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I should probably preface this by saying I’ve a lot respect for Cliff, he’s helped to create some incredibly fun games and definitely has a greater knowledge of the industry than me but this post ( http://dudehugespeaks.tumblr.com/post/44243746261/nickels-dimes-and-quarters ) popped up in my twitter feed and really did not sit well with me. As a consumer, a long time gamer, essentially a nobody and as someone looking at possibly getting into the industry I was surprised with how disconnected he seemed with gamers, their issues with microtransactions and EA, and why Valve are as loved as they are on communities like GAF and reddit (and /v/).
The video game industry is just that.
Of course the video game industry is just that, but it is one of the newest and largest ones prevalent in modern day life, one that is growing and evolving as we speak. Being an industry does not confer a right to screw over consumers however. Do people give mechanics a free pass if they lie to them or overcharge them when fixing a car, simply because “hey, we’re an industry, we need to get more money from you”. It’s all fine to say if you don’t like don’t buy it but this is a terrible fallacy. Gamers might love a developers work but hate the publisher’s practices, see EA and Bioware. Is the solution then not to support the dev? To pop over to The Pirate Bay and grab the latest Razor, RELOADED or Blackbox release (which will probably have all the microtransactions unlocked, every pre-order bonus and in the case of a BlackBox repack will usually be much smaller in size, having unneeded languages and other content ripped, making it more appealing to those with limited internet speeds or bandwidth caps) and say fuck it,the developer that produces games I like doesn’t deserve my cash because of how the publisher acts. Valve always maintained that you must provide a better service than pirates (ugh, shit term, not worth going in to now though) and people will then purchase your product. I don’t think its a stretch to say that they have proved this repeatedly. EA however appear to rip content from the game in order to “nickel and dime” you.
This is what leads to the tension about microtransactions. Microtransactions are not evil, they are not a method for exploiting consumers but their constant misuse has overshadowed their ability to provide more value to a person. Publishers need to find the sweet spot where gamers are willing to buy additional content after the initial purchase but they also have to not feel like they are being ripped off. I’m glad you brought Valve into this as being both a dev and publisher they have a better perspective than most on this and I think they have fully fucking nailed figuring out how to sell additional content that consumers will pay money for and don’t find offensive, while EA are probably the largest example of doing this completely the wrong way. More on this in a bit.
I 100% agree with Cliff when he says games being incredible value for money nowadays but on the other hand…they have to be. If we take some arbitrary numbers, like it costing 10$ for a new two hour movie at the cinema and apply that model to a game, we end up with being charged 250 bucks for an average RPG, 30-60$ for a modern fps’s single player alone, add on multiplayer and you’ll start doubling and tripling the cost, and so on. Needless to say this is completely unreasonable, the average gamer isn’t going to pay the price of a console for the next Final Fantasy and so the most logical way to be profitable is to set a reasonable price point and to gain more revenue after the initial sale they need to look at sequels and DLC. Which is completely understandable, take a look at a list of credits on a recent Ubisoft published game and it will seem like a miracle that 60$ per game will cover the cost of every single person that worked on it. It would be stupid to have devs hanging around doing nothing after they finish their part of a game, give them something to work on, if its fun or interesting people will pay for it, if its a character already locked on the disc, well you can see why people could get upset.
Day 1 DLC is not inherently evil, it just has extremely negative connotations with gamers because of how it is commonly handled, with EA being the biggest perpetrator of how it should not be done. If we take it back to Mass Effect 2’s DLC I was really surprised and impressed at how they handled it. Here was a cool brand new character in Zaeed, not as fully fleshed out as the others (no dialogue wheel for example) but still had some of the best lines in the game but wasn’t overly important to the plot, and he was free, because I paid for the game on Day 1 and not as part of a collectors edition. However in the complete 180 that Dragon Age 2 (the prince guy, the entire game was forgettable) and Mass Effect 3 (From Ashes DLC) pulled we saw the cost of selling your soul to the EA devil. In ME3 specifically this character was a completely integral part of the overarching storyline, a character from a race long thought of as extinct and who’s tech was used for the basis as everything in the ME Universe (more or less, talking about cycles and the deeper lore is really tangential) and it seemingly being ripped from the game as DLC reeked of EA involvement. People just changed a value in .ini file to unlock him for fuck’s sake. Same with the DA2 DLC character in most respects. Imagine if vitally important characters like Kreia or Morrigan/Alistair were locked behind 10$ paywalls. Not a pretty thought.
A quick bit on Dead Space 3 now, seeing as it is probably the basis for you post. Disclaimer: I haven’t played it, I stopped playing the DS games half way through 2, but from everything I’ve heard EA have introduced well in that they are completely unnecessary and in fact can potentially break the game if you load up on the resources you can purchase too early in the game. Personally I think the controversy about this stems from two points. It is seen in tandem with the co-op, as betrayal of the series’ foundations in “survival horror” having the ability to spend cash by whipping out a credit card rips you from the immersion, a vital part of this genre. The other points boils down to, even if they balance it right (which from what I’ve heard it does seem like they sort of managed it) what does this mean for future EA products and can we trust EA to not mess this is up in future games. Short answer: no, going by their past, which we have to do Cliff, we can give them a chance to change but have they really looked they are going to? Long(er) answer : Maybe, but it doesn’t matter we have to wait and see, as micro transactions are confirmed for new EA titles the onus is on EA to make them worth our time and money.
This all contributes to EA’s image, which brings me to the biggest contention I have with Cliff’s post; How can someone so ingrained in the industry not comprehend why EA and Valve are perceived as they are? How can Cliff not understand the value that Valve provides to a consumer? This is where I may start sounding like a “Valvedrone” or fanboi-ish so I’m just going to say that while I think Valve hits the mark more often then not, I do not believe they are perfect, in fact I think one of the biggest issues in PC gaming is Valve not releasing Steam sale data but this is all a digression from the main point. Where EA published games like ME3 and DA2 where they seemingly rip content that was supposed to be in the game, just to make a cheap buck (not to mention the games being considered a betrayal of the franchise), Valve provide regular content updates for free, microtransactions are for purely aesthetic content in their free-to-play games like Dota 2 and TF2, they also release mod tools and SDK’s, announce new games in innovative ways like through their prequel (Portal’s radio update) organise ARG’s to engage people and build hype for a game. Where EA buys studios only to shutter them a few years later (R.I.P Westwood Studios and Bullfrog, The Lion King on the Megadrive was the first game I ever played) Valve hires students and mod teams that have cool ideas (Portal, CS 1.6 and Dota 2 all were ideas who’s roots started outside the company) and help publish and develop games that these teams could not do by themselves.
Valve are not as immune from criticism as you think though Cliff, a boycott was started because Left4dead 2 was seen as Valve breaking promises on updates and providing a service in the original L4D. And what was Valve’s response? They fucking flew the leaders of the boycott out to see the game. The game went on to not only be received well but also got a bunch of content updates for free on PC, including maps, characters and story content, even levels from the first game. Can you remember the last time EA gave anything away for free? I think of Zaeed personally but I had to buy the game new to even get that. While I don’t have any experience with WoW Totalbiscuit claims many did find issue with Blizzard selling pets, in more recent times look at how quickly opinion soured on Diablo 3 when it seemed like the final difficulty was balanced around buying gear with on the auction house as opposed to a players skill or using equipment you found while playing and even maxing characters.
“People love to beat up on Origin, but they forget that, for a good amount of time, Steam sucked.”
Back to EA, Origin is good in theory, a monopoly on digital distribution benefits only the holder of the monopoly but when the head of the service comes out and spews what looks like some mandatory promotional bullshit to try and discredit their competitor its not hard to see why an inferior service does not endear itself to the public:
Q: One of the things that Steam does is this random deep-discounting of software, and it works well for them. Do you see that as something you want to do? David DeMartini: We won’t be doing that. Obviously they think it’s the right thing to do after a certain amount of time. I just think it cheapens your intellectual property. Of course Origin going on to do exactly that just made it all the more funny.
So in the end of the day, it comes to finding a balance. I think saying “vote with your wallets” is not really looking at the full picture. I’d have no problem throwing money at a game I love, I’ve bought Portal three time, on two different platforms, and Mass Effect 2 twice on PC and 360. I can love a developer but should I not pay for their product if their publisher’s practices leave a bad taste in my mouth? Valve have proved to be hugely profitable, is it really too much to ask other publishers to take a good hard look at Valve and their relationship with users? Maybe for EA it is, but I hope not.
Side note: While I found your post very interesting but poor use of shitty memes might endear yourself to the lowest common denominators of Reddit it really doesn’t give much credence to your argument.