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Alter-Ego: DCUO's console conundrum

With the first month of DC Universe Online now in the past, the time has come for that all-important MMO decision -- is the game worth renewing? For some, the answer is no. The first major patch still has not dropped; it's meant to offer us many fixes and the new content we've been told is coming. Some players have hit the level cap and aren't interested in leveling alts or doing endgame content. Whatever each person's reason may be, the shine is wearing off for some.

Meanwhile, Hal Halpin, President of the Entertainment Consumer's Association, recently wrote a piece that presented another reason that some may not be renewing: Console gamers are feeling that Sony Online Entertainment has been less than open about the game's being locked to a single account. Many are upset about not being able to trade DC Universe Online in for another game now that their free month is up. His reasoning? "The problem, of course, is that console games are sold and the ownership conveyed, along with rights." There's only one flaw in that statement: This isn't anything new -- not even on consoles.

To hearken back to my mom's wise words: "Just because you don't know about a rule doesn't mean it isn't there."

MMOs are not new to consoles by any stretch of the imagination. The original console MMO was Phantasy Star Online for the Dreamcast back in 2000, which launched in North America in 2001. After Phantasy Star Online in 2000, there was EverQuest Online Adventures on the PS2 in 2003. The crossover MMO Final Fantasy XI released here in North America for PS2 in 2004 and on both PC and Xbox 360 in 2006. Phantasy Star Universe was also released to the Xbox 360 and remains the only open version of the game, as the PC and PS2 servers were shut down in 2010.

And given its 12 million players and sales records, anyone who is ignorant of World of Warcraft isn't paying attention. Even among PC games, it is such a large and profitable title that others pay attention. Very few MMOs offer the ability to transfer licenses between players -- at least within the confines of the game's TOS/EULA. (Those players who sell accounts anyway are another matter entirely.) While SOE does offer the ability to purchase characters from other players in some of its games via the Station Exchange/LiveGamer link, that still isn't the same as purchasing someone else's license to the game altogether.

For that matter, why is anyone acting like this is the only game that binds to an account on a console? The last time I checked, the copies of Braid and Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness that I bought through Xbox Live can't be unbound from my account and sold to someone else either.

In short, I think this should be more of a chance to educate those who are unfamiliar with our genre. Yes, there are some aspects that may seem strange to you console fiends -- our single-use copies, the enormous multiplayer environments, and the persistent worlds that continue moving even when you're not playing. MMOs are becoming a larger part of the gaming market. The budgets being thrown at our developers are getting bigger. The lines are blurring.

Ultimately, it is unfair to suggest that Sony Online Entertainment has been deceptive for continuing to work within the genre as it currently stands -- or for expecting people who are part of the games industry to understand what they are dealing with. Is there room for improvement on the part of games media, retailers, etailers, rentailers, and yes even companies to make things clearer in future? Certainly. I'll even give you that it sucks how console games are more expensive than their PC counterparts. I also buy console games and wouldn't mind getting PC pricing on console game copies. (That said, I pay more for a Blu-Ray to burn than I do for a CD-R or DVD, so at least in part, it may be more a question of media and mastering costs and less a question of license as Halpin suggests.) This entire situation could even offer growth potential to Sony Online Entertainment, which may decide to do something entirely new and change all the rules in regard to console MMO licensing. We've gone from subscription to free-to-play and microtransactions as a market within the last handful of years. There's certainly still room for change and new strategies within our section of the games market.

Even if SOE does not change its business model, there is nothing dishonest about charging for an MMO and a subscription and then locking the license for that copy to your account -- no matter what platform you're on. The only dishonest thing about this entire situation is anyone who is making it seem as though DC Universe Online's single-user license was a malicious, greedy plan as opposed to business as usual for the MMO-focused division of a publisher.

With that said, next week I'll be back on track and tackling the heroic and villainous in-game goings-on of DC Universe Online. Will we see that promised patch? Will I dig into an endgame instance and return with collection goodies? Will I get skewered for writing this post? Tune in next week, same bat-time, same bat-channel, when we answer that question on the next Alter-Ego!

Every week on Saturday, strip off the mask of your Alter-Ego and soar through the world of DC Universe Online with Krystalle, then catch up with Larry on Wednesdays as he showcases the superhero game on the Alter-Ego livestream. Send up a bat-signal to ping Krystalle or Larry with your burning questions. (Packages wrapped in green with a purple bow will be returned unopened.)

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