I’m a big horror and science fiction fan, particularly of the more intelligent strains of those genres, and I love survival horror video games. All of the above means that I should be practically spooning with EA’s Dead Space franchise in my wheelhouse. I thought the first game was decent but not great, too often relying on carnival funhouse shocks and Cannibal Corpse-caliber gore while underplaying the more compelling elements of the narrative. But I loved the second game and called it one of 2011’s best, everything from the action to the horror and SF elements were better managed and there was a great sense of world-building that the first game sorely lacked. And here we are on the eve of a new Dead Space game, and I will not be buying or playing it.
I was irritated enough by Dead Space 2’s crass reliance on transmedia marketing to tell its “complete” story- I shouldn’t have to buy a tie-in novel or something to get the full context of an element in a $60 video game’s story. I also was disappointed that a poor- and unasked for- multiplayer mode was added to the game, invariably weakening the complete package. But Visceral’s fine work shone through the marketing haze, and I could forgive their transgressions. Looking at what Dead Space 3 offers, the co-op mode has already raised eyebrows since the isolation, aloneness, and quiet are some of the key elements of Dead Space’s atmosphere. But I could have overlooked that. They cram bullshit co-op modes in everything these days, thinking that it’ll keep you from trading your game to Gamestop once you’re done with the 8 hour campaign. It’s nothing new.
But where Dead Space 3 crossed the line for me was in offering a full suite of freemium game-style microtransaction purchases that will enable players to purchase in-game Dead Space Necrobucks or whatever in exchange for your credit card number. These resource packs apparently will enable you to bypass doing things like playing the game to earn materials to upgrade weapons, they’ll increase the rate at which you gain these resources via the in-game collector bots, and of course they’ll skin you up all pretty. All told, there is already some $50 worth of first-day DLC including, of course, a $10 online pass if you dare to buy this marketing scheme of a game secondhand. Oh, and of course Visceral tweeted something or other “teasing” an upcoming DLC story that’s supposed to be “disturbing”. It can’t possibly be more disturbing than watching AAA development fuck itself in the ass like this.
Here’s the rub. It’s been stated that Visceral needs to sell 5 million copies of Dead Space 3. And we know what happens when developers get into bed with corporations and underperform, right? The best way to take off some of the sales pressure and to increase revenue is to treat the game like a $4.99 microtransaction whore, banking on both casual and hardcore gamers experiencing that undeniable urge for instant gratification that leads them to the “shop” menu. Visceral has defended the microtransactions with the usual “you don’t have to buy them” routine, as well as a bizarre argument to the effect that younger gamers raised on mobile games expect there to be microtransactions. They’re also arguing that microtransactions make the game more accessible. In other words, more casual gamers can pay their way through any kind of challenge or gameplay. Really, Visceral?
Don’t tell me in the forums, I already know. I don’t have to buy this stuff, it’s all optional. That’s exactly right, but also optional is my support of Visceral, EA, and other entities that support not only this kind of marketing, but also this kind of game development. We are already far down a slippery slope where games are designed around this bullshit “service model” concept, and that means that games have been and are being designed that are literally created to perpetually generate revenue. The thing is, in a freemium or 99 cent game this is what you should expect because that’s the a la carte business model and it makes sense for both the business and the consumer. In a $60 retail game, it is an insult to the consumer. Worse, it’s a sign of desperation.
So I’m saying “no” to Dead Space 3 and I hope that others do so as well. My protest won’t make any difference though, I’m realistic about it. For every person that says no to these hucksters, there’s five people that will buy this microtransaction garbage. For every person that complains about it on internet forums, there’s five people that will buy the DLC chapter. But what if a million people loudly said “no” to Dead Space 3 and its vulgar, exploitative marketing tactics? What if people like you and me said “I will not play this game” and actually meant it, instead of giving in because we’re “fans” or whatever and giving these companies permission to do this again in other games?
It is a personal choice to buy these things or not, but to choose to do so is to contribute toward leading video games as a profitable business into ruination as it alienates customers and cynically milks the willing with ephemeral, nonsensical nickle-and-dime purchases. I love video games, and I think the people and companies that make them should be rewarded with profit when they provide us, the consumers, with a quality product. But they should not be rewarded for putting microtransactions in a game that’s already $60 at retail.
It sucks, because I probably would have actually bought Dead Space 3. I want to see what happens to Issac, I want to see what Visceral has cooked up with this whole ice planet business. I was really excited about hearing the game again, the second one had some of the best sound design I’ve ever heard in a game. But not only am I not paying one bloody, red cent for this game, I’m also not going to play it at all. I’ll never know what it’s like to play Dead Space 3. And I’ll get by just fine without it.