Telling stories: How much is that ending in the window?

Jason Dobson
J. Dobson|12.24.08

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Telling stories: How much is that ending in the window?

As games have evolved, so too has the role of storytelling in the titles we play. As we turn the corner on 2008, we asked multiple industry personalities across all walks of game development on titles such as Dragon Age: Origins, Bionic Commando and Guild Wars for their thoughts.

Epic Games' Michael Capps recently caused quite an uproar among gamers with his suggestion to offer the conclusion to games as premium DLC rather than as part of the core experience. As the latest in our continuing week-long feature, we asked our panel of industry personalities what they thought of the proposal. Interestingly, much of the group was noticibly more tight-lipped in their responses than when answering other questions.

David Gaider, lead writer on Bioware's Dragon Age: Origins and author of the first Dragon Age novel, The Stolen Throne

I could see serializing a story into smaller chapters, perhaps, so long as the player was aware that was what they were getting into up front. So long as each chapter came out in a timely fashion, the player could choose to continue along the story? That might work, I don't know. Keeping an ending for DLC, however, sounds a bit like withholding it for extra cash, whether it's intentional or not.

I don't know about you, but I expect some kind of resolution to a story I purchase. Can you imagine watching a movie and getting to the end and the screen goes dark? "For an extra $2 you can see the ending! Come to the ticket booth now!" There'd be a riot! I doubt that's what any company would intentionally try, but I think it'd be a hard sell to convince the players out there that it was something beneficial.

Jeff Ross, Resistance Retribution game designer at Sony Bend

Unless designed and structured as serialized content, this would be very detrimental to the experience because from the player's perspective an ending does exist; the point where content runs out. A cliffhanger is not exciting simply because the protagonist is left hanging from a cliff.

Ulf Andersson, GRIN co-founder and Bionic Commando game director

The whole DLC bit just feels like another tacked on solution to something that is broken in its core.

Joe Morrissey, senior game designer at MMO publisher NCsoft NorCal

Developers, or more likely, publishers are looking at different ways to get players to pay out. In doing so, ideas come up that push the envelope of acceptability. I'm sure to many the idea of forcing players to download the end of the game seems like a rip-off. However, if you told the player that they had to pay micro transactions for each individual level of a game, but the first level was free and the total cost of the whole game was the same as a normal game, they wouldn't have a problem with it even though both are forcing the player to pay for the last level.

Jeff Grubb, designer and writer for Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2

I am against it. I think a game should be complete even if the ending may not be reached by the player. That is not to say that that there is not a place for additional content in games – these are more like sequels. A game, like a story, should resolve.

Brad Wardell, CEO of Galactic Civilizations developer, Stardock

I guess it depends whether the DLC is free. I would be pretty aggravated as a gamer if I bought an adventure game and I had to pay extra to get to the end. If in Planetfall I had to pay extra to find out what happened to Floyd the droid I might feel very differently about that game than I do today.

Dan Tovar and Mark Brown, co-producers on Splatterhouse for Namco Bandai

With any good story line, there should always be a beginning and an end. You can't cheat the players out of that. But we love the idea of getting further mileage out of the investment into the original full story and adding additional elements down the line. Downloadable content is a great way to do that. The question remains how to provide extra content without the playing feeling ripped off.

Jools Watsham, owner and game director of Moon developer, Renegade Kid

I haven't heard anything about that, so I'm not aware of the pros and cons that people may be discussing.

Tom Gaubatz, producer for publisher Mastiff

I think the idea was misconstrued and it's not as ridiculous as it sounds, but personally I couldn't stand behind it. The game business is moving from creating products to creating content. Packaged products are inefficient in a lot of ways, but the nice thing about them is that they provide a stable canvas for artistic expression. I still buy CDs because albums stick with you more than songs. You wouldn't buy a painting and say to the artist, "Can you cut off the corner and give me a discount?" I think that most developers would want to know that anyone buying the game at least has access to their vision.

Well, the flip side is that not everyone is going to play to the end of the game anyway, and that's why the idea makes sense. I guess I'd say that if we as developers want to keep the ability to express a unified artistic vision, it's our responsibility to make games that people want to finish.
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