You, Me, & DLC. Part one: “Artistic Integrity”

DLC and corporate-consumer relations have been making waves a lot again recently, particularly due to (repeat offender) Capcom with Street Fighter X Tekken and, of course, (repeat offender) EA with special guest stars BioWare and Mass Effect 3. The idealised DLC defence most often used by developers and publishers often involves phrases such as “enhancing and lengthening the experience”; while at the other end of the spectrum, there are some consumers who hate DLC almost without exception, who see the concept as nothing more than a way to squeeze more money out of them for products they’ve already paid for. The truth of course lies somewhere between these two extremes; but the issue is more complicated yet than that.

Let’s look at the Mass Effect 3 furore today. Yes, the bulk of the anger seems to relate to the game’s endings; but this highly volatile issue is directly linked to what consumers should and should not be paying for after handing their cash over for the disc/s. And just in case you think this is yet another furious anti-BioWare diatribe written by somebody labelled an “entitled gamer”; at time of writing, I haven’t finished Mass Effect 3’s story. I have no right to comment on the content or quality of any of the endings, and I shan’t pretend otherwise. As for Dr. Ray Muzyka’s evidently crippled “artistic integrity” defence, well… I have plenty to say about that.

BioWare co-founder Dr. Ray Muzyka reassured and upset fans in equal measures

In his first public, official response to criticisms of the ending, Dr. Ray Muzyka uses the phrase “artistic integrity” twice (with one “artistic choices” thrown in for good measure, almost immediately after asserting that “games are an art form”). The basic message here – and in the Extended Cut FAQ which followed at a later date – is that, while BioWare are happy to listen to and act on (some) criticism from fans, whom they respect, they will not let this interfere with their artistic integrity. The endings are what they are because that is what the creators have decided is best and right. On the face of it this is a perfectly good and legitimate stance, no matter how unpopular the endings may be, and regardless of how valid the complaints are or are not. Muzyka and his team have undermined their own defence, however, by introducing the Extended Cut DLC as a compromise. That, in essence, is the heart of this article; artistic integrity and compromise are entirely incompatible.

Why expand on the details that their “artistic vision” originally dictated were necessary? If it’s okay to make one change or addition to appease your audience, why isn’t it justifiable to make another? This is surely evidence enough for many to see BioWare’s artistic integrity crumble. There is, however, more unpalatable and damning evidence against the shaky artistic integrity defence. In the interests of brevity (and arguably relevance), I’ll stick with Mass Effect 3 on this one.

From Ashes. Rarely have just two words induced such anger in such a huge amount of people in such a short amount of time. For the benefit of those very few of you who don’t know, From Ashes is the name of the day one DLC pack for Mass Effect 3. This DLC pack is very much not free, and includes a squad member who is arguably much more desirable and interesting than some or all of those included on the disc. Just to add fuel to the fire, one hacker quickly discovered that he could get From Ashes (or at least, some of it) working without buying and downloading the DLC. The implication was that everything was already on the disc. BioWare were quick to respond, and explained that while some of the assets are indeed on the retail disc, not everything is. They explained that any planned extra characters need groundwork to be laid in the main game, and that they did pretty much the same thing in Mass Effect 2. It all makes sense and seems reasonable… but doesn’t explain why players are expected to pay out to access From Ashes.

Recognise this backstory rich chap? No? You didn't buy From Ashes then

A download code for the pack was included in more expensive editions of the game, and that could well be considered a fair end to the issue… were it not for the fact that Mass Effect 2’s first batch of DLC – which included an extra squad member – was free to everybody who purchased a brand new copy of the game. So why isn’t the DLC which was ready before Mass Effect 3 even hit shops available for free? It’s time to introduce another two words which enrage a lot of people: Online Pass. The previous game featured no online play, so EA’s online pass was in effect used to lock out a relatively small amount of singleplayer content for people who bought the game secondhand. As Mass Effect 3 does feature online play, the pass is used to access said element of the game. The very idea of Mass Effect multiplayer sat uncomfortably with many fans, and it could be argued that perhaps EA pushed for it so that they could justify (to themselves) charging every single consumer for every last drop of story DLC.

Did BioWare, whose employees apparently pride themselves on their “artistic integrity”, fight EA on this issue? Did they point out that their artistic integrity demands that the day one DLC, at the very least, should be made available free of charge to their audience? We’ll never know. On the one hand, publishers essentially hold all the cash for a game’s development. Generally speaking, if a developer puts forward an idea and the publisher says no, that’s the end of it. Equally, if a publisher really wants something to go into a game and/or the way it’s distributed, it goes in whether the developer likes it or not (ever wonder why so many developers have caught Kickstarter Fever?). On the other hand, the bigger the developer, the more power they have when striking publishing deals and during the development cycle. It’s nigh-on impossible to tell who is to blame for what from the outside.

In part two I’ll be looking at on-disc DLC, developer divas, the industry’s obsession with review scores, and how much – if any – right consumers have over a game’s story and design.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

2 comments

  1. KrazyFace /

    I have not yet had the pleasure of playing any of the Mass Effect games, but what you’ve raised here is universal in this (and other) entertainment medias. Quite often in Hollywood we hear people talking a lot about which sequels they’d like to see, or re-makes etc, yet what is usually the general response? Ugh – usually.

    The thing is, a lot of us just want more of a good thing, and that’s great! It’s only natural after all but what we don’t see (at first) is WHY the thing we want more of, is so appealing in the first place. Rather than just basking in its glory we push for more, even to the point where we want control of it. And to me, that’s ridiculous. A little input or suggestion if they creator is asking, but never EVER dictate what his final vision should be.

    Sorry for the rant but I think the internet and its many many comments section has raised a generation of spoiled children who believe they’re far more important than they really are as consumers. /End Rant

    BTW, good read, as always.

  2. Sure, the next two episodes of “You, Me & DLC” were free, but I bet you had them saved to your hard drive all along. What’s next, costume packs for your profile picture?

    Unquestionably hilarious joking aside, I’m just now getting around to these articles. I approve.

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