Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
28 September 2006
Lego Star Wars II for X-box 360 Tainted By Dark Side
Reported in Aeropause's comparison of the various ports of Lego Star Wars II, it seems that all the console versions of the game are largely identical in content. There is no real reason to choose the Gamecube, PS2, X-box or X-box 360 version over the others -- except for one little issue.

The current-gen versions have a feature where by paying 250,000 "Lego studs", the in-game unlock currency, you can import a save file from the first Lego Star Wars, and play through the various scenes of the Original Trilogy with any characters found from that game. LSW2 is already unreasonably awesome, but being able to fight through areas like the Mos Eisley Cantina or Jabba's Barge as Mace Windu, Darth Maul, or Yoda the Hedgehog is like icing on the cake.

But let's investigate the mechanics behind this feature. The player must collect the 250k studs, which is about three levels' worth of play, and must also have a save from the original game with the characters unlocked. This entails additional play, sure, but it also technically requires that you have played, through whatever means, the original game. This means you have paid actual money, at least to rent it, and if you have the really cool characters you've probably bought it.

Technically this is a means of rewarding players who have paid Lucasarts additional moolah. This is not an unheard-of tactic for game publishers. Many early-generation DS games unlocked extra features if the player had specific games in the GBA cartridge slot. Despite the precedent, this is still at least slightly Evil, since a player's financial outlay purchases progress in an already-bought game, but at least in LSW's case the naked greed is cloaked by gameplay. Even if you have the first game, nothing is unlocked that hasn't been unlocked before, you still have to come up with the 250,000 studs to import a save, and nothing should prevent players from finding a friend who has already gotten everything and getting a copy of his save file.

Unless, that is, you're playing the X-box 360 version. The X-box 360 never had a port of the first Lego Star Wars game. (The original X-box did, and it's one of the few working backwards-compatible games.)

So what did they decide to do with the old characters? Removing them from the game would make the 360 version notably inferior. They COULD just unlock them along with the other characters, especially since there's roughly an equal number between both games, but somehow that doesn't seem EVIL enough....

So what they decided to do was outright sell access to them, for $2.50, on the X-box Live Marketplace. The player is essentially paying real money to set that bit in his save file to allow the use of the old characters. Worse, despite that access to these characters cannot be unlocked by playing the game normally, they are still listed as a selling point on the game's info page, with no mention that extra dosh must be burnt to access them, even though the "Content from Marketplace" entry is still there.

Kotaku, it turns out, reported on the story before the game's launch, and even lauded Lucasarts for the decision, but I'm not so comfortable with it. $2.50 may not be much, but it's still another step down that slippery slope. What do you, the reader at home, think?

(Cue a half-dozen voices saying Geddoverit.)

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--John Harris at 11:09
Comment [ 5 ]

Comments on this post:

What's interesting to me, is they laud it, but without any of that context.

Shows how effective "selective" presentations can be.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 28 September, 2006 15:27  

I was all set to jump on the rant train over this until I thought about it from the opposite direction. Instead of seeing this as charging players $2.50 for what other players can get for free on other consoles, consider it as giving players of older consoles that don't have a marketplace access to something would otherwise be restricted to the Xbox 360.

I'm no fan of micropayments and the slippery slope of downloadable content, but in this case it seems like a fair compromise.

By Anonymous MattG, at 28 September, 2006 19:56  

Instead of seeing this as charging players $2.50 for what other players can get for free on other consoles, consider it as giving players of older consoles that don't have a marketplace access to something would otherwise be restricted to the Xbox 360.

No, because this game is obviously a current-gen game first. The graphics, other than a few minor effects, are updated not at all for the X-box 360. (Word is there are even some minor framerate problems on the 360.)

Also no, because the data is obviously on the X-box 360 disk. The game is similar enough across consoles that it's obvious that it was less ported than recompiled. The data would be on all the disks anyway. To restrict access to it on the current-gen system versions of the game just to give X-box 360 players a for-pay exclusive would be an even greater evil -- one we might not find out about for a long time if ever, but that doesn't make it less evil.

By Blogger JohnH, at 28 September, 2006 21:27  

Seems the payment's a substitute for [brand] loyalty, and that's a bit scary. If you can't show loyalty on a new console, why not simply give the content away for free? Nothing stopping the company from doing so. "Is it worth $2.50 to not have to play the old game?" is a specious line of evaluation. The question is, "If there's no way to have played the old game, why are they charging and not requiring I play another game on this console?" etc. This paragraph is poorly written.

For me, the issue with this and other comments/posts in this recent micropayment tempest on cg boils down to asking if you're paying for something that the game would have otherwise contained "for free". That is, if GT would have likely had 30 more cars by default without the payment jive, and now those 30 run you $75, well, you lose. If you now get to pick which of those 30 you want from 700 as you pump in your $75, well, let's pretend that choice (rather than the 30 being picked for you) is worth $3 and you're only losing $72.

But there is the possibility that some of those extra 700 cars would never have been made without the micropayments, in which case perhaps some of them are worth some dough (though I can't imagine valuing more than one or two that you have some personal connection with for more than a quarter a piece).

The question boils down to if you were going to get the content without networkable estores. In this Lego case, we very clearly see that you most certainly would have, which is what makes it an excellent example case of estore pay-to-play exploitation, though not a particularly insidious one on its face.

By Blogger rufbo, at 28 September, 2006 23:04  

While I'm not a fan of micropayments, nor of requiring a second game to unlock something outright included in the first game, I can't really get upset here.

I think the reason is the matter of scale. This doesn't seem to me like an abuse. It isn't like having to buy a GBA game to get everything out of a Gamecube game (or vice versa.) It isn't having to buy two games to get what should have been in one, as you wouldn't actually expect the Episode 1-3 characters in an Episode 4-6 game. (Rewarding "franchise loyalty" increased the incentive for the Ep1-3 characters to be made available.) Is being given reason to play LSW1 now a punishment?

The main thing that bothers me is that the Xbox360 version doesn't just recognize the Xbox version of LSW1, if it is indeed backwards compatible. Make it in addition to the micropayment option, even. (As some would rather pay than play, or play a second time...)

As for the complaint/issue of "but the data is already on the disc," that is itself a slippery issue. Should it be more acceptable if to play LSW1 characters in LSW2, you had to do a disc swap because the LSW1 data hadn't been included on the LSW2 disc?

By Anonymous Baines, at 30 September, 2006 05:07  

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