Video games have had an interesting trend with regards to content. What once were, as a result of the technology available, confined to short, almost “mini-game” experiences, expanded to include lengthy single player campaigns. This grew to include a multiplayer experience that added yet another value addition for the consumer. Up until the most recent generation of consoles, games seemed to include more and more. Recently, as more additions and features are sold separately, it seems like less and less.
As video games budgets have grown to the size of movie budgets, the risk of high capital investment has resulted in a need to find opportunities to leverage that risk. Single-player campaigns get a bit shorter, multiplayer games come with packs that are sold separately, and even some single-player campaigns actually have levels that are sold separately.
The recent news that Call of Duty will be starting a new paid service called Call of Duty Elite should not come as a surprise because its publisher, Activision, knows all too well from games like World of Warcraft, Guitar Hero and Band Hero that monthly subscriptions and add-on content opens up revenue opportunities. The problem is that, as a brand, subscriptions and add-on content appear to the consumer as though they are being nickel and dime-ed. Additional content, whether available at a games release or shortly thereafter, has not yet translated to a less expensive initial game purchase for the consumer.
The problem add-ons will have for developers is that, as this type of content becomes the norm, it will run the risk of demand dictating a lower price for games. Much like printers, ink might be where the money is made, but the printers are sold for next to nothing. Pushing pay-for-play too much will force developers to lower the $59.99 sticker price of most games.
In the end, developers will be cannibalizing themselves in the process.
We all knew the kid whose birthday was right before or after Christmas, always wondering if the presents were coming from the same pot and if he was getting cheated. Developers need to be careful with additional pay content or pretty soon consumers will be unable to avoid contemplating this same question. Then it will be the developers paying the price.