In the past, we’ve seen some pretty underhanded moves by big-name developers and publishers concerning how DLC is handled, namely at the hands of infamous industry figures as Electronic Arts (NASDAQ: EA), Ubisoft (EPA: UBI) and of course Activision (NASDAQ: ATVI)
These tactics, which have pervaded the industry with unfair practices that ultimately push gamers to buying more and more content, have become commonplace occurrences.
Whole portions of games have been cut out and set aside, locked behind DLC paywalls, rather than being included in the actual game.
This practice manifests itself in the dreaded Season Pass setup, which not only milks gamer’s wallets but also promises discounts or in-game exclusives and other incentives when pre-ordering–and when gamers actually get access, they find watered down content.
A lot of the time these exploitative practices aren’t obvious and don’t really push too hard, but given time, gamers are pretty much coerced into buying extra content if they want to continue playing a game. And ultimately, non-DLC owners are locked out of a significant portion of the game altogether.
Now we’re seeing this trend quite blatantly exercised with Destiny, Bungie’s popular MMO-esque online shooter.
Since the game’s new The Dark Below DLC pack launched in December, gamers have been pushed by both Bungie and Activision more and more to buy the $20 add-on.
To ensure gamers buy their DLC content, Bungie and Activision have periodically taken away access to a big portion of Destiny‘s end-game activities, and they’ll likely continue to do so until everyone either quits playing or buys The Dark Below.
DLC Paywall Phase 1: End-Game Activities
The first instance of the “DLC push” took place on the week of The Dark Below‘s actual launch, when it was revealed that non-DLC owners were locked out of that week’s Weekly Heroic and Nightfall Strikes.
Guardians who didn’t own The Dark Below couldn’t jump into some of Destiny‘s few endgame content, and they were effectively locked out behind a paywall. If you wanted in you had to cough up $20, or buy the Season Pass to “save money” and get access to another DLC pack later on.
To understand why this is such a big deal, we have to take a look at how Destiny is set up. The game is essentially a MMO-style gear-grind where random RNG drops are rewarded after completion of certain missions and activities.
After you beat the game’s story there’s only a few things you can actually do to progress, and most of them involve collecting and upgrading gear.
Every week Bungie rotates new Weeklies, including Heroic/Nightfall Strikes and resetting rewards on Raid progression.
Apart from the Raid, the rotating weekly Nightfall and Heroic Strikes remain one of the most important parts of continual player progression. After completing these activities, players earn special currency called Strange Coins which can then be exchanged to Xur, a merchant who shows up at the end of every week with an inventory of random exotic goods.
Weekly Nightfalls are much more special; they can award players with some of the most powerful Exotics in the game.
If you make it so players can’t complete Weekly Nightfall or Heroic Strikes, they can’t earn the bounty of Strange Coins to trade to Xur to get new gear. And they miss out on a potential Hawkmoon drop, too.
Furthermore, a lot of dedicated players have three Guardians they use to complete these activities to rack up serious Strange Coins, and maximize drop chances. If you beat Nightfall with three characters, that’s three chances of something good dropping, not to mention a total of 27 Strange Coins per week.
If you didn’t own The Dark Below DLC, you were locked out of all of this. You were cut out of a significant portion of the game, simply because you didn’t opt to buy the new add-on.
Now Bungie has done it again. Destiny players who don’t own the DLC are once again locked out of both Heroic and Nightfall Strikes for this week (Dec. 30 – Jan. 6), adding further insult to injury as well as a very noticeable shove to buy the $20 add-on.
But as Activision said, these activities will periodically be rotated out in favor of expansion content, and we can expect this kind of thing to continue.
“All existing strikes and maps are still accessible. Specific activities like nightfall will periodically feature expansion 1 content on the week the newest content is live.”
And this time they’ve one-upped the coercive push. They’ve actually locked non-DLC owners out of one of the last vestiges they had besides the Raid: buying new Exotic items from Xur.
DLC Paywall Phase 2: Xur
When Xur, Agent of the Nine showed off his Exotic goods for Week 17 (Jan. 2 – 4), I was particularly surprised. His entire inventory was full of gear emblazoned with “The Dark Below”.
Odd. So did this mean that players of the original game sans DLC couldn’t buy any new gear from Xur? Or did Xur have a separate list of items for non-DLC players? Surely Bungie wouldn’t deny players access simply because they didn’t want to fork over $20.
Puzzled, I took to Reddit to find some answers. The truth was startling, but then again it wasn’t surprising. I’ve come to expect this kind of thing from Destiny; things like creating the illusion of progress through clever subterfuge.
According to multiple users who don’t have Destiny‘s first expansion pack (including a few of my PSN friends) Xur didn’t have a separate list available for them.
They simply weren’t able to buy anything from Xur with their Strange Coins.
If you don’t have the DLC you can’t buy any of his four available Exotics because they’re all specific to The Dark Below.
It’s interesting to note that if you don’t have The Dark Below you can in fact find expansion items out in the wild. You just can’t ever buy them from Xur, and this becomes a major problem with the weekly merchant is only selling DLC gear.
This didn’t come as a surprise to me. As someone who pays close attention to what Xur, Agent of the Nine has up for grabs every week, I noticed an interesting trend: the number of DLC-required Exotics had increased steadily on a week-by-week basis.
On Week 14, The Dark Below‘s launch week, Xur had approximately one DLC-specific item: the Ruin Wings Titan gauntlets. For Week 15 Xur had increased his DLC-required gear count two items: the Ruin Wings returned along with the Claws of Ahamkara.
In Week 16 there were only two expansion items, the Claws of Ahamkara and the interesting primary sniper rifle No Land Beyond. Keep in mind every added DLC item takes away an item slot from non-expansion players to buy, so for this week non-DLC players could only buy two items.
Week 17, however, jumped all the way up to four DLC exotics. Oddly enough Xur usually has five items up for grabs, but the Exotic gauntlet engram appears to have taken up an item slot.
So not only will players randomly be locked out of easily earning Strange Coins, they won’t even be able to spend the ones they already have.
Longtime Guardians know that apart from the Raid, Xur and Weeklies are basically all you have to do in the game.
With this Bungie has found a way to segregate its players into two groups, temporarily shutting off access to high-level content to gamers who opted not to buy the DLC.
This segregation is a lot like Destiny‘s platform exclusives, which awarded bonus content like Strikes and in-game gear to PlayStation gamers.
So on one hand we have a form of isolation that’s global, then another oppressive stance that locks content out for gamers on the Xbox platform. The DLC continued this awkward trend by incorporating an extra Strike mission for PlayStation owners.
Non-expansion Guardians will never know when they’re locked out. It’ll happen randomly, on rotation. You’ll never know when you’ll be discarded behind a paywall, spurned and pushed out simply because you didn’t want to shell out even more money on an overhyped, thinly veiled online experiment.
These means of exploitation, segregation and coercion are part of a pathetic scheme that only perverts the nature of money-grubbing in this industry of ours, and both Bungie and Activision need to be made aware that this isn’t acceptable.
DLC Should be Optional, Not Obligatory
In one fell swoop Bungie has pretty much punished a portion of its own audience simply to push a $20 add-on. This is the kind of thing that needs to stop. It’s an abysmal practice, and honestly I can see many players simply giving up.
By doing this, Bungie and Activision have both made a clear point: that they care more about peddling their wares than they do about creating a long-lasting community.
Sure they do, they’re companies; this is an industry, of course. But the actual magic of gaming is being eroded by these practices, and if left unchecked, it’ll be these kinds of trends that ultimately ruin it altogether.
So what’s next? Where does it end?
Will the House of Wolves DLC do the same thing and rotate gamers out of the loop once again unless they buy the expansion? This sets a very grim tone for the future of Destiny, and if it continues, gamers are apt to wonder why they’re wasting their time.
There’s a simple fix: give DLC and non-DLC owners separate playlists and separate Xur inventories. When Bungie released Halo maps back in the day, they had separate playlists for gamers who didn’t have the maps.
Those people could still play and participate in the same playlists even if they didn’t have the new content.
That’s the way DLC should be. It should be optional, not obligatory. It should be the player’s choice, made freely, without any coercion, pressure or manipulation. Are those days over? Have big-name companies finally stopped respecting the gamers who have built this billion-dollar industry?
Serious, dedicated Guardians have spent hundreds of hours of time grinding and trying to find the ultimate gear for their respective Hunters, Warlocks and Titans. Will their dedication wane and ultimately break under this kind of pressure? How much longer until Bungie pisses off the entirety of its constituency by doing things like this?
You don’t take away or lock people out of content to get them to buy DLC. You show them legitimate reasons why they should spend their money; $20 is, after all, a third of Destiny‘s original asking price which we all paid at the beginning.
Don’t manipulate us, and treat us like walking wallets: treat us with respect, make us want to buy it out of excitement rather than frustration to keep or participate in activities that are part of the original game to begin with.
It’s this reason (among many, many others) that Destiny is starting to feel less like a game, and more like a giant experiment to see what Activision/Bungie can and can’t get away with. And it’s shocking to see that they’re able to get away with this, considering just about everyone owns the DLC.
If we let this kind of thing go, we’ll likely see Season Passes pervade gaming even more than they already do.
Rather than being a way to introduce new interactive content to games, they’re being used instead to simply milk more money out of gamers’ wallets, while offering stale, watered-down content that actually draws away from the power of the game itself.
We’ve seen it with Destiny, and we’ll likely see it with more and more games. But if we, as gamers, stand up to these practices, it’ll be much harder for big companies to sucker us in.
In this state, DLC is a mockery of gamers as well as the industry, and is a clear example of something that needs to be completely overhauled.