While both Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4 have given gamers hours upon hours of entertainment, sometimes fragging people in the same setting can start to get a little stale. Lately, we’ve seen a couple of new maps packs released, the latest being the Legendary Map Pack for Halo 3, as well as the recent Variety Map Pack for Call of Duty 4. Both map packs retail for 10 US dollars (or 800 points in Microsoft land), and give gamers three, or in CoD4’s case four, new maps to tool around with. Although to be realistic, not all of these maps are truly new, as two of the Legendary pack’s maps are remakes, as well as one of CoD 4’s. Both games have practiced differing methods of distributing this content, raising the question if gamers could be getting a better deal.
The hardcore crowd will of course eat these maps up no matter what the cost, but the reality is that the majority of people won’t be buying them. By that, I mean people who aren’t reading news articles on gaming. However, there are obviously enough interested consumers for publishers to charge us 10 whole dollars for more content, as less popular games, such as Turok, have seen map packs containing five new maps retailing for only $4.99. This shows that the bigger the game, the more leverage a company has to charge a heftier price.
If you’re like me and spend time playing a myriad of games instead of attempting to become an E-Athlete with just one, odds are you’ve been a bit squeamish with investing $10. Remember, that while the maps may only cost that much, you have to figure in the MS points needed, and how many you’ll be left with, which is usually too little to buy anything afterwards. Another thing that causes worry with the $10 charge is that there will most likely be more maps on the way, an example being the other map pack that has already been released for Halo 3. Therefore, purchasing both of the map packs already adds an additional $20 to the game’s value (cost).
Now this brings up something that Bungie does a tad differently, and that’s making their maps eventually free. None of the map packs that have come out for Call of Duty 2 or 3 have ever been made free, so the same could be expected to happen with the latest title. As the prices for Halo map packs are eventually dropped, you’re basically spending money for the privilege of playing them earlier, making the date that they go free the real release day for the majority of people that play the game. So since CoD4’s map pack price is permanent, and Halo 3’s temporary, are they each of the same value?
At least Bungie does make us aware that content will later go free, but with the maps getting the same temporary charge as the CoD4’s permanent price, things just don’t add up. The other argument is that CoD4’s maps should go free, a point that those of us who just don’t feel like paying would be selfishly inclined to agree with. But that’s not likely to happen, and the fact is that the Halo 3 gamers are paying money for something that will eventually cost nothing, while CoD4 players will forever literally own something that will retain its value. Looking at the situation this way, it’s not hard to see that the Halo 3 maps should probably be lower since you’re paid ownership is more of a VIP access fee.
Now this is not to say that CoD4 is squeaky clean when it comes to distributing new content. Sure gamers that already owned the game had to pay for the maps, but people purchasing the GOTY edition got a download key, at no extra charge. So the people that initially made CoD4 the best selling title of the year have to pony up, but those just recently jumping on the bandwagon get the savings?
It’s like awarding new satellite subscribers while leaving the loyal customers with just another bill to pay. Surely, it can be understood that those loyal Call of Duty players would have their noses just a bit out of joint at the thought of newcomers getting free access to brand new content that they have to pay for. And really, is there any more incentive needed to buy Call of Duty 4? This is not to say that Activision simply shouldn’t be charging for the maps, but they are dividing the market, rather than taking a stance and saying either you pay for them or you don’t.
Of course this is all part of the still extreme infancy of DLC transactions, and it will be a while before anyone gets it figured out, or unifies a pricing scheme. Some people’s own discomfort at the thought of buying new online content comes with the consumer’s own newfound understanding of the concept, and the process of adapting to buying something with no physical tangibility. If the realm of online transactions is ever to equal or even supersede the brick and mortar world of retail, then it’s going to have to start replicating its organization as well.