Unfortunately, there is a trend that is brewing that is becoming a somewhat obnoxious affair. In the past, when you purchased a game you knew what was on the disc/cartridge. If the game stated it was Mega Man 7, what you got was Mega Man 7 on the disc. You knew the game was complete, that another step wasn’t required, and as soon as you plugged that cartridge in you had everything you needed to play.
Nowadays, however, this guarantee doesn’t exist. There are physical releases of games that come out that include no physical game, some portion of the game is physical, or a promise of future digital content and it’s all getting a little bit absurd.
At the time, the big bad enemy to many game companies was the second-hand market. This included everything from trading games with your friends, eBay, and of course, Gamestop’s pre-owned games. These were all seen as a negative to the game industry for the sole fact that each sale of a game made on this market would not go to the publisher but to the other seller. As a way to combat this practice, publishers, and developers came up with the idea of selling game passes in an effort to recoup part of the money lost in the second-hand market. A game pass would only have a single use and be required to access the multiplayer portion of a game if a game was to be sold second-hand, then the player would have the option of purchasing the game pass digitally.
Thankfully, this is a practice that is no longer in use. However, just because it isn’t in use, doesn’t mean the spirit of it doesn’t still exist. The act of directly demanding such payments to gain full access is gone, but now they have taken on a new form that is essentially the same thing. Instead of asking those who purchase a game to pay to unlock a multiplayer portion of the game, companies are now simply making the whole releases of games or part of their series unavailable and everyone just seems fine with it.
Future Digital Content
A trend that has become common for Telltale games and other serialized titles is the offering of future digital content. That is, only one small portion of the game is actually available on the disc when you purchase it, but the rest of the content is left to a season pass with the promise of being able to download the content at a later date. If you were to purchase the game, you might be surprised to learn that not all the content would be on the disc, and that effectively there would be little to no resale value or trade-in value as most of it is in the season pass.
This creates a similar situation as the online pass did, some of the content is available on the disc, and a code is required to access all the remaining content; a code that is only usable once and is not transferable. The only difference between this and online passes of the past is how it is presented. In the case of online passes before, something was being prevented or blocked to the person who purchased the secondhand game. In this scenario, something has yet to be created and you hold a promissory code (if you will) for the content as it is released. You can’t trade it and you can’t share it; you are simply stuck with it. And if you were to sell it to someone else, they would only have a small portion of the whole package and would need to purchase it.
Partial Physical Releases
In what is perhaps a big trend when it comes to the Nintendo Switch, is the idea of partial physical releases. Capcom being the most notorious when it comes to this has opted to put out a handful of compilations and multi-pack games that require one of the titles to be downloaded. In part, this decision was clearly made in an effort to reduce the cost of spending money on cartridges as they are more expensive than disc-based media. In doing so, they have also created an online game pass in the process. Take the latest announcement for the Mega Man Legacy Collection for the Nintendo Switch. The first legacy collection is on the disc and readily available for play, the second, however, requires a download. That means that when it comes to selling that cartridge secondhand, the only value it will hold will be for half of the games offered in the purchase itself, effectively making it worth half as less. If you were to purchase a secondhand company of Mega Man Legacy Collection for the Switch, you would need to buy all the titles that are included in Mega Man Legacy Collection 2. Resident Evil Revelations is another title that split its content in a similar way. Resident Evil Revelations has its content readily available on the cartridge, but Resident Evil Revelations 2 requires another download for you to play. Even Bayonetta 2 didn’t opt to include the first game on the cartridge itself; instead, it is code that will allow you to download the first game.
In each of these scenarios, there is not a major piece of the game missing. Instead, it is an entire game or entry into a series that is missing from these mixed physical and digital releases. Instead of asking players to pay $10 if they bought it secondhand, now they are asking upwards of $20 or more depending on the title because the content is simply missing. In doing so, it almost assures that most will pick up the title digitally as it is simply easier than worrying about what may or may not be included on the cartridge. Additionally, it effectively makes those titles worthless, or at the very least, worth much less if all the content was present on the cartridge. The developer or publisher is able to simply get the best-case scenario without upsetting fans by reintroducing something like online passes. They are also able to assure the resale of the title will be limited at best, due to the lack of content on the physical media. There will still be a piece of plastic on the shelf to assure that the game is being advertised in stores, but at a price that is cheaper due to the smaller cartridge being used.
By simply changing how it was presented, what was being restricted, and what one would have to pay for the product, it effectively has brought online passes back, but in an acceptable way. If we are going to still consume physical media, then as consumers we should not be shafted by being provided only part of the product we paid for.