Electronic Arts’ campaign to fight used game sales, code-named Project Ten Dollar, involves offering free DLC to people who purchase their games new and charging everyone who buys the game used $10 to download that content. There is a version of this campaign called Online Pass, which gives purchasers of new EA Sports titles the ability to play online for free, and charges anyone who buys the game used $10 for the privilege.
Most of the criticism I’ve read about Project Ten Dollar stems from those who may be facing these $10 purchases, and their arguments make little sense to me. Used copies of games usually go for $54.99 at GameStop if the title was released within the past one or two months. If you have an Edge card, you save an extra 5%. Is it worth saving $7.75 at the expense of missing out on a bunch of content? And if someone waits long enough for the used copy of the game to run at $39.99 or less, even if they do spend the $10 for the “free” DLC they have still saved $10 off the retail price of a new copy.
I purchase 90% of my titles new. I’m excited to play and want them on release day. Any game I buy used is something to tide me over between new releases, and I usually turn them around within 7 days to get GameStop’s store credit refund such that I won’t have time for any DLC anyway.
When I started my career as a games journalist, I signed up for GameFly because I knew there would be games I’d have to play even if I wasn’t remotely interested in them. I don’t care if I get the “free” DLC for these rentals. All I am after is the most basic experience of what playing these games feels like, such that I can understand what everyone else writes about these games through personal experience.
Therefore, I couldn’t have cared less about either Project Ten Dollar or Online Pass. Ironically, it was the purchase of some paid DLC last week which changed my position on this topic.
I picked up the Onslaught add-on for Battlefield: Bad Company 2 the day it came out. I enjoy cooperative play. I thought that fighting against the AI in tight, objective-based missions requiring squad cohesion, communication, and teamwork would be a blast.
What I got was the same bloody maps I’ve been playing on since the bloody game came out, with a few cosmetic changes, and a game mode that is Rush meets Conquest. None of my friends are interested in the DLC because I can’t justify their spending $10 on it. I’m a game journalist, so I can write the purchase off on my taxes as a work expense solely on account of writing this editorial, and the reviews I’ve written elsewhere. My friends can’t say the same.
Onslaught feels like something that should have been included with the game the day it was released, or should have been VIP content. It has me thinking about what the free DLC actually was in Bad Company 2, in Mass Effect 2, and what it will be in EA sports games; I think there’s a dangerous precedent being set here. Holding back content such that a publisher has something to use for their free DLC is a problem that affects everyone whether they bought the game new or used.
Zaheed from Mass Effect 2 feels like he should have been in the game from the get-go. Finding the wreckage of the original Normandy feels integral to the game’s story, and there was already space in the cargo bay for the Hammerhead from Firewalker. The Arc Projector feels like the only piece of DLC that was truly “bonus” content. Being able to play every potential multiplayer mode on all the maps in Bad Company 2 feels like something that should have been included with the game in the first place. Certainly online play for a sports game should be included with the software whether it’s new or used.
I have no problem with companies seeking to recover the substantial loss of profits that the used game market represents, but the bonus content offered to purchasers of new copies should feel like true bonus content, which is to say content that doesn’t feel like it was meant to be a part of the core game experience, but which improves or adds to that experience.
Kasumi’s Stolen Memory was paid DLC, and it also feels like it should have been in the game from the get-go. Try beating Mass Effect 2 first, and then download Kasumi. She feels like a vestigial organ. Reading the message from The Illusive Man that Cerberus has convinced the master thief to join you on your mission when your mission is long since overfeels decidedly Twilight Zone-ish. It’s a perfect analogue for the Onslaught DLC for Bad Company 2. I cannot help but wonder whether asking consumers to pay for Kasumi isn’t tied to the same mentality that allows other core experiences to be offered as “bonuses.”
The real problem with Project Ten Dollar, and the Online Pass, has nothing to do with a $10 pass. It has everything to do with allowing publishers to decide what constitutes a core game experience and then whittling away anything that doesn’t mesh with their definition to hold back as bonus content, or charge us for later. It creates the potential for games to be released effectively unfinished for anyone other than those who purchase them new, and that’s a serious breach of ethics from my point of view.