Are video game publishers taking gamers for a ride?
Modern video games have brought many developments, some have been a boon for gamers, and others a bitter pill. Now, a French consumer group has called for an official investigation into buggy and restrictive games.
Following a public consultation, the French consumer group UFC-Que Choisir has sounded the alarm for the unacceptable business practices of video game publishers.
So, what’s the problem? The modern fashion of releasing buggy, often unplayable, games that rely on post-release software updates; the requirement for internet-access for some single-player games; and unfair copyright protection.
These developments all stem from three things. Internet-access, allowing publishers to rely on sending out patches to fix games originally full of bugs. A perceived threat of piracy and, finally, a thriving second-hand video game market, which have both seen the introduction of restrictive digital rights management.
Buggy and broken video games
Buggy video games are incredibly frustrating. I’m happy to put up with a few missing objects or even difficult aiming, such as in the recently released and patched Uncharted 3. But if there’s a bug stopping me from progressing in a product that I’ve just spent £30 or so on, well I’m not going to be happy.
UFC-Que Choisir references the huge performance issues of Batman Arkham City, where the game was ultimately broken on many PCs. The developers admitted to the problem and a patch was soon put out to fix it. But what if there was no such thing as the internet?
Did we all just languish with broken games before software updates, or did publishers allow developers to spend more time testing their games, rather than forcing them to meet strict release dates?
The second problem relates to the obligation for players to have an internet connection. No, not to play the game’s online multiplayer, but for the single-player portion.
Thankfully, not many games have taken such frustrating action to make sure a game’s legitimate owner is playing a game (and not a pirated copy). Assassin’s Creed 2 required PC gamers to be logged into the publisher’s servers, booting you out of the game if you lost connection. Thankfully, Ubisoft has removed this restriction for series sequels.
Nonetheless, UFC-Que Choisir points out that if internet is a prerequisite, then publishers need to invest accordingly in their online services and ensure there are no connection failures.
Tackling the second-hand games market
Thirdly, restrictive digital rights management (DRM) is listed as a complaint, which aims to kill piracy and the second-hand video games market. Many games include an activation key which you’ll have to enter to play the game, or at least to unlock some much-wanted feature.
This means the code will be invalid if you were to buy the game second-hand, leaving you to buy a new code from the publisher (at often inflated prices). Recent games include Uncharted 3, which requires an activation key to access the game’s multiplayer, and our old friend Batman Arkham City, where the key let’s you play as Catwoman.
I won’t go into the pros and cons of the second-hand video games market, but do publishers really need to inconvenience gamers? And more importantly, as pointed out by UFC-Que Choisir, the requirement for activation keys is rarely clearly indicated on the box.
UFC-Que Choisir has filed complaints against video game publishers and French distributors, and has further asked the DGCCRF (in charge of consumer protection in France) to determine the extent of these problems. Would you like to see the same done in the UK as well?
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