You’ve saved your money. You’re excited to go to the store and pick up the next big game. You get home and…

“Why is my game incomplete?”

You hop on Facebook and Twitter and tell everyone that you just bought a game that is unfinished. You’re frustrated, you have no clue how a game developer could get away with selling such a blatantly unfinished game. But they’ve got your money, and you’ve got an 80% finished game.

It’s bullshit. But it’s becoming the norm.

More and more game developers are releasing games that are unfinished. And even worse, a lot of those game developers are selling incomplete games in order to make more money off of you, on top of that money you already put down to actually purchase the game.

You might think “It’s a business. Game developers need to make money.

Great. Except that there are virtually no other industries that could get away with this trend of incompleteness and micro-transactions.

Imagine this. You go to the cinema to see The Force Awakens. You get 80% through the movie. Rey has just claimed Luke’s old lighsaber. She’s about to fight Kylo Ren. And then a message pops up on the cinema screen. “To watch this scene you must pay $2.99.”

Pardon me?

I just paid to watch this movie. Now I have to pay again to watch this scene, the best bit?

You’d be outraged. You’d probably storm right up to the cinema manager and demand your money back.

Or you buy a new pair of Nike’s, but then you go to put them on and wonder where the laces are. “Oh, those cost extra,” you’re told.

“Oh,” you say. ‘Then I want my money back.”

Virtually no other industry would get away with selling you incomplete products and then charging you, via micro-transactions, for the extra content you need to actually have a complete product. But it happens all the time in the gaming industry.

It doesn’t matter what genre of games you play, you have probably faced this situation before.

One of the most famous instances of recent times was Street Fighter V.

When Street Fighter V was launched fans were excited. Street Fighter IV had been exceptional. It had given us one of the best fighting games of all time. It had everything. Sure, there were a few glitches, but they were glitches Capcom knew nothing about. Capcom had done everything they could do ensure a good game, from a solid single player mode to the training mode to the online ranking battles. So when Street Fighter V came out, fans were optimistic.

And oh how Capcom slapped their fans in the face.

Street Fighter V had next to no content. The single player was practically none existent. And fans were rightly angry about it.

Almost humorously, two days ago Capcom announced that they were going to change their priorities. What they actually meant by this is that they were going to ditch the idea of selling incomplete games.

Not surprisingly, it wasn’t the fans that made Capcom think about their business model. Fans will buy the game anyway, right? Why worry about them? No, it wasn’t the fans. It wasn’t until Capcom had to publish its Financial Report that they started answering questions. Why? Because shareholders, the people who give Capcom the money they need to keep producing games, started asking why their dividend was too low.

Capcom didn’t answer the fans. But they did answer the shareholders.

When the company released its financial report this week they admitted to selling Street Fighter V incomplete.

Capcom’s financial results briefing document states, “…In the pursuit of quality that wholly satisfies our users we will carry out development that prioritizes completeness even if it requires some scheduling adjustments.…” It continues. By “releasing all titles finished to a high level of quality [we hope to increase sales.”

Genius idea, Capcom (*golf claps). What a novel notion to actually sell people a complete product.

This would be bad enough if it was just Capcom. But we all know that that simply is not the case.

Sadly, we’ve moved past that glorious time when you could go to the game store and purchase a game that is actually wholly complete. Micro-transactions are part and passel of the gaming industry now, with developers and publishers like EA and Bungie using in-game purchases for profit.

This would not necessarily be a problem if it was handled fairly. If a game is incomplete, why not sell it for less. Imagine that. Imagine buying less product for less money. Too fair? Too justifiable? It was for Bungie and Destiny, who released a less than finished game and used DLC to complete it.

Because you’re probably a forgiving person, you might think, “Accidents happen. Game developers aim to get games out on time but things go wrong, that’s just life.”

Good point.

But the truth is that game developers are actually factoring in incompleteness and in-game purchases into their development plan. EA, for instance, are already planning to release all sorts of DLC for Battlefield I when it’s finally released.

You might think, “DLC items are bonuses that the developers make to give us extra content.” But that wasn’t the cast for Mass Effect or Dragon Age. Bioware even went so far as to break the fourth wall by asking players to buy quests via DLC and by actually denying conversations to players who had only bought the main game. That’s the equivalent of going to watch Hamlet and, during that most famous scene, when Hamlet is by his father’s coffin, asking you to pay more to hear the words “To be or not to be, that is the question…”

You have to ask where this trend will end. A decade ago it would have been unforgivable for a developer to ask you to pay money to unlock characters or costumes. Today it might seem unforgiveable for a game developer to literally divide a single player campaign in half and say “If you want to play the second half you’ll have to pay again.” But the trend is that game developers are taking Machiavellian approaches to making more money, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Speaking of Machiavellian game design, there’s the case of Square Enix and Final Fantasy: All The Bravest.

Final Fantasy: All The Bravest iOS game features some of the most conniving use of DLC we’ve ever seen, with micro-transactions so offensive they’ll make you lower your head in shame.

In Final Fantasy: All The Bravest, when you need to revive your characters you’re asked to either wait a long period of time or to pay to revive them sooner. You’ll need to pay for DLC characters, too, who are unlocked one dollar at a time. And when you do pay, the unlocked character is random— a cunning move by Square Enix so that you can’t just unlock your favorite character and be done with it.

DLC and micro-transactions are now one of the most heavily planned aspects of game design. Right now, game designers around the world are sitting at desks asking, “What parts of this game should we remove so we can ask players to pay more for them later?” And if that doesn’t insult you, you should get your pulse checked.

Categories: gaming

Paul Harrison

Paul M Harrison is an entertainment journalist, novelist, and blogger, and a specialist in the theory of storytelling. Paul Harrison can be contacted via his personal website or on Twitter or Facebook.


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