Opinion: How You're Buying Locked Up Games

Mortal Kombat X may be the latest perpetrator, but there is an ongoing trend where games lock away content behind a vault, where only the most dedicated players are allowed access to it. It's a annoying practice that really must stop. 

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Mortal Kombat X takes a unique approach to the Krypt this time around. Instead of having a relatively straightforward field of graves, mausoleums, and corpses, MKX builds in a sort of mini role-playing game, where players must navigate through a extensive map, complete with catacombs and creatures that occasionally attack. You'll even need to find special objects, like Raiden's staff, that allow access to certain areas. But as entertaining and novel as the new Krypt might be, it serves to disguise a larger issue: There's a ton of content that's locked up, hidden away, and accessible only to the most dedicated players that have the time, skill, and energy to break them all open.

There must have been a time when unlocks were relatively straightforward. Complete the campaign, defeat the final boss, and you'll be rewarded with a special playable character. Then, as games like Mortal Kombat became more complex, the amount of extra content grew alongside the roster. Now we have unlockable costumes, dozens of brutalities, and probably over a hundred modifiers for the custom modes. All of it is tucked away within a sprawling Krypt, hidden amongst alternate costumes, artwork, and music, so players must open the right tombs to access more content for their game.

On the one hand, the method makes a certain kind of sense. Not counting characters and levels unlocked through the campaign, players are given everything they need to enjoy the game. A large and diverse roster, single Fatality and Brutality listings, and a decent collection of modifiers. Players can stick only with the basics and still have a very satisfying experience. If they want to kick up the selection, they can do so by playing the game, earning in-game currency, and using it to purchase what you want. If you need help getting to specific items, you can check out the wealth of online guides that inevitably arise. In the end, you get from the game exactly what you put into it.

In another sense, this is philosophy is absolutely bonkers. Fans are paying money for access to just the foundational basics of a game. Maybe it made sense in a bygone era, when there were only a handful of things to unlock, but games can certainly stretch the limits of reason. If it were just a matter of finishing the campaign, or limited to single player content, then it's fine. You're rewarded with an extra character for finishing the game - something you should be doing anyway. Or you're given a special costume for completing a challenge. But we're stepping into a different matter when we get into multiplayer.

Playing the game almost becomes a chore when you have to unlock content for multiplayer. Clearly, I want a full roster of characters when I sit down to play with friends. Similarly, I don't want our experience to be limited in any way. When we play, we should be playing a full game. That means tracking down things like match modifiers, and alternate costumes, and unlocking Fatalities and Brutalities so that they're shown in the moves list. Nobody should have to pull out reference card to remember a move when it's far easier to look it up on the moves list. These may seem like frivolous extras, but what good is competing in a incomplete game?

Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if the system didn't require a break from the game. I wouldn't have a problem with a system where winning ten matches with a character unlocks an alternate costume. But the Mortal Kombat system requires you to play while fulfilling certain criteria, like Flawless Victories or performing Fatalities, to earn extra currency. Then you have to navigate a maze and to get to the content you want and hope that you have enough cash on hand to buy it. It's quite a process for the sake of unlocking extras.

Although I've limited my gripes to Mortal Kombat X, there are a large host of games that locks up a bulk of its content behind a virtual vault, and we're not just talking about alternate costumes and music tracks. You have to unlock advanced equipment in games like Battlefield, and the further everyone else gets ahead of you, the harder it can be to do it. It's harder to get into a game when you're the odd-man out, stuck with using basic equipment, while everyone around you is running around with high-tech gear. Perhaps you'll get in a lucky shot, or maybe someone nearby will die and leave their equipment behind for you to pick up. But those are really ghoulish way to play. Then there are the multiplayer modes in Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age: Inquisition, where equipment and characters more-or-less come down the luck of the draw.

I understand that there's a balance to offering content for multiplayer games. You want to reward dedicated players with extras that will help them stand out so that others can recognize the time and skill they've put into the game. Players should have to work their way up to better gear. However, we're not necessarily talking about experience based upgrades here. There must be a better way than keeping content locked up in a place where ONLY the most dedicated players can get to it. Not only does this approach disconnect players from the game, but it treats less hardcore gamers, or those without as much time, like second class players.

Managing Editor
From The Chatty
  • reply
    April 17, 2015 8:00 AM

    Steven Wong posted a new article, Opinion: How You're Buying Locked Up Games

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      April 17, 2015 8:04 AM

      Good article, didn't address that other factor though of games (including Battlefield) using money as a way to make up for that time. Either you grind it out or your pay to unlock.

      Whether or not that is fair to gamers seems to depend on the length of the grind.

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        April 17, 2015 9:28 AM

        I'm really starting to get tired of that too. I'm interested in SW Battlefront but if it has the same shit I may skip it.

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          April 17, 2015 9:31 AM

          Depends on the grind really fits my attitude now as well.

          I usually spend the first couple months getting everything unlocked in those games. Luckily that is the time when the games are buggy and formative so my completion of unlocking and the game settling into stable experience tend to coincide.

          I am not looking forward to a long unlock tree in Battlefront though, especially if they lock necessary class items behind them.

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        April 17, 2015 9:29 AM

        Gamers are supporting this behavior so they primarily have themselves to blame.

        It's not even a matter of boycotting; you can buy locked games and just not participate in the paid, locked content, and they'll get the message.

        It's evident this model is working well, though.

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      April 17, 2015 8:06 AM

      If a fighting game doesn't have all gameplay-related things unlocked, at least for VS modes, right from the start, I simply will not buy it. It's a bullshit design for a genre whose primary function is multiplayer. Costumes, weird cheats, art, etc don't bother me. But characters and all basic gameplay functions need to be available. This goes for any MP-oriented game as far as I'm concerned. Rock Band 4 better have a way to unlock all songs in MP mode, even if it's a code that only does it for that session like GH used to have.

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        April 17, 2015 9:11 AM

        Characters? MK has a long history of sneaking in hidden characters you unlock via codes; I like that aspect of it. I don't want half the roster hidden behind question marks, but I like knowing I have 4-5 characters playing hide and seek with me.

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      April 17, 2015 8:09 AM

      I don't agree with this article at all.

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        April 17, 2015 9:31 AM

        Honestly expected it to just forward to the $20 unlock on the PSN store = )

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      April 17, 2015 10:08 AM

      I felt this way about Mario Party...8 I think on the Wii. The fact that it had locked content at all drove me bonkers. I only wanted to play it with friends. I found a completed save, popped that down on my Wii and then got to play with the new characters and an entire other board to play with.

      It was a lot of fun and knowing I had to beat a single player mode in full to get it was insane to me.

      #freethegames

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      April 17, 2015 11:08 AM

      [deleted]

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      April 17, 2015 1:49 PM

      This isn't the first case though. Sm4sh did the same thing. There is no way to obtain new custom moves reliably, and with the few methods you always have a chance to get ones you have obtained. Especially since some of them are behind challenges that can be absolutely Bullcrap with the items and AI.

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      April 17, 2015 8:43 PM

      I'm surprised you didn't mention difficulty unlocks.

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