Around the time the Xbox 360 was released, a major trend in video game distribution began. Downloadable content (DLC) and micro-transactions rapidly started to pour into the market, driving profits up for developers with minimal effort. Some blockbuster hits arose from this new model, namely online RPG's and strategy games, but lately Valve's popular shooter “Team Fortress 2” and many others have caught on. This is unusual, and in the long run, the shift to services will be detrimental to the gaming industry.
Let's take a look at the bottom line--cash. That's what started the whole shift to a service-oriented industry in the first place. It's generally believed that the service setup earns a developer more money than charging you for the game up front. But is that true? A $60 game played for a few weeks makes them much more than a free-to-play game dropped after interest fades, or a $15/month subscription only played for two months. Very few games have that amount of staying power, and it's unlikely that players will stick with a single title for more than that first few weeks. To most developers, stand-alone games will end up much more profitable.
When micro-transactions are the chosen method of sale, and these sales don't add up to where they were projected, developers often rely on underhanded sales techniques to regain their perceived “lost revenue.” A common tactic is to overcharge for essential DLC, like map packs required to play online. Forcing players to buy DLC to stay competitive, or to play at all, allows the developer to charge whatever price they choose. I don't think it's unreasonable to pay extra for in-game bling, but when players are forced to pay more to continue playing a game they already own, something is wrong.
“Pay to win” strategies are also notorious for ruining the online experiences of otherwise good games. If you aren't familiar with the term, count yourself lucky. This tactic tends to work by slowly introducing weapons in DLC that are far stronger than anything a player without a credit card has access to. In this model, paying extra simply puts you on the fast track to gain the advantage. For example, “Call of Duty's” latest promotion is granting you experience boosts for buying Doritos and Mountain Dew. The points can be turned in for in-game weapons, granting an edge over people who don't buy into the promotion. “Call of Duty” isn't the only offender in this; “Battlefield Heroes” shifted to a similar strategy, completely destroying the competitive experience. Essentially, those with a bigger wallet can buy better items and force others to pay for items to fight back at all.
What really shines about traditional video games is the kind of community they foster. First person shooters like Quake and Counterstrike had massive communities, and still have global competitions, yet they have no need for expensive online services like Xbox Live. Games that rely on competition in person, like Street Fighter, are also incredibly popular. RPG and sandbox games have modding communities so dedicated that mods are still being created and released for games like “Oblivion” and “Grand Theft Auto IV,” five years after their release. Still other games stand the test of time out of sheer quality. Good games sell, and bad games don't. What makes these games so ageless is slowly being stifled by excessive cash-ins.
It seems that the gaming industry is changing, and while new developments may bring great things in the short-term, they also bring plenty of detriments. If gaming is to continue its success, it would be best to take heed of older games' achievements before we auction them off too.