Note; There are no visual jokes today. This post contains trace elements of politics, opinions on Loot Boxes and Gambling and a couple of cheap shots at UbiSoft and EA. If any of this sounds like it may offend you – please back out now. I respect your decision, and wish you well. – Editing Kami.
You may have heard that the UK Government – or more specifically, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee – is asking for feedback on the state of video games.
Whilst I sort of approve of the concept – I think one of the biggest issues I have with this whole thing is the scope of the inquiry. Everything from content and age ratings to loot crates and addiction – and lots more – are being collated at the same time by the same people. When you potentially have dozens of topics and likely even more concerns being raised, sometimes by people who may not even be “Gamers” themselves, you can’t help but feel the whole thing is at best going to be diluted and at worst, another utterly pointless attempt at Public Relations that will backfire.
The good news is, I think we can narrow down for many gamers the scope of things needed. And what are needed… are rules.
Now, stop. Pause. Take a deep breath, snuggle the naughty anime pillow if you must. I am not talking about content rules – we happen to have those down fairly well. Nor am I talking about impeding on conceptual or artistic integrity here – though the industry does need to get its head out of its behind and realise we’re not buying art – WE’RE BUYING VIDEO GAMES!
My angle is we need better, stronger and far more acceptable consumer protections. And this is doubly important in the UK, where digital sales and revenue last year totalled 80% of all income.
#1: RETURNS POLICIES AND DIGITAL SALES NEED LEGAL DEFINITION AND CLARIFICATION.
For years, consumer returns policies on video games have depended on statutory rights. In laymen’s terms, this means that a store is selling you the disc and the box. The content on that disc doesn’t have to work properly, only that the disc itself needs to. Which is great if your disc is snapped in two when you open it, but if you get a game home and it is broken and buggy, or not even as advertised – oh hai Randy! – then you, my friend, are screwed. Out of a good chunk of money, of course.
But in an industry where buggy, broken games have become so normal it’s depressing – and an industry moving from physical sales to a digital medium – those definitions need to change. Radically so. Because now… we’re buying the SOFTWARE. We’re buying the code. We’re buying the video game, liberated from its physical shell.
We always were, of course. These rules were more in place to protect stores, of course, in a time when you had to go to the High Street for everything. Massive returns for a disaster of a game could have had terrifying consequences, particularly for smaller independent chains. But today… much of that is dying out. The biggest retailers are massive, billion-dollar conglomerates like Amazon.
In short – we need to be able to return games which do not meet our standards. And for that to happen, we need a well-defined, specific returns policy. Personally, my opinion is thus;
- There should be a 14 day, no quibble returns policy.
- Pre-orders should NEVER be charged for until the day of release, under ANY circumstances.
- There should be a way to make complaints to the Office of Fair Trade, for example if a game is marketed in a dishonest manner. This gets around manipulative TOS rules that disallow class action suits.
#2: LOOT CRATES AND MICROTRANSACTIONS NEED AGE RESTRICTIONS.
This is a lesson that -should- have been learned from Apple a few years ago; whilst it’s very easy to blame the parents of kids who just keep punching the big shiny button on an app for more goes in a game (and parents should be way more aware of this issue) – it wouldn’t be a problem if these things were not in titles aimed at such a young audience.
If Loot Crates are to be legally termed as “gambling” – and several papers suggest they utilise all the same systems, and companies use specialists that work on actual gambling sites to make these systems – then they must be restricted to at least the over-16 audience, since you can legally buy lottery tickets at age 16. Though the government has been considering raising that to 18.
As for Microtransactions, they also need to be restricted to at least teenage demographics (13+) that may understand that a “Buy More Credits” button means that money is exchanging hands, and therefore the individual is more culpable if they develop a problem.
If we’re doing these things in order to ‘protect the children’, then we need to make it very clear that these games cannot be played or marketed to anyone under that age. Beyond that, it will be up to parents to make informed and educated decisions on whether their children can play such games at home.
So, in summary;
- Gambling/Loot Systems need to be restricted to the Legal Gambling Age, whatever that may be at a given time.
- Microtransactions should be restricted to Teen ratings.
- All games aimed at younger audiences should be banned from having said monetisation systems within them.
#3: MAKE PRICING CLEARER, AND ADDITIONS CLEARER STILL.
And the third and final angle I have here is that pricing of video games itself needs a bit of clarification.
For example; I am buying Resident Evil 2 Remake for £49.99 (yes, I waited until the demo before I ordered it, because again, that’s what some of us do). So what does that come with? An Elza Walker costume and a steelbook cover? Alright. So the £39.99 one is the basic version. Got it. That’s clear enough.
But take UbiSoft’s collections of weird and wonderful editions; where “Ultimate” editions aren’t even Ultimate, where each thing has very different objects, different DLC content, different everything and especially different pricing, where the costs can range from £49.99 to £499.99 (for a STATUE). WB Interactive have been equally guilty of this. As have many others.
Of course, I understand that costs need to be covered; but we need some streamlining here. No consumer should feel left out of content, or require some kind of spreadsheet to work out which “Special Edition” is worth the expense.
Likewise, I think we should make Paid DLC obvious before the purchase happens. If we’re going down a road like Activision is, where they want to shame people not buying a season pass (which is an idiotic move, by the way), then people need to see the full, actual potential cost up-front. No ifs, ands or buts about it. Nintendo has this sort of right; it has on its eShop very clear definitions of what is in a package, and what is additional content.
(It’s one of the few things the eShop gets right at the moment)
This needs to be extended outwards though. Hidden costs are generally frowned upon in commerce, and we cannot allow companies to hide behind tiered pricing systems. Similarly, I think Season Passes shouldn’t be sold until AFTER a game is released and, more specifically, that such content has been nailed down. Even Smash Ultimate.
All of this helps us, the consumer, make better informed decisions on a game. You should not get to piggyback off a game in order to sell additional content. Those sales should be the same as selling the game in the first place – show people why they should pay money for it.
- Pricing tiers need to be clear from the outset.
- Season Passes should be detailed and planned out before they are sold to consumers, particularly in pre-order form.
- Companies should treat post-release content the same they treat selling the game in the first place. Sell it to consumers, do not blackmail them.
These are just a few of the things I think a government inquiry should be about.
The fact remains though that whatever you feel about my proposals, we’re on the cusp of a radically altered dynamic in the industry. Digital sales are dominant now, and our rights are being forgotten and/or ignored in the pursuit of financial gain.
If we don’t sort out the simple issue of consumer rights – the industry is in for a disastrous few years. With more people turning their noses up at big-brand franchise games, we need to make people feel comfortable and confident in being able to buy one and not feel like they’re being ripped off, or forsaken in The Grey Zone of the current digital legal landscape.
These are things the government of the UK can help with.
Anything beyond that is subjective, political and personal. And on that… I’d prefer politics – actual Government-level politics – was kept out of my video game content.
Just a Gamer with a dream…