For some time now, the gaming industry has been running away with the concept of DLC (or micro-transactions) to squeeze more money out of the gaming populace. I feel that the concept of DLC - especially with relation to console games - has of late broken new grounds in being ridiculous and at times in being downright offensive. Even though they are the not the only guilty party, my recent experience with the last few releases from Electronic Arts has been depressing at best.
It all started with the DLC distribution system EA had planned for Dragon Age Origins on the PC. In simpler days, this would require downloading a single file that would update the game with new content. In this case, in keeping with the spirit of the game, EA decided to make a quest out of it: I had to create two accounts, one for Electronic Arts and another for BioWare Social Network. I then had to take part in a ritual that merged the two accounts. Post which I was offered an option to enter the redeem code for the DLC in order to unlock it in the game. This, of course failed and the item remained locked! I could of course buy the item using BioWare points. (After the platform owners and publishers, even developers want to start their own little country with their own little space bucks). What followed was a fetch quest for a fix. From forum to forum, from ticket to knowledge base... Long story short: by the time I was able to download the extra content, I had already finished the game twice. Adding insult to injury was the now-infamous NPC that advertised paid DLC quests. It is almost unthinkable to actually have to pay to take on a quest in an RPG; and here we were talking real-life money!
Army of Two: The 40th Day's multiplayer mode is locked for 30 days for people who haven't pre-ordered the game
The second jab of insult came with Army of Two: The 40th Day, which has a multiplayer mode called Extraction. The game asked me to enter a redeem code to be able to play this mode and after looking for answers on the web, this is what I find: the redeem code was given only to those customers who pre-ordered the game. The others -- who have paid the same amount -- had to wait for a month to access content that is already there on the disc. Mocking me.
Third time’s the charm though, and the knockout punch was Mass Effect 2. Mass Effect 2 (awesome game, btw) also shipped with a contrived system for content distribution called the Cerberus Network. The system was like the Dragon Age one; leveled up! Cerberus Network itself is locked-out and requires a redeem code to access. All new copies of Mass Effect 2 will come with this redeem code; however access to Cerberus Network is also up for grabs for 1200 MS Points (Rs 690 / $15 approximately). So if you have borrowed a copy of Mass Effect 2, or have bought a second-hand, used copy, then you will most likely need to pay money just to access the Cerberus Network. Let me repeat: if you don’t have the redeem code you need to pay Rs 690 just to be able to access a service through which you might find something worth purchasing.
Want to play as Zaeed in Mass Effect 2? Download the DLC? Want to dowload the DLC? Enter access code? No access code? Pay $15. Kthxbye
This, and what EA did with Dragon Age, is clearly meant to deal with used games trading. After incessantly nagging the retail industry for a piece of the used games pie, and failing, it looks like EA has taken matters into their own hands and have decided to reach straight into the pockets of us gamers.
As I mentioned earlier, Electronic Arts is not the only publisher guilty of employing a similar strategy. EA stands out due to its sheer size, number of high-profile releases and, dare I say, its reputation. I realize that the primary purpose of a business is to maximize income; however, wisdom also warns us against biting the hands that feed. If this trend continues, or escalates, it is likely to have a detrimental effect on two fronts: Firstly, a consumer maybe be hesitant to make a purchase if there is no viable way to recover part of the investment. Also, those who can afford only the lower-priced used games will either have to give up gaming or will be compelled to indulge in piracy.
Worst-case scenario for us gamers: upon seeing success in their strategy the publishers could take this to the next level and lock the entire game behind an activation code. This stratagem did wonders for Spore.
It was not too long ago that additional game content was distributed along with a game's patch. The bonus content served the purpose of a virtual cookie to placate gamers and to make amends for the bugs in the game. Today, we have to pay for extra maps, vehicles, skins, quests, or weapons. Thankfully, things are relatively better with PC gaming. But for how long? Are we going to continue to shell out money for content that is already on disc? Are we going to pay extra for a service or a feature that should have been there from day one? Is buying a used game a huge crime against the producers of the game, or is it too lucrative a pie for them to go without? What is the end game here?