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EA Isn't Trying to Blackmail You

Susan Arendt | 25 Feb 2010 21:00
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EA's current strategy to bundle codes for free downloadable content with new copies of its games has been dubbed "project ten dollar" and put by some critics on the list of Very Bad Things That Will Hurt Consumers. By "forcing" people to buy new, the nay-sayers proclaim, EA is therefore pissing off customers, decreasing the overall number of games that will be sold, and generally mucking about with a system that works just fine as it is, thank you very much. Others are complaining that they're being punished simply for wanting to save some scratch because EA is making them pay for content that others are getting for free.

In other words, some people are being a bunch of whining, unrealistic nancies.

Now, before you start accusing me of being out of touch because I get my games for free, that's a fairly new aspect of my life as a gamer. Until relatively recently, if I wanted a game, I saved for it, used trade-ins, bought it used, or waited as best I could for price drops and gift-appropriate holidays. When that wasn't enough to maintain both my habit and my rent, I got a second job. So while I am happy to be off that particular financial merry-go-round, I have, quite literally, paid my dues.

I don't begrudge anyone for wanting to save money. Gaming is a very expensive hobby, and every dollar saved is one you can put toward a new bit of shiny gaming goodness. But EA's new scheme doesn't prevent anyone from buying a used copy of the game, it simply provides an incentive to buy a new copy besides a lack of fingerprints on the disc. I get that you don't want to pay more money. I get that you want all the content. You can have one or the other, but not both. That's not unfair, unreasonable, or greedy. That's a realistic exchange between supplier and consumer.

Let's also be clear about what exactly we're talking about, here. The downloadable content - thus far, anyway - hasn't been anything vital to the game experience; its absence doesn't gimp the game, but its presence perhaps enhances it. Shale and Zaeed are fun characters, certainly, but you can finish Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2 quite handily without either of them. Exploring The Normandy's crash site is a moving experience, but it won't really help your mission all that much, and you can defeat the Nazis in The Saboteur without seeing a single nipple, I swear. This is optional content, gang.

Of course, not everyone sees it that way. In order to have the "true" game experience, whatever that is, they feel they must consume each and every last bit of its content, no matter how extraneous it may be. It's a perfectly valid philosophy, but at some point you have to decide which priority matters more to you: the money or the extras. If you will lose sleep without that special bit of armor, then stop bitching about the money it's going to cost you, because you've made your decision based on your own hierarchy of needs. Let me reiterate that point: to buy or not to buy is a choice and one that is entirely in your hands. You have all of the control in this situation, so quit acting like EA has your arm behind your back.

For now, it's pretty easy to shrug off the whiners because of two key factors: the price of new games has remained the same, and the bundled DLC has been fairly inconsequential. The relative fairness of Project Ten Dollar will become a bit more difficult to analyze should either of those things change. An extra character or suit of armor is easy to write off as extraneous material, but the same can't be said about something like Return to Ostagar, which actually adds to the story of Dragon Age. Can you finish the game without it? Well, sure. But does ignoring it diminish your overall experience? Maybe, yeah.

EA - and every other publisher - deserves to make as much money as it can from its games, and giving a bonus to people who buy new is a pretty reasonable and non-intrusive way to do that. Yes, that means that some people are going to have things that others do not. Insert reference to Rolling Stones song here.

We won't know the full impact of Project Ten Dollar for some time, I shouldn't think. Perhaps a black market for DLC will crop up on eBay. Perhaps new copy incentives will become industry standard. Perhaps a team of Luddite terrorists will destroy the internet, thus rendering the entire discussion moot.

You know, I'm not entirely sure that last one would be such a bad thing. At least then I'd have time to finish Dragon Age.

Susan Arendt never did get around to downloading that Blood Armor.

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