Behold, Whovians. My USB hub involves Time And Relative Dimensions In Space. I can connect to SO many devices. Some of them aren’t even of human manufacture! Muahahaha…
…okay, it’s a silly USB hub shaped like a TARDIS. I don’t need it. But it makes my life easier and it’s really cool-looking, in my humble opinion.
The TARDIS hub is, in a way, a lot like a video game’s downloadable content, colloquially called DLC.
I’m a consumer in general, of media in particular. Be it through conditioning or simple instinctual inclination, I like little optional extras. I like having a car charger for my iPhone that also has an FM transmitter. I enjoy samples of wine before a meal. And if there’s art or music above and beyond what’s included with media I really dig, you can bet I’ll be finding ways to check it out. Heck, as I type this supplemental material to the Internet narrative comic phenomenon Homestuck is winging its way to my door. Well, not winging so much as rolling, as it’s coming USPS, but you get the idea.
But I know none of these things are necessary. My life will not be diminished if they were absent. Plenty of people get by without things like this. I’m just in a position where I can enjoy such optional extras.
DLC is a lot like that.
In recent years it’s become the practice of certain big software publishers to bundle their new releases with DLC that is only available to those who pre-order or buy new. The DLC in question usually becomes available later for an additional fee. In Dragon Age: Origins, the character of Shale was only included in the initial release of the game if it was purchased new. If you got a copy second hand, you’d be deprived of the bird-stomping golem unless you paid $15 US. This was due to a launch date developers were struggling to reach, causing them to cut Shale from the project until the date was pushed back.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is another example. Pre-orders of the game from certain vendors featured the Explosive Mission Pack. This includes a bonus mission involving an important character that has appeared throughout the Deus Ex storyline in both previous games. The reward for completing it is an interesting bit of continuity and a wickedly powerful weapon. If you didn’t pre-order the game, you can download the pack (as I did) for $3 US. It’s cool to have for story buffs and the like, but it’s no more necessary to that game than Shale is to Dragon Age: Origins. Don’t get me wrong, I love Shale; I just acknowledge that she isn’t an essential part of that game.
The reason I’ve decided to bring this up is the imminent Reaper invasion contained in discs and downloads around the world. Mass Effect 3 is coming, and some goofball on the Internet leaked its Day One DLC. Called “From Ashes”, it is included only with Collector’s Editions of the game and has a few neat points, which are outlined here. The biggest one is an additional character, a member of the Prothean race that has been part of the Mass Effect universe from the very beginning. From what I understand, this character is like Shale in that his content and very presence is entirely optional, and if you weren’t fortunate enough to pre-order a collector’s edition of the game, you can buy the DLC separately for $10 US. BioWare contends that the game is complete and “huge” even without this DLC.
Nonetheless, there is a LOT of uproar over this. Folks threatening boycott and saying that it’s EA’s marketing doing stuff like this that’s killing the industry and exploiting the consumer. I can see where they’re coming from. I don’t like the mentality of big business publishers when it comes to things like this, and as much as a lot of the backlash to “From Ashes” sounds like a bunch of entitled whining, this sort of behavior is a major shift from their previous Mass Effect title, which included a character and other enhancements as Day One DLC for free as long as you bought the game new.
This doesn’t change the fact that DLC is optional. Provided BioWare is honest about the completeness of the game without “From Ashes”, it seems to me that this Prothean character and the module’s other content falls under “nice to have” instead of “must have”. I’ve considered not buying the game myself as I don’t want to support toxic policies like this, but on the other hand I’ve been wanting to see for myself if BioWare can come back from its recent failures. If Mass Effect 3 turns out to be as lackluster as Star Wars: The Old Republic or as aimless and repetitive as Dragon Age 2, it’ll be the last time I buy anything from the company, unless it’s a copy of an older game I no longer have a disc for like Baldur’s Gate or something.
After giving it some thought, I’ll still be buying Mass Effect 3 but I will not be picking up “From Ashes” initially. Maybe if the game delivers on all of its promises and makes me forget all about BioWare’s unfortunate EA entanglements I’ll come back to it. But this really is like all other DLC and optional extras for consumers in general. Nobody’s entitled to it. It’s never guaranteed and while it’s nice to have, we can live perfectly fine without it. It is, at the end of the day, decidedly lavish crap.