Gamers are a sizeable subset of the consumer public. We range through all ages, races, genders, and tax brackets. The criteria to qualify for our demographic grows each year between the 9 mainstream platforms, a multitude of developers spanning the globe, a strong modding and freeware community, and a niche genre for nearly any gameplay style and mentality out there. It seems like working in public relations for a game publisher would be a living nightmare. But, in spite of all this potential hassle a few game companies are thriving and growing fat on the millions of dollars we as the gaming public dole out on a yearly basis.
How does that happen? The same way a lot of big corporations get rich: consumer trust. Brand loyalty has got to be one of the most bizarre phenomena to ever come out of the capitalist system but it is alive and well. People will wait for hours at night in freezing rain for a system because it has Sony written on the side of it. They'll rob each other at gunpoint and blindly keep paying their hard earned money for Madden after Madden after Madden, just because it's the next in a series. It's a growing trend that I suspect publishers are not only aware of, but are beginning to take advantage of in a way that can only be described as ravenous.
Game retailers and the companies that supply them with merchandise have got to be the worst combination of shady sales tacticians and smug misinformists that exists in our market today. We're partly to blame. When a company doesn't give a crap about giving us a raw deal it's because, as a group, we always seems to be so certain on what we're getting. We pride ourselves on having the experience and know how and general sagacity to keep from being burned on the few games we are sure will be great. But, in the end there's no way for us, or any other consumer, to know exactly what came off of the assembly line.
A good example of a complete failure to carefully research and quantify a gaming expenditure is my recent purchase of Rainbow Six Vegas. This is a game I ran out and purchased with very little fore knowledge other than a playable demo and the previous experiences I had had with the series.
Boom. 60 bucks out of hand and into register. Just like that.
It didn't take very long for me to realize one key thing after buying this game. It wasn't finished. Now, I don't want to say that Rainbow Six Vegas is a bad game because it isn't. It is extremely fun, but it's clear through lack of polish and functionality on both the single and multiplayer sides that this game hit the shelves too early. A fact that would have been easily identified if instead of laying down 60 bucks at Gamestop, I had laid five bucks down at Blockbuster and rented it. I beat it in under a week anyway and with the multiplayer bugs still plaguing my system long after the official patch I would be in the same predicament now of not being able to play with my friends, but with a little more scratch in my pocket.
I'm not saying the gaming industry is the only player out there looking to pull one over on us, but they are definitely the most public about it. Other industries don't sustain these kinds of behaviors on a regular basis, even among some of the most coveted items on Earth. Car dealerships don't have midnight sales with only 2 cars available for purchase every time a new vehicle is released. Jewelry stores don't have a standing policy of letting you trade in your old gold chains for a 3rd off the price of a flawed diamond. McDonald's doesn't give out discount cards that only apply to half eaten hamburgers. The gaming industry is the only industry that combines all of these practices and uses them as a standard.
Even though I had specific issues with Rainbow Six Vegas this was far from a specific feeling of being had by a rushed or dishonest publisher. Many games have come across my lap that fell below my expectations because I looked at the publisher logo on the box instead of making an extra effort to grade the game on its own merits before I bought it.
On top of this, I think that the reason Rainbow Six was rushed out to the public was because the Rainbow Six name and the Ubisoft name together drum up sales on their own. They weren't worried about getting a finished product. That wasn't the point. The point was for the company to release something because there was a public demand for anything.
When I noticed that Rainbow Six Vegas basically kicked me offline or crashed my system every time I tried to play online did I complain? Did I march down and demand a new disc or a refund or an apology? No. I just decided to only play the single player, and when that started to bug out I just stopped playing altogether.
Brand loyalty and consumerism are fundamentally apposed to one another. The consumer should always have their own best interests at heart otherwise they just become a mockery of capitalism. As gamers we need to learn to view the field and the players as equals no matter the track records because if we start to favor some companies over others they'll get anxious and they'll get sloppy and we will ultimately pay the price for it, literally and figuratively.