Should developers and retailers be allowed to charge full price for a game that sucks? This is a question I’ve been contemplating for a while now, but one that’s bothered me more recently after playing The Force Unleashed 2.
I think we can all agree that the cost of developing a game has sky-rocketed due to rising costs across the board. It’s a sad fact that sequels to proven franchises are more important to developers than creating new and interesting IPs. Of course, this is not true for every developer, and those willing to take a chance on an idea are often met with praise from both the industry and gamers alike. One only needs to look at the Uncharted
series as an example of this. The problem, however, is that regardless of how much effort a developer may put into a particular portion of a game, if everyone is not on the same page and putting in equal amounts of effort the project will ultimately be a failure.
Appeasing gamers who you may have upset with an original concept is important if the ultimate goal is to create a franchise. The most important factor in determining a game's fate is the consumers; after all, a reviewer can give a game poor scores, but the individual consumer decides whether or not to make that game a success with their cash. For example, the original Assassin’s Creed’s
many flaws were pointed out by numerous reviewers before it was released, but a smart marketing campaign and interesting game-play videos sold the concept to the masses. Despite its repetitive game-play, simple combat and boring side missions, Assassin’s Creed
went on to become a huge success for Ubisoft, and ultimately, allowed them to create a sequel that far outshone its predecessor. The gaming world took a chance by paying full retail price for Assassin’s Creed
, and they were rewarded with a brilliant sequel.
Gamers can hold a pretty good grudge. In fact, Gamers probably hold a grudge better than most Star Wars
fans. I have many friends who refused to give Assassin’s Creed 2
a shot because they felt cheated by the first game; they were sold on a premise that was not delivered and as a result were not willing to give the franchise a second chance. It did not matter to them that Assassin’s Creed 2
managed to improve on every one of its predecessors faults. It was only after a number of people spoke out in defence of the sequel that they decided to cave in and give it a try. Every one of them was happy with Assassin’s Creed 2
, and the ill will they felt towards Ubisoft quickly dissipated.
I have my own grudge against the Fable
series. I, like many others, fell for the hype machine that was Peter Molyneux, only to be left with a game that felt hollow in comparison to his descriptions. The third game was perhaps the worst offender, and was the straw that broke the camel's back for me. I will not be handing over cash for any more of Lionhead’s Fable
games. I felt cheated out of £40 by the time the end credits rolled. I remember saying to myself that I would have been happy to spend £20 on that experience, but £40 of my hard earned money was too much. I feel like adding a cash value to an experience is a good way of indicating how satisfying it was. Of course, this is all a matter of opinion, but what happens when an opinion is universal? What happens when the majority of gamers agree that the full retail price was not justified?
In the UK we pay £40 for a new game; this roughly translates to $64. It might seem like a lot of money, but when a game offers you countless hours of entertainment, it’s really not that bad. The problem, however, is when a game doesn’t offer this.
A long time ago, on a gaming website I’ve long since forgotten, Lucasarts began teasing their next big project. That project would manifest itself as Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
. The hype surrounding this game’s “revolutionary physics”, and ability to unleash
The Force like never before, managed to capture the interest of gamers everywhere. However, it wasn’t until Lucasarts announced that Unleashed
had been approved as Star Wars
cannon by the great Neck Beard himself, that Star Wars
fans everywhere came on board. Star Wars
is a unique brand in that no matter how a fan may feel about video games, once the word ‘cannon’ becomes involved, they will find some way to experience it. It was pretty much a guarantee that this game was going to be a success. 7 millions copies later and that success was confirmed.
Despite its commercial success, The Force Unleashed
was met with very mixed reviews. The game lacked the polish that we've all come to expect from AAA titles, and in many ways felt broken. A lot of the boss battles felt cheap. Many of the platforming sections were badly designed. Even the most important game mechanic, The Force, felt somewhat broken. Despite all of these problems, however, The Force Unleashed
was enjoyable. The story was interesting - although it too had many flaws - and the fact that it was cannon meant that it was also important. I loved the overall experience, and spent many hours getting every last achievement. The story felt complete, and much like Bioshock
, did not seem to demand a sequel.
So, I was pretty shocked when Lucasarts announced The Force Unleashed 2
. After the ending to the first game I could not see how a sequel would be possible. My anger at the lack of a Battlefront 3
announcement aside, I began to think of the possibilities a sequel could offer; there was, after all, a lot to improve on.Hey, maybe they’ll fix everything that pissed me off about the first one, and this will end up being my definitive Star Wars game. No, Lyle, remember what happened when you trusted Obsidian with KOTOR 2? Yeah, but Obsidian were at fault there, right? How quick you are to forget. It was Lucasarts who forced Obsidian to rush the game. It was Lucasarts who felt the need to cash in on the franchise. Do not give yourself to the Dark Side.
Anyway, I decided to ignore the voices in my head, and instead started up the hype train ready for destination launch day.
The Force Unleashed 2
began previewing to the media, and a lot of the feedback was incredibly positive. Journalists raved about how much Lucasarts had improved the frustrating aiming system from the first game. They spoke of new improvements to the physics engine. They even spoke about the incredible rain on Kamino. After all, who doesn’t love rain that actually acts like real rain? In an interview with Gamepro whilst Unleashed 2
was still in development, Hayden Blackman – the game’s writer – even went as far as to say, “we're still not good at telling stories as an industry. In character-driven stories we're very often let down by endings, because we don't allow our characters to evolve the right way…It comes back to story development. It's different than a novel or a movie because it's interactive. A good story in my mind is all about character change. He has to start some place and end some place dramatically different." Bold words, however, many would agree that the most successful component of the original Force Unleashed
was its story. So maybe he knew what he was talking about. Maybe he had found the holy grail of storytelling and was implementing it into his sequel. The hype train kept on chugging happily along, until it hit a massive fucking brick wall.
A week or so before release I started seeing various reports from fans who had somehow obtained a copy early. These people were pissed. Not because the game was broken; not because they were frustrated by a cheap boss battle. No, they were pissed off because the game lasted a full 4 hours. Wait, what? That’s got to be a joke, right?
No, they were not kidding.
The Force Unleashed 2
has a total of four areas. Kamino, Caito Neimoidia, a Republic ship and Dagoba. You visit Kamino twice, so I suppose at a stretch one could argue that there are five areas in total. Dagoba was the one that seemed to be creating the most buzz. I’d read a comment on the official message boards stating that Dagoba consisted of: Ship lands, get out of ship, walk several meters, meet Yoda, watch cut scene and leave planet. That’s just bullshit,
I thought. No way would Lucasarts be stupid enough to ship a game they’d been raving about for so long, in this condition. Four hours? These guys must be speed running.
A day or so before release someone else decided to call the others out on their bullshit. No,
he proclaimed. You’re all wrong. The game is not four hours long at all. You must have been playing on an easy difficulty. It’s much closer to five hours, actually.
I must admit I was devastated. Sure
, I thought, the game might still be amazing; the story could be very compelling even with a five hour runtime.
Alas, I should have listened to the voices in my head.
I received my collector’s edition on release day and proceeded to finish it on normal difficulty in less than five hours. Was the story interesting? No. Was the gameplay improved? In some ways, yes. Was the overall experience worth £50? No. Fucking. Way. I felt cheated. I felt robbed. I couldn’t believe that this game had been given the green light for release.
Rumours had spread towards the end of development about Hayden’s departure from the company. About anger from higher management towards the way Lucasarts was being run. I never imagined it was this bad, and always believed that Hayden took enough pride in his storytelling to at least make sure that that part of the game was presented well.
Perhaps it wasn’t his fault. Maybe he saw the state of The Force Unleashed 2
and wanted to get the hell out before they attached his name to the negative press. I do not have the answers for why, and honestly, I don’t give a shit. What mattered to me was that I felt cheated out of my money. I’d spent as much as I could on this game because I believed that Lucasarts would reward my faith. They’d spent so long admitting the flaws of the first Force Unleashed
, and their lead writer had spent so much time promising a deeper and more meaningful story; I was comfortable with my choice. It was probably the worst experience I have ever had putting my faith into a sequel. I hated Bioshock 2
, but I could at least appreciate the amount of effort that 2K Marin had put into making it the best game it could possibly be. After finishing The Force Unleashed 2
, I was left with the feeling that Lucasarts didn’t give a shit. About me. About their fans. Not even about their reputation. They saw the dollar signs and that was all that mattered.
Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps there was more to this than was made public. In the end, though, none of that matters. All that matters is the final product.
So, my ranting aside; the point of this little blog is to ask you beautiful community members for your opinions about a game’s retail price. Should a game like The Force Unleashed 2
, that offers a minimal amount of content, be sold for the same amount of cash as a content heavy game in the same genre? Would a system based on punishing developers who try to release a game for full retail price, with seemingly minimum effort put into it, improve the industry?
How did you feel after playing The Force Unleashed 2
? Am I just moaning about something ultimately trivial?
I know that there are many flaws in the argument to punish developers by lowering retail prices. I also know that it's not a simple matter, and includes the retailers as well. I'm just curious to get other opinions on this.