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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.

  1. I will always cite the Director of Bayonetta’s stance on downloadable content, when he said Bayonetta will contain ZERO DLC, because it is already shipping with tons of extra difficulties, 20+ costumes, and tons of extra moves, hidden levels, collectibles, and bosses.

    I’ll take a complete game at launch, thank you.

    I know some people say that furnishing DLC months later means the developer is “supporting the title”. If they were really supporting the title, they’d make it free, and not feel tacked on, which is mostly what DLC is these days: or even worse, unlocks!

  2. Why can’t everyone just handle DLC like Valve, free and easy… similar to my tastes in my women…

    • LOL. I concur, Valve is the only company that makes one feel loved. They added achievements to Counter Strike: Source for crying out loud.

  3. I wanna make sure I’m not misunderstanding this “Project Ten Dollar.” Here’s how I imagine the economics of selling games works: If you make a game, you based your profit margin on how many units you think are going to sell.

    …And that’s it, right? I mean, there’s purchasable DLC, but the bottom line is, how are devs losing money to used game sales? “Used” implies that someone bought it already, so they’ve already profited from that particular copy, right?

    If I’m wrong about how this, I’d like to know. But as far as I can tell, this is how making money off of a game you’ve released works. If I’m right, I would be against the concept just based on how extremely greedy it is. I’ve never heard of book or movie publishers finding ways to try and curtail used novel/film sales, mostly because it’s ridiculous. What makes it okay for anyone to do this?

  4. If I buy a copy of Mass Effect 2 for $60, that’s a copy that GameStop loses off its shelves. If and when the game sells out, they need to buy more, and EA makes more money.

    If I return my copy of Mass Effect 2, and you then buy it from GameStop, that’s a copy that the store doesn’t need to re-order.

    If you think about it, the health of the used game market speaks, in part, to the longevity of titles, so look at it from the publisher’s p.o.v. People are still buying copies of Mass Effect 2 which are new *to them*. EA would rather these people be buying $60 copies of second pressings rather than getting used copies of first pressings which cuts EA out of that profit stream.

    I’m pretty sure that’s how they look at it, anyway. :)

    In terms of okay/not okay, I can’t speak to that point. There’s capitalism for you. I dare say that if all books cost $60 the publishers might very well try to curtail used book sales. *grin*

  5. I find any and all priced DLC for Bad Company 2 to be a disgrace to what DLC started off as. They’re charging money for color variants of character models and gun models, the latter of which I was able to pick up off a neutralized target and make a mockery of that players purchase by utilizing their gun through the rest of the round.

  6. avatar ben

    Also consider that without the ability to resell games for a meaningful amount, many people wouldn’t buy new at all.

    So the thought process goes “I can buy X now for Y dollars, and resell it later for Y-Z dollars, where Z is something greater than zero.” As Z increases, people with this mindset will become increasingly less likely to purchase new. But so long as Z is a tolerable amount, the developer is benefitting in a new sale from a person with the intent to resell. If we somehow “devalue” these second hand copies by charging the online access fee, Z would increase, and possibly tip the scale causing the person to wait for a price drop and buy new, buy used and pay the fine, or not buy at all.

    So, in a nutshell, I think this policy will end up being neutral. The extra revenue generated from online fees will be absorbed by the decrease in new (and hence used) purchases. Retailers and resellers are the only entity that may end up losing in this scenario (they see exactly $0 of the online fee and this certainly won’t cause them to sell more copies).

  7. avatar Natasha

    Im still working on my scenod play through (as good) now but finding it hard to return to the game after Black Ops came out, though i am still tempted to get DLC as a way to bring back my motivation to play.

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