Hey there Timmy! Check out this cool game! That game balance! That story! Those characters! That flawless online netcode! You want it, right? *Timmy nods eagerly* Well, it can be yours for only $59.99! Oh? What’s this? If you want our super slick two player online mode? You just gotta download it from the Playstation Network for $7.95! And don’t forget to buy the other half of the characters in the game for only $4.95 each!
Inherently, downloadable content is great, it extends the life of a game and it generates further revenue. But what happens when you use these forces for evil?
Ok, so a while back I was pretty psyched for the upcoming Street Fighter X Tekken and it has finally hit! Game mechanics aside, it appears that twelve characters are hidden on the disk to be unlocked via paid DLC. Yes, about a quarter of the cast is paid DLC only and they’re already on the disc, set to go…well…until after you break out your credit card…
Capcom’s (Judge bashed on Capcom last summer) official upfront explanation is that the reason why the twelve characters were already on the disc is because it would help compatibility with other players who did not pay for those characters. Yes, so it’s like buying a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle, only getting 400 pieces (the final 100 you have to go back to the store and pay more for) and the puzzle makers explain that it’s for compatibility with the other puzzles owned by those fans that don’t feel like having a complete puzzle (or are unable to shell out for the final pieces). Logically, given the chance everybody wants a complete puzzle. Everyone wants a complete game. Just because some fans won’t access those characters does not mean that they would not want them. Pull a stunt like this and everybody goes home like a loser. The overwhelming majority of game owners that will spend about 4-8 bucks each character (over 12 characters that will be about 48-96 more dollars if sold individually) will feel like they bought half a game at full price and those that won’t buy feel like they’re missing out. Nobody wins.
Sad thing is that this is a growing trend, not just on the west where y’all are more familiar with it but even on the east. I personally remember when Neptune came out, two guest characters Gust and NISA, were already on-disc paid DLC. Two party members of your RPG had to be purchased for an additional eight dollars. And what was Idea Factory’s rationale?
Those fans that really care will buy it. We will leave it as an option.
Hear that, readers? Only real diehard bonafide fans will buy, so worry not your pretty little heads. Now this can be slightly less egregious in the case of Hyperdimension Neptunia (sequel recently came out) because Gust and NISA are mere side characters with unimportant side-quests. You’re not gonna miss 100% if you don’t buy them nor will you get too much of an extra edge if you pay up. However, that’s an RPG, where downloadable side-quests are mere extras. Here, we’re talking about characters in a fighting game, elements of the core gameplay itself. After all, you’re definitely not playing the fighter for “story mode”, “mission mode”, or the “gallery”. You’re playing for the characters and the multiplayer. Paid downloadable palette swaps and costumes are absolutely fine since they do have bearing to the game itself, but remove a character from a fighter and that’s akin to removing a plot point in an RPG or a necessary power-up in a platformer.
The thing is this, DLC is great. In the past you would need to produce an append expansion disc or perhaps a whole new game altogether. But with the advent of doling out pieces of a game and even game fixing patches over the net. The number of Guilty Gear XX Accent Core editions is staggering. You start towing the line when your additional content (not game balancers) come in as an extra price tag you have to pay when your copy of the title comes in. It’s here that you start to lose the trust of your buyers. When a kid on an allowance or a gamer who isn’t in his or her settled-down job evaluates what title to buy, they won’t see a $50 or $60 price tag when they see your game; they’ll add up all the other costs they’ll have to pay to fully enjoy the game when they buy it. Now it would be completely different if the DLC was not on disc and not released on day one. Here, the buyer would go home with the game, play it, and as DLC rolls out, if he or she is still loyal to the game, chances are that he or she will buy it too. If by that time many months later, the gamer is no longer interested in investing in the game, he or she will not buy the DLC, or even be aware it exists. Hm…this looks familiar. The fans that care to have the DLC will obtain it and those fans that do not care to invest in the game will not pay for it.
And special to Capcom, losing fan trust is a big issue, perhaps the biggest issue the company faces. Ask anyone on the fence about Street Fighter X Tekken and quite sure the company has lost many buyers. Why is that? Not only will one have to buy the extra characters, one will also have to keep an eagle eye out for a hypothetical “Super Street Fighter X Tekken” down the line, which would make all that investment meaningless. An enhanced version with all the DLC characters on it would be betrayal to all those early adopters and restricting them to paid DLC would strip any reason to have bought the vanilla game in the first place. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. The cherry on top is the insanely short time frame this would happen in. Remember how early on Ultimate Marvel VS Capcom was announced? What we have here is a perfect storm to lose buyer trust and confidence. Hidden fees of “unlocked content” masking a higher price, the threat of a very imminent “revision”, and said revision’s own hidden price tag all make a triple threat that combines to form a ridiculously high barrier of entry. This fighting game aficionado is already wary, that’s for sure, and that’s before even taking the very game itself into account.
If players have to debate whether or not to buy a game, it shouldn’t be over if they feel like they will be sold snake oil, it should be over the quality of the game. Yes, sometimes a revision is inevitable, but the key is to make it sincere. For example, we stuck it out with BlazBlue Continuum Shift for the longest time and got free patches galore so that it was technically “Continuum Shift II”. And only when the clamor for redone story modes and other such things came that we received a Continuum Shift: Extend. An author and editor do not publish a book without spell-checking it, only to release a “super turbo” edition of the same book a few months later with the spelling and grammar actually revised. No, the artist of words puts his or her best foot forward when getting the novel to the bookshelf. The director makes sure he or she has given the best cut of film to the theaters, with any need for revision noticed far after its run in theaters. If game developers wish to make games their canvass, they should put into making the best games they can the first time around; never being half-hearted about anything. As for me, I’m still going to wait to get my hands on Street Fighter X Tekken, I dodged the bullet for U:MVC 3 and I’m not looking to get hit anytime soon. If you know a friend who was an early adopter, try playing the game with him or her. If a “Super” edition comes out within the next half a year, at least you can then buy that one and cheer said friend up for taking one for the team! Join me next time when I interview a disgruntled Mega Man.
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