The recent release of Destiny kicks off a busy Fall for exciting new releases. Tons of triple-A games are coming out in the next few weeks and months. But up till now, there hasn’t been that much to play on PS4 and Xbox One. As a result, the game I’ve played most on these consoles recently is a small shooter for the PS4 called Resogun. For those who don’t know, it plays like a simplified twin-stick shooter. I say “simplified” because part of the premise is that you can only shoot horizontally, left or right, as you move your Galaga-like craft around the stage. As an aside, the game is excellent though short, technically only having 5 levels. Being excellent but short, the player might be expected to finish the game wanting more. This brings me to my topic for today, which has to do with the placement of DLC in Resogun, an issue that started to peeve me with the release of Mario Kart 8, the recent racing game from Nintendo, but has now annoyed me enough to warrant a good venting.
The main menus of Resogun and Mario Kart 8 are actually very similar considering the disparity of genres. Both contain the following options: Single Player, Local Multi-player, Online Multiplayer, Options, and Shop. The Shop option takes the player to a place that lets the player purchase and download add-on content. In the case of Resogun, it directs you to the Playstation Network Store, where you can buy the “Heroes” expansion for Resogun, containing two new modes and a bunch of unlockable trophies. In Mario Kart 8, it takes you to the Nintendo e-Shop where you can buy 2 packs of additional characters to play as and two sets of Courses to race on. This is fine with me. While it is true that both the PS4 and Wii U have buttons on their controllers that let you instantly go to their respective online stores to purchase DLC add-ons without quitting the game, I can understand the desire to put a place in the game were players would see it and think to check the store. Otherwise, I might not know there was any Resogun DLC at all unless I happened to check the store on my own just on a hunch. Having a place for DLC seems reasonable. But both games go a step further, which is where we get into the meat of today’s topic.
One menu deeper from the main menu in Resogun, there is a curious thing. If I select “Single Player” from the main menu in the game, it gives me another menu with four options: Arcade Mode, Single Level, Survival, and Demolition Mode. However, the latter two of these options are greyed out, so the player can only choose Arcade and Single Level. At first, you might think the other two must be unlocked. After all, the “Master” option on the difficulty select screen is greyed out in the exact same way. But if you try to select Survival or Demolition Mode, the game give you the message that these modes are part of the “Heroes” DLC for Resogun, which can be purchased for $5.99 from the Playstation Store. Mario Kart 8 does something very similar. When go to the character select screen, the bottom row of characters has a colored band on them. If you try to select any of those characters, the game will inform you that they are part of the upcoming DLC packs and asks if you want to pre-order the DLC for $11.99. The same situation exists for the last two sets of courses on the Course select screen.
Downloadable Content is by definition an add-on to an existing game. So, seeing these options, it would be fair to wonder how options exist in the menus for game modes, characters, ext. that didn’t exist when the original game was finished (I can’t confirm for Resogun, but Nintendo expressly stated that they did not begin work on the DLC characters and courses until after the original game had shipped). Well the answer is that in both cases, mandatory software updates to both games added the menu items after their original release. As you might be able to tell from my tone thus far, I have an objection to SONY and Nintendo automatically placing these menu item into the games of consumers who have not chosen to buy the content that these menu items are for.
Essentially, this tactic amounts to a dirty marketing strategy. And in the end, it offends the same sense that many gamers today have when they hear, for example, about Activision developing the DLC content for Call of Duty concurrently with the regular game, but choosing to hold those muti-player maps and bonus items back to be sold piecemeal to the consumer at a premium after we have already purchased the main game. Gamers feel, perhaps rightfully so (though that is an argument for another day) that they are being tricked into buying an incomplete product and resent paying more to experience everything a game has to offer. This is a feeling that SONY and Nintendo are using in reverse to drive sales and advertise their DLC in Resogun and Mario Kart 8. Even though they didn’t actually hold back content, by putting the DLC menus in front of gamers that have’t purchased DLC in this way, they are making us feel that our games are incomplete and temping us to pay to complete them. Whether that is fair from a logical supply/demand ethics standpoint is debatable, but I can testify that when I select “Single Player” in Resogun and fully half of the Modes that are displayed are inaccessible, I certainly feel like my game is missing something, and I fully feel myself being manipulated by SONY.
SONY and Nintendo are essentially going the extra step to dangle a product in front of you and deny you access unless you pay. This is the equivalent of the grocery store finding a way to make it so that you don’t need to choose to shop for food to see their products, but instead they come uninvited into your home and put a bunch of delicious looking food on your shelves that you can’t touch unless you pay a premium. It seems ridiculous, doesn’t it? It’s actually just like the mini-bars in Hotels. And we all know how reasonably priced those items are, right? $5.00 seems reasonable for a bottle of water (sarcasm)! Temptation is powerful, which also raises an ethical question for children, especially considering that both company’s digital stores allow you to store credit card information and then are dangling products in front of children that are just a few clicks from purchase. Just last year, Consumer rights groups in the European Union got a new set of laws passed restricting just this sort of tactic in downloadable games for phones because too many children were being tricked into spending large sums of money on micro-transactions in games while playing on their (or their parent’s) phones. Maybe we are not yet at the point of legislation with home consoles, but we seem to be heading in that direction. I for one have concluded that I would prefer all parts of a product, including its menus, to stay in the store until I choose to go to the store myself purchase it.
Sorry for such a lengthy article this week, but this one really got my goat (so to speak). What do you think about DLC and micro-transactions being forced in front of consumers? Let us know at email@example.com or by leaving a comment. Also, check out Daily D Pad on YouTube!