Control’s Publisher Fails at Explaining Why Only New Buyers Get Free Upgrades

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The publisher of the hit video game Control, 505 Games, has implemented an exceedingly strange policy regarding next-generation upgrades and backward compatibility. Its recently published explanation has made nothing clearer.

Last week, 505 Games announced Control: Ultimate Edition. Normally, this kind of wrapup package would include all previous DLC content + the base game, and Control: Ultimate Edition does — but then the company went further. According to 505 Games, only gamers who pay for this version of the game will get a free upgrade to PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X when those consoles are available. Everyone else — including everyone who bought Control and its Season passes on Day 1 and paid the highest price — is out of luck.

I’m going to let 505 Games “explain” why they made this choice:

Every avenue we pursued, there was some form of blocker and those blockers meant that at least one group of players ended up being left out of the upgrade for various reasons. As of today, we can’t offer an upgrade to everyone, and leaving any one group out feels unfair.

This is a weak justification unless you find explanations like: “In order to avoid screwing anyone, we screwed everyone” to be persuasive. 505 Games offers absolutely no explanation for what kind of barriers prevented it from bringing Control upgrades to all players. No other publisher has declared problems so far. What makes Control special? Absent an actual explanation for what the “blockers” were that the company refers to its post, this explanation doesn’t really hold water.

But more to the point: Who is the audience most likely to be interested in upgrades to Control? The people who already bought it, especially those who plunked down full price for both the game and its season passes. Who are the people who are getting punished the most by 505 Games? The people who bought the game for full price and paid for season passes.

I’m so excited, I have the vapors. Wait. No, that’s just gas.

There is an understanding in PC gaming that people who wait to buy a title are (presumably) getting a better deal by waiting. Not only does the price drop, but you gain whatever content updates and bug fixes have been developed while you waited. Outside of DLCs or expansion packs, however, companies don’t charge for patches or improvements. We already know that Microsoft has a rule for Smart Delivery — namely, that games delivered via Smart Delivery can’t charge for upgrades. And we also know that Microsoft has told publishers they cannot sell visual upgrades for profit?

That, I suspect, is the actual “blocker” here, to borrow 505 Games’ word. The company obviously can’t launch “Control: Ultimate Edition” for Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, because that would violate Microsoft’s ban on charging for content upgrades. How do you get around that problem? You sell the game again, as “Ultimate Edition,” and you declare that only people who buy this version of the game can have an upgrade. Bingo. Now you can charge people to upgrade to an Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 without actually charging people to upgrade to an Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5.

Is this the actual explanation? I don’t know. 505 Games won’t explain itself. But it makes a lot more sense than the idea that there were some mysterious blockers preventing 505 from doing what multiple other publishers have already done — namely, making updates to the base game available for no additional charge to gamers who buy an Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 via Xbox Smart Delivery.

If you do not sidegrade to the new Control: Ultimate Edition you will still be able to play the base game on the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 and you’ll gain whatever improvements to frame rate that the new console delivers. This will be the first launch in which games make this kind of cross-generational leap from generation to generation, but in the era of gaming-as-a-service, this isn’t asking for content you haven’t paid for. It’s asking for the continual support gamers have every right to expect in return for being willing to pony up on a regular basis for “Season Passes” or various forms of DLC. Better to leave your game on the old platform than ship an “updated” version that treats every single customer who previously was loyal to your product like a second-class citizen.

But hey. At least nobody is going to feel left out.

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