It's all the rage these days to pick on the big boys in the gaming industry. Maybe it's a form of inverse-bullying, begotten by those who are normally small enough to be a target for such behavior banding together by way of the Internet into a rage-fest that aims to impose their will upon mega-corporations by sheer numbers.
Certainly, there's a precedent for such behavior toward EA, at the very least. They've shouldered the blame for the dissolution of Origin Systems since they stifled the development of both Ultima VIII and its much-maligned sequel, Ultima IX, back in the days when Richard Garriott was still designing games under the title "Lord British."
Then it shouldn't serve as a surprise that, on the heels of controversy surrounding on-disc DLC in Capcom's Street Fighter X Tekken crossover fighter, the reveal that at least components of Mass Effect 3's day-one bonus content (exclusive to those who purchased a deluxe package or spent an extra ten bucks on the marketplace) were contained on-disc brought fan outrage to a peak. Further, Mass Effect 3 was saddled with a multiplayer mode that, while effectively a fast-paced and malleable interpretation of the horde game-type, hid its impressive spectrum of options behind a random number generator that rewarded regular expenditures of real cash (more on that in a coming article). In the end, though, Mass Effect is a story-focused franchise. The first two games had no multiplayer to speak of and so, as long as the single-player story lived up to gamers' expectations, the vast majority of series fans would be appeased.
The endings of the game assured that such was not the case. Some liked them and others hated them, but the consensus seemed to be that the endings, regardless of what they offered in terms of resolution, boiled down what had previously been a tremendously personal story, able to be at least partly shaped and molded by the player's choices and actions, into a trio of generic, ineffable cinematics, stripping the series' denouement of that individuality that had so defined it. That certain choices at the end could be blocked off to the player depending on whether or not they had bolstered their single-player war effort with time spent in multiplayer added another twist to the knife. So, semi-compulsory multiplayer with a focus on drawing more money out of players to feed a random number generator and overly general endings sort of soured many to the third Mass Effect. BioWare did come out a few months later with an "extended cut," which expanded each of the endings with narration and a bit more follow-through (it also added a fourth option), but it still doesn't do a lot to respect the choices players have made.
On the other foot, we have Bethesda and their Elder Scrolls series. Where the Mass Effect games are about story, focusing in on player choices and building up relationships between characters, entries in The Elder Scrolls franchise are more about the world they take place in. The player has nigh-infinite freedom to explore the land, happening upon cracks and crevices that have nothing to do with actual quests, much less the main plotline, yet still call out to be plumbed for treasure, ingredients, and monsters. Skyrim, in particular, has tremendous appeal, much like a medieval Grand Theft Auto. It saw tremendous mainstream success, helped popularize the Steam Workshop (which launched after its release), and has since seen two expansions.
Unless you're a PlayStation 3 owner.
It's not wholly unexpected, these days, that Microsoft will swing a timed exclusivity deal for downloadable content in third-party games. It doesn't happen every time, but the point is that there's precedent. What's unusual, though, is for the PC version of that expanded content to hit—Dawnguard, in this case—and a PlayStation 3 version of it to simply never follow. Bethesda has cited technical issues and expressed uncertainty as to whether the DLC will ever be available for PS3 owners.
This isn't the first problem that version of the game has had, either, users reporting that saves with a large number of hours poured into them begin to experience crippling slowdown and interminable load times. It's certainly unfortunate that DLC may never make its way to the PS3, and Bethesda did make efforts to patch the performance issues (it's not as though prior Bethesda releases have been bug-free. Their games are on a tremendous scale that makes it nearly impossible to test for absolutely everything), but what may be truly unforgivable is the premium Bethesda has charged for the DLC it has released.
If you want Dawnguard, it's twenty dollars. That's in full-on expansion pack territory, pricing-wise. It's not what one charges for a DLC add-on. The newer Hearthfire add-on is more reasonably priced, but it also lacks the compelling content of Dawnguard, focused more on player housing (which users get to build themselves, meaning it's time to scrounge for materials) and family. You can have kids, which is kind of a neat feature (Fable did it first, no?), but it doesn't suddenly add significant gameplay value and, as previously noted, The Elder Scrolls games are less about story and relationships, more about the world in which they take place. Without meaningful interactions, the children are purely an aesthetic touch, and an empty one.
Both Mass Effect and The Elder Scrolls have been plagued by choices that have alienated some of the fans from each series, but it's worth remembering that the developers and publishers are human. They're trying to balance what they think their fans want with what they hope will serve their bottom line.
Bethesda, for example, is offering a wide slew of distinct pre-order bonuses for Dishonored, staggered across the many retailers in North America. People want free stuff, right? Yes, but they don't want to have to choose where to buy their game based on how they aim to play it.
BioWare has been working on Command & Conquer Generals 2, which has been announced as free-to-play. A boon for players, right? Well, yes, except for those who already put forth money to pre-order it; the initial response to requests for a refund in such cases was less than ideal.
Everyone screws up at some point. The question is, have their mistakes been so galling that you would not trust them again? Personally, no, I don't feel that they have been that bad, but that doesn't mean I won't call them out on them.
Date: September 17, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*