Computer of Hats …

So, Portal 2 came out and gave you the ability to buy extra clothing items through the Valve store. People were incensed. This made Shamus Young over at Twenty-Sided Tale incensed, and he wondered why people were so upset by DLC that he claimed “… is less offensive and more consumer-friendly than anything that came before it.”

I disagreed with that, actually. I didn’t find it all that consumer-friendly, and wondered why. The vast number of comments made Shamus himself accept that maybe it isn’t as clear an issue as he thinks. But it got me thinking, and while I don’t support the level of hatred that it got I think there are reasons here why this sort of things irritates people, perhaps even more than DLC that advertises itself in game or dramatically changes the game itself.

First, Day 1 DLC is always going to be an issue. Seriously, if you release anything — no matter how trivial — as being separately for sale on the same day as the game is released, people are going to rightly wonder why that wasn’t just put in the game if it could be created and tested fully with the game in time to release it. Sure, there may be economic factors that dictate separating them out like that, but it’s really hard to think of any. After all, it would still have to be the original team working on this, and so you’d still be paying them, and they’d still be working with the same deadlines, right? I guess if at some level the group making this DLC was an arm’s length group, say a group that makes items or levels for all games and not just this one, it might make sense … but that’s a level of organizational detail that we just aren’t going to know (or want to know). For anything big, it should have taken longer and at least been out a month or two after; for anything small, it probably won’t earn enough to make it worthwhile.

Now, on pondering this, there’s a contradiction here: collector’s editions. Particularly for MMOs, collector’s editions provide some new in-game goodies that are purely in-game, and they usually cost a little bit more. And yet this doesn’t seem to have the same negative connotation as this DLC did, at least for me. But both are Day 1, and it could be argued that they do the same things in the same way, but one is purchaseable separately and one is in a limited edition version that costs more. What’s the difference?

I think origin is the difference. I remember collectors editions when they generally gave you OUT OF GAME bonuses, like figurines, maps, and soundtracks. I’ve pre-ordered games just to get soundtracks (the latest Silent Hill being a prime example). So the original connotation is not that collector’s editions are extra in-game content, but that they are extra out-of-game content; they are, in fact, collector’s items that you can collect or enjoy.

MMOs like City of Heroes can piggyback onto this impression, even if their bonuses are actually all in-game. You FEEL like you’re getting something “extra”, that’s worth the extra money, but something that isn’t just something that should have been in the game already — even if it should be. Valve’s “hats” don’t even pretend to be anything other than an in-game addition at Day 1, and as such we can nakedly see that this is just charging us extra for things that they already made for the game. This, then, triggers the “Day 1 DLC” anger.

Second … small things annoy me more than big things. Unless you’re a game like “The Sims”, clothing options don’t impact gameplay or, really, add that much to the game. It doesn’t seem to be worth taking the time to create them, let alone creating them just to charge a little extra for them for those who might buy it. And, historically, most of these sorts of items were never sold separately, but were instead bundled with more expansive expansions. So, if you bought an expansion to a game like Icewind Dale, you’d get new quests as well as a bunch of new items and clothing options. It’s odd to see these things as being valuable enough to try to sell, and the low price — something like $5 — seems to reflect that. So, why are they bothering? Either stick it in the game from the start or add it as part of a more substantial addition. If it takes a lot of time to do these things, then wait and add things that do indeed change the game significantly for the better, and if it doesn’t then, again, take more time to do more significant changes and toss these in as well.

Of course, these are just my own personal opinions, and others may disagree. But this is just one perspective on why this might have generated such much hostilty even if some people can’t see why it would.

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2 Responses to “Computer of Hats …”

  1. malcolmthecynic Says:

    The problem with the Portal 2 clothing and animations is that the pack for all of them originally cost MORE THAN THE GAME. Fairly significantly, too.

    That said, it wasn’t as if it was pay to play stuff, or even things that made gameplay easier. It was all cosmetic, so if you really had a problem with that you could just not buy anything and get along just fine.

    As for how that was resolved, Valve almost immediately slashed prices down like 75%+.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      That does make it worse, for multiple reasons, because if people really would pay that much for things that normally come with the game it looks like a cash grab, and if they wouldn’t they look completely disconnected from their audience. At the minimum, charging that much doesn’t really support people thinking that the things are inconsequential.

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