The rise of the retailer exclusive
As the Star Trek Into Darkness home release spreads extras across multiple stores, Simon wonders, is there any advantage to the consumer?
It never used to matter where you bought your films or games from, as long as you bought them. That was the thinking anyway, and the deal always was that you hand over your money, you get the product you're after, and aside from the occasional collector's edition, that's that.
But as videogamers over the past few years have increasingly found, that isn't that at all. It's not an unreasonable expectation to pay £40 for a game in one shop, and to get the same version you'd get if you bought it from another. Yet that's not the case. Publishers have become savvy to the pre-order exclusive, whereby different stores give out different incentives to order a game with them. Just to give a flavour of what's out there, if you pre-order Call Of Duty: Ghosts through Game in the UK, you get a free bonus multiplayer map, or a themed weapon camo.
Meanwhile, should you choose Amazon for Call Of Duty: Ghosts, you get an exclusive Into The Deep Theme, and an in-game patch. You won't, however, get the aforementioned map. In the US, Gamestop offers a weapon camo that you can use in Call Of Duty: Black Ops II, meanwhile. If you don't buy versions from the respective stores, you don't get the extra material.
I don't know about you, but I've always felt a bit cheated by this. I've never had a problem with a collector's sleeve, or something that doesn't tangibly affect the central product that you're buying. Thus, if a free graphic here and there is being banded around for a game, fair enough. But a map? A map that you can't get unless you buy a certain edition of a game, or buy it from a certain store? That's a bit more troubling, isn't it?
It's wrong just to pick on Call Of Duty: Ghosts here, too. The incoming Grand Theft Auto V has weapons available only to those who buy their copy through a certain store. And again, whilst that may be great news for the retailer, that's penalising the customer who chooses to shop elsewhere. A different weapon, however slightly, potentially changes the way you play the game.
My idealistic view of the world is this: give away extra free games, posh boxes, collector's editions or whatever, but £40 in one store should buy you the exact same version you get in another. Every weapon, every map, any subtle little addition that'll affect the game, even in the tiniest way.
Sadly, though, rather than this trend abating, it's now spreading, as we've seen with the Blu-ray release of Star Trek Into Darkness. This is a pitiful state of affairs. You'd not unreasonably think that if you pay £20 for a Blu-ray copy of the film, that you'd get the premium package, with everything included. But you don't. As has been well reported, Paramount has put some featurettes on the disc, but then spread the rest of the extra features around as retailer exclusives.
In particular, this means those who have bought the Blu-ray can't get access to the commentary track that JJ Abrams and his team recorded. Well, they can't unless they're willing to pay for the whole film again as an iTunes download. You can't download the commentary individually either. It's the whole film again.
Assuming that Blu-ray is the format most film lovers opt for, given that it - in theory at least - presents the movie in the best way possible, to leave off such a film fan-centric extra from the disc, and then expect people to pay again if they want it, is disgusting.
The rest of the Star Trek Into Darkness extras are scattered around a series of stores. Blinkbox, for instance, has 20 minutes of featurettes that you can't find on the Blu-ray. In the US, if you shop at Target or Best Buy, you get an extra disc with more supplements. As The Digital Bits - which uncovered all of this - originally pointed out, these were materials originally produced for the disc release, that Paramount has opted to share around. Thus, if you wanted to get all of the extras for Star Trek Into Darkness, it looks like you've need to buy the full film, from different stores, four or five times.
That can't be right. The advantage to the retailer is clear, in that it gives Store A a selling point over Store B. The advantage to the consumer? There isn't one. There just isn't.
Movies aren't yet at the stages of games, which is something to be thankful for at least. Whereas a game will offer retailer exclusives that can very slightly have an impact on the main attraction, nobody is re-editing an extra one minute into a film to differ it from every other store's version of the movie (there have been store exclusive releases, which are annoying, but at least you're not playing roulette with multiple extra features packages).
But Paramount's actions with Star Trek Into Darkness do sound alarm bells, and significant ones. It may sound like a small thing to make a fuss over, but I don't think it's much to ask for parity. A consumer should just be able to buy the game or film they want, without being penalised in some way for not buying it from a store that paid extra to get their mitts on an exclusive. And if you are offering content to one place and not the other, at least let us download what we're missing for free. We've still paid full price, after all.
A uniform release was always the original idea, and that should be the bare minimum that end customers should be able to expect. If Paramount's high profile experiment with Star Trek Into Darkness is anything to go by however, it isn't what we're going to get any more.
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