The Value of Online

Monday I wrote about EA Games wanting to have some form of online connectivity in all of their games. In discussing this issue with my wife, she brought up an interesting point. What is the actual effect of online connectivity?

First off, what this goal is not trying to do. EA does not think that the multiplayer in Dead Space 2 is going to supplant Call of Duty or Halo. If it takes off and become super popular, that is an added bonus. But I do not believe that anyone at EA is expecting something like that. At best, the multiplayer will keep people interested for a month or two.

While that might not seem like much, a month or two can be huge in the video game industry. Most video game sales come in the first month, primarily in the week of release. For example, CoD: Modern Warfare 2 has sold around 20 million in the past year. EIGHT million of them came in the first week. There is a diminished returns on a game as time passes. Few games have a long tail that keeps selling for months later. The fact that CoD:Modern Warfare 2 sold another 12 million in the next year is a testament to its success. Few games outsell their first month ever again, even if you combine all the months to follow.

How does having some kind of online component change this? If a game company can get their customers to hold on to their games for that first month or two, it will create more new game sales. Every person who holds onto their copy to use the online components means that there is one less copy traded-in, and thus one less used game on the shelf for Gamestop to sell.

With the proper strategy, you can even extend this window further. Ubisoft added a competitive multiplayer to Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, which was released in November. This month, they released a free map pack, with the intent of keeping those copies in people’s homes for another month. They also announced a second pack (also free) to be released in January. While AC:B is not hurting for sales (it has sold around 4 million already worldwide), every little bit helps.

Ubisoft’s strategy also does not hurt anyone. If you only want to play the single player, there is an experience of similar size and scope of its single-player online predecessors. This is slightly different than other publishers’ methods of including unlock codes for free DLC. A used copy is the same as new ones. Ubisoft simply designed a strategy in order to have fewer used copies out there.

As a nearly universally single-player exclusive gamer, I want more of Ubisoft’s methods. Hopefully this strategy for AC:B is a successful one. Because one thing this industry does best is copy the ideas that succeed. If this does lead to other publishers following suit, I think that will be a win for us gamers as well.

-That is all.

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