Saturday, 16 July 2011

Gaming Equality

Following my rant on DLC, I thought I’d continue this trend of fury and write about another gaming phenomenon that really gets my dander up. I’ve never used that phrase before but it seemed better than, ‘gets all up in my shit’ which I’m pretty sure isn’t even relevant, but whatever.
As you may have gathered by now, I’m an Xbox owner, and apart from the tendency of the originals to internally combust because the design was utterly shite compounded by the soldering being performed by functionally inept monkeys, I’m incredibly happy with my purchase and have always considered it to be a fantastic piece of kit. You can divide real gamers into either PS3 owners or Xbox owners (the Wii doesn’t count. Neither do people who have both. You can just shove off) and for the most part, we’re all pretty happy because we can all get the same games and the same services. Of course, there’s always the inevitable and almost compulsory flame war that occurs between each group over which is the best console but it’s just become more of a light hearted community in-joke because we all know that the Xbox is better. Uhh, I mean, we all know that they’re both the same. Yes. Right.
I feel you man, I feel you.

But gamers are brought together in mutual irritation at the current state of the most horrible gaming industry decision ever:  Console exclusives. Now really, what the frickity frick is that all about? I struggle to understand why we as consumers are held to ransom over which console we’ve chosen to buy just because of what appears to me as an uninformed peon, to be an arbitrary decision made by a developer.  It seems the most ridiculous economic decision ever made since I bought a pair of hair curlers (I’d forgotten that I wasn’t a real girl). How does it make sense to cut out a huge section of your market? Games like Drake Unchartered and Heavy Rain come to mind, which, had they been on the Xbox also, I would have certainly bought, especially Unchartered which is just up my street. However, they weren’t available to me so the industry missed out on a nice wad of my cash. Serves them bloody right.
I do realise that certain exclusives can sway people one way or another if they’re deciding which console to buy, thereby giving Microsoft or Sony that midyear boost in consoles sales but after that initial potential spike, the losses must be greater when such a huge percentage of those consoles owners are unable to buy games they would otherwise normally buy. The console owners are caught in the crossfire of big company competition and I don’t think it’s fair. I freaking want to play Unchartered 
"Fuck you Microsoft/Naught Dog/Sony/Whoever
can be held responsible for the fact Minnie can't have me."
Also, it’s not just console exclusivity that I think is completely crap, for want of a more eloquent statement, but also agreements between developers and companies such as Microsoft and Activision, who bought the rights to release any Call of Duty DLC a month earlier on Xbox 360 than on the PS3. This isn’t fair, not when the game is released on both consoles anyway because it serves no purpose other than to infuriate an important section of the fan base. I very much doubt if being able to get the DLC early leads you to consider one console better than the other, so it really serves no major economic purpose, it just seems a selfish and unfair lesson in how to alienate your consumers. I don’t know how much Microsoft paid Activision for the privelage but I think it was an incredibly dick move by both parties.
It seems that I’m just one big gaming hippie. I just wanna be free!

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Wednesday, 6 July 2011

DLC Should Burn in Hell

It has long been a source of contention amongst gamers that we have to fork out just over £40 to enjoy a game on the day of its release, but we do so willingly for the most part because we know we have many hours of enjoyment ahead and because it’s a hobby we love and budget for. What we do not budget for however is the veritable tidal wave of DLC that the developers splurge forth when they plumb the depths of the cutting room floor.
DLC has long been criticized for merely being content that was cut from the original game, then released later in order to boost the bank balance at the expense of the lowly gamer. These aren’t unfounded accusations and this is frequently the case, like the DLC from Assassin's Creed II. Developers are working to rigorous deadlines and it’s not surprising that many ideas or missions have to get shelved in order for the story to flow and the game to get shipped on time. What’s not so understandable is then making us fork out for content that actually already exists, but just didn’t make it into the final cut. It’s like making someone a sandwich and missing out the butter, only to make them pay for it once they’ve already eaten half the sandwich. It’s stupid. Just like that analogy.
What’s more, the ridiculous currencies proffered by Microsoft and Nintendo for their respective consoles, means we often don’t realise the true cost of this DLC and are forced to buy more of these ‘points’ than is necessary to purchase the content. Such as Microsoft Points which I could rage about all day, every day until my teeth fall out and I grow a beard. For example, the DLC for Call of Duty Black Ops is 1200 Microsoft points, equating to about £10, yet the only denomination you could buy would be 2000 points, worth £17. This leaves you with an 800 point or £7 deficit that festers in your account until you get pissed off with it and buy some stupid freaking object that pointlessly floats around your disturbing little blank-faced avatar. It’s underhand and it’s unfair. The currency difference means depending on where you are in the world, you might be charged more and the injustice is compounded by the fact that the points/currency differences means not all of us know what we’re spending because the points make things seem cheaper than they really are. We become dissociated from the true cost because we’re lead astray with these pansy virtual points that lack the tangibility of a crispy ten pound note. I disagree with the points system on its most fundamental level.
I wholeheartedly believe that DLC should be free. I hate to bring it back to Black Ops as it most certainly isn’t the only offender but it has the highest profile DLC. When we all first bought the game, we paid £40. Nearly a year on and 3 map packs have been released, costing the equivalent of £30 (but of course with Microsoft points, the cost actually ends up being higher because you’re forced to purchase a greater amount than the 1200 points you need). When the fourth rumoured map pack is released, we’ll have paid as much for DLC as we paid for the original game and that just isn’t on. I am fully aware that this is all down to supply and demand. There will always be a percentage of gamers willing to pay extra for new content and so the developers certainly won’t give it away for free; it doesn’t make economical sense. But this idea of making gamers pay extra for content when they’ve already paid a veritable fortune for the main game seems unfair. It should be a case of “you scratch our back and we’ll scratch yours”. Instead, it’s us giving the developers a full on Thai massage, complete with a soothing foot rub and a piƱa colada while they pat us on the head and make us pay for our own lunch. It’s giving us nothing in return for our fealty and does nothing to promote goodwill between developer and gamer.
Just have a guess which one represents the gamer...

However, to blame the developers the whole time would be to do them a disservice. There have been cases that have cropped up where the developers intended the content to be free, but were shot down in flames by Microsoft who don’t like giving things away as it has the unfortunate side effect of not actually making them any money. Such as the case of an Xbox Live arcade game entitled Marble Blast Ultra back in 2007. Its developer, Pat Wilson of GarageGames, announced on his blog that they’d just finished an extensive new map pack with loads of new game types and bug fixes that had just been passed on to Microsoft for certification. They fully intended to give it away for free. He then announced weeks later that the free content would never be available, with the announcement from GarageGames being “we are unable to come to an agreement with our publisher for the Marble Blast Ultra update”. Tellingly, GarageGames is both the developer and the publisher for this game so it becomes evident they are referring to the literal publisher of their content, Microsoft. Although this wasn’t a majour game, there were rumours abound that the same was true for Gears of War which had far reaching implications for many fans. This was actually confirmed as true by the Epic President Tim Sweeny in the 1UP Yours Podcast on 4/6/2007. (Information from here: NeoGaf)
Although these have been the only publicised occasions, what’s to stop us from inferring that Microsoft do this across the board? If the developer intends for their content to be accessible to anyone who purchased their game, it is incredibly unfair and wrong for Microsoft to then force us to pay for it. Many developers, especially ones like Epic with such popular and high profile games, don’t want to divide their online community and they enjoy the close and trusting relationship that they have with their fan base, as well as it being a successful business model, as it extends the life of their multiplayer. Paid extra content goes against what companies like Epic stand for and it’s not up to Microsoft to interfere with those ideals.    
Another majour gripe I have with DLC is the inability to have control over it, even once you’ve bought it. Back when I didn’t have my own Xbox live account or console, I used to play on my brothers and the all consuming nature of my love for Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood meant that I really really wanted the Da Vinci Disappearance DLC. So I gave in and bought in on my brother’s account. I played it, had fun and then bought my own Xbox not too long ago. Can I have my DLC on my new account? No, of course I can’t, that would be far too generous. Same situation when the First Strike DLC came out for Black Ops. My brother and I decided to split the cost and buy it on his account, but of course, when I got my own account, I couldn’t benefit at all from my purchase and was left out of pocket and map pack-less while my brother just manically laughed in my face. And I was sad. This isn’t fair. You can move your game between consoles but not being able to take any of the other integral content is a kick in the face, considering you’ve paid for it. Even though it is quite obviously open to abuse, I think there should be some sort of personal code system, one per person that allows for a single transfer from one account to another. And to ensure people don’t just pass it between friends, perhaps a sort of verification system, similar to the one used by Microsoft to ensure your Xbox hasn’t been hacked. It sounds very wishy washy because it is; I quite obviously haven’t thought it through. This is my indignation at not being able to play content I legitimately purchased talking.
Sadly, DLC won’t ever be free because there’s no incentive to give something away when there are people willing to pay for it. But I believe any money that exchanges hands should be more of a token gesture, perhaps a few quid for any new map packs or missions, not £10 because that's a heck of a lot of expense on top of an already expensive past time.
/rant over

Please leave a comment and follow me on twitter @minnieliddell, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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