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Tycho / on Wed, Apr 5 2006 at 12:13 am

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The Zone Of Pure Breakfast

Have you heard about the horse thing?

I would be happy to distill it.  The "horse thing":  Oblivion developer Bethesda Softworks recently released a mod, bonus content, DLC, what have you for their popular RPG which consists of two horse models.  In what many gamers see as a reversal of the company’s Morrowind policy, these ponies - and all future content internally developed for the title - will be available exclusively on a pay basis.  We started making a comic about it, but then we got distracted.

Pay content is by no means exclusive to the 360 version.  The gloating of the PC faithful on this topic turned to a vexed howl when it became clear that this was not some aberration from the distant world of consoles but was in fact a universal policy, secured with links of heavy chain.  The pricing shakes out to 2.50 on the Xbox 360 and a buck ninety-nine on the PC - I don’t think the mounts are an especially good buy.  I don’t find these amounts especially monstrous in a general sense, but as a person who has spent quite a lot of time thinking about micropayments I’m more than familiar with the yawning conceptual gulf between no cost and any cost at all.

This conversation has been on the way for a long time, and the pot has certainly boiled on more than one occasion, but in previous instances the developer took deliberate steps to ameliorate perceptions of double-dipping.  The first Mechassault, just to give an example, delivered free game content prior to offering premium material.  Bungie offered their map pack at retail, true, and that disc is a tremendous convenience at a LAN - but it was only a matter of time until those spaces were made freely available, and people understood that from the outset.

A lot of this could have been avoided if the barding were a part of a larger bundle.  Optimally, they should have constituted a kind of olive branch - freely available, just to get people in the habit of checking.  They’ve already revealed that the two packs beyond Special Horsey Times contain material that is of significant interest to many players - new places to explore.  If each of these new packs also contained a steed, the mind’s natural tendency to collect would be insidiously engaged.  Or, as part of a single ten dollar pack which contained three other pieces of higher profile content, I doubt you’d hear the same outcry - even though the actual price is identical.  It would be a "mini-expansion" then, something we already have a mental label for, with the expectation of a certain value threshold. 

There are many themes and gamer pictures available for points on the service, but outside of Outpost Kaloki - a Live Arcade game that has multiple campaigns available on a fee basis - actual game content is rare, which is why the "Ex Hyper Fighting Extreme" version of this conversation has never emerged.  Oh, sure - there were those outfits for Kameo, but nobody gives an F about Kameo.  The doomsday scenario I hear depicted is that developers will no longer deliver complete games to consumers, that (in the manner of nigiri) we will be forced to purchase our games one tiny strip at a time and play them in an abandoned railway car.  If there is an argument there, Oblivion is a terrible example of this force at work - the game as it was delivered has more content than any single player is ever likely to see, so much that paying for extra tiddlywinks is actually contraindicated. 

I reject the idea that we teeter at the apex of some "slippery slope" - the slope you’re referring to already done slipped.  It slipped on mobile phones when people bought a vanity cover of the American Flag and a ringtone from Office Space and a strip of lights that twinkles on ring.  Marketplace isn’t a slippery slope - it’s the codification of a recognized market tendency.  You’d better believe there are motherfuckers riding those Goddamn horses along the shore of the Niben right now.   

(CW)TB out.

in jet-black ringlets fell

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