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Over the years, I have frequently recommended that people stop buying new games from AAA publishers at retail. Don't buy them at all, or if you do, wait for a sale, or buy it used. This is because the massive, international, conglomerate corporations that publish these games are sleazy, scummy, or outright evil.

They underpay their employees.

They abuse their employees with cultures of crunch.

They hang the Sword of Damacles over their employees heads with the perpetual threat of layoffs.

They report record profits to their shareholders and award billion dollar bonuses to executives on a Tuesday, and then lay off hundreds or thousands of workers on Wednesday because they "can't afford" to keep them.

Some publishers even have active cultures of sexual harassment and abuse of female employees, which their HR departments are happy to cover up or sweep under the rug.

They harass and ostracize transgender employees and hold their healthcare hostage.

They fight against unionization.

They overcharge for their products.

They sell un-regulated gambling to minors.

They sell half-baked or broken products at full price.

They cancel promising upcoming products with little-to-no rhyme or reason.

They want to take away the consumer's right to own the media that we buy.

The list goes on...

I have been [mostly] boycotting retail AAA games for years

One of my game purchase strategies is that I rarely buy new, AAA games from major publishers at retail. I wait a couple weeks and pick up a used copy off of eBay. Sure, it's only 5 or 10 bucks cheaper, but it denies a new sale to that publisher. I specifically look for games that were opened and played. If the seller's description does not explicitly say that they opened and played it, then I don't bid on it or buy it. This is the reason why I specifically purchased a PS5 with the disc drive: so that I could continue buying used games. I don't buy the shrink-wrapped copies that are sold by scalpers. Those are either bought by scalpers at wholesale, and are as good as a new retail purchase, or they are stolen. Even though I defend game piracy (primarily piracy of old games for the sake of preservation), I'm not going to support an actual thief.

I specifically look for used copies of games that have been opened and played, and are being re-sold.

If I buy a used game that I end up really loving, and I honestly think that the developer and publisher deserves money for it, then I will either:

  • trade in the used copy, and buy a new copy at full price, or
  • buy a new retail copy for a friend who I think would also like it, but who probably won't buy it on their own.

I also share a lot of games with friends. I give away last year's Madden disc to any friend who wants it. And my friends and I often trade games with each other, so we all get to play it, but only 1 of us has to buy it.

I have not bought a new Madden game since (I think) Madden 16, and I've never bought a new Assassin's Creed game. I bought Black Flag used for PS3, actually did love it, and bought a new Steam copy for a friend. And if the PS3 save file could have been trasferred to the PS4, I probably would have bought the PS4 version of Black Flag for myself.

I sure as hell did not buy Metal Gear Solid V new at retail, not after the bullshit that Konami pulled with Hideo Kojima and Silent Hills! And I won't be buying the Silent Hill 2 remake new either. I might consider buying Silent Hill f new, if it's getting good reviews, and if it newer trailers and previews doesn't make it look like yet another tired retread of Silent Hill 2.

The only major exception to this practice is with FromSoft games. I love FromSoft's games. They're one of the few studios that I trust to consistently produce quality content. And that studio has been (as far as I know) almost completely scandal-free for as long as I've been playing their games. Please, FromSoft, do not make this statement age poorly...

FromSoft is a special developer to me, and its games are the only major exception to my retail boycott.

And I absolutely do not, ever, pre-order games! Pre-ordering might have made sense back when all game purchases were physical discs bought at a retailer like GameStop or Best Buy. Didn't want to risk that the retailer would run out of stock, and I wouldn't be able to play that hotly-anticipated new game. But now that most game purchases are digital, there is absolutely no reason to ever pre-order a game. The only time I ever "pre-order" a game is if it's like, the night before the game's actual launch, and I just want to be able to pre-install it on my PC or console so that it's ready to go the next day. Other than that, I think the last pre-order that I've bought was maybe Dark Souls II?

Buying games does not "support the developers"

One of the consistent pushback arguments that I hear is that by not buying games new, I'm only taking away money from the developers -- literally taking food out of the mouths of hungry, underpaid game developers, who have no say in the business decisions of their employer parent companies. People tell me that we should "support the developers" by paying full price to buy games at retail. Even mediocre or bad games. And even games from shitty publishers.

Tango Gameworks was closed after
releasing the hit Hi-Fi Rush.

I do sympathize with this particular argument. I'm all for supporting the low-level employees. I support unionization. I support increasing the minimum wage. I support public healthcare. I support Universal Basic Income. And so forth, all because I support workers' rights to get paid a fair wage, and for their work to be rewarding and dignified.

But buying retail games from big publishers does not "support the developers". It hasn't for quite a long time now. Never has this been more apparent than in the past month, when Microsoft announced a slew of studio closures and layoffs. This included Tango Gameworks, who's last game release was the critically-acclaimed, award-winning, Hi-Fi Rush, which has sold well over 3 million copies. Another closed studio was Arkane, who had previously developed critically-acclaimed games like Prey and Dishonored, but who had 1 flop in Redfall, which was a game that Microsoft mandated them to make. Other closed studios included Alpha Dog, Roundhouse Games, and several Bethesda studios.

Development studios get shut down (and the employees laid off) if a game flops. They get shut down if a game is successful. It doesn't matter what the studio does, the publisher can (and will) shut it down on a whim. In the meantime, that publisher, and its executives, will laugh to the bank as they cash in all the purchases of the closed studios' games that people are still buying. And the developers won't see a penny of that money.

And Microsoft isn't the only company that does this. Sony isn't innocent either. They've shut down some of their own successful, premiere studios in recent years, including Japan Studio, the studio that developed Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, among others, and which split development work for Bloodborne with FromSoftware.

Sony shut down Japan Studios, the studio behind many of its most successful first-party games.

These major closures have made the news recently, but it's not a new phenomenon. Game publishers have always been in the habit of laying developers off after the launch of a game, whether it was successful or not. Many developers, artists, testers, and so forth, are routinely hired on a contract basis. When the game releases, and active development ends, they are gone. This can happen regardless of whether the publisher promised that the positions would be long-term, or if they would be brought in full-time if the game is successful. Apparently, the games are never successful enough for the employees to reap any of the rewards.

Remember when Bethesda tied bonus payouts for Obsidian's staff to the metacritic score of Fallout: New Vegas? The target threshold was 85% meta score. The game ended up with an 84%. Almost all of the criticisms of the game came from the unstable and glitchy performance of Bethesda's underlying engine, which Obsidian was forced to work with, and only given a year or so to figure out. The actual design of the game (you know, the part that Obsidian was responsible for) was overwhelmingly praised. Fallout: New Vegas remains a cult classic, and is widely regarded as the "only good Fallout game that Bethesda has published". But Obsidian didn't get any bonuses. Bethesda cut them loose, and Obsidian had to find other publishing partners for their next game, The Outer Worlds.

Bethesda infamously tied Obsidian bonus payments to Fallout: New Vegas' MetaCritic score.

But now, Bethesda continues to profit off of New Vegas. It looks to be featured prominently in the second season of Amazon Prime's Fallout TV show, and there are rumors that a remake may be on the horizon. Similarly, Microsoft has a hot new property in Hi-Fi Rush that they can continue to exploit, and Sony can continue to rake in money from Bloodborne (including from any potential remaster, remake, or PC port).

Hell, even the smaller publishers aren't immune from these controversies. Annapurna Interactive, which publishes many indie games, as been in trouble in the past for toxic behavior towards some of the developers it has worked with. Though, they're abuses don't seem to hold a candle to the myriad abuses of its larger cousins like Activision, Ubisoft, EA, 2K, Microsoft, and Sony.

Long story short, buying new AAA at retail does not "support the developers". That hasn't been true for a very long time. It only supports the greedy, corrupt corporations that publish the games, and the narcissistic, out of touch executives who run those companies.

The only valid counter-argument

The only valid counter-argument to not buying retail AAA games is the "market interest" argument: that buying games of a particular type tells the publishers that the game-buying public wants those sorts of games, and that they should fund the development of more, similar games. This has a lot more truth to it than the idea that buying the game "supports the developers". For this reason, another frequent exception to my boycott is any AAA game that looks like a classic survival horror game. For this reason, I did buy games like Resident Evil 7, RE2make, and even the new Alone In The Dark, because I want to show publishers and developers that there is a market for such games.

A commercial flop might imply
gamers don't want similar games.

A commercial flop can cause a publisher to cancel DLC plans, prematurely end support for the game, and never fund a sequel. Other publishers might cancel their own similar projects, or re-tool them to be less similar. A commercial success will usually lead to longer-term support, more updates and DLC, and increase the likelihood of a sequel. Whether or not any of the game's original developers actually benefit from any of that is another question entirely...

The unfortunate corollary is that this leads to trend-chasing. Successful games are often copied at the most superficial and cynical levels because, as mentioned before, the executives in charge of these decisions are out-of-touch. A breakout success leads to a slew of [usually crappy and derivative] copy-cats that lack the "lightning in a bottle" of the game they are copying.

So as consumers, we're kind of damned if we do, and damned if we don't. We boycott the game because of the publishers' evil business practices, and the executives in charge assume the game didn't sell because the market doesn't want games like that. This happens even if those of us boycotting are screaming at the top of our lungs that we're boycotting it because of the company's shitty business practices. The executives aren't able to take the hint, partly because acknowledging our rationale would mean admitting their guilt and taking responsibility for their decisions. So instead, they insist that the market just doesn't want that game. It's our fault; not theirs.

On the other hand, if we buy the game, then we end up with every publisher releasing copy-cats ad nauseum for years! And then trying to find any way possible to add micro-transactions or otherwise monetize the game even more than it already is.

We can't win. Neither can the developers. Because even if we buy the game, they can still get laid off, and their studio shut down.

Buying indie is the only way

In the end, the only real way to "support developers" is to buy small, independent games that are sold directly by those developers. Buy from, or small indie games on Steam. Most (or all) of the money from such sales will go directly to the developer(s). Other than that, I guess you could also Venmo a nickel or a dime to every programmer, designer, artist, musician, voice actor, animator, and tester that you see listed in a game's credits. If you buy from a massive corporation, then all you're doing is lining the pockets of some rich executives, who are just going to exploit, abuse, or lay off the developers whether you bought the game or not.

06/01/2024 11:33:37 #


06/01/2024 11:34:25 #


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