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…

Australian T3 - - OPINION -

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

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