The face of things is beginning to shift. Like it or not, gaming is slowly pushing towards a future with a greater emphasis upon downloads and bandwidth than plastic cases and instruction booklets. Though the forced extinction of the disc is still a long way off, this generation is experiencing the birthing pains of the downloadable age.
Across the board, you can see developers and publishers testing the waters, seeing what consumers will snap up and what will be left to die in digital obscurity. Price points are being toyed with (Will they pay $15.00 for Braid? ), and it seems that every game that has hit the shelves in the last few months has been trailed by an extra chapter or level just a few weeks after launch (which we'll get into later) .
As gamers, this makes for an exciting time. The notion that our games could be given new life on a fairly regular basis should certainly appeal to the adventurer in each of us. And not only that, but as the size of downloads grow, so will the catalogue of beloved titles of gaming's yesteryear. Will Total Annihilation surface? Heroes III ? Only time will tell.
As thrilling as this time might be, it also presents us with an opportunity. Over the next few years, as the number of downloadable options grows exponentially, a lot of people are going to be paying attention to our reactions. What we choose to buy, and what we choose to ignore, will have a tremendous effect on what developers are willing to produce for us in the years to come.
ONE: DLC DONE RIGHT
If you haven't had the pleasure of playing it yet, you should really check out "The Lost and Damned." Yes, the twenty-dollar price tag may seem a little steep, but it is worth every penny. There are a few moments when the missions seem a tad formulaic, and the dialogue suffers a bit from Broken Love cliches, but there is also a great deal of fun to be had.
Not only is it (for DLC) an incredibly lengthy series of missions, it seems as though Rockstar tried to cram as many cut-scenes, activities, and action sequences as it could into the episode. And, for some odd reason, it is highly entertaining to play as a completely new character in the same backdrop as the old. All in all, TLAD is a solid example of content done right.
For your money, you get several hours of quality entertainment. The content wasn't simply phoned in. Rockstar took its time, got creative, and remembered that though a bottom line must be sought, gamers don't have to be taken advantage of in the process. And it has completely changed my concept of what DLC can be.
Now, compare this to the recent content offered by Bethesda for Fallout 3, and you encounter a problem. For ten bucks, you get an incredibly short, highly linear chapter. Sure, you get some neat do-dads at the endgame, but the whole thing felt like a Call of Duty B-side, right down to the "blow up the three artillery units" style objectives. I get it: it was aimed at the FPS crowd and not the RPG crowd, but the core gameplay is not designed that way. The controls tell me so.
And I am convinced that the voice actors used in Operation Anchorage were rounded up outside of a Sci-Fi Channel casting call.
Before you take a shishkebab to me, know that Fallout 3 is easily one of my favorite games. I just don't appreciate the seeming lack of effort put into the DLC. Ten bucks for a three hour tour is a bit steep, especially when that tour is accompanied by irritating dialogue, incredibly bland objectives, and a progression of events that borders on monkey-poo stupid. I'm sorry I bought it. Which is the exact opposite of what I should feel had it been handled with care.
Fortunately, gaming sites have begun to review DLC. Though I try to think for myself, I will be paying more attention to these reviews in the future. I would suggest that you do the same. Reviews, though not a substitute for individual thought, are our second line of defense. The first being word-of-mouth.
TWO: ARM YOURSELF
There has never been a community of gamers quite like the one we see today. If we are so inclined, we can play with people who live thousands of miles of way, in nearly any time zone, whenever we want. Now, traditionally the online community has been used to make gaming a much richer experience, but if employed properly, it can also help us avoid buying products that are not worth the money.
Talk to the people you share common gaming interests with. Ask them how they felt about the content for this game or the port of that. And, if you don't really play online all that much, cruise around the forums and see what other gamers are saying. Read a dozen reviews on the content you're interested in.
Though sometimes its fun to simply take a chance and buy something on a whim, your happiness will go much farther if you educate yourself first, and spend your money second.
THREE: AVOID THE "OH, AND BY THE WAY"
This is becoming a major issue. Perhaps I'm alone in this, but I have a real problem when I buy a game and two weeks later a new chapter or three new maps come out on the market. Perhaps I'm asking for too much, but when I buy a game, I would really like it to be finished. I understand that developers/publishers are in it to make money, but pulling crap like that simply makes me feel taken advantage of.
I really think that as gamers, we should simply say "No" to this kind of tactic. If we don't, we're likely to see a stream of intentionally unfinished products headed our way.
FOUR: VOTE YOUR HEART
At the risk of vetoing the three guidelines above, it's important that we think for ourselves. If you have no trouble buying an extra level for the game you just bought thirty minutes ago, then knock yourself out. Or if you absolutely love "Let's Paint My Giant House" on the Wii, and everybody tells you that the "Paint Drying Sim Pack" is just as dull as it sounds, buy it anyway.
You are the best judge of what makes you happy. Just keep in mind that the decisions you make today will have an effect on what you play tomorrow. If we demand more and better, more and better is what we will get. If we are content with downloadable dookie-stinks, then we can expect to hold our noses around our consoles.