Modern Media Capitalism
Media capitalism has steadily increased its drain on the video game and film industries. While money-making exercises have existed for decades in the media industry, today’s media capitalism displays increasing signs of vacuousness. And keen-eyed consumers are worried about what this means for the future of media content consumption.
This post is not discussing the methods of pay-per-view television, or streaming services in the pursuit of cash. The focus instead relies upon the ways in which the media trends towards hyping up products and selling half-finished products. In particular the use of pre-order incentives, the presence of downloadable content (DLC), and using advertising teasers.
The Danger of Pre-Orders
Just the other day GameStop in the United States of America released an advertisement for the pre-order of Assassin’s Creed: Origins. The advertisement informs the viewer that certain additional content is ‘blocked’ unless the player pre-orders the game.
Pre-orders have featured these kinds of exclusives for many years now, much to the dismay of gamers. However, here GameStop have featured an advertisement which clearly expresses everything gamers loathe about the culture of pre-orders and DLC. This being that it appears consumers no longer gain a complete game upon release.
If you browse any game-selling store you will inevitably catch sight of some advertisement explaining the perks of pre-ordering an ‘exclusive’ version of the game. Take Middle Earth: Shadow of War, which released a standard, silver, gold and mithril version of the same game. Now, some might argue that this is an expansion of the concepts of releasing various versions of the same book.
What is wrong with preorder bonuses?
It is rare that one publisher would release a version of a book with a whole additional short story inside it however. Or that pre-ordering the hardback version of a novel over the paperback would unlock early access to that novel. Yet this has become commonplace in the video-game industry and to a degree is becoming more apparent in the wider media market.
Film makers are increasingly moving towards releasing content on their own streaming services first. Take the latest Star Trek: Discovery show, which CBS are releasing on their own service in the states and which Netflix is releasing everywhere else.
Should we avoid pre-orders?
It is near impossible to completely avoid the lure of pre-orders. Particularly if a special pre-order edition features some unique collectible that a consumer wants. However, it may be worth considering carefully which pre-orders you choose to buy.
One or two individuals choosing not to pre-order games over the fact that they dislike the idea of pre-order incentives will not change anything. Rather, it becomes more important (since pre-orders are not going away anytime soon) to challenge what is acceptable in pre-orders, and what is clearly wrong.
Making a particular level or game mode inaccessible to anyone, unless they pre-order the game is ethically questionable. It would be even more unethical to then sell that mode as separate DLC. However, many companies are now heading down this dishonest cash grabbing path.
In our own review of Injustice 2 we praised the gameplay features as a superb fighting and superhero game. However, Injustice 2 also notably released in two main versions, one with access to future DLC characters and one without. Owning the standard version of Injustice 2 means that none of the DLC players are available to play. That is, unless a gamer dishes up more money. However, unlike some forms of DLC, the game featured a complete roster
The Witcher 3 (review to come) featured a fully complete game upon release. The developer CD Projekt Red then released free DLC for the game such as the ability to re-complete the game on a harder level of difficulty. Since that point they released two paid versions of DLC – expansions to the main game. Yet, where so often modern DLC is a brief additional quest, the Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine expansions were fully fledged storylines in and of themselves and well worth paying the additional money. They were examples of appropriate paid DLC.
Recently the Star Wars Battlefront DLC was made available for free on the Xbox One for a short period of time. This comes after the original inclusion of paid DLC for additional levels, heroes, characters and modes. And fans loathed it.
The problem with Battlefront’s DLC was that unless consumers consistently paid for the new DLC, they could not find matches in multiplayer. Thus defeating the idea that players had purchased a complete game upon launch. Fortunately, with Battlefront II it appears as if EA and Dice listened to the complaints of numbers of consumers and have responded appropriately. With all Battlefront II DLC to be free. That is, aside from the dastardly inclusion of lootboxes.
In 2016 and 2017, lootboxes exploded as the new scourge of video games. Games from Overwatch through to Forza Horizon 7 have all utilised this ‘random luck’ gimmick in various ways. While some uses of lootboxes are fun and acceptable, others are more sinister and invasive, taking the form of microtransaction traps.
Take Overwatch for example. All lootbox contents are simple cosmetic items: skins, voice lines, and sprays. While individuals can choose to pay for these customisations, they do not affect the skill needed to play the game. In other words Overwatch loot crates are fun rewards that you can unlock from your wins, rather than items that enable a ‘pay to win’ type of game. Yet many gamers feel concern with regards to lootboxes.
With the conclusion of the Battlefront II beta, many gamers felt concern. Particularly regarding the inclusion of star card upgrades in lootboxes. This was because these lootboxes could be purchased as well as unlocked. However, the time it would take to unlock the lootboxes would require an exceptional amount of grinding. This would push some casual gamers towards paying money to quickly unlock the special star cards. A similar ridiculous use of lootboxes arose in Forza Horizon 7, in a pay-to-earn manner.
The ridiculous use of lootboxes has lead OpenCritic to announce that they are researching a manner of adding ‘business model’ information to their reviews. This will allow readers to understand how companies and games use lootboxes in their games.
Teasers for teasers
Another element that many companies are turning towards are teaser trailers. Companies take advantage of the fascination surrounding films to release shortened teaser trailers early in the film’s promotional cycle. Films which are part of the Star Wars, Marvel or DC franchises are particularly susceptible to such hype.
With companies using social media, it has now also become common to release teaser trailers for trailers. Take for example the recent release of the Justice League and Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailers. Each company released 20 second snippets of footage from the trailers highlighting that the ‘full trailer will release on Sunday/Monday.’
The issue with teaser trailers for trailers is that they fuel the capitalist gains of the companies involved. They do not do anything for the consumers. That is, aside from building hype. Hype which ensures that their trailers receive as much coverage on youtube and social media as possible. In essence, they are a marketing gimmick that means nothing.
Studios have consistently searched for methods of creating the most money from the least work. Some studios create money from understanding their audiences. However, others adopt the latest marketing trends of lootboxes, teaser trailers and incomplete games that require DLC. If more studios focused on what their consumers want they will create loyal followers. And loyal followers will provide those studios with the financial gains that they desire. First, companies need to lose the artificial sense of capitalist gain and focus on sustaining and building consumer trust.