Last week, the latest leak/rumour about the upcoming Mass Effect 3 DLC, currently called Omega, came to light. A fan interviewed ME3 producer Mike Gamble who said that the upcoming Mass Effect 3 Omega DLC would be twice as long as any other Mass Effect 3 DLC. The big news, however, was that the price of the DLC would be $15, which is $5 more than the next most expensive Mass Effect DLC.
BioWare’s DLC practices with Mass Effect 3 can be described in many ways but controversial would be the most accurate.
The controversy started with the release of the From Ashes DLC on release day. That controversy was only exacerbated by accusations of a major character being locked out until gamers paid $10 if they didn’t buy the more expensive Limited and Collector’s Editions of the game (which received the DLC for free). The impression that From Ashes was locked out for money wasn’t helped by the fact that the majority of Javik-related content, including character models, audio of dialogue and integration in the game’s code, were shipped on the game disc.
The second Mass Effect 3 DLC was the Leviathan DLC. I found it underwhelming in that it didn’t really add anything to the game neither in terms of gameplay nor story. For $10, you got more war assets and a three-hour series of missions, none of which were exceptionally unique, especially compared to new elements introduced in Mass Effect 2’s Overlord (released at $7) and Lair of the Shadow Broker (released at $10).
It’s also worth noting that, while not a paid DLC, BioWare released additions to the game’s ending as a DLC. The original ending was very controversial due to its lack of closure. While the Extended Cut improved the original ending, it wasn’t perfect.
Now, the question becomes if the current plan to charge $15 (or 1200 Microsoft/BioWare points, if that’s your console’s currency) is too much to charge for a DLC mission?
It’s hard to say if a game (or part of a game, in this instance) is worth a specific amount of money without playing it. Our rating system around here is based on whether or not something is worth the price paid for it based on how well put together it is (is the game glitchy or gameplay repetitive) and how fun it is to play.
Lair of the Shadow Broker was worth the $10 because it was fun and challenging to play while being very well-produced in terms of the script, voice acting and soundtrack. The challenge Omega has is being able to bring new elements to the game, like LotSB did with the car chase, battle atop the Shadow Broker’s ship and the final boss battle. That’s not to mention that the Shadow Broker’s ship became a sort of hub world for Shepard to visit during the game with other non-combat unique content filling in the backstory of some squadmates and background characters of the Mass Effect 2.
There are two main things that trouble me about the unofficial announcement about Omega that are preventing me from paying my own money for this DLC. The first is that when Mass Effect producer Mike Gamble told fans about the price of the DLC, he also noted that it would be twice as long as any other Mass Effect 3 DLC. I’m troubled by the proximity of these two statements. It’s almost as if Gamble is using the increased time of the DLC to justify the price increase. Even if the DLC is six hours long (using BioWare’s estimate of three hours for Leviathan to determine Omega’s length), that doesn’t mean that twice the content is worth 50% more if the quality and fun that we expect from Mass Effect 3 isn’t there.
My other issue ties back to one of the reasons for the From Ashes controversy. A mission to take back Omega was originally included in the game’s script and some early development work went into building the lever. That image beside this paragraph is a BioWare Pulse news video which appears to show Aria as a squadmate. To me, that means that BioWare had actually started work on Omega characters and missions before pulling the plug. It’s another instance where BioWare/EA appears to have developed something for the game only to withdraw it from the main game to sell as an “extra mission.”
While recovering the cost of producing Omega (though how much work was done after principal development work may never be fully disclosed) is important to BioWare and EA, there is the optics of charging $15 for a DLC to consider. Sure, hiring a movie star like Carrie-Ann Moss to voice Aria isn’t going to be cheap, but BioWare should have learned the importance up public relations and how news is perceived by the public. Pricing all ME3 DLCs at $10 when most paid ME2 DLCs were $7 is bad enough. Bumping the price of a hotly anticipated DLC containing a popular character and location to $15 from the standard $10 is almost certainly a case of banking on fan nostalgia trumping any second thoughts about the price.
In terms of hard numbers, the main campaign (including From Ashes) took me about 30 hours to complete. (For the sake of comparison, my first playthroughs of ME1 and ME2 were in the 35-hour range excluding DLCs.) So Leviathan was 10% of the length of the campaign (3 hours against 30 hours) for 16.7% of the price ($10 against $60 standard price). BioWare’s estimated length for Omega is 20% of the campaign for 25% of the price. It might not be the most fair comparison but these DLCs don’t have the same value for money as the main story we bought in March. However, the percentage of the single-player campaign percentages of ME3’s DLCs are better than ME2’s because ME3’s main story is five hours shorter than previous instalments That means I’ve already spent $80 (the game plus From Ashes and Leviathan) to get slightly less time from the campaign than my $60 got me with ME2 (33 hours of ME3 versus 35 of ME2).
While I can talk about dollars and cents to see if I can justify the price for Omega without playing it, BioWare’s problem will be the perception of this DLC and its price. BioWare and EA’s public relations work for Mass Effect 3 has been so terrible that you’ll soon see this as a case study in a business school marketing or communications class. Mike Gamble’s unofficial price announcement has gone over so poorly because there’s no other information given to justify the price other than the length of the DLC. If value for money was all I used to make my purchasing decisions, I’d spend five dollars more and buy Torchlight 2 for $20 or only buy stuff when it goes on sale on Steam.
While the unofficial announcement of Omega is other typically great PR moment for BioWare, there are ways they can make this DLC worth the price. As I said, the length of the content doesn’t mean it’s automatically worth the price. New gameplay elements like new biotic or tech powers or unique combat scenarios as BioWare had introduced in some of its ME2 DLCs would be welcome. Adding Omega as a “hub world” that Shepard could visit repeatedly like it was in ME2 would make its addition a little more meaningful. Similarly, the addition of some new side quests would be a welcome diversion should you want to replay the game.
Without playing the DLC or seeing reviews of it, I’m not willing to write-off Omega as being priced too high for what you’re getting. Mind you, I did the same with Leviathan only to find that I didn’t think it was worth the price I paid for it. However, BioWare needs to do more than release the usual sizzle reel of a trailer to convince other people not to forego it solely because of the price. Quality, not quantity, is the key to customer satisfaction with Omega.
Forbes – ‘Mass Effect 3’ Omega DLC Largest Expansion So Far
Eurogamer – Date for Mass Effect 3’s Omega DLC, the biggest and most expensive yet
Joystiq – Mass Effect 3 Omega DLC out Nov 27, priced 1200 MSP/$15