Net Neutrality and the DLC in gaming is sharing a disturbing common trend. This is my take on the situation.
DLC Has Suddenly Become a Way to Abuse Players
Recently, there has been a pretty strong backlash from gamers in regarding to how some in-game content and game DLC (Downloadable Content) is being made available to the players. These are things like lootboxes and perks you get with pre-orders, and the focus is on the treatment the players are getting from the publishers.
Most AAA companies (Electronic Arts, Activision, Blizzard, Ubisoft) want you not to just buy their games. They want you to buy the season pass, the extra skins, and everything else they want to sell you. The games themselves are low cost, with all the cash flow coming from the DRM. That’s not a problem normally, but it does become one when they begin to take parts of the game that should have come with the original purchase and lock them up behind a pre-order/paywall. Companies are starting to see that they can push the envelope in this respect. They believe that we don’t care enough to not buy their game or refund it if we did. However, We’re starting to also see some pushback from the gaming community in general about this.
One very clear example is Electronic Arts’ Star Wars Battlefront 2. The backlash was so strong that they disabled in-game purchases using paid currency (for a time) to try to encourage people to continue to buy the game. This is concerning because they are not saying they are going to remove them. They are going to “disable them for a time”. This means they may resume their predatory behavior of locking major gameplay content behind players having to spend unreasonable amounts of time grinding before they can even have a chance to play as their favorite characters, such as Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader. They are expecting people to be inconvenienced enough to just pull out their wallets and pay for the lootboxes (which don’t even guarantee that you’ll get whoever you want) on the off chance that this will give them a better experience.
Another game that recently did this is Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, The Lord of the Rings spinoff game is designed around lootboxes, whose implementation might be just as egregious as EA’s Batttlefront situation. They have a section of the game where you have to defend your city or area from invaders. This wouldn’t be so bad, but there is no way to reasonably do it on your own without being the proper level and having the proper gear. However, they conveniently provide you with some lootboxes you can buy to get major experience boosts and to get that set of gear that’ll make it a breeze to handle those pesky invaders. It’s one thing to limit the rate at which a play-for-free player might rise in the game. It’s another entirely to hold critical abilities for ransom.
Now, so far we don’t have a flood of these sorts of marketing scenarios. The stage is being set, though, by some of the biggest publishers in gaming. This trend of making the game unfair or unreasonable is becoming more prevalent, and if we don’t start voting with our wallets, this will be just the leading edge of a new draconian precedent.
There are some publishers who only sell things that are completely visual and have no effect on the game itself. This is a completely fair way to keep making money to provide more content. Valve did this with Team Fortress 2. Silly hats for your characters became all the rage. Rockstar Games has its Grand Theft Online service you can play for free with the purchase of the game (sans Xbox Live or Playstation Plus Memberships), where you can buy everything in game with in-game currency (and you can just buy more in game currency if you need it). This is reasonable too, because of the way they do it. Certain things are locked based on your level in the game, and you cannot just go and completely own some new player because you have this stuff. So, to make things clear.. I’m all for companies making their money in a way which provides meaningful content for players such as skins or DLC, but also i’m not for the companies removing content from the base game to sell as DLC or pre-order bonuses.
One Step Up, It Ties to Net Neutrality
To tie this into the bigger picture, this is something we’re also facing on a bigger scale in the form of Net Neutrality with ISP’s. It’s not isolated to game companies.
Net Neutrality is the belief that ISPs (Internet Service Providers) should not slow down or modify data between a website/server and ourselves. Allowing big corporations to dictate what services get bandwidth corrupts the natural balance of the Internet, and breaks the nurturing environment of innovation that led to it becoming an essential part of our lives in the first place. There have been law suits about this, with ISP’s on the losing side; our current administration is trying very hard to reverse these decisions.
Some providers outside of the USA are already controlling traffic by who’s paying them the most for that bandwidth, and it’s a horrible thing. There is some protections in place right now, such the the ISP’s classification as a utility (Title 2) but the FCC’s Chairman is trying to remove that protection that we have. They are trying to force us to pay to access only certain sites and to also access certain services. They want the big companies to be allowed to turn the Internet into a collection of information citadels, with ticket booths at every gate.
They’re also trying to force everyone into data caps, which will limit our access to the internet unless we pay for more. Their thinking is that bandwidth is like gas. That isn’t how it works. Unfortunately, we have not enough people who care or too many people who are misinformed on this topic. That needs to change.
We need education on Net Neutrality works, and also what is ethically right in the way of what these businesses are doing. They only care about the shareholders and will fight anyone who tries to circumvent this (such as local cities and municipalities) due to the fact that they either have a monopoly or duality in a area and can control pricing.
I hope how you can see how both the ISPs and the AAA publishers are both becoming more and more anti-consumer and predatory while trying to take your money. The protection we have as consumers is where we choose to spend our money, but if everything moves out of reach at once, will we have any choice left?
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Remember that your money is your vote. Vote with your wallet, even if it’s hard. If enough people do it, maybe they’ll see a dent in their bottom line and change will finally happen. I hope.