Gran Turismo: Game Not Included

Gran Turismo: Game Not Included

Gran Turismo for the PS3 to ship without any online-playable cars or tracks.

Shawn Andrich and I were talking a while back about the recent hullabaloo over additional Chromehounds content being offered over Xbox Live. We came down on opposite sides of the debate (as usual). He was of the opinion that it didn't really matter. Me? I was sick about it.

The gist of that story was that From Software had decided to make a certain number of weapons and various other parts available for a small fee to players of the game. While in most cases none of the parts offered could potentially break the game, or were any more powerful than parts already included with the game, the move opened the door for that possibility in the future. And that's what had me riled up about the whole thing. I hated Julius Caesar. Yeah, he hadn't done anything wrong yet, but he was gonna. And so are these guys. Antony can bite me.

Imagine spending the required $60 bucks for a retail game, hopping online and discovering that you'll need to pony up additional cash merely to stay competitive. Those who play sports or pursue other competitive hobbies may be used to this already. The price of athletic gear or car parts can often put those without sufficient financial means on the sidelines while those who are better off take home the trophies, but gaming has been mostly free of such capitalist intrusions.

Until now.

According to Ars Technica, the maker of Gran Turismo has announced that their next installment for the upcoming PS3 console will ship without any online-playable cars or tracks, and that users can purchase cars for 50-100 (about $0.45 to $0.85) and tracks for 200-500 ($1.70 to $4.30). There will be a total of 750 cars and 50 tracks available.

Do the math. I'll wait.

Yes, that puts the total cost of owning all cars and tracks for the game at well over $400. For something that used to be free. Of course, to make this work, Sony is going to have to get that PS3 online service thing working, so we might just be safe after all.

Still, I think it's now fair to say that the people behind the new Sony console have completely lost their minds and that the madness is spreading. I say it's time to seal the borders lest this madness cross the Pacific and we find ourselves being charged for water in restaurants or extra towels at hotels. Let's take off and nuke the PS3 from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

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indeed there minds are gone.

They mostly game at night. Mostly.

Given that they haven't released a price for either version and details are all still fairly fuzzy, I'm not panicking about this one yet. I don't think micro transactions are a "big deal" because ultimately, the market will decide if it wants this sort of approach to buying game content. If Sony puts a game on shelves with nothing included, they're missing the mark. The online penetration just isn't there, especially for the PS3 the way things are going.

That said, if they offered the Gran Turismo "Classic" version online for free (or very cheap) download and let users choose what cars and tracks they want, it could work in their favor so long as a more robust boxed version is released in stores. We just don't know enough yet to say for sure, just an interview in Famitsu and a brief fact sheet at TGS. I suspect this "Classic" version is a BS way of saying "We don't have enough cars and tracks made yet, but Sony wants some sort of Gran Turismo at launch, dammit."

Get your own column, Andrich. We'll have none of that "wait and see" here. This is war. WAR.

I think the idea of micro-transactions for that much content is one of two things retarded or complete genius. If it for were to come in large packs or cars and maps for example all the rally stuff for 5 dollars, supercar 5 dollars etc. and there was a clear price difference where it evened out to price of a full game I could deal.

But, if it's setup the way it's been suggested here I'll have one less reason to buy a PS3 and one more reason just to get a 360 and become a forza fan.

Shawn Andrich:
Given that they haven't released a price for either version and details are all still fairly fuzzy, I'm not panicking about this one yet. I don't think micro transactions are a "big deal" because ultimately, the market will decide if it wants this sort of approach to buying game content. If Sony puts a game on shelves with nothing included, they're missing the mark. The online penetration just isn't there, especially for the PS3 the way things are going.

That said, if they offered the Gran Turismo "Classic" version online for free (or very cheap) download and let users choose what cars and tracks they want, it could work in their favor so long as a more robust boxed version is released in stores. We just don't know enough yet to say for sure, just an interview in Famitsu and a brief fact sheet at TGS. I suspect this "Classic" version is a BS way of saying "We don't have enough cars and tracks made yet, but Sony wants some sort of Gran Turismo at launch, dammit."

Seriously though, there's a lot of supposition here, with both of our views for the future. As you pointed out, there's once again a lack of clear facts regarding Sony's plans. Hopefully they'll clear this up with some even more confusing non-information later on and we'll all get a good laugh out of how out-of-proportion this whole thing was blown.

In the mean time, I have more faith in my realistically-dystopian view of the future than in your "consumers know best" socialist propaganda view. Even if only one person out of a thousand plunks down for every available car and track, that's still a huge profit motive for this kind of business model, and I just can't support that. Even if Sony gives Gran Turismo HD away with the console, or sells the game for standard retail and includes a coupon for $59 (in Sony points) worth of cars and tracks, I cannot support this model.

It would be like allowing them to install a coin slot on my TV, and considering how much I'm spending on the machines and the games already, I consider them mine, and do not appreciate the notion that I'll have to rent the content in addition. That's just bad juju.

Disclaimer: I bought a PS2 to play Gran Turismo 4. I also bought the Logitech Racing Wheel. You could say I'm a fan.

A micropayment strategy for online games is still novel in the US; compare that to Korea, where developers have created a bustling market for addons purchased online. Many of the games eschew subscription fees in favor of allowing no-payers to play, but be significantly handicapped through game-mechanics (didn't buy that turbo boost?), or socially handicapped in the world (their avatar isn't decked out in the latest sprite fashion). It is my understanding that alternate forms of payment, like gamecards or charging items to your mobile phone account makes billing less painful (and more impulsive). The bottom line is that this model is appropriate for some types of online games. I will attempt to

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That said, what implications might this have for Gran Turismo specifically? Having to pay for cars and tracks will certainly limit the appeal somewhat.

0. Having to purchase, presumably via credit card, vehicles to play online will restrict the audience. Especially in the U.S. where alternate forms of online payment are in their infancy.

1. It will encourage a new user to research the virtual autos available, and pick one/few suited to their desires/needs. This serves to extend the nature of the simulation somewhat.

2. It will encourage users to practice with that vehicle, to the point where they can actually handle it properly on the track. This also serves the overall simulation (if you buy all 750 cars, you aren't playing Gran Turismo, you're playing a game of Jay Leno).

3. A combination of 0, 1 and 2 will lead to a higher general level of competition online. Just like the barriers to real-life autocrossing; people mildly interested in cars are not to be found on a real racetrack. This will further serve the simulation. This will also tend to drive off casual players to a greater degree than 0 or 1. This will serve as a draw for the serious players, who will spend more money over time.

4. Which tracks I have will limit the number of other players I can race against. This reflects the real world in a rather un-fun way (I can't drive from Kansas to Japan to "attack the downhill" on their mountain passes).

5. Due to 4, the more casual players would tend to buy a few tracks, and practice them. They will likely have a favorite, likely one that matches their car well. This would put them at an advantage over another person who owns the track, but has a different sort of car and another favorite track. This could serve as sort of a handicap, skilled players challenging other players who specialize in one course or one type of course. Think Initial D, where you have an "86" (A sporty version of the early eighties Toyota Corrolla) defeating 400HP AWD R32 Nissan Skylines. Handicap races with cars unsuited to the course they are on could partially offset 4, because they might have a stream of more heavily invested/skilled players (i.e. bought more tracks and cars) interested in racing them on their home turf.

6. Over time, because the investment is low, the more casual players will get disatsfied with their tracks and vehicles and buy more. This would support the server infrastructure over time, and lend longevity to the game. Microsoft does a lot to support live, it is clear what Nintendo intends to do with the Wii, but Sony was approaching the new generation with the same general attitude towards online play as they did with the PS2; it is the publisher's problem. And since the publisher finds few people (proportionate to sales) are willing to pay any monthly or yearly fee at all to support online infrastructre, that makes those subscription fees high. Micropurchases over time are a great way to support an infrastructure that will probably be designed to limit the amount of hosting they have to pay for (P2P game interaction, server matchmaking and stats).

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A note about my comment that a lack of unskilled, casual players attracting the serious ones:

At the very end of the time in PC Gaming where the combat flight sim, not the FPS was the most hardware intensive genre, online play became available. Those same games, 8-10 years later, still dominate in terms of player numbers. These are small, insular communities one has to work hard at joining (article idea anyone?). Other games, with better network code, more realistic flight model, immeasurably better graphics and sound, have come along and never were more than a blip in online player numbers. The old sim grognards bought them, to be sure, as an offline diversion.

Try playing IL2 Sturmovik online. If you can find another player, I can garuntee that they are an amatuer with no idea how to take off without crashing, let alone survive a dogfight.

It will be the same with Gran Turismo. Each successive game gets more and more sim-like, and harder for the average Need For Speed/Burnout wheel jockey to handle. I'd love to see the online player win/loss statistics for Forza Motorsport; I'll bet there is a huge spike in player numbers at the bottom, with a large error bar due to insufficient sampling. Thats because they quit.

Bottom line is that Sims aren't games, and their online communities have a different feel than games do. That means that different economic models are going to cause different reactions in the fanbase. You might see a general outcry at first, a lot of storm and fury, but before that even begins to blow over, the real racers will be sqealing around corners trying to make a pass on the last corner, in their car.

Archon:
They mostly game at night. Mostly.

Brilliant. ;-)

Excellent, excellent post Steven. Thanks for taking the time!

Steven,

Those are interesting points and they do make sense. Although I'm having a hard time believing that either Sony or Polyphony would be trying to shrink the market for one of the Playstation brand's premier titles. That seems counter-intuitive. Especially considering how much emphasis they're placing on it being a launch title.

Simulations are everything you said they are, but they are also niche products. At least in America, as you pointed out. I can't believe that Sony would counting on the market undergoing such a dynamic shift in the next few months; so much so that they'd be willing to risk one of their signature franchises on it. Then again, I often can't believe what I see happening at Sony, so it just may be true. I think what we're seeing here, if in fact online cars and tracks will be available on through microtransactions, is more marketing hubris from SCEA rather than any kind of concerted effort to exclude potential customers.

I have to also wonder if you may be off-base with the suggestion that PC flight sims "dominate" in terms of player numbers. I think we all know what most people who play online are playing, and it isn't Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe. I'm aware that there are still communities in existence who are playing those games, but again, they're not buying games in sufficient numbers to sell consoles.

Whether or not the rumors regarding Grand Turismo for the PS3 are true, I have to agree with Fletcher that micro transactions really piss me off. I for one think its ridiculus to have to pay for new maps, cars, etc., particularly when paying such a high price for a new console title. Furthermore, to suggest, as Shawn does, that the market will decide whether this scam is marketable is ridiculus. The simple fact is, is that there is market and people will participate in these micro transactions, leaving those who do not want to spend the extra money in the lurch. Charging for a new standalone game episode or even an expansion pack is one thing. I don't have to buy it and my experience with the current game will remain the same, more or less. However, if people in the game I am playing start upgrading and getting a competitive advantage over me, then I will feel pressured to do the same, or be left in the dust. If I do not succumb, I will probably end up dropping the game from my playlist all together. Much like how mod-cheaters can ruin a perfectly great online game, these micro-transactions have the potential capacity to do the same. Especially, if they somehow give the buyer a competitive advantage. As long as they remain cosmetic, fine. Let the online peacocks strut their overpriced virtual costumes for all I care.

I don't want to interrupt all the fun you lot are having with your rant, but I think you might be a bit confused with respect to the facts of the case.

GT-HD comes in two versions, "Classic" and "Premium". Stephen Rokiski may want the Premium version, but the rest of you without a doubt want Classic, which comes with 750 cars and 51 tracks included in the price. The Premium version is the one to which the quoted prices apply. There are far fewer cars and tracks available currently because they're all being modelled (both visually and behaviourally) to a ridiculous degree of precision.

To say that having a product like that released commercially is bad for gaming is a very odd position to take. High production values and meticulous attention to detail are something I'm personally very happy to see and use of micropayments for vehicles seems like an intelligent way to balance the high cost of producing the game assets with the desire to keep the game moderately accessible to those who want to try it.

In my view micropayments are a good tool. Like any tool they can be used well or used badly. The Chromehounds stuff I consider bad. GT-HD, from what little we know so far, looks good.

(My source for all this is this article on Gamespot: http://au.gamespot.com/ps3/driving/granturismo5/news.html?sid=6158178)

Micropayment is something that probably cannot be avoided with online gameplay. I think Fletcher has a point though, what if the things you can buy for games are things that make or break a game? You're more or less forced to buy it, if you want to be on par with other players.
Even when you're not competitive and don't mind using 'lesser' stuff, one day your friends will buy access to that new tract of land or new track and you will be left behind. Unless you cough up your dollars.
It doesn't have to be a bad thing perse, as long as the games themselves become cheaper, but I doubt that will happen.

For game developers there's the extra bonus of being able to ship games earlier than before and come up with content later... :)

Dom Camus:
The Chromehounds stuff I consider bad. GT-HD, from what little we know so far, looks good.

I'm not sure I understand your rationale here. The Chromehounds stuff is supplementary, and from what I've read, not game-breaking.

Ajar:
The Chromehounds stuff is supplementary, and from what I've read, not game-breaking.

For me, that distinction is rather too subjective.

The problem I have with the Chromehounds stuff (based only on what I've heard - I don't play) is that the micropayments purchase stuff which could in theory constitute a combat advantage. It affects the actual play of the game.

A good illustration of the problems that arise here is offered by WotC's Magic the Gathering Online. In theory that can be played with an investment of only $10. In reality you need more like $100 to be at all competitive and frequently much more. Even then, your investment fades rapidly in usefulness with time. (Of course, I'm not suggesting Chromehounds is like this, but it's qualitatively the same issue.)

Dom Camus:
(Of course, I'm not suggesting Chromehounds is like this, but it's qualitatively the same issue.)

Okay, I see what you're getting at now. I don't agree, though. In Chromehounds, there are 176 available parts in the single-player offline mode, and then hundreds of additional parts that can be "purchased" for free in the online mode using the artifical currency you earn by winning missions. There are three parts that are unlimited free downloads, and then a further 10-20 that can be downloaded for about US$1.25 each. In other words, the game offers you a vast array of customization options for the $60 you've already spent. The parts available for paid download fit neatly into the existing part categories; they don't add anything new to the game. They're there for people who want even more options.

In contrast, GT HD Premium is essentially unplayable without additional spending. If you want to race using a slow-starting but high-top-speed car on a nice big oval with long straightaways, you have to buy both the car and the track. If your friend wants to race on a twisty track, well, you're SOL unless you shell out for at least another track, and possibly another car.

There's a balance to be struck, here. Including even 20 cars and 10 tracks for the GT HD Premium purchaser's $60 would be at least somewhat reasonable; as it stands your $60 basically gets you a shiny disc, some menus, and the opportunity to spend up to US$400 more on the game you've supposedly just bought. Your only alternative is to "settle" for GT HD Classic.

Batavier:
Micropayment is something that probably cannot be avoided with online gameplay. I think Fletcher has a point though, what if the things you can buy for games are things that make or break a game? You're more or less forced to buy it, if you want to be on par with other players.
Even when you're not competitive and don't mind using 'lesser' stuff, one day your friends will buy access to that new tract of land or new track and you will be left behind. Unless you cough up your dollars.
:)

i think micro transactions will ruin games.

the cost of purchasing a game is absurdly high already the consumer takes a risk when paying $50 plus for a game they may not like with the addition of extra content finding its way into nearly every release, it makes trying to find a game to play casually difficult.

for instance cod2, if i were to buy this game for $60 just to have somthing to play online occassionally how many matches will i find im not able to participate in because i dont have the $15 worth of extra maps?

with micro transactions the cost to play certain games could possible reach the $100 mark and beyond and i think thats unexceptable, even if you pick and choose which games you are willing to pay extra for i personally am not going to be able to afford to do it for every game.

if micro transactions continue like they are with more games supporting them and requiring extra cash to purchase the full experience, i will be less likely to take risks on new games that feel like incomplete titles, that you have to pay extra for to complete.

i feel like the consumer is being taken advantage of with micro transactions, most of this stuff feels like left over content that didnt make the final cut and its being hawked for extra cash.

the overly expensive extra parts for chromehounds, the lego star wars character pack, and cod2 $15 worth of extra maps are some of the most assinine examples so far, these games are ones that i will try to avoid because it feels like to get the complete game experience you have to pay extra on top of the already high price.

i am mostly an rpg gamer, so i like to play other games inbetween big releases and a chromehounds or cod2 like game is what i buy to hold me over (filler), i see micro transactions as a hindrance to finding somthing affordable to play between rpg releases.

I think the problem with micro transactions in a game like GT is that for me at least, the cars are like clothes. You like to try it on before you buy it. What if I buy that Nissan Skyline but end up not liking how it handles? Do I get my $.85 back? Do I get to test drive cars before I buy them? I wouldn't buy a car in real life without test driving it first, why would I in a video game?

noctambulist:
I think the problem with micro transactions in a game like GT is that for me at least, the cars are like clothes. You like to try it on before you buy it. What if I buy that Nissan Skyline but end up not liking how it handles? Do I get my $.85 back? Do I get to test drive cars before I buy them? I wouldn't buy a car in real life without test driving it first, why would I in a video game?

That gets to the very heart of the matter, I think. In any game with multiple configurable characters, or equipment options, I usually try several before settling in on one. (Clive with the Gibson Explorer is just so much better than Grim Ripper. Sorry.) Who cares if one may play just as good as another?

So long as there's that tempting possibility of unrealized greatness just hovering out there, there are some who will be unable to resist paying to find out. Over and over and over. I dislike that the future revenue model is being tailored to these people.

noctambulist:
I think the problem with micro transactions in a game like GT is that for me at least, the cars are like clothes. You like to try it on before you buy it. What if I buy that Nissan Skyline but end up not liking how it handles? Do I get my $.85 back? Do I get to test drive cars before I buy them? I wouldn't buy a car in real life without test driving it first, why would I in a video game?

micro transactions are worse then buying games, there permanet and final if you buy a game that really truly sucks somtimes you cant get the store to exchange it...downloadable content is all final period.

Microtransactions also make selling the game when you're done with it a much less appealing proposition, since you can't sell your downloaded content.

Fletcher:
I dislike that the future revenue model is being tailored to these people.

Is it, though ?

Games cost money to make and sooner or later it is game players who pay that money. A huge number of studios went bust in the previous generation and there was a huge amount of "consolidation" due to the high production values needed for a successful title. How much more will need to be charged per game for the forthcoming generation ? Do you really like that model ? Are you happy to pay $70 or more for a game ?

In my case the answer to that last question is: yes, and more, but only if it's a very good game. So I'm really looking forward to the possibility of paying $30 or less for a base game which I can then extend significantly via micropayments. Even better - this model will genuinely encourage studios to make good games because they suffer development costs up-front but players will only pay for the extras if the game is good. As for second-hand game sales, these do not benefit the game's developer, so I see nothing bad about losing them.

Will someone try to abuse micropayments ? Yes. Will I buy their games ? No. No problem there, then.

The arrival of micropayments has the potential to be the best thing for gaming in years.

I don't disagree with you that games cost money to make, Dom. That's kind of obvious. As is the suggestion that you or I or anyone should be happy to pay a relatively stable price for a quality game which can then be augmented by downloadable content. This is a fair model, and works to the benefit of the developer as well.

As Todd Howard of Bethesda told me, they use the down time between release of one game and development of the base technology for another to accumulate art and story assets which can be released as downloadables. This keeps the revenue flowing in and prevents them from having to lay off and then re-hire portions of their staff, as other developers do. So I see the benefits quite clearly. And in some cases, I approve.

Hell, I buy downloadables. It is not the general theory about which I disapprove. It is, as I've clearly stated, this example of GTHD and the potential it suggests for even more egregious future abuse. A "base game" as you say, Dom, is one thing. A menu with no cars and no tracks is another. Episodic content models take this a bit further by resurrecting the shareware system and offering small chunks of game for relatively small amounts. So far it's working, but as with microtransactions the potential for abuse is very real and should not be taken lightly. Greed, after all, works, but only in one direction.

Are microtransactions a good thing? Yes and no. Like any tool it depends on who is using it and how. I think there are good things to come from the development of the digital distribution/microtransaction model, but there are also very very bad things. Shipping a game with zero content is a bad thing. As was offering a set of horse armor for too high a price. If no one had spoken out about that one, however, how much higher do you think they'd have gone with the bigger content? I for one am glad we never found out.

 

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