The next generation of consoles was introduced with the Xbox Series X and Playstation 5. The release of the new hardware from Sony and Microsoft also marks a turning point for the gaming industry as a whole. This shows which strategies have failed in the last seven years or so and which have been intensified for the new generation, which features and restrictions have become standard and what has been rejected or even punished by the gaming community.
It is a good time to look back, but above all to look ahead, and make a prognosis now about which paths the industry will take in the future and which new standards it is trying to set.
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The development that strikes me the most is the trend towards service games, games subscription services and the continual dilution of the terms "buy" and "own".
The current legal situation: Do I own the game that I bought?
While it used to be the case that video games were played on cartridges and available in stores, the market has increasingly shifted into the digital sector in recent decades. Even games that are delivered on physical media often need an Internet connection and are supplied with large day-one patches at launch. In addition, DLC, add-ons and other additional content are now installed conveniently at the push of a button or completely automatically with an update.
With this development, some legal questions also had to be clarified. One that has always preoccupied me is the question of whether buyers have a right to be able to use the exact product that they have bought. To understand where the game industry is headed, you first need an understanding of what rights buyers of digital content have and what rights developers reserve for themselves after the transaction has been completed.
To get an overview, I have the law firm's lawyers Wilde Flexor Solmecke consulted (in italics below), who kindly gave me information about how these matters are regulated in Germany. So I was informed that an update clause in the terms and conditions, according to which developers can change the paid game content, is effective according to the law, as long as the changes take place within a comprehensible framework. This is how the lawyers explain to us:
"Whether and how game developers are allowed to update the purchased games at a later date depends on the general terms and conditions (GTC) that apply to the purchase of games. However, these must withstand a legal check based on the German Civil Code so unusual that you as a consumer need not count on them. "
Should such a surprising intervention occur, developers cannot protect themselves with a corresponding note in the terms and conditions, since such notes do not constitute a valid part of the sales contract. Then, as a customer, I can actually insist on using the game in the version originally purchased.
De facto this means that developers have the right to intervene in a product afterwards, but they cannot suddenly delete essential features, for example:
"If the aforementioned update clause is ineffective and an update is still carried out in the game, through which the originally purchased content is lost, I as a consumer can assert claims for damages. The distributor of the PC game has thus violated protective obligations to maintain the original object of performance."
Because many platforms no longer offer games for sale at all, but only provide access according to the terms and conditions, these protective obligations could soon be a thing of the past.
The Amazon case, digital stores and the illusion of ownership
A class action lawsuit is currently pending in the United States against the streaming service Amazon Video. Amazon user Amanda Caudel dislikes the term "buy" in relation to Amazon's range of films and series. The term implies that users can purchase video content, but what is actually bought is, as noted in the terms and conditions, only a license to use. This could be withdrawn at any time, should Amazon itself lose the rights to the video or decide to discontinue the service for any other reason.
In the gaming arena, the same model of platforms such as the Epic Store, Origin, Uplay and Steam is used. Here, too, it is apparently suggested that you can purchase digital products, but in reality you only get (possibly temporary) authorization to use them at full price. The verdict in the Amazon case could therefore also have lasting effects on the video game industry. So it could be decided that in the future companies will have to indicate more clearly that clicking on "Buy" does not actually make a purchase. Incidentally, the accusation could also stand under German law, since the clause according to which Amazon assumes no liability for the fact that purchased digital content may no longer be available could also be a surprising clause.
"After all, the buy button suggests that once you have clicked it, you can have unlimited access to the film. The Prime customer therefore does not have to expect the film to suddenly disappear from the platform."
Either way, the manufacturers' practice of selling user licenses instead of products will continue to exist. In contrast to Amazon, Epic and the like, other companies are already making no secret of the fact that their platform is a digital playground for which you have to pay admission.
Future Game Pass: The digital premium playground
With the Game Pass, Microsoft introduced a kind of Netflix for games. A constantly changing range of games that can be accessed for a monthly fee. For € 9.99 per month you can subscribe to either the PC or Xbox version of the Gamepass, for € 12.99 you get access to both versions as well as access to EA Play and an Xbox Gold subscription. In order to constantly expand the game list, especially with exclusive content, Microsoft concludes contracts with third-party developers or simply buys them up. Exclusivity is no longer just a means of selling consoles, Microsoft will also use it in the future to push its own subscription model – and thereby tap into PC gamers without forcing other platform operators such as Apple or Steam to share in the profits.
At this point I have to say that I am basically not an enemy of such a model. I'm even sure that Game Pass could have some positive effects for gamers and developers. The chance is higher that a deal with Microsoft will give small studios more budget and freedom to develop exactly the game they want without having to pay attention to mainstream appeal. Even with Netflix there are exclusive films that would not have been made in the classic studio model, which aims at high marketability and cinema attendance. In addition, more players discover exactly these indie pearls for themselves. If the monthly fee has already been paid for the game, you are at least more inclined to give it a try. Not to mention that first-party games are finally no longer necessarily linked to a device, but soon all games may be played on all platforms. Since Sony boss Jim Ryan is already thinking out loud, for the Playstation 5 (buy now ) Indeed, to consider a similar model, that notion is within our grasp. In addition, competition usually benefits quality too.
Still, I also worry about the risks this paradigm shift could pose for the gaming industry as a whole, and for the Playstation and Xbox in particular.
So, not only since the introduction of the Game Pass, has there been a trend towards letting players pay continuously for content rather than once. Be it fees for World of Warcraft, Season Passes for the latest Battle Royale or Tactical Shooter or the addition of thousands of small micro-transactions that should entice users to continue to spend money after the purchase. With so-called service games, you don't pay for the product as it is when it is released, but also for ongoing updates and improvements that are designed to gradually expand and lengthen the game. Such content roadmaps are usually nothing but empty promises.
Source: Illfonic / Sony Interactive Entertainment
Because whether and what content will be delivered is usually not even known at launch. If the game turns out to be a flop, developers can easily adjust or crush their plans afterwards. And even if the promised content does come at some point, it has not yet been said that the game will actually be good, or that it will have a player base at all.
This is what happens with EA / Bioware-Gurke Anthem. Boastingly announced as a powerful game-fun behemoth that will still have full servers and satisfied players years after its release, users were bored with the game after just a few weeks. The developers were so slow with the updates that the Christmas decorations were still hanging in Anthem in February.
Despite this disaster, the video game industry did not completely abandon the model, which is why history is repeating itself with Marvel's Avengers. So we can expect to hear the term "Games as a Service" a few more times in the future.
Your money is not enough
Regardless of whether we pay for our single-player games with a subscription model or with a season pass and microtransactions for our multiplayer games, I predict one thing above all for the future of the game industry: It will be expensive.
Although there are undeniably strong arguments for purchasing one of the new consoles, including the guaranteed sufficient hardware for new top titles and the strength of various exclusive titles, the high purchase price that has to be paid for the games themselves has always bothered me about the parts. And that will increase significantly with PS5 and Xbox Series X. Sony has pushed through a price of 80 euros for AAA video games for the future. And of course everyone else goes along with them, although the long-term monetization methods mentioned above are often hidden precisely in these titles.
In addition, the subsequent implementation of microtransactions or in-game advertising is already legally possible today. If at some point games are actually no longer sold at all, but only exist as services, I don't even want to imagine what other surprises publishers will have in store for us after the launch.
The era of second-hand games also seems to have finally come: In contrast to the PC, where the digital market has long since replaced the DVD, consoles with their Blu-ray drives were the last bastion for physical media. But with the next generation, some of the devices no longer even have a physical drive.
Should the discs soon be a thing of the past, Microsoft, Sony and Co. would never again have to worry about an alleged loss of profit due to used versions. Control over any price reductions would then lie directly with the publisher alone. If you want to pay less than 80 euros for the new Halo, you just have to grab the Game Pass and pay in monthly.
Why are you telling us all this?
In this article I don't just want to blame and whine, even if both of these are admittedly easy for me to do. Instead, it is important to me to give myself and you a little overview and to encourage you to be vigilant about the next generation of games. Not all of these strategies will work, gamers will still not put up with everything and in some cases the judiciary may step in and define boundaries, but it is becoming increasingly important to know about the trends as an individual, in order not to to be left behind. Mainly because with the classic full-price title, which is ready at release and costs 50-60 euros, the concept of owning a game could eventually disappear.
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