The lights are on
In the beginning, you bought a game. You brought that cartridge home. And then you played it until you had to blow on it to make it work. Those days weren’t perfect, but they were pretty darn good.
Then, we evolved. We connected to the Internet. We bought DLC. And sure, not all of it was worth our money, but think of the good stuff. For every Horse Armor, there is the Shivering Isles. For every lame skin pack, there is Skarlet or Martian Manhunter. At least with the cosmetic stuff, you know what you’re getting. Of course, it didn’t stop there.
The latest DLC trend is far more insidious. Publishers are pairing the blind-buy model of trading card games like Magic: The Gathering with full-priced, retail titles. Ryse, Powerstar Golf, and other Microsoft first-party titles aren’t the first to do this, but they are the most recent.
EA piloted this on consoles with the walled-off Ultimate Team modes in its sports titles. These work because they don’t impact the core experience. If you want to ignore them, it’s perfectly simple to do so. Just don’t enter that mode. All of the other features you’ve come to expect (pick up games, career, franchise, etc.) are all still there as you remember them.
When EA brought the concept to Mass Effect 3 it offered players an option to spend real money to influence multiplayer progress. Unlike the sports games, this is not a segregated mode. It's the core multiplayer experience.
All of a sudden, that retail game you purchased isn’t a complete product. It’s a starter set. You have some content and the “rule set,” but if you want to make the most out of your experience (especially when it comes to online play), get ready to shell out some additional money.
At this point, I have no problems with publishers offering mechanisms to speed acquisition of in-game items. Games that sell in-game currency aren’t my favorite, but as long as the items have fixed price tags with a guaranteed result, the playing field remains largely balanced. Spending $5 to speed up acquisition of a weapon that can also be unlocked by any player with the in-game cred has no long-term unbalancing effects.
As someone who has played collectible miniature and card games, chased that rare, and dumped the money into buying singles, I understand why publishers would want to get their beaks wet. There is good money to be made in blind-buy.
Doing it on top of a $60 price tag is wrong. It’s anti-consumer. It’s abusive.
Development costs are skyrocketing, and squeezing every extra dollar out of consumers is critical to the bottom line. Reaching into your wallet for a big DLC pack isn’t where the real money is. Publishers would rather walk behind you following a trail of George Washington’s face consistently for a year than pick up the occasional Andrew Jackson.
Ultimately, whether this practice continues is up to the players. Buy in, and you can expect this practice to proliferate. Put your foot down, and maybe blind-buy packs in full-priced games will go the way of online passes.
Email the author Mike Futter, or follow on Google+, Twitter, and Game Informer.