Mass Effect 3’s Day One DLC Debacle

This post may contain, a few, spoilers.

I know, I know, we’ve all heard enough about Bioware’s polarizing From Ashes DLC for Mass Effect 3. Everyone seems to have an opinion on the matter, including myself. Bioware is either a sleazy used car salesman or an honest Joe receiving unfair scrutiny – it depends on who you ask. Like everything else, it’s most likely a combination of both; they’re not entirely innocent, but they aren’t complete scumbags either, at least I don’t think they are. But I feel like people are focusing on the wrong parts of what happened or aren’t looking at the big picture. Digital monetization has become an important issue and for-profit companies are constantly experimenting to see how much consumers are willing to live with, although as we’ve seen sometimes they push too far. I’m new to this, but hopefully I can beat some more insight out of this day-one-DLC dead horse.

Although it sounds obvious, it’s important to emphasize the fact that this is a moral issue, not a legal one. Legal issues allow parties to present details, give timelines, share their side of the story, and make a rational fact-based argument. If all this conflict over ME3’s From Ashes day one DLC was based in a legal arena, Bioware’s explanation of what happened, that the content was finished early by a different team while the game was out for certification, may hold water. But this is a moral issue, not a legal one. So while big-wigs at Bioware and EA scramble to craft a watertight alibi filled with details about two different teams and their production schedule, nobody stopped to think that the only court this case would be heard in is the court of public opinion. It doesn’t matter if you are technically correct or allowed to do something, if the people who keep you in business think you are wrong, you are wrong.

It also doesn’t help they didn’t tell the whole truth when rebutting the original claims that the DLC was purposely and deliberately carved out to increase revenue.  When evidence appeared on YouTube that this was not the case and some or most of From Ashes was in fact included in the game’s initial release files, it appeared as if Bioware was caught red handed. However, they didn’t back off from their original claim, that it was developed separately after certification began, instead they doubled down on it, “As we’ve mentioned before, that character has to be planned and the framework has to be established ahead of time for us to build off of with the DLC module.” Essentially they are saying ground work had to be completed first in order to integrate the DLC at a later date, the fact that it was released on day one was just the happy result of the content being finished early by the second team, and not by design.

So how come Destructoid found an old post on Bioware’s forums from nine months ago that proves Bioware had planned all along to release the content on day one? Simple, Bioware planned all along to release the content on day one. This was a deliberate and preplanned business decision to make more money on the initial release of ME3, not some convenient coincidence that they decided to charge for at the last minute. A giant organized company like Bioware doesn’t make money by accident with the “oh shucks golly they finished it, let’s release it early for the fans” approach, they use the more deliberate “how can we squeeze more cash out of ME3” approach.

That same nine month old post states that the From Ashes DLC would be included with the collector’s edition and is “A full collection of in-game content that can’t be found anywhere else!” Why is this important? Well, if you are a Mass Effect fan deciding whether or not to purchase the collector’s edition or the regular version, what better way to entice you to buy the collector’s edition than to include an exclusive character? To me this is a much larger problem than just releasing DLC on the same day as release. People pre-ordered the collector’s edition thinking the content was exclusive when it really wasn’t, and those that didn’t pre-order the collector’s edition may have changed their mind if they had known the content would ultimately cost them ten more bucks. It would have been handy for consumers to know what they were getting before any pre-orders were accepted.

Ok, so why did Bioware do this on purpose? Why not just release the DLC in a month or two, saving themselves from this public relations nightmare. If you think about the nature of Mass Effect, specifically the size and scope of the story, it makes sense as to why they would charge for content up front on day one.

See, a game like Fallout can be injected with new downloadable content months or even a year after release because the end of game doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the story. Players only affect their small chunk of the wasteland, completing the main story doesn’t end all conflict within the wasteland, leaving countless possibilities for future content. The end of Mass Effect is epic, the player doesn’t just save some part of the game world, they save the entire game world. They’ve made the end of their game so epic and final that there are no real creative options left after the main story arc, at least none as epic. This means that to experience new content players would most likely have to start over from the beginning.

I think this was the motivation behind releasing day one content all along. While some may not have a problem playing through the game multiple times, some may only play it once or twice within the first few weeks of release and then never play it again. If From Ashes is released after those players have already moved on, they will most likely never buy it. The only way to maximize revenue for DLC of this nature was to release it on day one, pure and simple.

Does a making savvy business decision in order to maximize revenue make Bioware scumbags? No. Companies are entitled to make money any way they legally can, but tactics like these tend to anger normally loyal fans, even if they can’t all seem to explain exactly where their frustration lies. I mean, if they wanted to save money or make ME3 more profitable they could have decided to take an axe to their completely awesome yet unnecessary trailer which makes the game look more like a movie. It’s great and all, but who purchased the game because they saw the trailer? If you liked the first two games you were most likely going to buy the third and if you didn’t you weren’t. As cool as it was, I don’t think that many bought the game because of it.

But Negative press doesn’t necessarily translate to a loss of profit, just ask Zynga. Even with complaints about the ending, which left a taste in the mouths of fans that was a bit too Sopranos-esque, this debacle is most likely be a speed bump on the road of success for ME3. This is a warning however, not just to Bioware, but to all developers; do not take advantage the fans that support your business. While it may just be a slap on the wrist this time, the game community has a keen eye and an elephant’s memory, they won’t soon forget the day Mass Effect 3 tried to reach a little too far into their wallet.


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  1. I don’t mind day one dlc at all. I just think they should have done it like ME2 where the first character they added (Zaeed) was free. Then a couple months later they released Kasumi for 800 points or something like that and there was no outrage. If they had simply done what worked for them in the past no one would be upset…

  2. I preordered the CE version. It was only $20 extra. Which is cheap compared to many other CE/LE versions of games. It came with the DLC for free. $10 value. Ok so I paid $10 extra. For what?
    -A very nice hardcover mini-book (prob worth $5.00 -$10.00)
    -A spiffy Tin Case with Male/Female sheps on both sides. (yeah I know you can flip the reg artwork) (marginal added value, but nice)
    -A patch (prob worth about $2.50)
    -A limited piece of artwork… ok basically a postcard ($0.50)
    -A mini-comic book ($1)
    -Digital Soundtrack ($5-$10 value)
    -Some extra weapons, teammate outfits, avatar prop & Gear (beyond the reg preorder bonus) ($5-$10 DLC value)

    So including Ashes we’re talking anywhere from $29-$44 in extras. So no room to really have issue with $20 extra for the CE.

    As far as the day-one DLC. The $10 for it was kinda crap. It was only one short mission and a character. $5 would have been more fair. And the separate development is believable. ME2 had a bunch of stuff in the code for PC when it was released to allow for expansion. It was how people uncovered clues to Katsumi early. Separate development allowed them to ensure on time release/shipping of the game and gave them more time to polish the DLC. We might pick up the game on the same day the DLC hits, but they can upload it the day before to the servers, where as the true game takes weeks to go through the normal publishing steps prior to shipping.

    There is still plenty of unused space in the Normandy so I have no doubt of later DLC with extra playable/non-playable crew. *shrug* Once I finish the game I’ll put it away and attack it again when 2-3 DLCs have been released.

  3. Does everybody forget that Bioware did this with Dragon Age, Dragon Age2, Mass Effect 2 and now Mass Effect 3? Javik does not make the game some kind of amazing new experience, yeah you miss out on some setting details, but overall he does not change the main game.

  4. Paul, you have a gift with words. You should be the official voice of the consumer side of the gaming industry.

    Also, Dragon Age 2 destroyed any faith I had in Bioware. ME3 simply justifies my stance.

  5. I think that gamers in general really need to learn that the only way things will change is by voting with their wallets. If people DID NOT BUY the $10 DLC, (as I did not) because they didn’t feel it was worth it, Bioware/EA would change their strategy. They only did this because they felt that it would sell. If no one bought it, or sales were low, it would not be surprising to see them drop the cost of the DLC later on.

    I see a lot of bitching and moaning about pricing and DLC, but the fact is if you pay for it, you are telling the companies directly that YOU THINK IT IS WORTH IT. Otherwise, you wouldn’t buy it. So I don’t want to hear complaining on either side, because if you paid for it, you thought it was worth it, and if you didn’t, you have the opportunity to.

    Game companies don’t owe you anything, same as you don’t owe them anything. Don’t spend money where you don’t want.

    So Paul, while I agree with a lot of what you said, I think the solution is for people to not pay for these things. As long as consumers are buying it, that tells the companies what the value is.

  6. Sadly Adam, while I agree that the consumer voting dollar is a valid approach, a large percentage of the video game consumers are not the ones who pay for the product. Too many videogamers are kids whose parents fork over the money. These kids for the most part don’t have any value attached to that money because too many parents don’t even make their kids earn it anymore. They just want their kids distracted or happy so they shut up. So products that may arguably not be at their best are purchased anyways by spoiled brats who just don’t care if it was worth it or not.

    Yes, I am sure there are plenty of readers out there who pay for their own games or are parents who don’t buy their kids love and affection. But the fact is, that 12 year old swearing his mouth off and skull humping you with the limited edition Uberarmor didn’t pay for it himself.

  7. @ Adam

    That’s OK! I’m new to the site.

    I agree, people can gripe all they want, however if they are still buying content the companies they complain about will continue to create said content.

    Edit: Horrible Grammar

  8. I planned to buy this DLC before I heard about all of this garbage. One character for $10? Nah. I’m sure having a Prothean in your party is cool and all, but I’d rather have Kasumi back if I’m going to get overcharged for miniscule content again. I loved that there was free DLC for ME2 and Bioware should have nutted up again and given the fans something great for free like they did with Zaeed to foster goodwill for their future paid DLC. I’m not abandoning Bioware because I think what they are doing in pushing storytelling in gaming to a whole new level is just amazing and they absolutely deserve our support for that, but if they release overpriced DLC that doesn’t look worth it, I ain’t buying it. Boycotting their games will hurt me more than it hurts them, but they can shove their day one paid DLC.

  9. Fighting games are having a similar massive shit-fit over DLC. Street Fighter X Tekken recently shipped with all future DLC characters and costume on disk day 1. Not all were complete, but a great many were. These characters, due to a deal with sony, are not scheduled for release until the vita version comes out this fall. Many feel slighted that most of these characters are already on the disk they paid for, but will have to buy these characters one at a time in 6 months time.

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