'Batman' Video Game Aims To Get More Of Your Cash

The video game Batman: Arkham City is one of the hottest titles of the year. Its publisher, Warner Brothers, has found additional ways to make extra money from its sales. Renee Montagne talks to Kill Screen magazine co-founder Jamin Warren about the industry's creative business models.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Let's turn now to the video game industry. One of the latest blockbuster releases is "Batman: Arkham City."

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO GAME, "BATMAN: ARKHAM CITY")

MARK HAMILL: (as The Joker) I hope you're doing your best, Herr Bat. Because I've just had a horrible thought. We could both actually die here tonight.

MONTAGNE: OK. I don't know anyone who doesn't know that that's The Joker, but the game, which is put out by Warner Brothers, is expected to be one of the best sellers of the year. And for the makers of video games, the sale doesn't end at the cash register. Owners of the new Batman game can download additional levels of the game for $7. Later this month, the special download that allows players to add Batman sidekick, Robin, will also be available for yet another charge. Jamin Warren is co-founder of Kill Screen Magazine, that's a publication dedicated to video games, and he joined us from our New York bureau to talk about this business model. Good morning.

JAMIN WARREN: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now "Batman: Arkham City" is getting attention for more than its good reviews. And it's gotten good reviews. It is being sold with 10 percent of the game missing – that missing part would be Catwoman. How does it work?

WARREN: Well, there's a download code that appears in any new purchase of the game that can be redeemed when you play the game online for Xbox or PlayStation. By entering that code, you have access to new content. GameStop, which is one of the largest video game and used game retailers in the country actually has a special arrangement where used purchases of the game from GameStop will actually feature that code. But that's anomalous. Most people who buy the game, let's say second hand from a thrift store or from Amazon, or from a video game trading site won't have access to that content and will need to purchase it online, additionally.

MONTAGNE: It seems that video games are able to use this model in a way that music industry and the movies really can't. Why is that?

WARREN: That's absolutely true. You know, one of the things that video game publishers have benefitted from, is having complete control over how people access their content. So you think about in the movie industry, for example, when a DVD is released there are all different types of DVD players, whether it's Toshiba or Sony or whoever, they're all these different machines that will play DVDs. That's not the case with videogames. There are three large console manufacturers, the Sony PlayStation III, the Xbox 360 created by Microsoft, and the Nintendo Wii. And those are locked, in the sense that you can't just buy for example, pirated versions of the game very easily, so this has really created an ecosystem that allows for video game publishers to do things like this Catwoman downloadable content situation, knowing that people won't have anywhere else to go.

The other important thing that's worth noting is that piracy, for the most, part doesn't exist in the video game industry, at least in the United States. It's very difficult to pirate Xbox 360 or PlayStation discs, and it's even more difficult to do the necessary modifications to the hardware to actually make those discs play. So again, unlike the movie industry or unlike the music industry, because piracy is a huge problem for traditional console manufacturers, that again allows video game makers to experiment in new ways and do the types of things, have the type of commercial control over their customers that you wouldn't really find in a lot of other markets. That's pretty unique.

MONTAGNE: But, of course, to be clear, there is piracy in Web versions of the game.

WARREN: Yes. If you're a PC or Mac game producer, for example, piracy does exist in that form. That is a problem for that segment of the video game market. But in this context the PC game market is by multitudes much smaller than the traditional console market for your Xbox 360 or for your PlayStation III, that's just a smaller segment.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

WARREN: No problem. Thank you so much for having me.

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