‘Mountain’ Costs? HAH!

As Halo 4 releases with more branded advertising and sponsors than you’d reasonably expect, Microsoft stubbornly seems to tell us it HAS to do this. It has to use lowest denominator junk sponsors in order to make any money. Except, you know, it’s all lies, isn’t it? You know it. They know it. We all do.

 

I get that advertising is often a necessary evil.

But when it comes to the biggest game of this year – Halo 4 – I must say, there’s a point when you’ve gone from sponsors to effectively whoring out your most beloved franchise in the name of the almighty dollar. And Halo 4 really HAS whored itself out – from Mountain Dew and Doritos in the States to V Energy and Pizza Hut in the UK, and plenty of other regional sponsors, let’s cut to the chase here – on sponsors alone, Halo 4 is going to be generating significant money. A game like Halo 4 will be taking their money, not the other way around. Brands WANT to be attached to Halo 4. They know by being associated with it is advertising for them, as Halo 4 genuinely needs no advertising of its own. It exists in a bubble of its own creation and there is singly no doubt at all that people want in on that bubble, in on the sheer scale of money that this game is going to be making.

Halo 4 doesn’t need sponsors. But you know what? It wants the money, so as long as they can pay, it’s more than happy to drop its trousers.

Thing is, when customers start questioning why a game like Halo 4, a franchise worth some billions of dollars, needs sponsors to somehow grease the wheel, we are given multiple excuses and all of the are shoddy. But the primary reason, above all others they retreat to, is that games like Halo 4 are very expensive to make and therefore every penny in the bank counts. Whilst there is no definitive report on the costs of Halo 4, it is estimated with advertising included that the Halo 3 overall budget amounted to roughly $60 million.

So how much did Halo 3 make on its opening day? $10 million? $20 million?

Don’t make me laugh. It reportedly made $170 million. Read that again. It cost with advertising $60 million. It made on its first day $170 million. That’s a $110 million profit. On the first day.

You see, that’s the point where someone has to cry foul because even if Halo 4 costs $100 million to make, the market is bigger and the games more expensive. With sponsors, there is little doubt in most quarters that Halo 4 will be completely profitable from day one. That its popularity and all the extra money coming in from DLC Passes and Collector’s Editions and Sponsored Events and even the Sponsors themselves, it’s frankly a pack of lies that Halo 4 needs the money. It doesn’t. We know it doesn’t. Any attempt to tell us otherwise is a bare-faced lie into our angry, frustrated faces. Microsoft and 343 Industries are lying to us, unashamedly so, hoping we don’t scratch too deep and realise that it’s absolutely milking this for every single penny that they can get their grubby little paws on. And that should concern us, the consumers, because in an era where games ARE expensive to make for some, we need the honesty to know that something is just really very profitable.

I personally wouldn’t give a toss about Halo 4 bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars if Microsoft were at least honest about it. Because you know what? Money is good. Profits ensure that games companies can continue to make games, and consoles where applicable. It ensures they can continue providing their services. But if Microsoft were honest about it, then the truth is that it would call into question the one thing they have been unmovable on, and maintained a stone-clad look in the face of mounting criticism – X-Box Live.

For you see, why are we paying $10 a month or so when it’s very obvious that Microsoft could easily write off the losses? And even here, when a game made by a first-party Microsoft studio is set to make enough money to actively run the service for an entire year, there is absolutely no shame in standing up and asking why we are paying for a service that has actually shed features and introduced more advertising? Microsoft are cackling maniacally because it believes there’s nothing we can do about it. If you have an X-Box 360 and want to play games on it properly, it is effectively holding you to ransom. Pay our fees or don’t play your games the way they were intended. As time has gone on, it has become a frankly disgusting beast. There was a time X-Box Live wasn’t making money – that’s not good either. But you accepted the costs knowing you were doing your part to effectively keep the service afloat and get access to some pretty sweet stuff.

But X-Box Live isn’t losing money now. And here’s the problem; it’s still taking our money, even though it really no longer needs it. Because it is also getting paid an awful lot of money to run sponsored ads for movies, junk food and musicians as well as companies like LoveFilm. It is, in effect, taking our chump change and telling us it still needs it as it jumps into its Rolls Royce Phantom drop-top full of half-naked showgirls. We know it doesn’t. But to use the console the way it is intended to be used, we have no choice. And it’s not that it happens that bothers me, again I can just about justify the idea of making profits and not rocking the boat unnecessarily. What bothers me is the dishonesty. The bare-faced, shameless lies that continue to be thrown into my face at every available opportunity. I’m not stupid. I know how to Google, I know how to load up websites and I can see you in the newspapers making obscene profits on your game.

That’s how we know. To please their shareholders, they like to harp on in the papers and press at how successful their game is and how much profit is coming in. But when the consumers pipe up with asking why they are paying extra when the game is making obscene amounts of money, suddenly they play dumb, or go back to insisting it’s still really poor. And what is worse, we buy it. Every which way.

Because if Microsoft were to be honest, Halo 4 could easily make profit on its first day without all the additional revenue streams. No doubt when you do see its development costs versus its day one profits, the latter will dwarf the former in ways that will shock, amuse and appal. Everything and everyone else desperate to ride on this games coat-tails are paying in more and more money and increasing the profits of what was always going to be a very profitable game. And the sad and really depressing part is that the consumer, you and me, the ones who pay $60/£45 for the game itself? We will see no tangible benefit from that. We will not get a better experience. We will not get free DLC content. We won’t get silver-run online services because the game can definitely afford it. For all the money the game makes, we are being conned. We are being told we have to pay. We are being told there is no choice. We see no benefit for all this profit. Nothing is passed down to us.

There are many games which would desperately love the income Halo 4 will generate. Some games really DON’T make money – Kingdoms of Amalur, for example. And companies like Sony are, as we know, very much in financial trouble. We shouldn’t forget that in some cases the money is really a big problem. For some people, it’s a tough balancing act and it doesn’t always pay off in the end.

But when you come to Microsoft of all companies we should have no sympathy. We should not believe it for a second. Microsoft pleading poverty is an insult to every sense I can think of. Microsoft – Halo 4 is an exercise in greed. And I hope, so dearly, that it blows up in your face in the end and you cheapen your product by, effectively, trying to make more money from it.

None of it is necessary. Halo 4 certainly will be huge and no doubt it is also a great game. But it is tarnished by such flagrant, appallingly disrespectful greed. Be honest with us and we won’t care and applaud you.

Lie to us, and we’re going to hate you and everything you stand for.

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