One of the biggest games of the season launched on February 10. While this should please gamers hungry for major releases during this slow part of the year, many customers are less than thrilled.
The game is Evolve, an online shooter with a unique twist: In each match, four players team up to bring down a giant beast. The kicker is that the beast is actually controlled by another player.
It’s a great idea, and one that developer Turtle Rock seems uniquely equipped to handle, thanks to its history of making multiplayer shooters. The company’s previous blockbuster was Left 4 Dead, a cooperative online shooter that managed to create just the right balance between challenge and progression, teamwork and reward. If Turtle Rock could bring those same qualities to Evolve, the game could become a long-running success.
It all comes down to one big issue: the pay model.
Evolve is a premium game for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, which means the basic version retails for $60. But that’s only the beginning of the story. That $60 gets you three monsters and 12 hunter characters.
If you buy the $80 Digital Deluxe Edition, you get everything in the basic version, plus four hunters that will be released this spring and three additional monster “skins,” which make the monsters look different, but don’t affect the gameplay.
If you buy the $100 PC Monster Race Edition, you’ll get everything in the $80 version, plus four additional hunters, two extra monsters, and another monster skin.
It gets even more complicated once you dig in and compare buying bundles against buying season passes against buying monsters and hunters individually. For a complete look at your purchasing options, check out this lengthy, detailed rundown by Kotaku.
The upshot of all of this is that buying Evolve is both complicated and expensive. To top it off, once you see what’s included in the pricier packages, the basic $60 version starts to look pretty skimpy. And gamers are not happy.
Season passes and DLC are commonplace now in the AAA game space, and for good reason: For most games, they’re an economic necessity. The standard retail price of video games ($60) didn’t increase between the most recent console generations, but the cost of making games for more powerful hardware did. To make up the difference, nearly all AAA game companies now release paid DLC during the months following a game’s release.
In an interview with Official Xbox Magazine, Turtle Rock co-founder Chris Ashton said Evolve was designed from the ground up to accommodate DLC. “We made these modular pieces — the way the whole game fits together means we can make new maps, new environment types, new wildlife, new monsters and hunters, and all of that stuff just plugs into the game.”
Evolve’s distributor, Take-Two Interactive, has made no bones about the DLC-ready nature of the game, either. Strauss Zelnick, the company’s CEO, said in a recent earnings call that most of its major franchises would have “recurrent consumer spending” strategies.
Zelnick even commented specifically on the controversy surrounding Evolve’s DLC plans, telling an analyst, “I guess controversy generally speaking is a good thing. People can argue about the business model [but] I think we’re delivering a fantastic title that’s well worth what consumers will pay for it.”
- “[Evolve is] a game that would have been a must-have if not for the wallet-draining DLC overload it plans to be.”
- “Fun game ruined by DLC. Avoid.”
- “Wait for a sale, a good one.”
- “Not enough content to justify the current price and ludicrous amounts of excessively overpriced DLC”
Some customers seem to be under the impression that the game has dreaded “day-one DLC” — extra playable content that’s gated off by a paywall at launch — which it does not. According to Turtle Rock, none of the upcoming DLC has been finished yet, and it will release as it’s completed.
That’s an easy misconception for gamers to make when untangling the myriad of payment options requires a long, bullet-pointed article.
Surely the makers of Evolve are learning lessons from the game’s tepid early reception. The obvious takeaway is that buying games needs to be easier, and the options clearer.
It’s especially important to avoid such confusion — and such consumer ire — for brand new franchises like Evolve. Image is important, and so far Evolve has failed to make a good first impression.