are based on an additional $50 payment, on top of the $60 RRP of their respective games. Both offer subscribers early access to new maps, new ways to monitor their in-game stats, limited perks (additional weapons, different uniforms, clan levelling etc) and variety of fluff, from videos about the game hosted by a former US marine to online copies of strategy guides.
The FPS genre has become a race to see how much money can generated from any one game. With Call of Duty Elite and Battlefield 3 Premium opening the door to these sales methods, I’m worried that similar things will be introduced into RPGs and fighting games, likely under the guise of an alternative to the ‘free-to-play’ model.
Gouging players through additional services sold in addition to the already expensive game is not a sustainable economic model. While it can increase player investment in a particular game, it creates a two-tier player base, freezing out casual players who don’t pony up for the extra guns and gizmos. It also risks harming future sales, when heavily invested players continue to play an older game instead of moving on to a newer – this can be seen with CoD: Modern Warfare 2 remaining one of the most played Xbox titles despite the release of not one but two successor games.
If the major publishing houses genuinely want to get more money out of people for their games, they should be looking at reducing the prices of their games and selling more of them. They should also ensure they are giving a feature-rich product, bug-free product that consumers are willing to pay for.