Monday, 12 March 2012

DLC, and Final Fantasy

     The concept of Downloadable Content (DLC) is one that has been holty debated for as long as it has been around. It seems like there is always some new DLC that has people up in arms, and it only gets worse as time passes. Recently there has been a big hubub about the Day 1 DLC attached to Mass Effect 3, and to a lesser extent, the on-disc DLC included in Street Fighter x Tekken. Me personally, I've always been a guy that was on the outside looking in when it comes to DLC. Where Final Fantasy comes into this topic however, is that XIII-2 has thrust me right into the middle of the DLC world, and now I feel like I'm traversing a minefield. I'm not going to lie, this post is largely going to be a rant about Final Fantasy XIII-2, but almost everything I say is very much applicable to a variety of other games as well. While my experiences may be very focused, I feel that there is an important comment on the video game industry that can be taken away from what follows.

     It's like this: every game I had ever played before 2012 either had no DLC to speak of, or else it had DLC I simply did not care about. Then along came Final Fantasy XIII-2. This is a game that I struggle to decide whether or not I like at the best of times. I've written a couple of articles already discussing some of my feelings on the game. For the purpose of this article though, all you really need to know is that the game's story is at best, random, confusing and cryptic. I went into the final battle thinking that I would come out the other side with answers and a sense of fulfillment, and in actuality both were severely lacking.

     As if the ending wasn't bad enough, you are greeted by a big "To Be Continued" after the credits. So then I figured hey, there's still a secret ending. Surely there's something in there that can make all this better! Not so much. It turns out your reward for doing everything the game has to offer is a 30 second scene that only serves to compound the issues with the normal ending. That is to say that after watching both endings, absolutely none of the story elements have been resolved and no answers have been provided to alleviate any confusion. The story does not feel complete, and Squeenix's answer is loud and clear: "Better buy the DLC!" In fact, they have even confirmed that the "To Be Continued" specifically refers to future DLC story arcs. This seems a lot like giving a giant middle finger to loyal Final Fantasy fans.

     With all of that said, where does that leave us? Well congratulations, you've invested $60 and 50 hours of your life in a game that is only 2/3 complete. Hell, I bought the collector's edition of both the game and the strategy guide and what do I get for it? I get to buy the last 1/3 of the game in $5 increments. See, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a game that was quite clearly designed from the get-go with massive amounts of DLC in mind. That in itself isn't offensive though. I may be stingy but I can't blame a company for trying to find extra ways to monetize their product. The problem however lies in the fact that their business model seems to be "rush out the game, strip out everything you can (and then some), slap an unfinished product on store shelves, charge $5 for everything else".

     Can you imagine if they took Final Fantasy VII and said you have to pay for Emerald and Ruby Weapon. You have to pay for the Crashed Gelnika. You have to pay for Wutai. You have to pay for Yuffie and Vincent. You have to pay for the Gold Saucer mini games. Surely a lot of people would view that as being greedy. Even that would be better than what FFXIII-2 does though. Every one of those things I listed are side-objectives that have no major bearing on the main storyline. Certainly they add to the game, but that's just it, they add to the game, they don't define it. You can play the game from start to finish without touching a single one of those elements, and still fell as though you've played a complete game. In fact I would probably call that DLC done right for just that reason. That said, what XIII-2 does is more like stripping out all of the aforementioned, and then also charging you for all of disc 3.

     To me the issue doesn't even stop there. You see, had I known what Squeenix was doing to this game, then it's quite likely I would have straight up boycotted it. However they were very sneaky in how they approached the concept of DLC. We knew there would be consumes and extra story arcs. Nobody knew these story arcs would be required to get any sense of completion from the game. No, you have to play the game for a good 30+ hours before you realize the situation you've gotten yourself into. Of course by that time you have already invested time and money into the game. If you bought the game on release like me, you were basically tricked by Square Enix, how were we to know the game was incomplete? I had certainly not heard anything to that effect despite the Japanese release being months prior.

     Having already invested in the game monetarily, emotionally and time wise, we are in a situation where you have to decide to either stick to your morals and not buy the DLC, or cave in. Do you deny Square Enix the DLC purchase despite the fact your already bought the game, or do you just throw a couple 5s at it, essentially paying for an ending? Oh by the way, you can't actually buy an ending, not yet anyways. We have the Sazh DLC that is basically just cashing in on the only likable character in the FFXIII universe, and the Lightning DLC in May which has been confirmed as happening concurrently with the main plot. In other words even if I did want to cave in and pay for a real ending, I'm going to have to wait some unknown time longer than 3 months, with no indication of when it's actually coming. At this point I'm refusing to buy the DLC, not even for moral reasons, but because I'm so disgusted by the business model that I can't even stand the thought of returning the disc to my console.

     Is this really the way that the video game industry is going? Are we really living in a world where the consumers have to be tricked into spending their money? Why is it ok for a company to not only rush out a product, but also charge you for the missing bits that come afterward? As I said earlier, it's not even like I'm against the concept of DLC, in fact I'm all for it. If I really enjoy a game I'd be happy to spend a little more and get some bonus content. It's a similar concept to a free-to-play MMO, and that has proven to be a wildly successful business strategy that benefits developers and consumers alike. When you charge separately for content that is required for a complete game, that is a totally different story though. Now you're basically saying that the game actually costs $70+, the consumer just doesn't know it yet. That is very much not ok. When I pay full price I expect a full game and that is not what I got with Final Fantasy XIII-2.

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