From the beginning, early video game consoles, such as the Atari and the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), were marketed purely and simply as toys and sold as such. Since that time, video games have evolved by leaps and bounds and have made advancements that were previously unimaginable. Not only has the technology behind video games changed, so have the ways in which they are marketed and sold.
The typical video game model remained relatively unchanged until the mid-to-late 2000s when the advent of online play with other consoles truly started to take off and gain popularity. Online play not only allowed for players to engage with one another from anywhere in the world, but also allowed game companies to sell more add-ons to their games, or Downloadable Content (DLC), and features to games that have already been released and sold.
DLC, now more commonly referred to as microtransactions, came in a variety of forms, ranging from minute things such as alternate costumes for characters to significantly larger purchases, like hour-long additions to a game’s storyline or map packs for its online features.
The creation of DLC marked the beginning of a new era in the video game industry and how companies sought to make their fortune. DLC quickly caught on and even now, almost every game has some form of additional downloadable content. Game companies quickly realized that they no longer had to weigh their income on the stake of one their games, as they could potentially make even more money by continuously releasing DLC for their games.
At times, DLC can be a genuinely fun experience that adds more to a game you already enjoy or revitalizes it after you’ve already grown bored of it. It is also a sufficient way for game companies to make ends meet and possibly recover from a game that flopped.
At the worst of times, DLC can be tremendously restricting and ruin a game almost entirely by locking away a majority of the game’s content into the additional DLC, which shouldn’t be DLC in the first place. The emphasis on fast-paced releases of new content led to companies releasing essentially unfinished games and then charging people extraordinarily high prices for additional content. Back in the days when game companies spent years crafting something new, original and polished.
The worst offender of this by far is a California-based game company, Electronic Arts Inc. (EA), which received an exclusive licensing deal with Disney that made them the only company allowed to publish Star Wars games. Since receiving the license, EA has received massive criticism, primarily for their “Battlefront” games, the only two Star Wars games they’ve released since receiving the license. The first “Battlefront” game was heavily criticized for being rather bare-bones with little-to-no content on it. EA later tried to charge players an additional $60 for DLC content that should’ve already been in the game.
The original “Battlefront” games contained at least 12 levels, but the first EA “Battlefront” game contained only four levels and no single-player story. The second game received even more disapproval for its use of microtransactions and for locking away playable characters that had to be earned via play-time or purchases. Loot boxes were very similar in that they gave players hardly any experience points or benefits and essentially encouraged players to buy the content themselves.
This extremely predatory business model did not go unnoticed by the gaming community, and “Battlefront” 2 received the largest amount of downvotes on Reddit in the website’s entire history. Since then, EA has made a majority of “Battlefront” 2’s content free but will undoubtedly return to their old ways.
When online play was first introduced to the world, it was initially a free service that anyone could use. Then, with the release of the Xbox 360, players found themselves having to pay $60 per year to use the online features that were free on PlayStation 3 and Wii. However, Sony and Nintendo eventually stooped to Microsoft’s level with the PlayStation 4 and the Nintendo Switch by charging $60 per year for PlayStation Plus (the online service for PlayStation) and $20 per year for the Nintendo Switch’s online service.
A considerably popular new video game format that has taken the world by storm is battle royale. The game genre mixes together elements of survival, scavenging and exploration, pitting players against one another until there is one person left standing. Popular games in this genre include “Fortnite,” “Apex Legends,” and “Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds.” Battle royale is quite an interesting format that is almost the antithesis to EA’s strategy of selling video games.
Battle Royale games are usually free to play and don’t hide any of their primary content. Instead, they usually offer optional and additional in-game cosmetic features like weapons, weapon skins, costumes and more. The features are up to players to pay for and don’t lock anyone out of having fun just because they didn’t pay egregious amounts of money. The wild success of these games proves that gaming companies don’t have to rob people blind to make a profit.
Gaming can and should be a wholesome, inclusive experience that doesn’t exclude people simply for choosing not to shell out hundreds of dollars for an incomplete, sad excuse for a product.