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Mass Effect 3's day one DLC isn't our fault

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Posted by: Joe Donato

Are gamers to blame for our own exploitation when it comes to big games and DLC? That's the claim made by Paul Tassi in a recent article on Forbes.com.

The issue was spurred by the recently announced downloadable content for Mass Effect 3. The DLC, called From Ashes, features a new party member and mission, and will be included with the N7 Collector's Edition of the game, or sold separately for $10 on the day of the game's release.

With the Collector's Edition sold out almost everywhere, most buyers will be forced to spend $10 to download From Ashes immediately after purchasing the $60 edition of the game. It's optional, of course, but unlike Zaeed, an interesting but somewhat forgettable extra character offered on launch day for Mass Effect 2 (and free for anyone buying the game new), the extra character for Mass Effect 3 is someone long-time fans of the series will find almost impossible to pass on.

This has led to a public outcry from fans, several stories on gaming blogs, a justification from developer Bioware, and ultimately, Paul Tassi's Forbes piece.

The article is called “Why the Exploitation of Gamers is Our Own Damn Fault,” and it explains how, as businesses, Bioware and publisher EA are testing the limits of gamer's wallets. By buying these downloads we are only giving companies the go-ahead to push their experiments even further. The article comes at the issue from a business-minded perspective, waving away the companies' actions as natural.

But saying we are to blame for the Mass Effect 3 DLC is an easy answer that paints the consumer as a scapegoat. When did it become assumed that a company's goal is to exploit and test its customers to their absolute limits without any morality? Why is it exclusively up to the consumer to keep a business in check? Companies are constructs of people, they are not instinctual predators that we should be shrugging off as inherently greedy.

I want to admit right now that I will almost definitely buy From Ashes. As a fan of the series, the implications of the new party member are too interesting to ignore. As a consumer, I don't feel good about it. Even Mr. Tassi admits he will buy it even though the practice isn't entirely ethical in his mind.

That's the problem that no one seems to recognize the value of: the difference between buying something because you're happy about it, and buying something begrudgingly. You can say all that matters to a company is the bottom line, but that's ignoring the long-term effects of consumer satisfaction.

When I buy a Bioware game I buy it because it looks like fun, but I also buy it because I love Bioware's previous work, their approach to story-telling, and their attitude towards their fan base. I bought Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 and I liked doing it. I'll probably like buying Mass Effect 3 when it comes out too, but when I get it home and purchase From Ashes, I will feel exploited, blackmailed, and a bit gross.

I'm sure after that I will go on to enjoy Mass Effect 3, mostly forgetting about the issue as I play out the final chapter in my Shepard's adventure. That enthusiasm is something that can only be stifled so long; just as Tassi explains in his article, gamers are a loyal group and they really love their games.

So we feel a bit bad about it, but EA makes a ton of money and ultimately everyone is happy, right? Well, I don't think so. Whenever a company treads too heavily down the path of exploitation, it introduces a cynicism in the customer that's just waiting for an outlet. Activision seems all-too familiar with this outcome, wringing out every last bit out of a franchise before the fans are disenchanted—even the developers don't usually stick around. Meanwhile, companies like Valve work the black magic of amazing customer service and outreach, pleasing fans with even their most corporate moves. When I pay for Call of Duty, I have fun, but I do so begrudging, recognizing I'm feeding an ugly beast and threatening innovation. When I buy Portal, I prance out of the store while fairies and unicorns light the way home.

Gaming consumers are taking a lot of crap these days. We are the bottom of the pile, beneath the developers who are themselves beneath the publishers of the industry. When there's a problem, whether it's piracy, used game sales, etc., it's always the consumers that end up hurt or inconvenienced. Whether it's the woes of sloppy DRM, the complications introduced by online codes and season passes, or the nonsensical pricing of DLC, consumers always take the brunt of it. This is just another attempt to blame us for the industry's problems, and I for one won't be held responsible.

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