You, Me, & DLC. Part two: Entitled developers


Shigeru Miyamoto has been known as a cuddly developing genius worldwide since the only way we got our gaming news and reviews was via shop shelf magazines. Due to the explosion in indie games journalism and social media over the last ten years or so however, we are now all able – for better or for worse – to take a close look at many, many more of the people making the games that we play. This often leads to pleasant surprises, as we find that some developers are much more like us than we suspected; that not only do they make great games, they seem to be exactly the sort of people we’d like to talk to between gaming sessions; maybe – shock, horror – about something other than videogames. Inevitably though, some devs appear (to some of us, at least) to be arrogant and self-important. We only see this because they’re thrust into the spotlight so often… because they’re working on some of the biggest games out there.

I’ve already covered the Mass Effect 3 debacle in part one though I will, as a final note on the matter, comment on one aspect of Dr. Ray Muzyka’s initial response to criticism of the Mass Effect 3 endings which irked me greatly. After acknowledging that “some” people aren’t happy with the endings, he goes on to say: “However, most folks appear to agree that the game as a whole is exceptional, with more than 75 critics giving it a perfect review score and a review average in the mid-90s”. Perhaps I don’t understand the term well enough, but this assertion seems somewhat at odds with the “humility” Muzyka promises in the first paragraph.

"He doesn't look a thing like Jesus, but he talks like a gentleman..."

One sentence, several problems. Where to begin? Well for starters, the number of people who wrote reviews of Mass Effect 3 sure as hell does not represent “most” of the people who ever have played or will play the game. In fact, while I don’t know the percentage, it seems fair to assume that it’s miniscule. Not unless the “most folks” statement is a euphemism for ‘reviewers love our game, their opinion matters to us and yours doesn’t’. Even ignoring that possibility (which is at odds with everything else BioWare has officially said), it’s clear that an unhealthy obsession with review scores is present here. Surely a review average in the mid-80s alongside an almost universally happy fanbase would be preferable to a review average in the mid-90s and a high-profile internet protest with thousands of angry supporters?

This also unwisely ignores the suspicion that many gamers have regarding extremely high review scores; particularly when it comes to the most heavily marketed products. Now, while I’ve heard rumours of isolated cash-for-scores incidents in the past, I’m confident that such activity is not commonplace. The truth is that publishers don’t need to offer money for positive reviews; often, they won’t need to do anything at all. Certainly not overtly. I do believe it’s true that the highest profile games are susceptible to overly enthusiastic reviews, and it’s not necessarily just the biggest sites/magazines that this applies to. A game might receive an overenthusiastic review for any combination of reasons. Sometimes, of course, the reviewer simply likes the game that much. It’s not impossible, sadly, to imagine some smaller blogs assessing other reviews first, and then scoring the game similarly in an attempt to make themselves look more professional. Sometimes there might be editorial pressure, or the editor will take on the review themselves, in order to maintain good relations with the publisher. Indeed, this might include advertising considerations for profitable publications.

Gears of War 3 did very well at retail, and very well in reviews. When a few extremely popular sites awarded the game ‘only’ 8/10, project lead Clifford Bleszinski threw his toys out of the pram. Speaking to VG24/7, he said that he was happy with the review scores “apart from a couple of haters”. He was happy to single out Eurogamer’s review, and his main problem seemed to be that Gears of War 2 received a higher rating. That obsession again with the number after the important bit; the words. Complaining publicly about a positive review of your game seems kind of… what’s the word… moronic. If that’s not “entitled” behaviour, then I don’t know what is.

Ol' Cliffy looks... cool?

I used to follow Clifford on Twitter. I think I was following him for perhaps three months before I’d had enough and had to unfollow him. I always admired the way he’d sometimes reply to and involve fans in his Twitter stream; I’m happy to admit that (though fan retweets usually ran along the lines of ‘Cliffy B is awesomez!!). The sheer enthusiasm he’d show over just about everything was kind of annoying, but maybe that was just me. There was something about the way that he would boast about wining and dining prominent games ‘journalists’, however, that really rubbed me the wrong way. Suffice to say, I never saw anybody from Eurogamer in that particular list. Perhaps it’s this cosiness with the press that has led to his public persona as a wild child developing genius rather than – to pluck an example out of the air completely at random – an annoying, entitled egomaniac who posts photos of his girlfriend’s cleavage to Twitter.

Much more recently, Clifford has gone on record as saying that on-disc DLC is “an ugly truth of the gaming industry”, and “If we can get to fully downloadable games […] that stuff will thankfully go away”. Now, I could easily write a full feature explaining why a digital-only market is a very bad idea, and perhaps one day I will. For now however, I’ll simply point you towards the blog of veteran games journalist Stuart Campbell (his writing is much better than mine, don’t worry) where he gives an example of something that has already happened which hints at – well, shows – the potential abuse of power which comes with developers & publishers having absolute control over digitally distributed products. Lazy attempt at rallying support for eradicating discs, Mr B. Unsurprising that he’s defending it though, given the uproar over Gears of War 3’s on-disc DLC.

You get what you pay for. Well, usually.

Arguably worse is what Capcom has done with Street Fighter X Tekken. It was announced before the game was even released that the Vita version, still not released at time of writing, would carry twelve characters not featured on the home versions. Once the 360 and PS3 versions were released, however, hackers found that all twelve characters were present – but locked out, to be made available as ‘DLC’ at a later date. The usual ‘incomplete files’ argument doesn’t even apply, it seems, as apparently said hackers have unlocked these characters as fully functional assets, even going so far as to use them online. This is the very worst type of leeching consumers for extra cash. Imagine a blu ray were released with three scenes in the middle that were ‘locked out’. Having paid £16 for your brand new movie, you would have to pay another, say, £4 to download code to your player which allows you to view the final few scenes on the disc. Even if some of that code included information to make the scenes ‘work’, those scenes were clearly intended to be part of the complete movie. Why would it be justifiable to pay for them at all?

It’s clear that some developers feel entitled to inflated review scores and, similarly, it would seem that they (and/or their publishers) feel entitled to consumers paying extra for content at least partially present on the discs they have bought; and paying without complaint or questioning.

I haven’t even mentioned the alleged diva activity of Brendan McNamara, head of now-defunct L.A. Noire developer Team Bondi. It’s not directly related to DLC issues, or even what he may or may not have thought of the fanbase or critical reception; but it is a damn good indication of the monstrous egos bashing their way through certain areas of the industry. Bottom line is, there are some people working at development studios and publishers happy to reinforce a ‘them and us’ attitude, charging for DLC wherever possible and refusing to ever apologise for it. They see nothing wrong with anger at review scores that equate to less than 9/10, and nothing wrong with steamrollering over the opinions of anybody who doesn’t agree with them on any subject. Does it have to be this way? Are all of ‘them’ like this, and are all DLC items heartless corporate money vacuums? Of course not – as I shall explain in part three.

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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.

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