Issue: The core gaming industry faces two great challenges to its continued success. First, the industry faces the continued pressure by politicians and activists to impose draconian regulations on the type of content allowed in video games in order to protect the well being and proper development of the nation's (and indeed, the world's) children. Grand Theft Auto V will soon be released. How soon until Hillary Clinton or Rick Santorum calls for national regulation or even a multi-national treaty regulating the supposed pornographic and obscene content they claim is in video games? Second, the industry has faced a difficult battle at getting the gaming community to accept necessary price increases to support fair profits in light of the added costs in developing games. Instead, that same community has been hoodwinked by leeches such as Gamestop, Ebay, Best Buy, GameFly, and others to abuse first-sale doctrine and literally take the food out of the mouths of the gaming artists that work so hard under the guidance of their publishers. While DLC and multiplayer have helped stem the rising time of used games devouring the gaming economy, this has resulted in irrational anger toward "Day-1 DLC" and "on-disc DLC" or, as more appropriately viewed, Game+ DLC content.
Solution: Establish an industry standard that makes all video games T or lower core and a T+, M, and/or AO DLC version available by DLC that can only be purchased by credit card. All games will have a mainstream version with no curse words, sexualized cut scenes, or excessively violent imagery (no blood, just the bullets). When in doubt, turn to FCC guidance to broadcasters on what is appropriate during the 8-9pm hour block.
1) Ensuring that mainstream versions are family appropriate will silence the critics
The most vivid and compelling scenario that is offered to worried parents is innocently purchasing an Xbox or Play Station and then coming home one day to discover poor Jimmy cavorting with prostitutes and criminals while playing Grand Theft Auto. Not since welfare reform or opposition to single-payer healthcare has an issue arisen that is so appealing to the press and ripe for bipartisan or even multi-national action. Make no mistake, change is coming. The industry needs to make sure that it has a voice in the process.
While the gaming industry has tried to forge a middle ground through its voluntary rating system blocking point-of-sale underage purchases and parental controls, these efforts have proven unsatisfactory. No one checks for driver's licenses on ebay and GameStop cannot be relied upon to adequately check customers for ID. Furthermore, parents rightly complain that parental controls are too confusing and time-consuming to implement. More importantly, this method denies profitability to the publishers and developers because it carves out a games potential customer base according to demographics. These solutions thus both cost the industry money and do not satisfy the critics.
A better solution is instead to limit Teen+ content to a credit-card only DLC purchase. This way, parents no longer have to fiddle with challenging parental systems or rely on the integrity of the market to ensure that rogue agents do not sell their children inappropriate content. Instead, parents simply need to not give Jimmy their credit card. Better yet, every game's core mechanics will be available for the entire customer base to purchase so potential sales will not be lost.
Also, by locking away Teen+ content to digital sales only, the gaming industry will limit the opportunities of governmental regulation. Unlike physical goods, digital goods arguably do not enter the governmental territory and thus cannot be regulated by the entity. While this principal has come under attack with recent governmetnal action against off shore casinos and digital locker services, the principal still seems to provide at least partial protection. With some effective lobbying and campaign contributions it is not hard to imagine that regulators will concede this important distinction between physical and digital goods.
2) The gaming community will embrace Teen+ DLC content because it will provide irrefutable additional value
One of the biggest complaints against Game+ DLC content is that the community views it as content that "should" have been in the original disc. But by making a clear distinction between mature content and fmily content, while keeping core gameplay firmly within the initial purchase, mature DLC becomes additional and compelling value worth a small increase in price. After all, if gamers happily will fork over a dollar for a custom hat or piece of armor, then they certainly will pay $10 to $20 more to hear their favorite character use mature curse words or engage in tasteful sexual activity. Also, we can avoid offending the sensibilities of those that are fearful of experiencing homosexual content while still addressing the needs of the LGBT community. Like sidestepping the argument between adult vs. children content, the gaming industry can sidestep the arguments on sexual orientation in gaming by giving the customer real choice in what type of world they would like to experience.
3) This solution will work because it already works for other media
Customers are conditioned to take additional steps, and pay more, for more mature content. In television, if you want family friendly content the viewer sticks with broadcast television and PBS. If the viewer wants a little more mature content, he or she can purchase a cable package to experience FX and AMC but still includes broadcast and syndicated broadcast content. If even more mature content is desired, then HBO's Game of Thrones or Starz's Spartacus is available for a small $10-$15 increase (per channel!). And finally, if the viewer desires pornographic content they can purchase a pay-per-view or very expensive adult channel. At each stage the customer chooses the adult level of content and assigns the value for that content. But unlike television, gaming allows this provider to increase the content level to the same product while maintaining artistic integrity. It's a win-win-win for the publishers, developers and consumers!
Similar analogies can be found in other types of media like movies, music, and books.
Obviously there will be some short-sighted critics of this idea. But here, the enemy of the enemy can be the industry's friend. If the industry, quietly, engages in pre-negotiations with political figures to address the inevitable controvery and offer a solution, then the industry can in turn respond to the critics that this is the only way to provide the content the consumer desires. In essence, the gaming industry can argue it is saving the content from government censorship. The politicians can also claim victory by showing that they have "cleaned-up gaming". It's a win-win-win, again, for the publishers, politicans, and consumers!
The solution of offering T+, M, and/or AO versions through DLC with a T or under core fits threads the needle of artistic integrity, parental concerns, and needs for profitability. It answers the concerns of critics, desires of fans, and demands of special interest groups. It offers real market-based solutions for conservatives and provides risque content for liberals. Also, and perhaps most importantly, the solution opens up further avenues for revenue. By making versions of games DLC only, it helps additional sales of pre-existing DLC content and makes the game a continuous revenue creator. It also allows potential exploration into the lucrative adult content market beyond Rockstar's wildest imaginations. The only question remaining is not should the industry adopt this solution but ask why has it not been implemented already?