Loyalty programs can be major incentives when choosing a vendor. It’s something grocery stores caught on to years ago. In 2010, Sony did as well with the Playstation Plus (PS+) program, offering free games to subscribers. Microsoft was eventually forced to follow suit three years later, offering a similar program. While the ever increasing value for gamers can’t be argued, is there a downside? With internet piracy running rampant, do these incentives proliferate theft?
First, how do the programs work? PS+’s is a $50 per year program where (at the time of this writing) six new games are offered every month; two for PS4, PS3 and PS Vita. Games are cycled out every month. As long as the user is subscribed, they will have access. Various discounts through the Playstation Store are also included with PS+. Microsoft’s Games for Gold (GfG) is similar, with two games for both the Xbox 360 and Xbox One offered every month. GfG is included with an Xbox Live subscription, $60 per year. Both are required to play games online.
The merits of each program can be argued for some time, but is currently irrelevant. The question is, could this arms race bottom out? What are Microsoft and Sony teaching there consumers?
Sony’s selections have typically ranged from titles 6 months to 3 years old, with nary a dud in the group. Microsoft, though initially behind, has picked up the pace, offering games of a similar vintage. Starting in 2013, that’s begun to change. When PS4 launched in November, 2013, two new games were offered day and date, Resogun and Contrast. The former easily being the best launch title. Since then, others became available through the program at their launch; Outlast, Mercenary Kings, and Velocity 2X. Again, Microsoft has followed suit, with available via GfG on release day for Xbox One.
I have two dilemmas with these practices. While they currently don’t affect me, they eventually will. The first is a bit of armchair business speculations. Everything costs money, including game development. While the details of whatever deals Sony and Microsoft have struck to make games available, much of it can be surmised. I can understand a developer taking a payday a few months to a year after the title’s released. It’s a similar maneuver to discounting, only instead getting a paid upfront by Sony/Microsoft. Take Strider for example, a descent game, released in February, 2014. In July, 2014, it was available through PS+. Business wise, this makes sense. Unless the game is discounted, it’s unlikely to garner more, or any sales at full price.
Releasing new games under these programs, such as Resogun or Velocity 2X, is akin to gambling. Obviously Sony/Microsoft offers a payment upfront, and the developers choose that over whatever profit they could make selling the game outright. In either case, this is a slippery slope. Precedence is being set. Going back to Strider, why would anyone be inclined to purchase it if they know it will come to PS+/GfG within a few months? Developers are teaching their consumers to not purchase their games, instead waiting for it to come free. This is different than discounting, as both PS+ and Xbox Live are required for online play, increasing the user base. Both programs were initially great, but now with more new releases included, this could easily bottom out.
The other issue is what this teaches consumers, particularly younger ones. Psychologically, anything with a nominal fee is thought of as free. Who can’t afford $8/month for Netflix? PS+ is $50/yr. Savvy shoppers can find it on sale for $40. Many, particularly in Sony’s ecosystem, share a login id, giving them access to the same content, further dividing the cost.
As a country (the United States), we are incredibly wasteful, not understanding the value of money. Children have a harder time grasping it, particularly with currency switching to digital, making it less tangible. Growing in our current environment, with a bevy of services available for nominal fees, and shared amongst others, the value decreases further, to the point that it’s none existent. Many today think music, movies, and games are free, pirating the content. Does PS+ and Games for Gold exacerbate the issue?
The best deterrent for piracy is by making content available easier for purchase than pirating. While I can see both sides with PS+/GfG, making it easier to consume and proliferating theft, the economic implication can’t be denied. This is a race to the bottom. When it’s hit, everyone loses.
Do you think PS+/GfG will eventually bottom out? Do these programs encourage or deter piracy? Comment below!
All around we’re goin’ down.