Carrot or Stick- Do Incentives Work Better than Punishments? - Oni no Tenshi Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Carrot or Stick- Do Incentives Work Better than Punishments?

Ok, bub, which one do you want?

One of the things that seems to be very popular these days is the idea of penalizing people for buying used games and game publishers (not to be confused with the developers) are generally doing their damndest to continue to rake in the dough by threatening people with an incomplete game if they don't pay comparable amounts of money to access it.  Ostensibly this is because we're in a crappy economy and most people aren't willing to be jerks and pirate games, but they still don't want to pay the outrageous, almost-a-hundred-bucks cost for a new console game.  So what is a game-loving above-the-board person to do?

"Buy used," the voice of logical reason seems to retort, "Because as much as I'd love to dump all my paycheck in the noble pursuit of making sure the developers get a (tiny) cut, I actually have to deal with these real-world expenses, such as rent or food, and I don't have much wiggle room in my monthly expenses.

This is even more evident in the up-tick of subscriptions for-pay rental services such as GameFly and the like.  People just don't want to dump tons of money on a new game that basically only guarantees them some updated graphics and possible crappy gameplay or a short gaming experience.  And when you can pretty much almost afford a vacation on the amount of money you'd spend on the average three or four games a month that most gamers purchase, it's easy to see why you would want to be cautious.

Dude, put a carrot cake on the end of that stick, and we'll think about it.

The truth of the matter is that it wasn't too long ago that when you bought a new game (or pre ordered), you were guaranteed something cool and extra for doing so.  Things like a T-shirt, messenger bag, soundtrack CD, or other limited-edition item were often a fabulous reason to purchase a new game.  After all, one of the best things about a limited edition item is the fact that being limited, its worth is sure to grow.  How many people have sold said limited edition shirts on ebay or the like in order to make quite a return on their investment?  And how many of them nostalgically hold onto their special item as a reminder of how much a part of their fandom they truly are?

That's the beauty of the incentive approach.  It's not even all that expensive (especially if it's just a CD or a wrist strap or something small), but the impact is HUGE.  Incentives for games such as "Pokemon," have been known to create huge demands for preorders.  So too has Atlus's penchant for including soundtracks for its games.  You get a person happy to buy new, a developer/publisher who gets paid and the game store getting their due as well.  Everyone wins.  So why does it seem that with the increase in downloadable games for-pay and other connectivity abilities, that game publishers seem to think that the best way to increase their gaming fanbase is to basically spit in their faces by saying "you have to pay extra just to play this game"?

...."And then I'll tie them to the railroad tracks for buying used games because I'm just THAT dasterdly, MUAHAHAHAHA!!"

The bottom line is that being a huge jerk just doesn't sell.  In a bad economy, video games are seen as an extra expense for many households (don't kill me hardcore gamers, I'm not saying it can't be someone's lifeblood, lol), and because of that, the average citizen will often choose to not buy a game if it's too expensive.  This lowers the pool of people paying for said game which raises the price of the game because less people buying = less money made, so they have to increase the price to pay for the lower amount of people buying into it.  Of course, after a certain amount of people not buying, they liquidate, drop the price to bargain basement levels to pay for the base materials and then call it a wash.  This does not bode well for either the gaming industry OR the average Joe Gamer.

Don't be fooled, gamers LOVE carrots.

There's a big difference between giving extras to people who buy new and giving disadvantages to people who buy used.  If a dealership started selling used cars without brakes, people would be up in arms.  And selling a game without integral parts of said game available to those who buy it used (or, say, play the game on a separate account on the same console after their parent, sibling or spouse has finished it), is patently ridiculous.

Sure, you can say "oh here's a bonus map for you new buying peeps" or "hey how about a special equippable item for those who preorder!" but there is a big difference between that and "well you need the Golden Whacking Stick of TesticleHurting to get past level 7. You didn't buy this game new so no Whacking Stick for you!"

T&A sells, but so do carrots!

If you really want people to buy new games, whacking them over the head with penalties and incomplete games is a doozy of a proposition.  First of all, it makes you look greedy.  Secondly, it makes you look like a jerk.  And thirdly, it makes people not want to buy your stuff which is bad business.  It's all well and good to wish to be back in the golden days of gaming where everyone had to pony up that 50-60 bucks for some 128 kb version of "Oregon Trail," but times have changed and the best way to rake in the dough while also keeping the customer happy is to offer positives instead of negatives, and let them know that you're willing to go that extra mile to keep them hooked on the franchise.

Because honestly, think about it- as a publisher, you can not only release your new game, but also advertise for other licensed goods and limited edition gaming equipment.  From decals to custom controllers, there is a wealth of amazing ways to make money once you hook someone on the game itself.  Why do limited edition consoles sell so well?  Why do people want to buy figurines, T-shirts and other memorabilia?  It's not just because they've been mind-controlled by Hot Topic.

Game fans want to be PART of the gaming franchise, and they're willing to spend plenty of their hard-earned dollars to do so.  So why not take advantage of this without looking like the moustache-twirling fiend pictured a couple of images above in this blog?

So please, do not run out of carrots or you will make the bunny cry.  And by "bunny" I mean the economy.

So what are your thoughts on the new and "devious" ways that gaming publishers are attempting to make money?

Do you think that companies are going to increase or decrease incentives for preordering new games?

Would an incentive increase your likelihood of buying new?

And finally, what sort of incentives would you like to see more of?

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