This week there’s quite a bit of buzz over the release of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, which is the latest instalment in the Metal Gear Solid series and, depending on who you ask, is either a prologue or a “glorified demo.” The catch is that depending on which platform you buy it for, it’s currently for sale for either $20 or $30.
There’s a lot of online outrage over this. Some claim that because it’s a demo, it’s something that shouldn’t be paid for. Others are saying that that price is a bit steep, and that something along the lines of $10-$20 would be more acceptable, particularly if the average play-through (and by that, I mean someone who is playing from start to finish without exploring every single side-activity) is only going to take an hour or two. I’m not going to debate whether Konami is right or wrong to do this, but I am going to remind people that this is the same old trick Konami has used for past MGS games, and people put up with it then.
Back in 1998, before internet connectivity in consoles was a given, Konami released demos of the original Metal Gear Solid in various gaming publications of the day. At that time, just the idea of being able to play a bit of the game before release was compelling enough that people happily paid the money to get their hands on Official PlayStation Magazine. After all, if you wanted to try this game, how else were you going to do it? Then, a few years later in the PS2 generation, Konami upped the ante somewhat. They included a demo of Metal Gear Solid II: Sons of Liberty with Kojima’s new giant robot game, Zone of the Enders. This was a full, retail game, at $60, that just happened to have a demo of one of the most anticipated sequels in gaming. People balked, people complained, people said it was unfair and manipulative. But people went and bought Zone of the Enders anyway, just to get a taste of Snake infiltrating a tanker, and it’s a sure bet that many an Electronic Boutique/GameStop was littered in the following months with trade-ins on ZOE.
Now, in the internet era where demos regularly appear on the PlayStation Store and Xbox Live Marketplace, Konami is trying again. Only instead of tacking on a demo of the upcoming game to another title, they’ve released a short, preliminary Big Boss adventure, and they’re charging $20 for it on last-gen hardware, and $30 on current gen hardware. And people are going ballistic.
There are cries of this being a rip off, and more cries of how this should be free, but what it boils down to is that there are people out there that actually want to play this badly. And they are angry because they feel the asking price is too much for the amount of content. The problem here, if you can even call it a problem, is that Konami isn’t breaking any laws and is free to do with their product as they please. In return, the public is free to react to the product as they please. And this is where things get messy. As much as people may howl that this tactic is wrong, and that it won’t work in this day and age, history tells a different story.
Konami has market researchers. They have accountants. They have people that run the numbers, and they know that with the popularity of the MGS franchise, this is something that will sell. On the internet it may seem like there is almost uniform disdain for Ground Zeroes’ pricing, but the same can be said every November when a new Call of Duty comes out and yet, despite the seeming hatred of the entire gaming community, it is still the best selling franchise every single year. In the same way, Sony released Gran Turismo 5 Prologue for the PS3 in the last generation. That was a handful of cars and a few tracks for $40. People said it was a rip off and they’d wait for the full game. It sold over five million copies. People may not like it, but many people go out and buy this stuff anyway. And that’s what Konami is counting on.
If this is something that gamers feel strongly about, then they should make it known. We’ve already seen that market sentiment can have profound effects on a company. Just look at Microsoft’s spectacular “180” last year after the unveiling of the Xbox One. If the “unfairness” of Ground Zeroes is something with similar public outcry, then we’ll see sales of the game take a nosedive and Konami will learn their lesson. If people complain about it, but then go out and buy it anyway, and it sells a million or more copies, then the gamers have no one to blame but themselves, and Konami’s bean counters will have been proven right. That’s not illegal, that’s just business.