The current games industry isn’t set up to be friendly to the consumer, I’m not just talking about the new consoles, it’s the whole industry stretching from those new consoles to digital stores through to mainstream retailers. I don’t offer solutions, but merely to highlight some of the issues that are out there at the moment.
Steam vs Epic
I won’t be touching the Epic vs Apple war that is raging, instead I want to talk about the cold war that exists at the moment between Valve and Epic around their respective storefronts. The release of some titles as exclusives on the Epic store has been occurring since day one which causes enough grief for some, but generally doesn’t impact on the end consumer as there is a store out there where they can get access to the games they want.
The problem, which is one that I have experienced, comes with yearly franchises which have a 12-month exclusivity with Epic, and then still land on Steam. It wouldn’t matter with a standalone AAA title, but when it comes to something like the official WRC games, you see last years WRC 8 arriving on Steam with the typical announcements that a brand new release would receive. It doesn’t help that publishers can’t reference other stores on their Steam pages anymore, and it’s an example of how store exclusivity ultimately leads to poor experiences for the consumer.
While a game like WRC 8 might be new to Steam, it is far from a new title, and this is where storefront exclusivity leads to problems if the publishers aren’t up front and open with their store pages.
The Nintendo eShop should be a perfect place for finding some of the amazing titles that make their way onto the Nintendo Switch, whether they’re AAA ports or indie gems, there are loads of great games out there to pick up. The trouble is, the eShop is flawed. It isn’t just difficult to find the games you want through poor menus and a lack of refined filters, it’s down to how Nintendo categorise things like their Best Sellers chart. Mike Rose from No More Robots (think Yes, Your Grace and Descenders) breaks down how the eShop fails to highlight those games that make the most revenue, but those that sell the most units. It all means that the eShop charts can get filled with those games with lower Metacritic ratings, but on massive discounts. Take a read of Mike’s thread, it’s well worth a read.
We touched on this during Our Week in Games 112 where the release of nVidia’s RTX3080 card was undermined by a surge of bots buying stock. nVidia detailed some of this issues on their blog, highlighting a combination of unprecedented demand (and the aforementioned bots) leave consumers with few options to pick up a new card without exploring the potentially murky world of eBay.
The problems nVidia experienced clearly weren’t a conscious decision to leave fans disappointed, but it’s an event which goes to show that even in the specialised world of very expensive, cutting edge graphics cards, there are those out there looking to make a quick buck and retailers need to be sharper to preventing abuse of the systems by the more nefarious people out there.
New generation consoles
There is so much that could be written about the reveals, pricing, naming conventions and much more when it comes to the release of the new consoles from Microsoft and Sony. But one thing that I think is clear is that between the manufacturers, mainstream stores such as Argos and Amazon and the consumers there is a bit of a disconnect.
The tweet below has exploded over recent days, and while I doubt it’s accuracy, I have no doubt that some parents who don’t know much about the games industry are going to make a mistake and buy the wrong console.
Xbox One X sales rank is up 747% on Amazon lol…
— Andrew Alerts (@AndrewAlerts) September 22, 2020
I don’t think we can put the blame for this down on parents not knowing what they are getting themselves into. There’s discourse going around that people should do their research before buying such expensive kit with references being made about how problems with naming conventions don’t hit new TV or mobile phone purchases. The trouble is, that discourse is kept within the echo chamber of those with a vested interest in the gaming industry.
I’ve done a very unscientific search on amazon.co.uk for ‘new xbox’ and ‘new playstation’, two potential search terms that I can imagine those outside our sphere of knowledge might use to search for that special Christmas present for their children. Take a look below (images taken 26th September):
Surely the generalist retailers like amazon should be doing more within their search tools to direct people in the right direction? If we were living in a normal world, then I would have been expecting parents to make a beeline for GAME or other specialist retailers and asking in-person for what they can do with ordering the new consoles.
That’s not to say Microsoft and Sony don’t have questions to answer. The branding of the Xbox ecosystem has been disparate since the Xbox 360 arrived, and it only gets worse with the Series S and Series X. Sony have avoided some of the same pitfalls with the PlayStation, but have fallen down in other areas with a lack of clarity around backwards compatibility and platform exclusives.
I’m not sure what the solutions would be, does UKIE as our national trade body need to do more, or should the console manufacturers and game publishers take better care of consumer needs?
Let us know what you think in the comments.