Why Batman: Arkham City's Catwoman DLC is an attack on gamers
- Warner Bros. Interactive
- Rocksteady Studios
- Batman: Arkham City
Batman: Arkham City's Catwoman DLC is setting a very dangerous precedent, reckons Martin Mathers. Here's why...
Earlier today I was lucky enough to offer my Batman: Arkham City review here on this site – you should have a read of the review if you haven’t already, as I think you’ll like it. Without doubt, Arkham City is an awesome game that propels Rocksteady into the upper echelons of the world’s best development studios and should be bought by everyone. Unfortunately, telling you to do that also means I’m telling you to participate in a scheme that I couldn’t be more against if I tried: the curse of day one downloadable content.
Before you get the wrong impression though, let’s make one thing clear: I’m not against the concept of DLC in the slightest. In fact, it’s probably my own albatross to bear since I’ve bought more DLC over the years than I care to mention, even for games that I haven’t even touched (for instance, I own all the Fallout 3 and Mass Effect 2 DLC packs despite not having started either yet). So, no, I don’t think DLC is a bad thing.
For a few dollars more
I can also see the point in, and slightly agree with, the thinking behind “Project Ten Dollar”, an idea that EA came up with and has since expanded into a source of revenue all in itself. In case you don’t know, EA’s idea was essentially to charge for sections of its games (specifically the online side) separately, using codes to grant people access to them. Buy a brand new copy of a game – one that gives the publisher its fair share of the profit from your purchase – and you get a code ‘for free’ that lets you unlock everything a game has to offer out of the box. Buy it second-hand – meaning all the profit goes to the retailer – and unless the previous owner didn’t use the free one, you get no code and have to make an additional purchase to unlock all the content.
Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit is one of the games to use EA's 'Project Ten Dollar' concept.
It’s a bone of contention, certainly, but I can see why it makes sense. I have no problem with retailers offering trade-in and second-hand services, since not everyone has the income to buy games at full price; however, their antics have essentially hijacked business away from the people who do all the work to bring games to market and so someone eventually had to do something to wrestle that control back into the publishers’ hands. Putting an extra surcharge on content for people who aren’t paying full price isn’t exactly wonderful, but it’s not exactly unreasonable when you consider that every second-hand copy sold takes money away from the publishers, who pay the developers, who make the games. No money means no development funds, which means no more games in the future… simple as that.
And of course, the main reason I don’t have much of a problem with how “Project Ten Dollar” has evolved across the industry is down to the way publishers have split up the content. It’s an obvious divide: provide the core game as standard, then offer the online content with the additional surcharge. For me, that’s fine – personally, I’m not a big online gamer and so I don’t miss not having griefers call me an ‘English fag’ as they shoot, crash or generally dispatch me for the hundredth time across the ether. For those that do love their online gaming though, I can appreciate that it’s something of a bitter pill to swallow and I don’t know what the solution could be: maybe allow people buying second-hand games to choose which part of the game they want to ‘unlock’ with their initial payment, then offer the other as the extra purchase? Another discussion for another time, I think.
(Fe)line in the sand
Back to the point at hand though, which brings us back to Batman: Arkham City. If you’ve read my Arkham City review, you might notice I’ve not talked about the fact that Catwoman is in the game as a playable character; she pops up in four unique sections scattered throughout the main story which, if I’m honest, I’m not all that bothered about. I mean, they’re fine and they’re playable, but they feel like more of an interruption than anything else and take away from fact that you’re being Batman, which is the whole point of playing Arkham City. What’s important to note, however, is that these Catwoman sections only pop up during the story if you buy a brand new copy of the game and use the DLC code provided in the box before starting the adventure. No code, no Catwoman.
There she is, sneaking up you in her controversial DLC missions...
Now, providing single-player DLC isn’t anything new (Mass Effect did it with the ‘Bring Down The Sky’ mission, for instance) but this is the first time that the “Project Ten Dollar” concept has been used to lock out specific single-player content. It’s almost like Warner Bros. is thrusting a ransom note into players’ faces when they get to the till in the shop: ‘Buy our game new or the Cat gets it’. And yes, I’ve seen the counter argument from Warner that you don’t need to play the Catwoman levels to finish the game… except, that’s not strictly true is it? Yes, you can ‘finish’ the game without her, but can you truly FINISH it? Considering there’s an alternate ending for people with the DLC and a whole heap of Catwoman-specific Riddler Trophies to collect that otherwise just sit there, flicking you the Vs with their red glow if you don’t have her, I’d argue that the answer’s ‘No’.
And there’s the rub: instead of using online codes to provide additional content that enhances a game experience, someone’s actively started using it to take content away from the package that’s available on the shelf. That won’t matter to a lot of people, since Batman: Arkham City’s been a Day One purchase on the shopping lists for a huge number of gamers and so they’ll get the Catwoman stages by virtue of buying something they want anyway. But given that we’re already living in ridiculously tough times, what about the people who can’t afford full price games and buy second-hand titles purely because that’s what their finances will stretch to? And even worse, what about people who don’t have online connections? Even if they buy brand new copies of Arkham City, they’re being punished just because they can’t redeem the codes.
The future's... bleak?
To be blunt, I think what Warner’s done with Arkham City is disgusting behaviour and sets a massively dangerous precedent for the future of DLC – it only takes one publisher to do something and soon enough, everyone will be doing it. And where do you draw the line? Will EA be charging people extra just because they want to play as Manchester United in the next FIFA game? Will you be in the middle of a WWE wrestling match, using John Cena to beat down The Miz, and then see a flash pop up saying ‘Use Attitude Adjustment finisher: 200 Microsoft Points’ just as you’re about to deliver the killer blow? Okay, so I’m being a little melodramatic, but you get what I mean; once a new revenue stream is found, it doesn’t take long before it’s being exploited to the max.
Granted, I get that a game ultimately belongs to a publisher and as such, they can do whatever they like with it. However, my point is that if you’re selling a product on a shelf and I buy it, I should get some semblance of a complete product – not just the bits you want me to have. It’s like me buying a loaf of bread from Tesco, then discovering they’ve only given me the crusts and want more money for the middle bit, or buying a car and then being told I have to get the seats separately.
Warner’s started down a dangerous road in the industry’s on-going quest to monetise gaming and unless we say something against such a move, it’s only going to get a whole lot worse in my view. But then, asking people to vote with their wallets is like asking the tide not to come in – no-one’s going to do it, especially not with such a desirable game as Arkham City. So, right now, I’m calling it: when we’re a year down the line and every ‘must-have’ title is making you pay for each level you want to play or forcing you to buy guns, else you’ll have to fight that 20-foot-high alien monster with just your bare fists, don’t say I never told you so.
We’ve got the chance to stand up and stop this now… let’s not waste it, eh?
Words by Martin Mathers (Twitter: @MajorDysentry)
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