The Unintentional Consequences of Sony’s Cross-Buy

At Sony’s gamescom conference on Tuesday, they made an announcement that is sure to make the thousands of Vita owners very happy: if you buy any of the three upcoming PS3 releases PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royal, Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault (Ratchet & Clank: Q-Force in Europe), or Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, you get the Vita version absolutely free. They’re calling it Cross-Buy, and if you’ve tried Sound Shapes, you’ve already seen it in action.

This is great news for current Vita owners who, besides Sound Shapes, haven’t really had a lot to look forward to recently. This is also great news for people on the fence about getting a Vita in the future; if you are buying any of these titles on PS3 anyway, then you’re basically getting a free packaged-in game with your shiny new Vita. The problem with Cross-Buy, though? While it won’t degrade the perception of value of a standard AAA PS3 console title (that will be a solid $59.99 at least until the next console generation), the perceived worth of a Vita game will go down even farther than it already has. Why would anyone pay $40 for a Vita game when you can get the always-superior PS3 version too for just $20 more?

This started, I think, with GameStop’s summer sale. During a few random days over the last couple months, you could get Mortal Kombat on Vita for $9.99. The Komplete Edition (including all the DLC) on PS3/360 is still sitting at $29.99 currently. So $10 for no DLC seems legit, right? But that’s the thing: you just can’t sell a non-shovelware Vita game for $10. Mortal Kombat was one of only two Vita games to release in May 2012 (the other was the poorly received Resistance: Burning Skies), and even it needs crazy price cuts to drum up some interest? You know what other games came out in May, even on the home consoles? Spoiler: not much. Cutting the price 75% to stimulate sales just means that, once the price reverts to the normal $40 MSRP (it’s only $30 now), nobody will see it being worth that much anymore.

For me personally, it’s the same way with Steam sales. When I miss a game on sale for $2, I’m not going to pay the $15 price it reverts to after the sale is over. It was $2 once; it’ll be $2 (or part of one of those oh-so-popular indie bundles) again. This is one of the truest points EA’s Origin’s CEO David DeMartini has ever made. (I know, I know… Origin.) He said Steam sales “cheapen intellectual property,” and that’s totally true. Origin’s justification for never making their games any cheaper is that when you sell a game for less, people will think it’s worth less. (Well, that or they just want more money and they think this is the only way to do it.)

There was this huge movement back near the start of the PS2’s lifecycle where publishers and developers said, “No more MSRP’s. You can sell your games for any price you want. Probably around $49.99.” That last part guaranteed that, while there wasn’t a set price point, every big game would launch at exactly that price. Some, like Nintendo’s, wouldn’t even get price cuts for yeeeeears. Games were $50. People complained, but they dealt with it, because most games seemed to honestly be worth that much. That’s why fanboys so vehemently defend their recent game purchase – they just dropped half a bill on it, and they don’t want to feel like the stupid idiot that got ripped off by buying a worthless piece of $50 plastic.

But I digress. The Vita is still a $250 machine. There are the occasional GameStop gift card or free Assassin’s Creed III deals, but Sony doesn’t want to take a loss on this thing. Sure, the technology is incredible, but when you factor in a $100 memory card and games at $40 a pop… the perception of that value to many gamers is “too rich for my tastes.” But with Cross-Buy, they’ve spun a full 180. Now Sony says, “Our Vita games are worthless. Please, take them all away. We never really wanted them.”

Idea, Sony: $30 Vita games instead of $40 Vita games. That’s half the price of the big brother PS3 titles, and they can go on sale at $20 each occasionally to stimulate lagging sales. You need to lower the entry point for gamers, because it doesn’t matter how amazing your software is, honestly. There are great games on every system. If nobody can afford a Vita, we can’t take you up on your free game offers. And then developers won’t want to make games for a underperforming platform, and the vicious spiral means your handheld dies a death even more inglorious than the PSP’s limp to the grave in the U.S.

Cross-Buy is an indication that Sony is listening to the input of its fans, but by flip-flopping on the value of Vita games, they may be sending the wrong message on how much these epic games they’re producting are actually worth.

Final note: It has just come to my attention (via the PlayStation Blog) that Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault is NOT a “full” R&C game like Crack in Time or Tools of Destruction, but is actually more in the vein of the shorter, PSN-only Quest for Booty. The European version Q-Force is in fact a disc-based retail release, however. I’m guessing it will be about $20, and it is the exact same game on both the Vita and the PS3. Well now. That clears up some confusion and explains why you can get the same game on both Vita and PS3 for the same price so easily – they scaled it back big time to fit on the handheld! This is good for the Vita, but I’m shaking my head at the sure-to-be-neutered PS3 version. The recent All 4 One was not great (not compared to the incredible Crack in Time, at the very least). Get back to the “real” core Ratchet & Clank games, Insomniac! At least we’ve got Outernauts. I guess.

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3 Comments

Filed under Editorial

3 responses to “The Unintentional Consequences of Sony’s Cross-Buy

  1. Alexander The 1st

    “Not only will the game feature cross-play and cross-save, but it’s also part of a super-cool promotional offer where anyone who purchases Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault for PS3 via PlayStation Network will be able to download the PS Vita version of the game from PSN at no additional cost *and vice versa.*”

    *Emphasis mine

    Small note here – it works vice versa.

    So in this case, they could either lower the price of the PS3 games to match the Vita prices, or they could increase the Vita prices to match the PS3 costs.

    The former could have ripple effects in all console markets (If they can sell games at $20.00, every game out there for $50-60 is overpriced now, since we effectively get two games with the PS3/Vita combo) – if they go the latter, PSVita game sales…could be interesting to see where they go, I think.

    • Justin

      It doesn’t *always* work both ways, though, from what I’ve seen. I knew it worked that way for PlayStation All-Stars, but I didn’t know it did for R&C. But, it has been said that it only works when buying the PS3 version of the new Sly Cooper game.

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