Kingdoms of Amalur has had a rough weekend. With the game’s launch coming up next Tuesday, a well-received demo getting a good amount of play, and a lot of good advance press, Amalur was hitting all the points that warm the twisty little hearts of a PR strategist. Then it was announced that there was a card with a code included with the game that got the “House of Valor” content, comprising seven quests not available otherwise. Buy Amalur new and you get the content free, buy used and it’s available for sale. This was seen by many as yet another step on the road to screw the used game buyer.
After 48 pages of arguing on the Amalur forum, Curt Shilling stepped in to clarify the situation. The House of Valor content is being viewed internally as a DLC expansion, available Day 1, and totally free to anyone buying the game new. Buy used, and unless you get lucky by finding an unredeemed code, it’s going to cost. And then the debate went on for another 120+ pages, because serious business.
The online pass has been a contentious issue since publishers started inserting it into their games. Usually it’s rationalized as “paying for the multiplayer server” or something similar, but Kingdoms of Amalur is a single-player game so that’s just not going to fly this time around. Fans are feeling like they’re being taken for a ride, and frequently they’ve got good reason to, but in the case of Amalur it seems like they’re missing the point.
The content this time around, rather than being an integral part of the game like multiplayer, is a group of seven quests comprising a single storyline that’s not integral to the primary plot. It’s a side-quest in the classic DLC style, of the type that almost everyone has gotten used to seeing nowadays. Giving away the first DLC free to fans who buy a new copy of the game is not only perfectly fair but also somewhat generous. It’s like getting a nice tchochke for reserving a game, and everyone can have it. Except…
Except this is content that’s done, complete, and ready to roll. The only difference between House of Valor and (for example) the Beautiful Katamari DLC, which was actually on the retail disc and accessed via paid-for unlock code, is where the content is stored. Games like Saints Row the Third get around this by having their DLC come out a month and more past release, and while it’s very possible the content was ready at the time the game was done, at least it doesn’t feel like something was disassociated from the main game in order to be sold later.
Kingdoms of Amalur is looking to be a giant, expansive game with a ton of content available whether you get it brand-new or used, promising good value for money no matter how you buy it. It would be nice to think the incredibly strong negative reaction to the clumsy handling of the Day-1 DLC will give publishers pause in how they handle these kinds of situations in the future, but it doesn’t seem likely. Publishers have a justifiable interest in seeing customers buy new, and that’s perfectly understandable, but they’ve got to be more upfront with the people who want to be their fans in order to not make them feel like they’re on the receiving end of a subtly obnoxious screwing.