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Opinion: Rejection of StarDrone level-skip DLC shows where to draw the line

Beatshapers today removed a controversial DLC pack included with its latest PS Vita and PS3 game, StarDrone Extreme. Gamasutra's Mike Rose discusses the downfalls of pay-to-win.

Mike Rose, Blogger

April 25, 2012

3 Min Read

[Gamasutra's Mike Rose discusses the downfalls of pay-to-win, as developer Beatshapers was forced to apologize today over a controversial downloadable content pack included with its latest PS Vita and PS3 game, StarDrone Extreme.] As you'd expect from its name, the Level Skipper DLC for Beatshapers' downloadable PS Vita and PlayStation 3 game StarDrone Extreme allows players to skip levels in the portable game. What's notable, however, is that the DLC costs a one-time payment of $0.99 to unlock in the first place. Following complaints from both the press and players alike, the development studio and Sony came to a decision to make the DLC pack free from today onwards. "We would like to update that we together with [Sony Computer Entertainment Europe] made the controversial StarDrone Extreme Level Skipper DLC completely free," said Beatshapers founder Alexey Menshikov. "Sometimes we make wrong decisions and would like to apologize for that," he continued, before later adding, "I apologize again." Some gamers and developers will be rather confused as to what all the fuss is about. After all, casual and mobile games have been including these sort of "pay to get further" options for a long while. A prime example is Angry Birds' Mighty Eagle -- a paid feature which allows players to skip a level every hour (although there is added value when it comes to this feature, as it essentially adds an extra feather-collecting mode too). And certainly players in Asian markets expect to be able to pay for advantages. I was one of the people who complained about StarDrone's DLC, going as far as to say I wouldn't recommend the game based on this move alone. My logic is as follows: if I've paid money for a game, I shouldn't have to then pay extra money on top of that if I get stuck due to a game's difficulty curve. The argument against this, of course, is that if I don't want to pay for the DLC, then I simply shouldn't, and it's only there as an option for those people who don't have as much spare time on their hands, and want to zoom through the game more quickly. To that I say: surely this DLC should just be a feature of the game in the first place? I paid money for the entire game, not for the part that I'm capable of reaching. I shouldn't have to top-up my payment if it turns out that the game is too difficult for me. Essentially, by offering a paid level-skipping feature, you're asking less-skilled players to pay more than those who are able to beat your game unaided. Surely it's obvious that there's something very wrong with that? Now, offering players the ability to pay to speed-up the process of winning -- for example, giving double XP if you pay a premium price -- is an entirely different angle altogether, and sits much better with me (I still wouldn't utilize it, but I respect that there are people who would want to). Having said all this, there are clearly people who don't agree with me at all. After I joked about a similar system being added to hard-as-nails Xbox Live Arcade title Trials Evolution, in which you'd have to pay to unlock medals on the levels you can't pass (no, the game doesn't really offer this), Gamasutra's own Simon Carless admitted that he would "probably pay for it" if this option was available. The real question is, is this sort of in-app purchase really a step in a direction we want to take? I hope not -- can you imagine a scenario in which developers are purposely making the latter levels of their games as taxing and frustrating as possible, simply so that you'll throw more money at them?

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