If nothing else, Microsoft should be thanked for bringing the issues of ownership in a digital age to the forefront with their original stance on ownership on the Xbox One. Gamers have ridden the gravy train for quite some time, content to divert revenues away from content creators and towards other sources, typically middlemen that arrange for lower prices in exchange for a chunk of the pie.
It’s not an uncommon problem in media these days. It’s something that the music industry has had to deal with over the past couple of decades, tracing all the way back to Napster and the filesharing revolution. Since then the music industry as a whole has vacillated between antagonizing its consumers and finding ways to accommodate their usage habits, perhaps settling into a model now that relies on live shows and merchandise for sales, eschewing the typical “big album” approach that dominated in the past.
Many artists now use free albums to get a buzz in order to tour to sold-out shows that can gross them hundreds of thousands of dollars, parlaying that success into record deals that are worth more than a new artist can typically expect.
In film, Video-On-Demand and DVD/Blu-Ray sales have supplemented theater sales, which allows films with higher budgets to have a longer tail and recoup their cost over time. Additionally, foreign markets have become a large part of a film’s potential revenue, with films like The Avengers becoming profitable before they ever hit US soil.
The point of all of this is to say that other industries have created alternate methods of collecting revenue in order to make up the gaps.
Video games as an industry have no such recourse. The only way a content creator is paid is to have a sale of a new game, whether to a retailer or a rental outlet. After that, any capital created by that product goes to someone else.
You can argue about consumers’ rights or the first-sale doctrine or anything else, but there’s a troubling issue when it comes to our Internet culture: we don’t respect creators.
In fact, we do anything we can to ensure they don’t get compensated for their services, whether its by using streaming services like Spotify for music, purchasing used games, or downright piracy. When we’re asked to give a little more, such as when Netflix decided that the licensing of streaming films was too much to keep the costs low and thus had to raise prices, we complain and we whine until we get our way, never taking into account the why behind the what.
It’s actually kind of amusing, actually, people complaining about having to pay to have unlimited streaming of music from the comfort of their 5-inch pocket computer that costs hundreds of dollars, or their thousand-dollar laptop or any other device that surely we would get for free if we only could. All of this without taking into account that companies like Spotify and Pandora pay a pittance to artists for licensing their songs. After Pandora went to Congress lobbying to reduce what it has to pay in royalties, artists started to release what those royalties actually were. In one example, DJ Day released information on his Twitter feed that he got paid about $25 from Pandora for 550,000 plays of his song “Four Hills.” If the people who listened to “Four Hills” on Pandora actually purchased the song, DJ Day could have received hundreds of thousands of dollars, instead of $25.
We do the same thing in video games. We wail about games having tacked-on multiplayer or single-use online passes without realizing that it’s us causing these issues. We exert so much pressure on the revenue model, but refuse to relieve some of the pressure in the form of more restrictive licensing or paying more for what we enjoy. We are the fat, banana-leaf-fanned kings of the world, asking content creators to entertain us and take what, if anything, we bestow upon them.
Perhaps Microsoft’s approach to ownership and licensing on the Xbox One was extreme. Perhaps it was an overreach and overestimation on what consumers could support in terms of Internet access. The messaging was surely bad, and the benefits were not made clear to the consumers, but it feels inevitable that something has to change. We can’t continue to burn the candle at both ends by asking for more from creators while giving less in terms of support. It’s not sustainable. Perhaps none of it is sustainable, but the mass layoffs (that we complain about) and the cost of games (which we complain about) and DLC (which we complain about) all come from somewhere. Some of it is greed, to be sure, but maybe it’s time we look inside to see what we can do to help. After all, if we love this medium, surely we see the problems with treating it so poorly?