Yesterday, Ben Kuchera posted an article on the Penny-Arcade Report regarding the recent online movement of gamers attempting to inform Sony that they would like it very much if the PlayStation 4 didn’t have DRM of any kind. Ben, in no uncertain terms, thinks this sort of messaging is pointless, stating it “amounts to a fart in the wind.” The only way to inform the decisions of companies like Sony and Microsoft, he posits, is by employing the tried-and-true wisdom of “voting with our dollars.” Even that prospect, he admits, seems dubious thanks to consumers’ tendency to go back on their own, indignant words.
I actually do agree with Ben, to a certain extent. Actions, not words, especially in regards to money, are the most direct line to any businessperson’s ear. We can hardly expect publishers/manufacturers to change their ways if we continue to throw exorbitant amounts of money at them every holiday season. However, his only works in tandem with the proper messaging.
Buying, or, as the case may be, not buying anything from consoles to games themselves is a binary message. By not buying someone’s product, you tell its manufacturer not that it doesn’t appeal to you and why, (as far as that manufacturer is concerned, having not bought their product, you don’t exist) but that it doesn’t appeal to as many people as competing products.
As we’ve seen over the course of this console generation, that’s not adequate data for most publishers to make the proper decisions.
Ben also states that one really wants to stick it Microsoft and Sony’s (theoretical) DRM, they should buy a Wii U right now, instead of an Xbox One or a PlayStation 4. If you recall, however, people already did that this generation; everyone’s grandmother rushed out to buy a Nintendo Wii, excited by the prospect of games that looked simple enough for them to enjoy. In response, Sony and Microsoft jumped aboard the S.S. Motion Control, spitting out the PlayStation Move, and Kinect, respectively secure in the knowledge that if they just offered the same thing that Nintendo did, that particular niche of the market would expand to accommodate them.
We’ve seen the same thing happen at companies like EA, Square Enix, and Capcom. If Dead Space 2 didn’t sell as well as Gears of War 3, then Dead Space 3 had better be more like Gears of War 3. Then all the people who bought Gears of War 3 will buy Dead Space 3. When everything is the same, everyone who likes one thing will buy all of the things! Logic!
Fortunately, that’s not how things work. I say fortunately because if it did, more games than the already healthy slice that are would try to just simply ape Call of Duty, innovation would come to an end completely, and anyone who didn’t happen to like that particular, sizable slice of the pie would be left out in the cold.
Communication is a key part of any capitalist society. It’s why writers like Ben Kuchera exist, to highlight and communicate the good along with the bad. Being a well-recognized internet personality certainly gives you a larger club to swing when it comes to agenda setting, but your existence doesn’t necessarily mean the voices of enough of the great unwashed are suddenly meaningless.
Yes, Ben is absolutely right in that you should always vote with your dollar; give it to someone with a business model you like and respect, and keep it out of the hands of those you don’t. Just don’t immediately write off a company – especially one that’s likely going to be around and at least partially setting the structure for how you experience your hobbies for a long time to come, regardless of whether you, personally, do business with it. Continue making your voice heard in every way that you can. Let the living, breathing, thinking people at that company know (reasonably so, please) why you refuse to do business with them. It’s in their best interest to serve your needs, not the other way around.
Oh, and just kidding about the whole “great unwashed” thing.