Friday, February 24, 2012

BioWare Doesn't Deserve Such Hate For Mass Effect 3's Day One DLC

Thanks to a mistake on the Xbox Live Marketplace earlier this week, a piece of Mass Effect 3 downloadable content was revealed sooner than it was meant to be. As it turns out, the From Ashes DLC is scheduled to be released alongside the game on March 6. This both means Jeremy's idea of a tuxedo T-shirt for Jack can't be the first DLC item and that a boycott is already being arranged by infuriated gamers who don't like the idea of having to pay for this particular content on the day the game comes out.
Note: If you'd like to avoid any and all spoilers related to ME3, you'd be wise to not read on as the nature of the DLC is part of the reason why series fans are so upset.
The Marketplace listing for From Ashes describes the content as allowing players to "Unearth lost secrets from the past and recruit the Prothean squad member," the latter of which is a big deal. Protheans are a race in Mass Effect lore believed to be long extinct. They were at one point credited with the creation of extremely advanced pieces of technology like the Citadel and the mass relays, so suffice it to say they are a critical aspect of the series.
As such, relegating what is presumably (keep in mind we don't know this for sure) the last remaining member of the Protheans to premium DLC has upset fans who feel this should be a part of the game they purchase on March 6. Instead, meeting the Prothean will be a $10 proposition unless you've decided to purchase either the Collector's or Digital Deluxe versions of the game.
Many fans are claiming they will not be purchasing the game, including those on Reddit who have been engaged with a letter-writing campaign expressing their displeasure with the situation. Many feel this DLC's existence is entirely attributable to Electronic Arts which, like Activision, is seen as a money-hungry publisher that cares about nothing but its bottom line. Accusations of customers being ripped off and shafted are common among those airing their grievances on Reddit and elsewhere."But this is just unacceptable. For the first time in...forever, I actually took the time to send a lengthy email and have agreed not to purchase Mass Effect 3 unless they do something regarding this," wrote Reddit user breadrising.
"At this point, they are only punishing loyal fans by holding a large amount of the lore experience for ransom. Its disgraceful. I urge anyone reading this who hasn't sent an email, to take the (quite literally) two minutes to do so. Simply upvoting will not change things as drastically as voicing your criticism." "It is the principle of including mission and character content as part of the complete code on launch and charging for it on Day 1," said TotalBiscuit. 
"It could be the lamest character in the world or the most vital thing ever, the principle remains the same. Non-cosmetic Day 1 launch paid DLC is unacceptable in all games."
"You are absolutely allowed to disagree with a decision a game company/publisher is making with regards to DLC," wrote kingerp in response to those on Reddit stating they would pirate the game after learning of the DLC. "HOWEVER, this does not justify pirating the game, or the DLC in question. Claiming otherwise is the epitome of gamer self-entitlement, and it's laughable that any of you could argue that you somehow 'deserve' to get access to something without paying for it." 
BioWare has already begun attempting to defend itself. Mass Effect executive producer Casey Hudson took to Twitter with a series of messages which read, "It takes about 3 months from "content complete" to bug-fix, certify, manufacture, and ship game discs. In that time we work on DLC. DLC has fast cert and no mfg., so if a team works very hard, they can get a DLC done in time to enjoy it with your 1st playthrough on day 1. On #ME3, content creators completed the game in January & moved onto the 'From Ashes' DLC, free w/ the CE or you can buy seperately." Producer Michael Gamble also offered up an explanation on the BioWare forums. He outlined what the DLC includes noted the Prothean is optional content, and explained it was included in the CE because the content is designed for long-time fans, adding that the DLC release is intended to allow non-CE buyers to also enjoy the content.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun's John Walker suggested the solution to avoiding this reaction is to simply delay the release of the DLC. Push it back from launching alongside the game to coming two weeks later; that way day one buyers will largely be done with the game and ready for new content.
I disagree for several reasons, one of which is that some players (myself included) would prefer to have the option of meeting up with the Prothean in the midst of the story rather than in a subsequent playthrough or at some point after the main campaign has been wrapped up and Earth has (I assume) been saved. Without knowing the specifics of how ME3's story will end or what the Prothean meeting will be like, I can't help but think the Prothean meeting will somehow come across as less important than it should if it comes after completing the game.That's another reason why delaying the release of this particular DLC wouldn't be the right way to go. 
Whether the DLC is available at launch or months down the road, BioWare will be faced with criticism that it held back a moment it knew fans would be eager to experience in order to make more money. This calls into question whether we simply need to begin looking at game stories differently in this digital age, where some events can take place beyond the scope of what is included on the disc at release, similar to an MMO. (But that's a matter for another discussion.) The motive behind such a DLC release isn't always as selfish as it may seem. 
If you follow industry news closely, you'll likely have read a story at one point or another about a developer finishing up a game and laying off a number of staff around the time of its release. Eat Sleep Play and Starbreeze are two recent examples. As John points out in his RPS story, when confronted about this developers have a very reasonable explanation for DLC that is developed prior to the game's release: it's "a move that helps to keep people employed." 
Gamers tend to ignore (or simply be unaware) of the time which exists between development on a game coming to a close and the day that game shows up on store shelves. As Hudson alluded to on Twitter, certification processes, manufacturing, and so on take up a good deal of time. A piece of content finished a week before the retail release of a game can't be included on the disc, which is why we so often see patches released on the first day a game is made available. It's not as if the content on the disc you insert into your console or PC was being developed up until the days before its release.Delaying a piece of DLC purely to avoid gamers getting the wrong impression is not the right way to approach this situation. 
DLC isn't going away and there's no reason why developers should have to wait an arbitrary amount of time before selling DLC that is complete. I'm by no means in support of developers withholding content simply so it can make extra money on it later, something we have certainly seen in the past. But in the case of From Ashes that doesn't appear to be the case. Being angry about content located on the disc you're expected to pay extra for is one thing; assuming content was held back just to screw fans is another matter entirely. I'm not saying you have to purchase the DLC or anything like that. 

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