I’ll go ahead and say it: The new profit model trend of nickle and diming gamers is beginning to scare me. The micro-transaction model already has its fair share of shady schemes, and cornerstone games like Diablo 3 are now allowing players to use real money to legitimately advance their characters (that is, beyond the initial price you pay to actually own the game). Today I read an article on Forbes that sincerely made me wish it was 1995 again. Though, that might have also been because I had a random nagging urge to see a live Tupac concert.
The Forbes article describes a collaboration between Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 publisher Activision and mass unhealthy carbonated beverage producer Pepsi in sponsoring a promotion called “Rank Up XP”. What the promotion entails essentially is that buying select Pepsi products, most notably Mountain Dew and Doritos, will earn you an in-game entitlement of Double XP time. The amount of XP minutes is broken down on the promotion’s website as follows:
In case you aren’t sure what XP is used for in the game, it’s basically a points system that awards players special perks such as new weapons, abilities, and so on. It’s meant to give those who play the game zealously a distinct advantage.
Ultimately, Activision is a business and it’s within its rights and is in fact its duty to its shareholders as a public company to maximize profits and therefor increase the equity of said shareholders. Nonetheless, as the Forbes article astutely points out, the last Modern Warfare racked up $360M in sales… on the first day. As of June 15th, 2011, Activision confirmed that the game had sold over 20 million copies worldwide. The math can be done in your head.
So it begs the question: Has Activision taken product placement too far? Will Call of Duty players accept the fact that their competition may have eaten through countless bags of chips and guzzled down gallons of Mountain Dew to achieve a competitive advantage? What about the moral and ethical ramifications attached to such a promotion? The United States is in the midst of an obesity epidemic; just peruse a chart of the government’s own statistics and it’s clear as day. As a publicly traded company, is Activision being socially irresponsible by encouraging millions of people to gorge on junk food?
This almost sounds like a potential South Park episode, doesn’t it?
In my own humble opinion, this new era of conniving tactics to suck more money out of the consumer, and at times downright exploit them, is a product of the consolidation of the industry into a handful of super-publishers who have the ability to set these type of market standards.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to go all anti-Capitalism on the situation or anything, I just feel that at some point we need to show these publishers that as much as we love their games, we also want them to retain their integrity. And the only way this can be accomplished is by voting with our wallets. Alternatively, you could always adopt the popular strategy of flooding the aggregate review sites with negative reviews.