Lunchtime Discussion: Unlocks

Should we pay for unlocks?

Over the weekend I had a rather heated discussion on Twitter about Split/Second. Not about the whether the game was any good, the answer there seems to be a resounding yes, but about the unlock code that’s being sold as DLC. It seems that for a small sum you can purchase the ability to use any car available in the game without having to unlock them through the title’s single player.

To be honest this doesn’t seem all that terrible, it lets people who can’t or don’t want to finish the single player have access to every car. However the big issue with it is that you can use the cars online. For those people who are willing to go through and unlock the cars through single player you evidently get completely dominated in online play.

So are these kind of unlocks really fair? Firstly the online aspect of unlocks. My basic instinct on this is that it’s completely unfair. Yes the game will still have some sort of balance, as the cars aren’t extras that have been added on. To some extent the feeling is the same as someone coming to the game in six months. Everyone else has unlocked the cars through the single player, you go in and get completely dominated. I dislike that in games, it’s why I find it hard to get into multiplayer if I didn’t get the game at near to launch. However this negative experience is magnified a hundred fold if the experience is at launch. You need early adopters to talk about how fun the game is, how much you’ll be blown away if you go buy it, seriously dude it’s amazing etc… You don’t want them talking about how they kept getting their ass kicked every time they venture online.

What about unlocks in general? Some people have talked about this in my past discussion about cheats, but it seems cheats again crop back up. The consensus of my Twitter conversation is what happened to cheat codes? You used to be able to unlock any car/character/gun just by entering some horrendously complicated combination of buttons. Now it costs money. Why?

The answer, pure and simple, is we’re to blame. Not entirely to blame, but at least partially. Businesses don’t enter into the decision to sell something lightly. The publishers piloted the scheme with a few titles, consumers – that’s us – seemed happy enough and bought the codes and more of the industry adopted the paying for unlocks principal. It makes good business sense, it costs them essentially nothing and they make a nice profit.

Sure there were some vocal gamers who complained, but here are the facts pure and simple. People who read deeply about games, who visit forums and complain about these sort of things are a significant minority of the people who buy and play games. We may not like it but selling unlocks seems to have proven successful with the majority of people playing games, as evidenced by the number of people with the Split/Second unlock. I know it’s horrible to feel small, particularly in a community as lively as TheSixthAxis, but it’s true. People who genuinely care are in the minority.

Now that the rather depressing message is over, how do you feel about unlocks? Are they worth while, or do you hate them? Would you ever buy one or are you happy to pay for them? Should they be locked to offline? Should developers just have a setting that says ‘unlock all content for acrade’?

Big thanks to anyone who joined in the lively Twitter discussion, particularly the legend that is Yamster and the insightful JamboGT.

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