Following closely in the wake of an apparent patch delay due to console certification issues and confirmation that the PC patch would be released shortly after comes official confirmation that the 1.6GB patch has been released in tandem with purchasable ‘Shortcut Bundles’. These Shortcut Bundles allow players to immediately unlock all items in exchange for real-world cash.
There are 10 of them available, which break down into individual kit unlocks ($6.99AUD each), air or ground vehicle shortcuts ($9.99AUD each), all vehicle or all kit unlocks ($17.99AUD each), or for the player that wants it all without the time investment, The Ultimate Shortcut Bundle that unlocks everything ($39.99AUD). That’s no small fee to pay to unlock everything in Australia—especially considering Americans are only paying $24.99USD for the Ultimate pack on a weaker dollar—and it raises the issue once again of whether it’s okay to offer gamers the option of paying to unlock instead of investing hours and increasing skill to unlock items organically.
First and foremost, the most obvious issue is the cost. The $15 price difference between us and the US reads like another clear cut case of price gouging, given the usual excuse of the cost of shipping physical products all over Australia is completely negated by the digitally distributed content.
The second and more troubling concern is the free-to-play model that’s being attached to a premium product. To be fair, Battlefield 3 isn’t the first example of a game that offers charged DLC that lets you unlock facets of the game without committing the hours.
That being said, take Battlefield Play4Free as an example. When you play this free-to-play game, you understand, from the outset, that you can invest dozens of hours and you will eventually unlock certain weapons, items and abilities, without paying a single cent to install or play the game. You also understand that you can pay to avoid the ‘grind’ and access these items from the outset.
Sure, there may be certain facets that are premium items only, but the player is, again, aware of the distinction between what is free and what is charged from the outset. With Battlefield 3, you pay for the game from the outset and have only just been made aware that you can pay additional funds to unlock specific vehicle/class items or everything in the game. It’s not just the lack of initial transparency that’s disturbing, either.
I can sympathise with the conundrum DICE faces in the push and pull of trying to offer players a compelling reason to keep playing their game—dog tags, weapons and kit item unlocks—versus attracting new players to the online foray when a lot of players have already unlocked the full arsenal and kit items. But I don’t believe that the answer is to offer premium shortcut bundles of DLC to latecomers, time-poor or lazy players.
The biggest criticism of this approach is how it undermines the design process as it relates to multiplayer levelling. There’s a reason why you unlock the defib for Soldiers early on and SOFLAM for Recon class later on. The first item is necessary, while the latter requires skill, team play and has an inbuilt learning curve. There’s also the sense of accomplishment when you access that later-level unlock from time served on the digital battlefield; something that immediately feels a whole lot cheaper knowing that other players can simply buy what others have earned.
Beyond this, there’s an admirable (albeit subtle) learning curve for earned weapons and excitement that’s included free of charge when you pop an unlock. My experience was, just as I felt like I’d mastered a weapon type, a new option was there to tempt me, for better or for worse. A lot of the time it forced me to change the way I play but, most importantly, it allowed me to find particular weapons that worked best for specific maps, modes and play styles.
I don’t envy the position that DICE is in with having to offer new or early-rank players options to hold their own against the end-game players, but a premium offering doesn’t feel like a solution as much as it feels like an easy way to make money off the 10-million owners of Battlefield 3. After all, even the simplest forms of DLC (skins, for example) require development time and resources, thus it’s easy to justify a premium offering. An unlock code, on the other hand, has been as easy as typing I-D-K-F-A since Doom.
What do you think?