Hey kids, you’re about to learn a fine new piece of Videogames Industry Phraseology. It’s new, even for my kind! We’ve only been using it for like a month, and now you’re about to uncover its mysteries…
When a publisher – say, hypothetically, Microsoft – announces that a game – say, hypothetically, Remedy’s upcoming Alan Wake – will utilize “Project Ten Dollar” style DLC, what do you think that means?
UPDATE: despite my concerns, Kotaku had more than a few good (and just one bad) things to say about Alan Wake. Maybe we’ll be okay.
See, the publisher would like you to believe that this new “project ten dollar” initiative, first started by EA a couple of months ago, is a way for the first-liners to cut into used game sales by including single-use DLC vouchers. The first person to redeem it gets the patch DLC for free, but later users have to pay ten bucks for it. And the publisher can release as much DLC as they want – witness the Cerberus Network of Mass Effect 2.
Now, I understand why publishers dislike the used games market, and I understand why developers do too. And I understand why efforts are being made to cut into that market. It’s revenue that doesn’t go to the creators of the game. But just as authors don’t get royalties from used bookstores, or bands from used record stores, game developers have no god-given right to bling from secondhand games. After all, their EULAs gleefully remind us at every opportunity that we’re not buying the software, we are buying a license to use the software.
Well then, bitches, I can damn well transfer that license to someone else.
Alarm bells started ringing about Alan Wake quite some time ago. Remedy, behind the super-awesome Max Payne games, is known for taking a long time to produce stuff. And if Max Payne is any indication, the result is worth the wait. But Alan Wake may be a misstep. First off, and let’s be frank here, the game is five years late. That’s rarely a good sign.
Second, since the release date – May 18 – finally was announced, Microsoft and Remedy have been furiously spinning their decision make the game blatantly episodic (literally, you’re confronted with a “Last time on Alan Wake,” even if last time was like two minutes ago) as a good thing and useful for the psychological horror nature of the title, when in truth what it means is that they can…
…wait for it…
ship a broken beta and periodically release “episodes” that conveniently fix bugs and will, eventually, cobble together into a complete game. This is the new way of dealing with unfinished product. Used to be, they’d just ship a broken game and unleash a shower of patches. Nowadays, though, marketing-savvy industry wogs have transformed that.
They’re not patching the game, they’re enhancing the experience – and rewarding those who buy it new. If you get a copy used at GameStop, you might save a buck or two off the disc, but the game’s not on the disc. In order to get the game experience as Remedy intended it, you’ll need the episodes, and those will cost you ten dollars each.
I really like Remedy Entertainment, and I worry about them, because they’ve been quite clear that they’re betting the farm on Alan Wake. It’s already been completely re-envisioned from its original design of open-world horror show; the game is now a linear, mission-based survival horror experience with occasional bouts of exposition. The episodic approach and promise of DLC enhancements remind me of another recent survival horror flameout that once had potential – Alone in the Dark. And I really think that Microsoft is putting Remedy into this position against its will. So the only hope is that the legendary studio will be able to pull another bunny out of its hat and produce gaming gold in Alan Wake despite the deck being stacked against it. I hope for the best, but I have my doubts.
Any time a developer and publisher work so hard to cheerfully spin an unfinished product as “episodic” and “value-added,” I die a bit inside.
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