Many gamers—including myself have always enjoyed the fact that video games were essentially a one-time cost. Each game is a more significant investment than a DVD or book, but each has potential for far more hours of enjoyment before reaching the end. For this reason, video game fans are more dependent on word of mouth and reviews than any other kind of media because of how much of an initial investment each game is. Part of the strength of the video game industry is that while the initial cost of a game might far exceed that of a night at the movie theater, a gamer can get easily 10-20 times as many hours of entertainment from a quality game. Holding the story hostage by forcing players to buy DLC or outside media undermines this investment in the eye of the consumer. Some gamers that might see the $7-10 spent on a 3-4 hour DLC as little different than buying a movie ticket or DVD, as I might if the content is strong enough, it still ends up leaving a bitter taste in many peoples’ mouths. When someone buys the Digital Deluxe Edition of Mass Effect 2 for $7.50 and ends up paying three or four times that to get all the DLC, something just doesn’t feel right.
That said, we must keep in mind that video game companies are still companies and must make money, especially with the ballooning budgets of video games. Outside media such as novels and comics provide an alternate route to new consumers outside the gamer community, which has the potential to grow the gaming community as a whole. DLC can also provide a way for companies to add enjoyable side-stories to an already completed story or to lead into an upcoming sequel in a way that helps solidify the developer’s and publisher’s investment and guarantee future titles. Following the example of the Extended Cut for Mass Effect 3, developers can even use DLC as a method to fix story problems in the original game.
However, such strategies may become problematic if the industry starts to rely on them to excuse an incomplete game or improper bug testing. Why bother spending another six months tightening up a game if they can just release the game now and “fix it” with DLC later? Even triple-A releases like Skyrim are already getting released full of bugs, many of which are far more serious than just simple graphical errors and dialogue skips. If developers are already so pushed for time that they don’t properly bug test their games, imagine the allure of being able to just cut out content and make the consumer pay for it later. As said before, hopefully the outrage over Mass Effect 3 has quelled any such ideas for the time being, but consumers should still stay vary for the future.
As for problems with novel and comic series, the longer and more more involved such series become, the more impetus the writers will feel to integrate the book and/or comic materials with the game materials. Gamers that don’t particularly care about reading licensed novels or comics will feel left out-of-the-loop. On the other hand,, many of the die-hard fans enjoy a degree of interaction between the expanded universe and the main storyline. Rewarding such fans while avoiding alienating the rest of the fandom from the story is a difficult balancing act.
Ultimately, if game developers want to have the same storytelling credibility and artistic integrity as novelists and filmmakers, they need to hold themselves to same standards as novelists and filmmakers. Even more populist action films like The Dark Knight Rises don’t require you to read a book or play a video game to know where the characters come from. Any bonus content in the DVD release such as deleted scenes is obviously non-canon and thus unnecessary to the story. Nobody buys a book and then finds out that chapters 10, 15, 27, and Epilogue are all available for purchase separately. People did end up going to Revenge of the Sith without seeing the Clone Wars cartoon and ended up feeling very out-of-the-loop, but said film was heavily criticized for that move on multiple fronts.
Thus, as far as I am concerned, video games need to be polished stand-alone experiences, just like films and books. The supplemental materials should stay supplemental. No gamer should feel compelled to read licensed books or comics just to clarify the story and fill in plot holes, just as no reader or film fan should feel compelled to play a video game for the same reason. I personally feel that paid bonus content within the game is fine as long as it remains bonus content because of the potential for abuse by more unscrupulous publishers or developers. Even in the case of using paid DLC to try to “fix” a game’s story, a sincere apology and a fresh game or full-on expansion work just as well, if not better. I may be completely wrong, and perhaps in twenty years every game will be episodic and serial and the industry and consumer will be better off for it. As long as consumers, developers, and publishers still hold games to a high standard of quality, the industry should survive and thrive. I just hope that our wallets can handle it.