I’ve mentioned quite a few different companies over the last year on this blog. Some of what I’ve had to say was good, quite a lot of it was criticism. But then, I’m a critic and a pundit. If I did nothing but constantly praise companies, I’d be a lap-dog at best, and disingenuous at worst. Neither of which I care to be.
My goal is, and always has been, advocating for the consumer. You. Me. Mike. All of us. In the current gaming market, as over-saturated as it is with Steam Green Light titles, pre-order bonuses, seasons passes and the like, it’s more important than ever for us as gamers to be prudent in how we spend our cash. Especially when you consider some of these packages cost in excess of $100 or more.
So, how do we define “money well spent” or “value”?
First things first, it’s going to be subjective. Mike and I were talking about this the other day. You see, we have differing opinions (to put it mildly) about what constitutes a good game. The games I play tend to be a little slower-paced than Mike’s. I like rogue-likes for example.
With that in mind, we’re never (or hardly ever) going to agree on what constitutes value on behalf of gamers. So the best I can do is lay out why I consider some pieces of DLC to be worth your coin, and why others aren’t. I’ll try to use examples of both types.
The first thing I want to mention is gating players off from what should be essential content. This is a huge no-no in my opinion. I should be granted the full game for the price I pay. The worst offender for this in recent memory was Mass Effect 3. Not only did this game launch with a much-lauded (by EA) day-one DLC in the form of From Ashes, but it was on-disc DLC. Nothing makes me angrier than on-disc DLC you have to pay for. I’ve already paid for the disc, and now I have to pay again to access the contents?
The From Ashes DLC not only gave you a new squad member, opening up more gameplay opportunities and in-game choices to affect the universe, but also provided you with the ultimate fate of the Protheans. We had previously known the Reapers wiped them out, but the new character, Javik, was able to explain exactly how. All of this was critical information to someone who played Mass Effect. It’s a huge part of the story. And it was on disc, but unavailable unless you paid another $10 on top of the already high price of $69.99.
And EA didn’t stop there.
There were other DLC packages for ME3, only one of which (Leviathan) I consider to be unessential to the ultimate completion of the game. For example, The Citadel DLC provided you with the opportunity to see the final coming together of several supporting characters’ storylines before the final battle at the end of the game. It also established the relationships which would develop post-game, in both romantic and platonic fashions.
Free at the time was the “extended cut” of Mass Effect 3’s ending which actually, you know, gave an ending to the game. These days, however? It’s $10.
Read the last sentence again. Ten dollars to see how your game ends. I’m starting to feel like EA is a Scooby-Doo villain. By and large, this is the best (or worst) example of consumer abuse I can think of, as far as video games are concerned. And worse, now several game companies have started following in EA’s footsteps.
Consider the new Dragonball game, Dragonball Xenoverse, which is actually gating characters in its fighting game roster behind DLC. Evolve is doing this as well, making the Hunter and Monster season passes different. There’s not just one pass, oh no. You have to purchase both, at $25 and $15 respectively. This is not a good way to interact with your consumers – nickel and diming them just to be on an even playing field with other people.
Of course, there’s always the argument of “just don’t buy it.” And, to some extent, I can see the merit in this, especially when leveled at Evolve. But not with my other two examples. Taxing and tolling your consumer for the privilege of buying part of a game they should already have access too is sneaky. It is underhanded. It is wrong.
Please, understand I’m not saying companies don’t have a right to make a dollar. Of course they do. We’re buying a product they are selling. But there’s a way to go about it which doesn’t make you look like a lying, seedy little scumbag.
Case in point: Good Guy Bungie, Blizzard and Valve. Three major corporations who don’t abuse the heck out of their consumer relationships.
Bungie produced Destiny, as we are all aware since I can’t stop banging on about it. And, previously, I had stated here the money I paid wasn’t worth what I got for the most recent expansion pack, The Dark Below.
Bungie noted the criticism I (and every other critic out there) leveled at it, and has promised to make good on its next expansion, House of Wolves, due out some time this year. It should be longer, have a deeper level of content, and feel more like an expansion, not an add-on, or quest pack. This has made the value of the $35 I paid for both expansions together go up.
Valve and Blizzard have gone a different direction. All of their DLC or pay-for addons to their games are cosmetic in nature.
Hats. Yes, the hats are a legitimate business model.
Blizzard even has cosmetic armor, non-combat pets and mounts for World of Warcraft. None of which do anything other than say “I have disposable income.” They managed to find the formula again with Hearthstone. It’s perfectly possible to play and gain power for free. Do your quests, earn your in-game gold, and buy packs. It works. I’ve done it. I’ve even scored my favourite legendary card this way.
However, it’s also fun to buy the booster packs they offer in the digital store. I’ve spent a few hundred dollars on it, and not once have I felt like my money was wasted. I’ve played collectible card games for a long time – Pokemon, Digimon, Magic, etc., and I consistently buy booster packs to enhance my gaming experience.
In addition, these cards are balanced (well, except Dr. Boom). This means my spending $50 on card packs doesn’t give me any direct advantage over my opponent. Sure, it may take them longer to develop the collection I have. But they will get there in the end.
And this is the trick, isn’t it? Don’t make the player feel like they need to have the DLC you’re offering in order to get the most out of their game. Make them feel like it will enhance an already enjoyable experience. If companies can just learn this, they’ll have more clients for season passes and DLC than they know what to do with.