I buy a lot more games than I play. SteamDB tells me that I haven’t played 121 of the 194 games on my main Steam account. But even though I’m more than happy to open my wallet, no matter how large my pile of shame grows, I have never bought DLC. And I haven't paid for any microtransactions.
Does this make me a bad gamer? Does it make me a bad person?
The second I brought up the fact that I was thinking about writing this, the office erupted. Questions about what constituted DLC, what constituted a microtransaction, and why I would cut myself off from extra content for the games that I like were thrown my way faster than I could think of rational answers.
This is controversial whether you're a hardcore fan and especially if you're a creator, but the fact remains that I just... haven't... spent any money on games that wasn't for the base game itself. Which is stupid, really, since I've bought entire games that I haven't played at all.
To be fair, I haven't played many games in the last five years, and I haven't been on Facebook — where microtransactions were originally born — for just as long. I kind of missed the whole... DLC... thing. And now that I'm playing a few more games than I was in the bleak expanse of time between then and now, DLC is everywhere.
It makes me feel uncomfortable.
My brain knows that DLC is a good thing for games in 2016, and that it's a more effective way to support creators than just the initial purchase.
Here's the thing: I feel like I come from the old days of games. When I bought post-launch content, it was something called an expansion pack. When the internet was a little less mature, and games writing still lived mostly in monthly magazines, you bought boxed copies in A4 boxes at your local EB. You'd learn almost by luck or chance that your favourite game was getting a new chapter. You'd see it on a store shelf one day — and it'd have thousands of hours of effort thrown into it.
You'd buy it and holy shit, there's new canon for the security guard that you met once at the start of Half-Life and he actually has his own storyline, and oh my god this is amazing. Expansion packs were a good thing, and I have fond memories of them. I bought loads. But expansion packs became DLC and that changed.
That doesn't mean I haven't played any free-to-play, microtransaction-driven games though. I probably put a hundred hours into Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, I like Hearthstone, and I've wasted more Friday afternoons in CS:GO than I have actually pretending to be a productive employee. (Sorry, boss.)
But I just haven't bought anything in them. CS loot boxes? No, I'm fine with my gunmetal grey gun, thanks. Hearthstone packs? I'm not committed enough to play beyond the starter deck, sorry. Whatever the crystal meth was in the Kardashian game that made countdown timers go faster? It actually felt like more of a challenge to watch the clock and game the system to progress without spending money.
Cosmetic microtransactions? I just don't get it, sorry. Kotaku's Amanda Yeo is a DOTA fiend and has tried to explain to me more than a couple of times why someone would spend real, actual, normal-person-world money on some different coloured pixels for a digital avatar. But I can't wrap my brain around it.
Back in my day, graffiti sprays in CS were free. They're not any more.
What a waste of money, my brain says. Use that money for something real. I can understand contributing financially to a game that you love, but I'd almost prefer to donate cash and not get anything in return — it feels less exploitative, somehow. And the dollar value assigned to cosmetics has no basis in reality to me. Remember horse armour?
And season passes, man. Season passes should be more justifiable for me, rationally, because it's an upfront payment that is a commitment from developers to continue releasing new and hopefully exciting content well into the life of a game.
But when you charge money for a season pack, I have a problem to the haves and have-nots two-tiered system it builds. I stopped playing Destiny when the first DLC pack came out and everyone else — the people that are fine with it — left me behind.
The rational part of my brain knows that DLC is a good thing for games in 2016, and that it's a more effective way to support creators than the initial purchase of a game. The irrational side of my brain doesn't want to get nickel-and-dimed for something that might not be good.
At least if it's already in the game and it's not good, it's already in the game. You can take the bad with the good. It's me being cautious, it's me feeling like the world has passed me by, it's kind of being a cheapass, it's mostly just not understanding.
Part of the objection is I've been conditioned to think that when you buy a game, you get it for good. When you couldn't update a game over the 'net, that's when it was delivered to you through mail order in a 7-CD booklet and you had everything for your hundred-hour adventure laid out in front of you.
I feel like I come from the old days of games. When I bought post-launch content, it was something called an expansion pack.
That's changed in the past few years. Persistent online multiplayer means the game you paid $110 for doesn't exist after the servers are gone. Season passes means the game you bought isn't the full game and studio intrigue might mean you never get to play it.
I like the look of DLC, a lot. The Death Star DLC for Battlefront looks fucking amazing. Far Cry 3's Blood Dragon was technically DLC, I guess, wasn't it? But I didn't play it because I'd already bought Far Cry 3 and my stubborn-ass wallet wasn't going to open again.
I know this is an irrational position to hold. And I want to change my mind. I want to be normal. These days, I probably play more mobile games than any other platform, so it's just a matter of time until I pay for a microtransaction there. I was very close to dropping a stack of cash on lunchboxes during my brief Fallout Shelter addiction.
At least my problem isn't genetic.
At my last check, Steam says my brother has spent upwards of two thousand hours in Fallout 3 and New Vegas. He's bought every piece of downloadable content and played through them all innumerable times. By his estimate, he's spent about $150 on DLC for the two games, which is a pretty significant proportion of the cost of the two collector's edition versions of the base games he bought.
Me? I've played through Fallout 1 and 2 probably just as much, but ain't no way I'd be able to convince myself that $150 for some extra gameplay is worth it. Which is stupid, right? Based on the fact that my brother has spent more time in two games than I've put into games at all in the last decade.
Maybe I'm just an old grumpy man. I bought Fallout 4, got about half an hour into it, walked into a fence and died, quit and uninstalled the game and threw the disc across the room and I haven't touched it since.
Maybe I just shouldn't play games at all. That would solve this whole moral quandary.
I'm acutely, painfully aware that I don't know nearly anywhere near enough about the industry for this to be a morally justifiable position. In the last few hours of writing this, I've changed my mind back and forth half a dozen times.
Think of the new canon that devs can add post-launch in response to fan demand. Why didn't they build it in the first place. DLC supports creators. Charge me more upfront — and don't call it a season pass — and I'm probably good. Shit, I don't know. It's easier to not think about it.
This piece was originally going to be called I Will Never Buy A Video Game Microtransaction. I'm not discounting that possibility, because there's something stubborn and old-school hard-wired into my brain about getting all of something when you buy it for the first time, but at the same time I've opened my eyes to the fact that DLC and microtransactions are perfectly normal and perfectly fine.
But sorry, Amanda, I'm probably never buying horse armour.