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The Ballot Box Beat Down – A Hard Corps look at DLC

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February 21st, 2011 at 7:55 pm

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Here at the Metro City Reform Committee we take a look at the issues going on in gaming and hand out screeds of street justice along with lightning-strike legislation if some ne’er-do-wells decide to abuse the good name of gaming. But over the last week, the meaty harvest that is MvC3 has kept our bellies full of fighting. Thanks goodness some alert citizens hopped on the chance to grab the red emergency phone by the handle and give us a call- albeit about a long running issue in gameland.

That issue fine readers, is DLC. It stands for Downloadable Content and though, wait, “Downloadable” is a single word! Shouldn’t it just be DC? Or is the “L” there just so the Distinguished Competition doesn’t get all pissy and start suing everyone?

It may not be that, but I am sure Luthor’s behind it. You just can’t trust that guy. Also – Happy President’s Day Folks!

Regardless, DLC certainly has its high points, and heck, we all love it when our favorite games don’t have to end just yet right? If your online multiplayer game of choice gets a few extra maps, it helps get rid of repetition, and is a breath of fresh air (and camping spots). So yes, DLC is most assuredly good, and besides it’s always optional isn’t it?

But some folks seem to think that there’s “Bad” DLC, or if feeling really immature, “Stupid-Smelly-Looks-Like-My-Little-Sister DLC”. Yes maturity is going to be a factor here, as many would say complaining over what publishers offer to gamers as options reeks of the worst kind of entitlement.

Okay, not the worst. The worst kind is pictured above – just find one space that your car fits in and isn’t a handicapped zone you %*#&$@#!

So who is in the right? What can be done? It’s a two-sided issue at least, and right here, right now at the MCRC we’re going to see if it’s Publishers that need a swift re-secretarizing of their interiors, or if it’s the gaming public that deserves a few lumps on the noggin if they’ll just stop complaining for once. Besides, it fits nicely as a post-script to the MvC3 review just published on this very site, where such concerns were a definite topic!

Thankfully Konami and ARC Systems Works came and provided us with a perfect example this week – Hard Corps: Uprising! We’ll take a good hard look at that game, as well as a few others, as we examine this issue before coming to a final declaration of justice in the most American of fashions: by voting. So dig in on that trashcan ham and walk along as we smash these problems one at a time!

The Main Event! . . . Of Serious Issues:

Issue 1: The game just came out and on Day One, you can pay more for it!

Now Hard Corps: Uprising is a true spiritual successor to the Contra name. You and another player take control of two soldiers who run, gun, and double jump your way through levels hard enough to make diamonds turn to dust, and filled with enough to bullets, lasers, and other deadly objects that you just might lose your marbles trying to get to the end. Oh, and in true Contra fashion, you get to fight walls!

How do you make a wall an interesting boss? Add a crap-ton of lasers!

But if you decide to take the plunge and pick this game up be forewarned, on day one it came with DLC, specifically two characters that double the playable roster from two to four. This little fact has several fans in an uproar, causing them to go on message boards and scream such petty threats as,

“Yeah I love Contra, no doubt about it. But this Paid DLC on Day 1 business needs to F off big time.” *

Or, “God I hope this game bombs just because of that DLC.” *

*Actual quotes of course. They can be found here .

So what’s wrong with this?

Well, inherently nothing really. If a developer feels they can add more to a game after they’re finished with its original version and don’t want to go through a lengthy certification process again to add it to the disc, but provide you with it on the first day anyway Day One DLC seems a fine compromise. This exact reason was given when Bioware did just that with Mass Effect 2 last year.

On the other end of the spectrum, some folks make a point that when a game just comes out, if nothing else, day one DLC feels like a cheat, like something that should have been present with the initial purchase, and if it’s for something relatively small it seems like the publisher’s just trying to nickel and dime the consumer to death. This is actually kind of a fair point, and inarguable. I mean one can’t say that someone’s feelings are invalid; they’re personal emotions after all.

The Vote of Beatdown Goes To: The Gamers

While they may get their feelings hurt, there’s a simple solution to that: toughen up and don’t let it get to you! At the very least, dig a little bit deeper to find out what the DLC contains. If a game has DLC on the first day, but it’s something really minor, like a couple of new hats for your guy, spiffy new armor for your horse, or stuff that you can unlock later in the game who cares? However, if it is something bigger it might fall into our next category.

Issue 2: The DLC is intentionally made to seem like you’re missing out of a key component if you don’t get it.

Meet Harley Daniels:

Few guys are cool enough to have so many cranial accessories, but Harley pulls it off.

Harley here is one of the DLC characters Hard Corps: Uprising that you can buy for $2.50 each. The other is Sayuri, a female ninja who plays fundamentally differently from the other characters (actually making the game play more like Strider). Harley’s big asset is that he has an overflowing bucket of personality compared to the otherwise incredibly generic “cool as ice” main characters, Bahamut and Krystal, as well as some more health.

Now if Harley and Sayuri were simply bonus DLC, it would fit with the above situation and they could be ignored as an unnecessary but nice add-on if you felt like it later, but they aren’t. In fact, it’s quite obvious on playing the game that they were actually CUT from the initial release. What evidence is there of this? The game’s introductory cinematic for one:

YouTube Preview Image

Watch that, it’s only a minute and a half, and pretty cool actually. Done? Notice that Harley and Sayuri (the one slicing robotic gators in half) are heavily featured and have almost as much screen time as the other two characters? Or how all four of them strike their “cool team of badasses” pose right before the final charge? Or that this is highly polished hand drawn animation that would take months to produce? If that’s not enough, early reports definitely indicated the game was going to have four characters!

Even if Harley and Sayuri were never originally meant to be available (which is fairly doubtful), Konami went to great lengths to make sure everyone expected them in the game. When I booted the game up and watched the intro, I immediately decided that Harley was going to be my character then, whoops, he’s not in there, guess you’ll just have to buy him!

Something similar occurred with another Bioware game, Dragon Age: Origins. It’s a sprawling D&D style RPG, where you encounter various characters that each had their own story and quests you could accomplish for them. Except sometimes a villager would beseech your hero and their team, tells their tale of fantastic woe, and asks for aid . . . but you couldn’t because the quest in question had to be paid for first. This tactic inspired outright hatred in some, and at the very least broke the suspension of disbelief worse that the deus ex machinas of the Dark Tower series. It even got its own Penny Arcade comic!

The Vote of Beatdown Goes To: The Publishers

Add-on DLC can sometimes ride a fine line of illusion for the publisher. We don’t want to think that we’re missing out on content when we purchase something, and if the game is trying as hard as it can to remind us that we are, it breaks that illusion. The big flaw here isn’t the DLC itself, it’s how it’s pitched, and with heavy handed tactics like Uprising’s intro, the pitch just makes you want to punch someone . . . sort of like your average Used Car Salesman.

Or a “Previously Owned Vessel” salesman as the case may be.

Issue 3: DLC as a sneaky means of copy protection.

Now this doesn’t apply to Uprising, and we didn’t want to pick on them entirely anyway, but this is a tactic that Electronic Arts has employed a lot lately. No we won’t get into DRM in general here, that can of worms will have to be for another time. It will also take forever to cover and might even have to be a two-parter, so I’ll have to think of a good cliffhanger; at least one as good as the Stallone movie (which shouldn’t be that hard).

In The Saboteur, released by EA in 2009, you played a resistance fighter in Nazi-occupied France (who was Irish for some reason). One of the places where the resistance members could meet without too much scrutiny happened to be at cabarets of the, shall we say, revealing kind?

That is to say the girls were nekkid. They were strippers. Who stripped . . . boobies!

Alright, fine, it is an M-Rated game after all, and it makes a degree of sense. Clandestine meetings at strip clubs are pretty commonplace – just ask Tony Soprano. But the thing is, this “feature” (i.e. the boobies), was locked out of the game on the disc. It was there, but you had to enter a code that came with the game when you bought it. Again, this doesn’t seem like that big a deal really.

Except, if you bought the game used, that code probably wasn’t there, so you would have to resort to (guess what?) paying EA for the “privilege” of this content via some DLC. EA’s claim was that this was a method to ensure new game sales and if not, then to get a little money back from sales of used games, which they otherwise would receive nothing for. They’ve gone on to use a similar strategy in Dead Space 2’s multiplayer mode, which can’t be accessed unless you either use a similar code, or again, pay for it. Of course, there’s been some anger directed toward EA for such turns.

Hating EA. It’s like its eight years ago all over again.

But The Beatdown Vote Goes To: The Gamers, for now.

Though this kind of policy definitely causes a bit of a needless hassle (I thought we were done entering long codes once battery backup was invented), it’s really not that bad. The company’s trying for a relatively unobtrusive method of copy protection that doesn’t effect their main fans, who in general buy games new and early. While it does suck for those who decide to pick it up used later, in general after market prices are lower so you’re probably not paying more, just saving less.

As it is, this type of DLC isn’t too harmful in the state it’s currently in, but it does seem to rest on a slippery slope. If in a couple of years the disc you buy is nothing more than a glorified demo, and everything else has to be unlocked with an attached codebook the size of Dr. Jones’ Grail diary or further payments, then yeah it will be ridiculous. Let’s just hope it never gets to that point and until then, as with every other item here, just don’t buy it if you think it’s a rip-off!

Issue 4: Exclusive Retailer Exclusive DLC.

So a few publishers, seeing the promotional possibilities of DLC have realized that it can be leveraged to get consumers to buy “special” editions or even pre-order their games. MvC3 did this, allowing those who bought the Collector’s Edition to get the characters Jill and Shuma Gorath for free – at the extra cost of what you’d pay for them normally. They were supposed to get them early too, but some one must have screwed up and that’s not happening, so really this promotion just became kind of pointless.

Something that’s a lot less silly and many degrees far more frustrating for fans are the retailer exclusive DLC packs. You’ve probably seen these. Buy a game at Gamestop, get Gun A and a mauve helmet, buy the game at Best Buy, get Gun B and polka dot shoes, etc. and so forth. Dead Rising 2 did this with a series of unique character packs, each giving hero Chuck Greene a different oddball costume and some sort of unique ability.

A Slasher Knock-Off, a Ninja, a Commando, and a Sports Fan. It’s like some sort of weird zombie slaying Village People.

Why is this being done? Well, it primarily has to do with retailers. They want to give gamers an incentive for coming into their stores and purchasing from them, when they know that otherwise there’s pretty much no reason for them to do so. Especially since most would rather just order things online or download stuff through Steam, if only to never have to hear a Game Informer subscription pitch from the guy behind the counter at Gamestop ever again.

The Vote of Beatdown Goes To: The Publishers!!

This kind of promotional DLC isn’t harmful, it’s just really annoying. It usually doesn’t give enough benefit to matter, and the average consumer is just faced with an odd choice: which pointless bonus do they care enough about to change who they buy games from? For a certain type of player though, the ones who love to collect every little thing, this practice must border on the maddening.

It really offers no benefit for the publishers that do this, just a few retail chains, and they piss off their OCD hoarder fanbase in the process, which might not seem like that big a deal but . . .

There’s this entire media empire that was built off exploiting the hoarding mentality. Maybe you’ve heard of it?

Oh look it’s a tie, bet you didn’t see that one coming!

OK yeah you probably did. Yet another internet article that distributes blame equally so no one’s offended.

Yeah that’s boring. We don’t do boring in Metro City! Time for a tie-breaking lighting issue!

But this debate is starting to get long (starting?), so for the sake of brevity, the Publishers get another vote in the “most deserving a beating” ballot-box on the account of a bunch of other smaller issues that you can read about over on this Wikipedia entry , under the “criticisms” portion. Check out the complaints over exclusivity with Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, where yet another Lucas product embraces the stench of complete and utter failure.

So the final Vote of Beatdown, and thus a savage walloping of justice goes to: The Publishers Who Can’t Seem to Learn from their Mistakes!

We’re getting our scariest, biggest, burliest men on this, along with our scariest, craziest women . . . who also might be men.

Hugo and Poison here are up to the task. Just don’t ask her what’s under those daisy dukes.

Alright, since this is a government sanctioned bit of mob justice, expect 7-12 weeks for the paperwork to go through, then another four for delivery. Oh bureaucracy.

So while we wait for that to happen, what else can be done about flagrantly frustrating DLC practices? Well that’s the tricky thing, isn’t it?

The 1980’s are long past, and the idea that we’re living in a “material world” went with them. We now live in a digital one; where Netflix Instant streaming replaced video stores, Hulu is better than television, iTunes takes care of your musical needs, and if not that, then torrents from some shady site ridden with malware will get you the entire Beatles discography for free. Downloadable products are just going to be more prevalent as time goes on, especially with video games where venues like Valve’s Steam service have already taken hold.

Fans seem to forget publishers wouldn’t keep pushing annoying or manipulative DLC add-ons unless it was profitable, and they’ll only charge what they think you will pay for them. One big reason Konami is trying out the character buying strategy for Hard Corps: Uprising is that it worked incredibly well for them with last year’s Castlevania Harmony of Despair. They kept releasing additional characters and maps, and folks just kept on buying them. Yet plenty of these same buyers will then complain about the price or the content of such DLC packages. It’s like they’re addicted to the abuse, which is ridiculous since the solution is so obvious: if you don’t like it, don’t buy it!

Besides, even if poorly thought out strategies by game publishers are the root cause of the gaming public’s ire, it would be mighty nice for the folks on the internet to show a bit more maturity about it. Don’t they know that their unchecked Nerd Rage has a 70% chance of re-awakening Viggo The Carpathian?

An NES controller helped defeat him, so the irony of gaming bringing him back would be enough to make Alanis Morrisette vomit.

Since it seems consumers can’t help themselves and just stay away from DLC they find reprehensible, let’s put forth a motion shall we?

A Pseudo-Legal Restraining Order Provision on Downloadable Content:

In accordance with the Metro City Council, in the Jurisdictions of the state of America, all members of the first party, known as “The Average Consumer” are hereby ordered to stay at least 100 yards, or 10 dollars away from the party known as the “Downloadable add-on”.

The first party can ignore this order and purchase the second party regardless, but should they do so they waive their right to complain on the account of the second party being “shallow”, “costing too much”, or using “nickel and dimed to death” practices.

This order shall be lifted under the provisions that:

  1. Downloadable Content ceases to appear an intrinsic part of the original product, with the intent to entice. It shall remain a means of extension only.
  2. Downloadable Content ceases retailer exclusive bonuses that exist to do little but harass the first party.
  3. Downloadable content does not overstep its bounds and become the de facto majority of data required to play a disc based game.

From the council members of Metro City, U.S.A.

Enforced by Presidential Decree 1989-Ld a.k.a. the “The Lead Pipe Initiative”

Yes that’s right, Presidential Decree. Why? Well in case you haven’t yet heard, after he defeated the mighty Galactus in MvC3, Mike Haggar independently ran for the highest office in the land. He won of course.

Becoming Mayor of the World, and of our hearts.

So on this fine President’s Day, just remember to stay away from any rotten deals, and celebrate the fact that you live in a nation that supports your freedom of choice. A place where you can always tell the man to stick it where the sun don’t shine if he tries to rip you off, and where voting with your dollar is becoming the most important vote you can make.

Long live President Haggar, may he bring justice to the populace as savagely as necessary! So say we all!

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