PAYING TO WIN
With DLC and exclusive content for pre-orders all the rage, gamers have been programmed to defend an industry that refuses to love them back…
It’s weird how discussions around the encroachment of free-to-play elements on traditional, blockbuster game releases changes over time. When the DLC concept was birthed back at the beginning of the last generation console, the vocal minority despised it (most people didn’t know what ‘DLC’ stood for). Nowadays it’s a stock standard part of any new $99 video game. Indeed Nintendo – a sacred cow for Gen Y consumers and media alike – were championed for introducing it to the Mario Kart series last year.
Meanwhile, pre-order incentives and ‘Special Editions’ have become notoriously complex, requiring a copywriter’s fine eye for detail in order for purchasers to know exactly what they’re getting and / or missing out on. That’s just bloody capitalism for you, and if consumers continue to engage with it publishers will continue to do it, even while limited edition steelcase editions of Assassin’s Creed languish in sale bins only months down the track.
It’s hard to maintain a sense of perspective if you’re what marketing departments call a ‘hardcore gamer’. The market has become begrudgingly conditioned to DLC and pre-order incentives, to the extent that we don’t bat an eyelid when we learn that the $99 we’re going to spend on, say, Mortal Kombat X, may not include a character that has appeared in many of the series’ previous installments. That’s just video games!
But on the topic of Mortal Kombat, did you know that you can buy 30 Mortal Kombat ‘easy fatalities’ for $4.99? For those unfamiliar with the franchise, ‘fatalities’ are Mortal Kombat’s brutal finishing moves. When you perform a fatality, you’re pressing a complex sequence of buttons in order to show your opponent who’s boss. While the ‘fatality’ hardly affects the competitive outcome of the match, it has traditionally been a way for advanced players to express their superiority in the game. It’s an action you gain through mastery. Now you can buy them.
This is cynical and even a little bit condescending. Of course, game publishers and developers will claim that “more options are better” (like Turtle Rock did when defending Evolve’s labyrinthine pre-order incentives) but there’s a limit to that. While free-to-play games make a mint from selling progress to impatient players, when you pay $99 you’re doing so because you care about games. You care about getting good at executing fatalities. You care about how your adeptness progresses. You earn that fatality.
The whole landscape reeks of greed, not ‘options’, and what’s worse is consumers will defend these transactions because they’ve been conditioned to it. “That’s just the way it is,” I often hear, or read on the internet. In an industry where marketing lingo is actually inherited by its consumers (see: DLC, hardcore gamer, ‘content’), it’s no wonder the Triple A schedule is looking pretty barren in 2015. Assassin’s Creed, COD, probably a FIFA. What else? I’d argue for the industry to make real progression, it needs to think smaller. We need to stop buying erosive, pay-to-win DLC and pre-order packs that cherry pick ‘exclusive’ content. Just stop. Seriously. It’ll work.
Shaun is editor at PC Gamer AU