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June 30 2011
Mouthing Off - Locking Game Saves

While we're a Sony focused site here at Futuregamez, at times we look at the wider industry to pick up trends and this week the industry took a turn for the worse – all because of one game – Capcom's Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D which was released on Nintendo 3DS this week in America , Europe and Australia.

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Capcom's Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D is firing up all kinds of shitstorms!
For those of you that are unaware Capcom's title introduces something very concerning – the inability to reset a save file on the cartridge once it has been created. Effectively if you wish to re-sell the game second hand the purchaser will not only receive your game, but also your save data which, in the case of this title, includes your High Score Table. There is no way to reset these scores so effectively any secondhand buyer, or indeed someone borrowing the cart to use on another 3DS, will be playing the game, but with the original owner's scores recorded.

Now, admittedly, this isn't as bad as if the game had a campaign mode where you needed to save in multiple locations and it keeps track of your weapons or stats, but still, in this day and age, with so much technology, know-how, and skill it can't be too much to expect that a developer (and we're not talking a team of three people here) to allow gamers to reset high score tables.

Of course Capcom have never stated as such but the move is almost certainly one to dissuade people from buying second hand copies of the game – something which publishers the world over are now seeing as a major issue, and one which has an impact on the company's bottom line. Developers and publishers don't get a cut every time a game is re-sold second hand. In the past this wasn't such an issue with games budgets a fraction of what they are now.

In the Atari 2600 days a big budget was often measured in thousands of dollars. In the Super Nintendo days a games budget was $US50-300k, Nintendo 64/PSOne saw that push up to $US1-3 million, while Gamecube/PS2 budgets were around $US3-6 million. Of course these are rough figures and there are anomalies with games like Square's Final Fantasy VII on PSOne broke all manner of records with a reported budget of $US42 million – a figure that remains large to this day.

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Game Budgets as Factor 5 discussed at GDC 2008.
This current generation has seen a major leap. One of the earlier titles, Lair, was budgeted at $US12-15 million with actual costs pushing towards $US20 million. But still, we've seen Metal Gear Solid 4 cost $US60 million, Gran Turismo 5 cost $US80 million, and Grand Theft Auto IV released with a budget of $US100 million. That's serious money but even with the “average” PS3 game costing $US10-25 million developers need to sell a massive number of units to recoup their costs. It's no wonder the second hand market – with games often selling several times over – is seen as a major issue.

Interestingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, Capcom are playing down the issue. In a recent interview with Eurogamer (available here) a Capcom Spokesperson has stated that "The game's value at second-hand in the UK is not affected by whether or not the game can have its data reset. Customers in the UK will not experience a reduced second-hand value should they wish to trade in their purchase." Really? Are they going to guarantee that?

Even more embarrassing for the company is the effect this may have on retailers. EB Games Australia have a "7 day return policy". If you purchase the game, try it and then return it the company can no longer re-sell it as new still. It's a dodgy practice at the best of times, but besides the games price being slashed from the RRP of $79.95 to $54.95 before launch the company has now removed the product entirely from sale on their website. This has to impact the bottom line for Capcom, it's sure to upset gamers keen to try the title. And who wins? No one...

Outland, a brilliant PSN title, has just been released.
This is a worrying move, and it's not one too dissimilar to why developers and publishers love the digital only models of games, movies and music. Tying a product into a device means it's there forever – you can't take a digitally downloaded game such as Housemarque's brilliant Outland on PS3 and copy it over to a friend's machine for him to play it – if you had the disc, sure, drop it around to his place. The problem with Capcom's decision with Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D is that people still expect to be able to sell, and more importantly buy, second hand physical products and have them as their own.

Of course the health of the industry is paramount – one need only look at the PC game scene to see how piracy has killed of much of their market, and I can see the merits to an online pass system which allows companies to recoup some money every time a game is resold, but to effective lock out the ability to reset a save file, and only a High Score Table at that, is very inflexible – there's not even a way to pay a dollar or two to reset the high score table. Of course this only applies to the 3DS cartridges at the moment – but with the PS Vita using memory cards with writable storage this is certainly of concern (we must point out there is absolutely no evidence of this on Sony's console yet).

I'll admit I've got a 3DS here, and as after several months gathering dust the only games I was considering buying was Zelda 3D and Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D. I will now only be purchasing one of these titles as a matter of principal, and it won't be Capcom's.

Written By: Dave Warner

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