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Last week, in a ridiculous ruling, Electronic Arts won the even more ridiculous honor of the Worst Company in America.
The Consumerist, a site I respect a great deal but which has clearly lost its mind, allowed the public to determine the winner of the award. Nonetheless, it offered the following explanation for the public's decision:
To those who might sneer at something as "non-essential" as a video-game company winning the Worst Company In America vote: It's that exact kind of attitude that allows people to ignore the complaints as companies like EA (continue) to nickel-and-dime consumers to death.
For years, while movies and music became more affordable and publishers piled on bonus content — or multiple modes of delivery — as added value to entice customers to buy, video games have continued to be priced like premium goods.
Like several commentators I follow on Twitter (Arthur Gies, for instance), I became briefly enraged, shook my head at the stupidity of the Internet en masse, and moved on, vowing to exact my vengeance on any fool willing to admit his part in this tomfoolery.
While my stance hasn't changed, my wrath toward the anti-EA movement softened considerably when I finished Mass Effect 2 on Thursday and looked into buying downloadable content (DLC). In the past, I've ignored DLC with few exceptions (my Rock Band library says, "Hi"), but ME2 was outstanding enough for me to consider ponying up a little extra cash for more game.
What I discovered was far worse than I expected.
As a bargain shopper, I picked up ME2 from Amazon's Warehouse Deals subsidiary for $15. That purchase earned me about 25 hours of gameplay so far, including the main storyline, 11 possible party members (not including Shepard) and their loyalty missions, and a variety of side quests scattered throughout the in-game universe — most of which I've not yet played.
I expected to take a loss on new content, but what I discovered was more unbalanced than I could have imagined. Not only would I need to spend $30 (twice as much as I paid for the two-disc package) to access the remaining fraction (a couple hours of new main storyline and two new characters with loyalty missions), purchasing any DLC for a used copy of ME2 incurs a $15 setup charge.
Unlike Consumerist writers (and possibly readers), I don't entirely blame EA for this; there's a clear precedent for this kind of pricing, whether they set it or not. The problem is that DLC operates outside a normal economy where supply and demand result in Mass Effect 2 hitting $15, and more importantly where DLC can never be resold.
I'll probably make my money back on Mass Effect 2 if I sold it; on its DLC, a sliver of the overall experience, I would take a $45 loss. Digital content simply needs to be legislated differently for this problem to go away.
I'm left, then, with my final Paragon/Renegade decision of the game. Do I thumb my nose at EA, Xbox Live, and the game industry at large and take my $45 and walk away? Or do I spend my money, consider all of Mass Effect 2 a very worthwhile $45 experience, and become part of the shenanigans?
I still don't know. Perhaps after I've beaten both Mass Effect and Mass Effect 3, I'll decide to invest in the additional gameplay hours for the sake of completion. I doubt it, though; I've beaten each Assassin's Creed game for Xbox 360 but never paid a cent for its DLC.
That decision, sadly, leaves me feeling manipulated. Yes, I experienced most of Mass Effect 2. Yes, I very much enjoyed it. No, I can't talk about it with the authority I'd prefer, and as long as value is a criterion, I never will.
Maybe we can give The Consumerist's award to DLC, instead.