What the Game Industry Could Learn from the Film Industry

I've got the Monsters, Inc. Blu-ray in my hand. But it's more than just a Blu-ray. It's a BD for my PS3, a DVD for my bedroom and a digital copy for my laptop.

Disney, who is probably the most IP-protective company in the entertainment industry, realizes that I'm a lot more likely to buy their Monsters, Inc. Blu-ray for a small price premium if it includes every other format I could possibly want.

So why isn't the video games industry offering me the same choice with multi-platform titles like Call of Duty? Or, put differently, why is it that buying Call of Duty on the 360 doesn't give me a portable version for the DS or my iPhone?

I know, how ignorant of me to ask such a question! Porting a Call of Duty title from the Xbox 360 to PS3 is an expensive endeavor—we're talking huge development teams costing millions of dollars. For the DS or Wii, it's likely that game is designed again from the ground up to accommodate the unique hardware and lower processor specs. If I own an Xbox and a DS, they can't just give me the DS version for cheap or free!

Or could they?

Let's use Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2's numbers as an example. According to data from VGChartz, 4,890,348 discs sold of Xbox 360 version alone in the first week. Imagine, for a moment, that $5 extra would buy you Modern Warfare 2 on Xbox 360 alongside a bonus version for the DS. If only 10% of buyers were tempted into this upsell, that's 489,000 additional DS version sold, or an extra $2,445,170 in DS-related revenue for Activision.

And for all of you think this would just cannibalize DS sales, I respond, what sales? Only 12,000 units of the DS's Modern Warfare 2 sold over the same period of time. (More figures on Kotaku.) Plus, by using digital downloads tied to existing PSN, Xbox Live and Nintendo accounts, software companies could greatly limit sharing/resale of these extra versions.

Assuming my rough numbers aren't too nuts (actually, I believe they are quite conservative), why isn't the games industry following the movie industry's lead? Why can't buying a game on one platform allow you to play it on many?

The real limitation isn't development costs, it's that the video games industry is fundamentally designed to ignore competing formats and charge developers licensing fees that would cripple such a model. Nintendo doesn't want to acknowledge that a gamer might want to play Call of Duty on the Wii for motion controls, on Xbox 360 for networking and on an iPhone for the road. Nintendo wants Nintendo gamers to live in a digital bubble. And the same can be said for Sony and Microsoft.

We're not supposed to want to play games on more systems than one. But you know what? We already do. According to the NPD, 42% of Xbox 360 and PS3 owners also own a Wii. And if those same numbers were run in relation to mobile devices, including cellphones, the number would skyrocket to nearly 100%.

Nintendo, with the Wii and DS, and Sony, with the PS3 and PSP, are both advantageously positioned to make such a model work. But ideally, software companies and retailers could take such promotions cross-platform, cross-company.

I don't live in a Utopian dream state, believing that the next generation of games will play on one uniform platform. And in fact, I think diversity and competition within the market is key to innovation. So let's leverage these differences to a more consumer-centric model that will probably, ultimately, make all involved companies more money while offering shoppers more choice.