A few months ago, when I argued on this site that game makers should provide the option to unlock all in-game content at any time, I received much expected backlash in the comments. A key argument was that locking game content was a natural way to balance the gameplay experience, holding back a player until they were properly trained in previous content and able to deal with the more powerful stuff that would come later. come to go.
I’m somewhat sympathetic to this argument, even if I feel that an “instant unlock” option doesn’t really stop a player from playing a game “as intended”, any more than the ability to jump to the last scene in a dvd ruin to jump the intended order of a movie. Even fully accepting that argument, it’s hard to accept 2K Games’ decision to allow To develop players to unlock instantly playable characters by pre-purchasing the game.
The team behind it To develop announced today that Xbox One players who pre-purchase the game will have instant access to a slew of fighters – Parnell, Abe, Caira, and Cabot – as well as the third revealed monster, the Wraith. If you don’t pre-purchase the game, you can unlock all of these characters by earning experience points through normal play. This instant access applies to both the Xbox One exclusive open beta next week and the game’s full release next month.
My first concern when I heard about this tiered access from day one had to do with the balance: I’m worried that pre-purchasers’ access to these characters will have an immediate advantage over those waiting to get the game. to buy. However, it’s safe to assume that Turtle Rock’s developers will at least try to put the “unlockable” characters at roughly the same power level as the characters that were available from the start to prevent newcomers from being released even long after release. overpowered by veterans. In any case, it’s hard to assess this risk without actually playing as one of the new characters included in the pre-purchase unlock.
Even if the characters unlocked via pre-purchase are perfectly balanced, it’s a little annoying to see them used as carrots to encourage people to buy the game before it’s available for sale or independent review. If anything, it’s an implicit admission that hiding content behind gameplay-based unlocks is actually something players don’t want. “We know that the unlocking system we’ve built into the game is a tedious and time-consuming task,” the publisher seems to be saying, “but we’ll let you skip it if you buy the game early!”
Offering instant unlocks in this way also removes most of the gameplay-based justifications that were used to defend the practice of locking game content in the first place. If these characters were locked in initially to give the player a sense of progression and achievement or to slowly speed up the introduction of new gameplay mechanics, then this kind of “instant unlock” pre-purchase would short-circuit that effect and make the game less fun However? On the other hand, if avoiding unlocking is seen as a “bonus” for pre-purchases, it’s hard to see things locked as anything but… the opposite of a bonus.
In some ways, this situation is similar to the last one World of Warcraft expansion, Warlords of Draenor, which allows new or returning players to avoid the grind to level 90 by offering a free character boost with purchase (and allows additional level 90 boosts to be purchased for $60).
There, Blizzard seemed to place a precise dollar value on the amount of time a player usually invests in developing their character into high-level content. For To develop, apparently the dollar value of unlocking these characters is only as much as the early spend of a pre-purchase. Numerous free-to-play games also make the same explicit “money for time” exchange, although in those cases the basic experience doesn’t cost any money.
In another way, “buying” an unlock through a pre-purchase is akin to publishers hiding content on disc as “DLC” to be purchased in addition to the “main game.” In that case, players will be asked to trade money to access some of the digital files they purchased. In To developIn the case of players, they are asked to trade their time for the benefit – or simply pay early for a pre-purchase that bypasses the time investment.
(Yes, I know I argued two years ago that on-disc DLC wasn’t that big of a deal. My opinion on that may have tempered a bit in the intervening time…)
But the best analogy may come from outside the video game industry. As Tim Wu recently explained in The New Yorkers, airlines have a perverse incentive to downgrade the “base” experience of flying in coaches to make expensive fares and upgrades much more coveted. The more fun the coach gets, the fewer people are willing to contribute to the $31.5 billion airlines took in through fees in 2013. Likewise, if the traditional method of entering characters in To develop less painful (or even completely painless), there is no longer any additional incentive to pre-purchase the game.
The level to which you view any of these examples as an affront to fair consumer practices probably has to do with how much you value your comfort versus your money versus your time. Anyway, creating this kind of layered unlocking structure in To develop just raises questions about the value of locking down this kind of content in the first place. Use locked content as a gameplay fulcrum if you must, but don’t use it as a way to degrade the gameplay experience for a particular class of consumers.
Update: An earlier version of the story indicated that the unlockable characters came along with a pre-order of the game. Players actually have to put down a full price pre-purchase of the game to get the instant unlocks. Ars regrets the mistake.