So yeah, this is now a thing:
Battlefield 3 developer DICE has started selling "shortcut" item unlocks for the PlayStation 3 version of its best-selling FPS.
As revealed on the game's official blog, there are 10 different items available now either in-game or from the PlayStation Store. The following bundles are offered:
- Kit Shortcut Bundle: Immediately unlocks all items unique to the four playable classes
- Vehicle Shortcut Bundle: Immediately unlocks all items for all vehicles
- The Ultimate Bundle: Immediately unlocks all items from all other available shortcut packs
"If you're new to the game, this is the perfect way to gain some ground on the veterans online," explained DICE.
Has this happened before, in a non-free-to-play, retail product? I honestly can't think of anything else, but I'm fine with someone correcting me. It's certainly the only time it's been for something I give a shit about. There have been "early unlock" preorder stuff like with Bad Company 2 and maybe BF3 as well, but this is the first "unlock everything" "deal" I can think of.
Anyway, this makes me sad and disgusted more than I can probably get across with simple message board prose. EA selling "cheat code unlocks" for Godfather? Slimy, but single player only and I don't use cheats hardly at all these days anyway. Untold questionable DLCs that are becoming the norm these days, of various lengths or worths? Well, plenty are fine enough, some are great, many are ripoffs, but it's a case by case thing. But this?
Let me be clear up-front, and I know many (most?) may not agree with me on this fundamental point: I near-absolutely despise the CoD-popularized unlock system that has become de rigueur for nearly all multiplayer games these days (I was going to say "nearly all FPS multiplayer" for a second there, but then I remembered C&C4, and ME4, and AssBro, and AssRev, and...). This is not to say that I dislike systems that encourage "earning" of abilities, powers, status, etc. Instead, it is merely a belief that such things must be designed and metered out with care and concern for the construction of the game, especially in a multiplayer context. For example, giving out gear that looks shiny or whatever to players as they rank higher to show off their accomplishments: reasonable. Unlocking more advanced gear once (some) basic proficiency with more simple gear is demonstrated: very smart!
But locking away essential gear/items that have little to no connection skill-wise with items available at lower levels? Garbage. Bad design, period. I understand many developers (and of course, even more players) have become enamored with the "carrot-on-a-stick" design today. It is almost always simply a barrier between me and playing the game as designed; a barrier composed nearly entirely of that most precious and scarce resource a person has: time. Not too long ago I saw someone complain about AssBro's "endgame" happening too quickly, because they had unlocked all the (rather essential) abilities so fast. I was left absolutely boggled. To me, the unlocking requirements to gain all the various abilities in the game made me LESS interested in playing the game. How is it fun to be beaten by people who have both more experience actually playing the game, and more tools to choose from in how they destroy you? Why and when did the reasonably universal objectives of "your team won the round" or "you got first place" become so insufficient to people?
So to the specific example here: Battlefield 3. I have played and enjoyed loved every Battlefield since '42, with the exceptions of 2042 and BC1 (simply didn't get to them). But of all them, I honestly feel that BF2 perhaps came closest to realizing a perfect multiplayer FPS for me. BF3 is generally an excellent game, but for all its advances, I still find it in many ways a significant step back for the series.Before even the 360 and its achievement system, BF2 had its universal ranking system, its achievement-based medals, and even (gasp!) unlocks. But there was a key difference between BF2 unlocks and BF3's: there were no essential pieces of kit locked away in BF2.
Every time I got a new weapon unlock in BF2, I actually felt some rush of accomplishment, but I never ever felt like one of the alternate weapons I could obtain was essential to performing in the game. But with BF3, every time I unlock something, all I think is "Ugh, FINALLY". FINALLY I can use AA missiles on a goddamn AA vehicle. FINALLY I have mines to use to fortify a troubled point. FINALLY I have Javelins to use against those expert pilots. It's not satisfying, and it's not keeping me playing. I play for the excitement of me and my squad/team stopping a merciless enemy assault by smartly using all tools available, or shooting down that hotshot jet who won't stop harassing all our support, or sneaking into an enemy base and planting the sensor that lets my team mount a precision assault on enemy positions and take the thing.
I didn't buy BF3 right away for various reasons. I have friends who are only now getting into it. I have concerns that they won't stick around for long because they simply get tired of having to grind all the shit that makes the game fun for them, and for us. A real-world example: we want to play an anti-vehicle Javelin-based squad. Well, I'm the only one that has Javelins unlocked, my other friend is the only one with a SOFLAM, and the new guy has nothing. What if we need/want to swap roles? Nope! Somebody's gonna have to grind shit! It's not even like using a SOFLAM or Javelin requires any more skill than earlier unlocks for those classes; in fact, they're either completely unrelated to the skills utilized for their predecessors, or they're actually EASIER to use!
Finally, getting back to the impetus of this whole diatribe: To be clear, I have little to no problem with this kind of unlock structure in a free to play game. In a responsibly-designed case of free-to-play, you are generally making the choice to either commit your time to unlocking shit, or putting in actual money to gain the elements of the game that make it work quickly, and thus essentially "buying" the product. To create the kind of unlock system BF3 (a full-priced retail release) is misguided and frustrating. But to then implement a "shortcut" option based in ACTUAL MONEY is exploitative, greedy, and simply highlights how ill-conceived and manipulative the game's entire unlock system is.
Or in not so many words: isn't simply competing not enough for players anymore?