Buying a game today no longer means buying the full experience. Whether it’s background information explained in a prequel comic, additional missions via DLC or a Facebook tie-in, what comes in the box is rarely the full and definitive package. Now more than ever, developers, publishers and their marketing teams are using supplementary material to keep players mentally, emotionally and – most importantly – financially invested and engaged with their products.
But in an effort to broaden their franchises, are they also running the risk of alienating their audience? Do these supplements add or subtract from the core experience? Let’s run through a few of the most common ways once-standalone games are being expanded upon. Have a read, and then let us know in the comments section if you think these developments are for better or worse.
The addition of multiplayer to titles that once-upon-a-time would have been single player experiences only is obviously a reflection of the importance of multiplayer to gaming today. In a general sense, as long as the inclusion of multiplayer doesn’t take resources away from the single player component, then it’s a nice bonus that gamers can either take or leave. That said, it adds a whole new challenge for the completionists out there, who want to 100% their games. Getting all the achievements/trophies/what have you in single player is one thing, but adding in challenges that are contingent on other players can make truly finishing a game an incredibly long road.
That’s a challenge for some (and a first world problem if ever there was one), but the more worrying prospect for single player puritans is cross-over between the two aspects of a game. With Mass Effect 3, for instance, BioWare tied the addition of competitive multiplayer to progress in the main campaign. Sure, success in multiplayer wasn’t necessary for success in single player, but it’s quite possibly a sign of things to come. Still, at least the addition of multiplayer comes at no additional cost, unlike…
Plenty of arguments have been made for and against the rise of DLC in recent years. When implemented well, DLC can expand on the scope of a game’s world and narrative (Fallout 3, Skyrim) or use existing assets and characters to tell vastly different tales (Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, Infamous 2: Festival of Blood).
These expansions offer fresh takes on old favourites, allowing fans to play more of the games they love. Even so, it can still be confusing as to which DLC changes or adds to the core game, and which is kept separate. Saints Row: The Third we’re looking at you.
On the other end of the spectrum, DLC can be used in a more cynical fashion to wring a few more dollars out of customers. In this regard, Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Asura’s Wrath come to mind. Both games finish with seemingly inconclusive endings. More definitive finales for these games can be purchased through DLC. Should gamers be grateful or outraged by this practice?
Releasing comic book series’ related to upcoming games is a growing trend within the industry. Comics can be used to introduce a new game, bridge between two existing games (Portal 2, Arkham City), or to flesh out the greater mythology of the game world (Assassin’s Creed: The Fall). Tie-in novels are also common (Dead Space).
Gaining a new perspective and greater understanding of a game world can be interesting, though there is a fine line between using a comic series to bring depth, and using it to pave over plot holes or explain ideas that should have been expanded upon within the game itself. Arkham City is a fairly straightforward game, but a number of people queried plot points that were explained in the bridging comic series. Did this lack of information ruin the game? No, but it was only through reading the comics and playing the game that the full experience was achieved.
Adding further confusion is the way the tie-in comic is marketed. The importance of the comic is usually emphasised (so that people will want to buy it) while it is simultaneously insisted upon that reading it is not necessary for enjoying the game itself. Either the information is important to the understanding of the game, or it’s not… right?
Social media and smartphone tie-in games are now almost standard practice in the industry, and while many are forgettable, that’s not necessarily the rule. Two of the more popular examples of this type of game extension are Mass Effect Infiltrator (smartphone) and Assassin’s Creed: Project Legacy (Facebook). Each offers a very limited version of their respective titles, with completion adding and unlocking features within their console counterparts. Quality of these games aside, do you find them necessary? What – if anything – do they bring to your gaming experience? Should content (no matter how trivial) in games you have purchased be locked away, their availability contingent on you paying for or playing other content? Should games for social and mobile platforms stand alone?
Let us know your thoughts on these trends in gaming below. Which do you enjoy, which could you do without? Are there any other practices that you love or hate?
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