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I’d (Not) Buy That For A Dollar

Bethesda recently released “The Orrery”, the second downloadable mini-content addon for Oblivion. The first was a “Pimp Yo’ Ride” horse armor texture; both were available for a little less than $2.

I was willing to give Bethesda the benefit of the doubt with the Horse Armor unlockable – it was an experiment in e-commerce and downloadable content (both of which I am all for – I love downloading things, I bought Half Life 2 through Steam, and I think Darkness Rising was Mythic’s smoothest expansion rollout ever). But from what I’ve seen, the Orrery was just a sad excuse for 2 more bucks. Essentially for your shekels, you get a fetch-and-carry quest and a new spell. In a game where you can create your own spells. I’m all a-quiver.

PC users can now feel all kinds of smug that they have some really kickass mods already, such as gameplay plugins that modify Oblivion’s levelling system, tweaks to monster spawning, and even the first glimpses of content that already blow Bethesda’s away. XBox 360 users don’t have any of that – they just get to be ticked off at the nickel and diming.

If this were a mystical world of make believe and I were Bethesda’s live team producer, RIGHT NOW I would be drafting up contracts for the best of the PC modders to get their stuff on XBox 360, now. Leave the PC mods free – they’re wackily easy to pirate anyway (someone had the Horse Armor mod up and advertising it on Bethesda’s own forum a few days after it came out) and proceed to mint large amounts of cash from XBox 360 users, who are already implicity trading flexibility for ease of use.

But charging $2 for maybe 15 minutes worth of content at best is not only lame from a user’s standpoint, from an industry standpoint it damages all of us. Oblivion has enough visibility to really damage the entire concept of pay-as-you-go downloadable content. Let’s hope that the next one Bethesda releases makes up for it.

For a reference in what makes a good downloadable module, see Bioware’s series of modules. They contracted with the best module makers in the NWN community, came up with some very good modules that have hours of gameplay, and charge $5 to $10 each for them. More than fair, and I suspect Bioware is making their investment back from it. That’s the model that should be emulated, not $2 for shiny horse armor.