A burning question has been asked time and again by developers who want to extend our gaming experience beyond what we’ve purchased on a retail disc and publishers who make the material available for purchase online.
After investing dozens of hours in a single-player or co-op campaign, then taking it further with online multiplayer, gamers are often asked to answer an increasing conundrum.
Looking at the history of consoles, I believe I am part of the last generation of teens who were raised on systems where the extent of unlockables and secrets were entirely contained on the physical copy of whatever game we had in our hands. If we felt unsatisfied with the amount of playing time, well…tough shit. Without the extent of social networking available to us now, we had to rely on magazines, gaming websites and (God help you) the clerks at our local game store. Forking over $50 of our hard-earned or hard-begged-from-your-parents money was a gamble at times, but a good gamer knew how to make a wise investment.
Now, in the age of the PSN Store, Xbox Live and whatever Nintendo has coming for us in the form of the Wii U, extending the life of a game through downloadable content is no longer a novelty, it is, for better or for worse, expected. This year’s E3 expo contained numerous games whose selling points were timed-exclusive DLC for either Sony or Microsoft. Even Mario, once a sacred cow for standalone gaming, is getting his first taste of paid DLC when New Super Mario Bros 2 is released on the 3DS in August. Gamers everywhere flock to blogs and Twitter to voice their frustrations and wishes of death and sodomy – sometimes in that order – upon Square-Enix, Ubisoft, Activision, and Electronic Arts.
Oh yes, EA. Let’s talk about EA.
I have not had the fortune to play through any of the Mass Effect series. I owe this to sporadically selling and repurchasing an Xbox 360 until finally owning one for good as I do now, and my OCD habits prevent me from starting any series in the middle – this is probably why I never picked up Fallout 3, but I digress. All of us know the flak Electronic Arts and Bioware caught for the ending to the series – our own KamikazeQ summed it up well in this piece and stated “Like it or not Mass Effect 3 was a story told in a way Bioware wanted, the vagueness of the ending was done to allow fans to draw their own conclusions on how the characters were affected.” This is something that I think gets lost on a number of spoiled players today, the same lot that likes to bitch about 30 second ads on Youtube before watching ANYTHING YOU’VE EVER WANTED TO SEE. Developers have a vision and a means to create that vision into a piece of interactive art. How we interpret it and appreciate it is entirely subjective. A bad game – broken controls, horrible camera, glitches – is one thing; a “bad story” cannot be defined by one person.
In the wake of Mass Effect 3, people seem to forget all of the great DLC experiences that have been given to us. One of my personal favorites is from the criminally underappreciated Prince of Persia of 2008, a visually breathtaking experience that elicited the widest smile from my face any time I took flight with Elika on my back or at my side. The ending of the game was heart-wrenching and maddening at the same time, with the unnamed Prince making a decision that did not sit well with me…but I had no reason to tell Ubisoft they should rewrite it. To my delight, they released the Epilogue, which shows the fallout of what the Prince did and why Elika was infuriated over it. For an extra $10, we were given another huge chunk to explore and a brand new conclusion to the story, one to which I hope Ubisoft eventually returns.
Although Capcom has become infamous over the past couple years for milking as much money out of gamers as possible, they also gave us a massive amount of extra content for Resident Evil 5. Lost In Nightmares gave us a glimpse back to the old style of Resident Evil games, showing us what happened before Chris and Jill became separated for some time. After the conclusion of Metal Gear Solid 4, Konami gave us an enormous encyclopedia on the Metal Gear Universe which would take anyone weeks to read…for free.
Let us not forget something else – were it not for the rise of digital purchases, we would not have some of the greatest indie games that have been released to us for a fraction of what we normally pay at a store. We would not have the dark, hopeless trek through the world of Limbo. We would not have the mesmerizing, gorgeously ruined landscape of Journey, now the bestselling game in all of the PSN. We also would not have the retro platforming and absolute mind-rape of an ending in Braid. Minecraft, Fez, Super Meat Boy, Scott Pilgrim…hell, DLC itself has even been satirized in a $1 indie game on the Xbox Live Arcade in DLC Quest.
Not all developers out there go into making a game with the mentality that they will release more content immediately for more money. Level 5 announced last week that after Professor Layton and the Mask of Miracle’s release, there will be a new downloadable puzzle released every day for an entire year. For free. While we cannot come to expect this from every game, it would be a nice precedent to re-establish.
In summation, people need to quit being so damned pessimistic and rant-ready when it comes to extra content given to us in the form of downloadable content. At times, it can feel like we’re being cheated out of extra money for things like new costumes, but they are just that – extra. It isn’t a requirement for another color of a shirt, and if you are paying money for things like ammo and points to spend on created characters in sports games, you’re just not that good of a player. On the same note, when we get the option to extend the lifetime of a game beyond that of earning a difficult achievement with another couple of chapters, we should be glad we have the opportunity.
Mass Effect DLC: Joystiq.com
Prince of Persia: Thatvideogameblog.com
Professor Layton: Theverge.com