The Myth of Narrative Justification

Given the current state of overpriced and potentially unnecessary downloadable video game content, the folks at The Game Reviews felt it was necessary to editorialize about "the myth of narrative justification". Dragon Age: Origins, Fable II, and Mass Effect 2 are all cited when attempting to prove certain points:
Game publishers, developers and anyone who might have previously needed to explain away certain dubiously important aspects in games now have free rein to issue narrative justification as a reason for anything and everything. And when given the ability, folk are likely to use it. So what have those aforementioned folk been doing with their newfound excuse? Nothing good, I assure you. There's apparently narrative justification for embedding locked content on retail discs, locked content that you intend to sell at a later date.

Locked downloadable content on retail discs is actually the least heinous of the activities being perpetrated. Microtransactions and upselling within the confines of a game are two of the more dastardly relatives to date. Dragon Age: Origins even has an character go so far as to let you know about a quest, add the marker to your log and then, quite literally, tell you that you first need to purchase the related DLC in order to finish it.


Yet it isn't that developers and publishers are pushing towards turning games into a service rather than a product that is most alarming. A quick look at the different panels from this year's recent Game Developers Conference is reason enough for me to conclude that this is the direction the industry is turning. What is most alarming is the type of content they intend to push with these services. For one possible example, we need look no further than Fable 2. The game took part in an experiment in which its retail version was later released in episodic downloadable chunks. It was a very successful experiment. And one that brings a great sense of foreboding.

As a good example of how to begin forming services around flagship games, Mass Effect 2 is actually coming out with a paid DLC pack that consists of three costumes. That's it. And that's okay because it adds a certain aesthetic to the characters but doesn't truly factor into the gameplay in any meaningful way. Even better, people will still buy it.