Battle Passing the Baton
Okay, I know that a lot of the actual developers are not trying to siphon your money…it’s the people at the top.
Remarks aside, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the gaming world has changed the way we approach our video games monetarily. I grew up seeing nearly the entire spectrum of what it is like paying for your games, and it’s very interesting to see younger gamers and their perspectives when they’re born into, or at least in the changing tides of it, things like live service games and DLC. So let’s take a trip through time and see how gaming has set up the ways that they determine how much our money will be worth. Just to let you know now, it’s a long trip.
A long, long time ago games were just bought as physical productions. Oh wait! If you’re a console gamer this is probably still the case (mostly)! Get it, the case? I remember the era of the SNES and N64 where we had definite boxes with games, manuals, and sometimes other goodies inside. I loved the flavor of the manuals and how some of them are written in ways that already feel like the game itself. I miss manuals sometimes. While classic retail style games did feel great, remember that if we head way back the prices adjusted for inflation would be really high. And all of that for a pixelated Atari. Well, graphics always seemed great for whatever generation they’re in, so I can’t really blame us there!
I think there seems to be a lot of gamers (or perhaps just loud gamers) who whinge about how games were already complete back then, and that is mostly valid. Some games even in this age did need day one fixes. This might’ve been worse, because then you’d have to physically send in your game for rewriting, and that would take a while. Or worse, you just got a broken version of the game. For glitchers and speedrunners, maybe this was alright, but if a game was bad back then, it had a very small chance of actually getting fixed. However, the pressure of getting it right the first time is a very good thing to have on the companies, but remember that this didn’t solve everything. We still had a ton of janky releases by developers who didn’t know what they were doing or were just seeking to nab the cash in your wallet. Oh man, the transition to 3D. Remember that? *shudders*
Expansions and Level Packs
Expansions are still some of my favorite forms of continued development. In a way, you can say these were the first DLCs, but expansions were consistently large chunks of content that tended to change the way the game was played. I’m talking about things like Starcraft: Brood War, Medal of Honor: Spearhead, and any of the Guild Wars 1 expansions. These were exciting bundles where you knew there was a good amount of content in them.
But again, we can’t assume that this didn’t all just feel like DLC. There were some things like Level Packs that really felt like DLC. New levels are great, but these tended to not add any brand new content to the games. Back then this could’ve been enough though, especially for those who were solely focused on those games. Speaking of which, id just updated their level packs for their old series like DOOM and Quake, so that the games come bundled with them in a less confusing way. Now they’re, like, giant versions of their old selves! An old family photo if you will.
Mods and Indie Games
Let’s take a detour to mods and indie games. I’m going to just put these here. Even though these are free, they were a huge way to access new content for those who didn’t have the money, also known as me. Mods are the way some games are born like Counter-Strike and sometimes entire genres like DayZ. Modding your games, especially those from Source engine games, are good fun. I mean, as long as no one is just using it as a way to steal content. That’s… yeah.
Indie games were my jam. After taking an oath to solidify my approach to video games and also being poor, I turned to indie games. I remember back then when indie games were super shaky. The quality was usually not the best and you had to really search for good stuff. I talked about some of this in my Celeste article. Indie games taught me how to look for information about games on the web. Now indie games are usually like normal games, but bite-sized.
One more thing is a shout out to flash games on all those websites. Mmm, some good times there. Some of them have evolved and are now continued as normal games on Steam, like the Bloons TD series. There are a ton of free games out there to play, and with things like Epic Games giving games out every week and free services such as Fall Guys, you don’t even have to pay any money to be a gamer at all! Except for the gaming device. Which is a lot. Sorry, I lied there.
Steam was slow to go into the household. I was still young-ish and my parents did not trust these digital stores. But I still somehow remember the old, super chunky, off-green UI. Now, digital is like one of the main, if not the main storefront for gamers. It’s so strange that it has been entirely converted in the past few decades. Waaaait a minute, did I just say past few decades? That makes me feel old.
Downloadable Content/DLC, and Cosmetics
This is the one I remember the huge controversy about. Two words: Horse Armor. Back in 2006 when one of the first major DLCs came out for Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion people were not happy. I’m sure there is something out there that already had DLC, but this was the big one that really pushed DLC to be real. Now DLC is everywhere. It can be content that is as small as a new shirt for your character to wear, to something as big as an expansion.
Kind of in a similar way, cosmetics have also taken over the games industry. I mean, we even have cosmetics for single player games. Do I totally fall for these kinds of things? Yes. This is how I dress up since I don’t go outside and am a pale vampire. I won’t really argue that cosmetics and DLC are evil or anything. Some people are really happy with their purchases. Which brings me to something a bit more …questionable.
Lootboxes, Mobile Game Leeches
Remember when lootboxes were actual, like, treasure chests in a game? And now when you say lootbox people think of the gambling thing. Lootboxes are a problem because they are predatory. A lot of games set it up in that way, and let’s be honest not all gamers are ready or able to fight against that dope rush of opening this thing only to get…that duplicate item you already have. I don’t really feel like lootboxes that are unbuyable are bad. Those are no different from normal boxes. They’re just presented differently. But nowadays it’s always buyable stuff.
Some people say that cosmetic only, buyable lootboxes are fine, but remember that it still involves the buyable gambling aspect and that can pose a risk for some gamers. As long as we can feed money into the loop, it can be harmful. I don’t care that I have worked on myself enough to the point where I don’t do that stuff anymore. I don’t care that I can work myself to that point. It’s the fact that there are some people still within that struggle who may not be successful. We don’t know what is going on in their lives that is leading them to that, and I don’t want people to have to struggle with those unhealthy situations.
Mobile games also prey in the same way. They want you to just try one more time. They want you to have to use that one cash item that will let you beat the level, or even…might beat the level. I’m looking at you Candy Crush and all related situations. These kinds of things can lead to insane amounts of profits, but it’s all feeding on people who shouldn’t have to suffer those kinds of things.
It’s possible to argue otherwise, but I think these two things should go away. I mean, lootboxes in their original forms of just treasure boxes in games can stay, but goodness, some of these things are horrifying.
Subscriptions and Game/Battle Passes
I put these two in the same category because they feast on the same thing: time. You have already paid for your content and now it’s up to you to make use of it. It’s almost like a, “it’s out of our hands” kind of approach. I think these kinds of payments are great for those who focus solely on one game. Those people will likely get the things they want out of it. Let’s be honest, those free tiers on the battle pass are way less exciting though.
I have some negative feelings about these because time is not something I have. I’m always jumping around to different games and it’s hard to make me feel like I’m making good time. Battle passes are cruel for me because they usually have such shiny, beautiful cosmetics. There are some Battle Passes where you can earn some of the payment back in some…non-cash form such as getting the next pass free. I think Warzone and Fortnite do this. But that usually obliges you further to need to play the game. And when playing becomes something that is against your choice, it’s very easy for the game to feel like a chore.
It’s a weird thing when the company wants you to pay so that you might like their game less. It’s even more awkward when people who play games for a living through things like Twitch show off the battle pass, because they play games for a living. Of course the battle pass will be worth it for them. But what about that woman who is working in the office and comes home exhausted some days because people are sexist and they really just want to be a blob on the couch? Or a stay-at-home dad who is helping out the kids with…oh my goodness, whatever apocalypses kids create. Maybe they can’t even play the game when kids are around because it’s too violent. I mean, I’m kind of just spouting stuff, but these are also real situations for people where time consuming things like this just don’t feel as worth it. And I would say that if we can’t pay with time we can pay with cash, but we’re literally paying with both of these things in this situation, so… yeah.
And that’s it. Well, I’m sure there are other things out there, but that’s most of it. Thanks for taking this exhausting trip with me. I like to be all happy and chummy with video games and the industry, but I have to also remember that sometimes the people leading the charge, like the execs, just want to make money. And here we see the river of pain that flows through developers, artists, and then to the gamers.
I think in some ways, we’ve got a lot of good stuff going now. Live service means a lot of free and fixed content. It also means content can eventually feel ruined by a developer’s changing ideals. We get some really good deals on digital storefronts today that no one would’ve even dreamed of with physical stores, but a lot of the novelty is gone and now we have some suspicious ways of companies setting things up for money.
I hope that didn’t make you feel too depressed! Sometimes you have to take care of real life, your real self. We’re gonna get through whatever else they throw at us (and maybe throw some things back). So keep that money secure. Take a deep breath and a step back. Let’s focus on enjoying the game for ourselves.
I’ll see you again soon!