Somewhat recently, when watching an Extra Credits video about what they term “Lifestyle Games (link: here), a thought struck me. The narrator, Dan, used the phrase (out of context) “… the game just ends”, and though he was talking about a type of game that rewards long term players, it brought to mind something I have heard several times over the past several years while following the game industry. The go-to quote for this is from the E3 2012 EA press conference when the CEO at the time John Riccitello said the phrase “A few years ago, the game you bought was the game you got”. He was justifying his company’s love of DLC, and said it negatively, but this has always sat oddly in my mind. I am old enough to remember gaming before games could connect to the internet, and he’s absolutely right. At that time, the game that shipped, at least for consoles, had to be bug free, and a complete experience. The moment consoles introduced stable internet connectivity, DLC began creeping into games, with many gamers accepting and enjoying the idea that a few extra dollars could add so much to their experience. Once this took hold, it started becoming more audacious, holding parts of the game that many agreed should have been included in the game to ransom. This turned some off of the concept of DLC (myself included, in the interest of disclosure), however, many still kept paying, even defending the company’s practice as unimpeachable. While there have been many examples of this done well, such as “Dark Souls” and “The Witcher III”, there are far too many bad examples to quantify. The question in the title stands at this point.
In terms of personal preference, I greatly prefer a game that has a definitive, solid ending. I do enjoy games with multiple endings, but only if it’s not to justify a lazy moral choice system. While I had a lot of fun playing “Saint’s Row 2”, once the story ended and the sandbox was all that greeted me, I’ll confess I gave it less than an hour before I was done. I can only be engaged in a title for story, and the moment that story is over, so is my engagement. This is why online multiplayer never really appealed to me in most games, and the rash of games that only featured online multiplayer early in the previous console generation’s lifespan passed me by completely, and titles that focused on multiplayer with only a token story have never grabbed me, sorry “Halo” fans. Because of this, the first wave of DLC, in the form of map packs, and other content meant to enhance online play completely passed me by. When story content DLC was a fresh, new idea to extend and enhance the play experience of single player games, I was cautiously optimistic.I liked the idea of a smaller expansion pack, but often this was little more than glorified sidequests. Once things like season passes started, I was cooled right off from this new, exciting way to have more content. All this said, I also recognize that I am a part of a smaller subset in the larger game-buying public. “Halo” was a smash hit, and dozens of games like this have achieved popularity on a scale that was unheard of when I was younger. The simple fact is that video games are rapidly becoming a part of the mass media, with nearly everyone in the western world either playing them frequently, or having a friend or family member who does. Obviously, there is something that is causing a huge surge in popularity in gaming, and while it is tempting to point to these elements as the cause, we must always remember that correlation does not mean causation. Many reasons are likely at play here, and too often a game’s “popularity” is judged from how much money it has made, which is a terrible metric to base popularity on. While sales figures will absolutely tell you how many people bought a title, they don’t speak to anything else.
Is it ok for a game to just end? The question in the title refuses to be answered simply. It is ok for a game to just end, if the experience the developer intends to deliver is made for it, however, a huge portion of the audience also prefers games with extended, or even perpetual content. “Dark Souls”, one of my personal favorite games ever made, features a New Game+ mode with ramping difficulty and challenge, keeping me in Lordran for ages, always discovering something new every playthrough. The long and short of it is let developers work on projects they are passionate about, and don’t limit the options for the gaming public.