Micro-transactions… are the future. In the future, the principle game will be less important than it even now is. We’ve already learned to expect from pioneers in the DLC field like BioWare that a retail game may be half of what it ends up being… and not through the antiquated idea of a full expansion (although those are still nice and profitable too, I’m sure) but rather through add-ons. DLC. Updates. Extras. Once we’re paying for little tidbits to enhance the game we’ve already paid full retail for, we are just walking, talking wallets for the developer.
In a way? This is actually a good thing. We can expect more content to be established over time and to bridge the gap from release to release. Does this seem lazier, and a way to push retail titles out faster? Unquestionably. However, even with full eyes-wide-open knowledge that I’m being exploited somehow… I’d earnestly rather be able to download and play a few new scenarios over the course of a year that eventually complete the game I had purchased… rather than finishing a more-complete-at-retail-launch game… and having nothing to play for a year.
Unfortunately, I think the developers realized this even before I did… and it led them to release games that weren’t even ready to go, reasoning that they could be completed later. Still, the idea of rushed production isn’t new. Let’s take the example that I’m sure some of us are still angry about… Knights of the Old Republic II. Obsidian’s sequel offering to the critically acclaimed original threatened to be better than BioWare’s classic original in literally every way. We had more characters, more sophisticated interactions, a more diversified playing field in terms of character customization as well as available items. We threatened to go to more places, more diverse locales, and places not quite so stubbornly grounded in the Star Wars trilogy canon. In short, the game threatened to be an all-time great. Oh, except that a third of the content was cut before release. It was released with roughly ten trillion bugs. It was released, in short, because the producers wanted to make money for Christmas… rather than put out a game that would endure even through 2011.
But if Knights of the Old Republic II were released in 2011… we would have gotten the HK factory. It would have been a $5 (U.S.) add-on, but we would have gotten it. We would have gotten patches and updates to make the game stable and play-able so that we could have gotten the HK factory. So that we could have gotten the Sith Academy. Or whatever else cut content we found ourselves to be lacking.
Given that I was going to buy Knights of the Old Republic II either way… and given that I’m going to buy incomplete DLC-driven money-grubbing games today… I guess I’ve just accepted, at this point, the inevitability of DLC and micro-transactions in general. If I can spend $5 at a time for some cool add-on, I do it almost without thinking. At least, for my favourite games. If the retail release is garbage, I’ll never think about it again. So I suppose that’s the line that developers have to walk in this brave new world. Make it good enough that I’m willing to play it on-and-off for a year. This will keep the game always in my head, so I’m already thinking about the sequel… and it will keep me happy, so that I don’t write scathing reviews about your product.
Phew. Rant over. Alright, here’s something that might potentially become a regular feature for me. Four (or more, but this time, four) DLCs or add-ons I played recently. My impressions, whether they were worth the money I shelled out, and what they did to the overall game. These are, in this case, in no particular order, but I did include the launch DLC for Dragon Age II… just because.
Jill Valentine / Shuma Gorath – Additional Characters for Marvel vs. Capcom 3 - It’s been two weeks (or more?) and I still earnestly can’t believe what I paid for these characters. As anyone could have guessed (and, really, since these two at least were in the game files anyway, it didn’t take a savant to anticipate) the first ‘major’ DLC for MvC3 is the addition of fan-favourites from MvC2. Unfortunately for my wallet, the idea of being able to use Jill Valentine and Shuma Gorath again somehow justified the cost. Given that these add-ons were basically unlocks (costing me roughly 100 KB of space on my XBox 360′s hard drive) and not new content at all, I’m extremely unimpressed with their addition. Couldn’t I have gotten this as a bonus for pre-ordering? I already forgave developers for adding cut content on later as DLC packs, but I feel like this reaches a point where content is deliberately cut in order to make a few extra dollars. Are video games not enough of a growth industry? I’ve got an idea – make a better game. Sell me a half dozen characters as an add-on, not two individual ones each of which cost me a few bucks. As much as it pains me, I really can’t discourage this DLC enough. What a disappointment!
The Golems of Amgarrak – Add-on Scenario to Dragon Age: Origins – I reviewed this just today, so I won’t spend a ton of time on it. Considering its cost, and how much I enjoyed the original game, I can’t say that I regretted this purchase. After playing it, I’m sternly disapproving of the marketing of this DLC as some kind of super ultimate difficult challenge. I thought the Emerald and Ruby Weapons in Final Fantasy VII were harder… and they were literally just a matter of patience in game-play. And fine, say what you will, that in a game that allows tactical thinking you can’t make a challenge that is difficult for everyone yet also possible for everyone… but don’t try to tell people who really enjoyed the tactical combat of Origins and were hoping for more just how hard Golems would be. Because it wasn’t.
Arrival – Add-on Scenario to Mass Effect 2 – Very much following in the vein of the Overlord DLC, we are treated to what is ultimately an elongated single mission. For this scenario, we have Commander Shepard rolling solo, and the scenario is quite a bit more challenging than normal – mostly as a result of this solo-Shepard format. However, I can’t argue with the scenario design, which is fun to play through. The DLC is about the average BioWare-single-scenario-add-on length… but yet again, the marketing let me to expect something that I don’t feel like I got. Arrival didn’t do much to bridge ME2 and ME3 for me. Now, of course, I’ve envisioned scenarios in which it stands as a direct bridge, but the DLC still felt a little lazy to me… and not something that profoundly changes the way I felt about the setting. I was earnestly disappointed after the DLC that we’d received from the ME2 team in the past, with Shadow Broker, Kasumi’s Stolen Memory, and Project Overlord all head-and-shoulders above this offering. Still, it was fun, and if you’re hungry for a re-visit to ME2, Arrival isn’t a terrible choice.
The Black Emporium / The Exiled Prince – Launch DLC for Dragon Age II – As a pleased pre-order customer of this game, I received both of these DLC packs via the usual unwieldy 4957 digit prize code entry which gave me permission to spend twenty minutes downloading add-on content for my launch copy of Dragon Age II. My fundamental issues with the format aside, I’m reasonably happy with the fact that I got these add-ons for free. The Black Emporium is little more than a curiousity, despite its potential. Its existence provides a solid jump to your Hawke in the early stages of the game, but you earnestly may never visit the in-game Emporium more than once… maybe twice.
As for the Exiled Prince… it was actually a very strong DLC. I may not have liked Sebastian Vael as much as I liked the game’s stock companions, but he has a very complete role in the story. He’s interwoven with elements of the plot, with events from the previous game, and with the most important underlying themes of Dragon Age II. He feels like an integral part of the story if you take the time to do each of his plot scenarios and speak with him when the opportunity is given. Of course, as is common with this game, the overall sheen of Exiled Prince is marred by the bugs it launched with. Most notable amongst them? Not being able to earn achievements from the DLC. I don’t mean to sound overly critical… but this is just unacceptable, particularly for customers who would have purchased this add-on after market, not received it for free with a pre-ordered copy.