The Way Down: Pretty Sneaky, Sis.

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The Way Down: Pretty Sneaky, Sis.

Whenever I buy a game, I always make sure that I know what I’m getting.  I understand that I have to buy NHL 12 new because of the ridiculous online pass.  I also understand that by using that online pass, EA has guaranteed my enjoyment of that title online.  If for some reason the online pass wouldn’t work, it would be EA’s responsibility to give me a replacement so that the product worked as intended.

Playstation Network users were guaranteed the right to play online.  They were guaranteed that their private information was protected and secure on a Sony server.  They were also guaranteed a stable, enjoyable online service from Sony.  Well, Sony messed up big time.

Now they’re trying to cover their collective behinds by holding PSN usage hostage, unless the gaming public absolves them of all responsibility for getting millions of users’ data stolen.  Changes in the terms of service basically requires users who want to play online to waive any rights to participate in the class action lawsuit before connecting to PSN.

And EA is now inserting a similar clause into their EULA due to the highly controversial original.

Pretty sneaky, sis.

At E3 2011, Jack Tretton gave an impassioned speech, delivering a very convincing-sounding apology.  Prior to June, Sony had multiple security breeches, costing them millions of dollars and costing their millions of users their identities.  Sony seemed ready and able to move on, and also to make it up to consumers.  They started by offering some free PSN titles to users affected by the breech.  They also promised to never let this sort of thing happen again.  So what changed?

Sony Computer Entertainment  is just one division of a gigantic, globe-spanning corporate entity.  When anything happens that could cost the shareholders money, corporations tend to try and mitigate damages by doing some questionable things.  Sony’s board of directors were obviously not very happy that their gaming division held sensitive user data on files that may as well have been named “stealthis.txt” or “creditcards.xls”.  So the hammer came down from the top and Sony tried to find a way to protect themselves from damages.

Fast forward to the 15th of September when the news broke. Sony planned to alter their PSN Terms of Service to include a waiver of any participation in a class action lawsuit against them.

Now, there is a very specific method for opting out of these TOS, mainly through snail mail, but it has to be within 30 days of accepting the TOS.  I won’t go into detail about opting out, as that has been expertly covered by the fine gentlemen over at Giant Bomb.

Of course there are some major problems and repercussions for a move like this by an industry giant.  And Sony isn’t the only company doing this.  Good ol’ EA has decided to do something similar.  Given their track record, is anyone surprised?

As some of you know, I have little love for EA.  They don’t appreciate their consumers, make poor business decisions, and bring the industry down as a whole.  I recently wrote an article on EA’s Origin service.  The pseudo-spyware/steam hybrid is a huge sticking point for me and many other gamers.

To make matters worse, EA is now changing their terms of service to protect themselves from a lawsuit as well due to the original EULA of Origin.  This EULA allowed for EA to distribute user information to any third party that it pleased, a provision that was later half-heartedly revised.

Now EA has inserted a clause into their EULA for Origin that mirrors Sony’s provision. Keep in mind that this is a legal move, thanks to a case brought before the supreme court by AT&T.

Just because it’s legal, doesn’t make it right.  In fact, it’s downright devious. These two companies are engaging in shady business practices which will damage the industry as a whole.  What damage will this cause, exactly?  I’m glad you asked.

Precedent

The success of AT&T’s court case opened the doorway for other companies to shield themselves from a class action suit.  By making it legal to split a class action suit into individuals, it becomes nearly impossible for a consumer base to have the legal impact it once possessed.

This is placing consumers in an increasingly precarious situation.  I have said before that publishers are trying more and more to dictate where, when, and in what manner we are to enjoy their products.  Dangerous precedents such as these only serve to destroy what little power we have over the property that we own.  We have bought and paid for this product and service, and we can do with it what we wish.

By not allowing gamers to ban together as one and take on the corporation that has been responsible for getting their data stolen, leaves gamers powerless.  There is always strength in numbers and these new provisions only serve to divide and conquer us, making a corporate victory all but certain.

Image

Companies such as Valve and Bioware have great relationships with their consumer base.  The difference between them is that Valve also publishes the games that they develop, while Bioware relies on EA’s loving hands to push their products out the door.  Companies like these are so beloved by fans because they tend to give back.  Valve puts silly, yet awesome things into their games (HATS!), while Bioware goes further and offers things like free DLC.  This creates a positive image for these companies, and fosters consumer loyalty.

The value of a good image cannot be undersold.  Image is especially important for indie developers, such as Team Meat and Mojang.  The creators of Super Meat Boy and Minecraft, respectively, they became successful with great games intermixed with great fan appreciation and reciprocity with the fans.  If Team Meat decided to slap some ridiculous DRM onto their title and treated fans like criminals, you can bet that Super Meat Boy would not have been the success that it was.

Team Mojang has also seen the benefits of a good image.  Notch and company constantly engage with fans concerning Minecraft updates and community-driven mods.  Mix this with possibly the most addicting game ever, and it’s a recipe for success.

By wasting time with invasive and arbitrary provisions in goods and services that consumers own, these huge publishers are doing nothing but tarnishing their own image, when they should be fostering better relations with consumers.  If Sony is truly sorry, they should still be trying to make it up to us, not shaking our hands while holding a knife behind their back.

Future Trends

My dream of an ideal industry is DRM-free, and one where companies actually appreciate their fans.  The only hope, it would appear, is independent developers.  There will always be AAA titles in gaming, and in no way am I advocating that we dismantle large publishers.  The big guys do have a place in the industry, but that place is shrinking.  Sure, EA and Sony can spend millions of dollars advertising for their services and games, but if those services suck and those games aren’t fun, then it’s all for naught.

Let’s face it: Indie developers are only around because of the internet.  Communities of gamers all over the world can spread impressions of Braid  and Cthulu Saves the World at the click of a mouse.  These indie devs need fans to survive, and fans need the indie devs to balance all of the corporate dominance in the industry.  In the future, indie gaming will only grow larger, and more prominent.  I think that this fact scares the giants.

If these bigwigs who run the mega-corporate publishing outfits fail to change with the times, if they fail to interact with the consumer base in a more positive way, I can honestly see gamers getting sick of dealing with big brother publisher, who watches everything you do and tells you how to use their product.  This will only serve to help the independent gaming industry, and will place the AAA industry on the decline.

Moving Forward

I love video games.  I always will.  But the industry is changing in a fundamental way, and I feel that the old guard is struggling to keep up.  I would be heartbroken if there were less AAA titles to play during the year, however, if the major publishers begin to decline, a weaker market is definitely possible.

I’ll say it again.  I love games.  It honestly pains me to see that those prominent in the industry attempting to move us into some sort of nanny-state when it comes to enjoying our property.  But the little guy will always fight back.  And maybe some day, he’ll win.

 

As always feel free to leave comments below.  You can follow me on Twitter @JamesMcCaulley or email me at jmccaulley@pixelatedgeek.com