GameStop: Leave our games alone
Video game development is a difficult job, because gaming itself is a culture that seems to be neither here or there. While it’s a huge market that makes millions and has its own big-budget titles and franchises that gaming studios are desperate to squeeze as much money out of as possible, it’s still not considered all that “mainstream” to be into games. Despite the size of the audience, it’s still seen as something of a niche.
Furthermore, gaming is in a state of transition where it’s increasingly rare that you would buy a physical game at a store. Even all the newest handheld consoles can connect to the internet, where you can buy and download entire games.
Gaming is an inherently risky venture much like movies, in that companies have to basically gamble huge amounts of cash in order to produce content and then pray to the elder gods that it will earn back whatever it cost to make and then some. The money invested is not quite as high as your typical Hollywood blockbuster, but it’s a lot.
And therein lies the problem of the internet age; people can simply buy used games for half-price instead of brand new ones. Which is bad for the gaming companies, because they’re getting none of that profit. Hollywood faced the same problem when DVDs came along. They were terrified that no one would pay for a movie when they could just copy it, and a result they went to pretty dumb lengths to prevent that from happening.
GameStop, which ironically enough makes most of their cash on selling used games, is now finding itself in a desperate situation where they have to figure out how to move people away from buying the cheaper used games and get them to pre-order brand new titles. And how do they intend to do this? Well, by coming up with truly awful ideas, of course! Because that’s just how mainstream corporations work!
Their latest scheme is this: GameStop will work together with the game developers, and the developers will either withhold game content, or create special content that can only be accessed by those who pre-ordered through GameStop and therefore paid full price. This is dumb on a lot of levels, for a lot of different reasons.
I fully admit that most of the games I own for my 3DS are, in fact, used games, because as a poor artist, I simply don’t have the money for brand new games. The cost of a new 3DS game is usually around $40, and I don’t think I need to point out that that’s a lot of money when you live in a 170 sq. ft. room with a kitchen and bathroom you share with two other people. There’s only so much instant noodles one person can eat! Furthermore, when you buy brand new, you rarely get a chance to test out whether a game is even good or not, or worth the money.
Those aren’t the real issues, though.
Gaming is in a difficult stage, because compared to books and movies and TV, it’s still a developing art form. However, to recognize gaming for the creative entity that it is, we need to be able to accept it as a form of interactive storytelling. And to give a small subset of consumers a unique story experience for purely commercial reasons would be yet another element keeping the medium from be taken seriously.
It would quite frankly be like publishing a book with missing chapters you can only get if you spend extra money. Or releasing a movie that lacks all the special effects, which can only be added if you pay up. It’s hurting the art form itself!
Or perhaps they’ll simply be adding extra content, but that’s also hurting games as a creative entity, because they tell stories, and those stories are meant to experienced and played in very specific ways. If you mess with that, you’re just hurting the game itself. And showing favoritism to the elite set of gamers who would actually know about the titles in question before release is hurting gaming as a culture.
In some ways, games are more interesting than movies and books because of all the different ways games can be made. There are designs, stories, and simple mechanics to take into consideration, and there’s a whole world of possibilities there, and different ways to experience that world.
Gaming is in a much more delicate condition than movies or comic books, because of all the bad publicity surrounding it already, and the fact that gaming has yet to be truly acknowledged as an art form by most critics and the media at large. But some games are trying to do their best to make up for that.
The astoundingly beautiful Journey uses colors, sounds, and movement for a unique gamer experience. The Level-5 game Ni No Kuni combines the Studio Ghibli art style with well-researched history and morals and the kind of excellent mechanics that come from having lots of experience making RPG games.
Then there’s Disaster Report, where you play as an earthquake survivor, and many have said that the game actually helped them through real earthquakes later on due to the realism of the game.
These are but a few examples; there are many more.
Should we really allow GameStop to tamper with games like these? And push unfinished or altered games onto the unsuspecting public so they can ensure themselves of more money?
This could also take focus away from indie game developers, which is where the really exciting releases are coming from these days. I like Mario as much as the next person, but titles like Journey are truly where it’s at. As anyone who’s played it has to agree, that game is not just a game: it’s art.
And for the world to acknowledge that games are a valid art form, companies like GameStop need to acknowledge that as well, and treat their products accordingly.
[—Editing/cleanup/revisions to this article provided by Dr. Winston O’Boogie and Elliot Hodgett.]