Imagine gathering some friends together to watch Star Wars. You and your friends wish to see the movies as they were originally made, and luckily you have the trilogy on laser disc. You start to watch the movies, and you’re shocked when Greedo shoots first. But wait a minute, that shouldn’t have happened. This isn’t the version of the movie that you bought, so what did happen?
Well, it turns out that George Lucas was so unhappy with the original versions of the trilogy, that he hired people to break into your house and replace your movies with his re-release versions. In his mind, he his providing a great service to the Star Wars community, offering an enhanced experience to movie fans everywhere.
Now this is obviously an absurd hypothetical situation, but it’s disturbingly close to something that we’re seeing more and more of when it comes to video games. Games are increasingly being changed through online patches and updates. Many times this is due to something that the developers didn’t intend, such as fixing a bug or a glitch. Other times, it can be a matter of developers altering intended game elements due to a simple change of opinion.
The problem is that intentions and current opinions do not really matter with any other product. If I buy a painting, and I take that painting home, I don’t have to worry about the artist forcing me to add a tree to the background. If I own an older Prince album, I don’t have to worry about all the profanity being removed, just because the artist in question no longer believes in using certain words.
But increasingly, that’s not how the game industry works anymore. Your rights to preserving the product that you bought expire the moment that you connect your console online. And the game that your friend tries online at your house could turn out to be a very different game than what they end up buying a week or two later.
Mass Effect 3 is a great example of this. I’ll spare you another lengthy opinion regarding the ending to that game, but the fact remains that people who play that game today–with the DLC and extended ending–will have a vastly different experience than those who played the game when it was first released.
But that’s all optional content, and isn’t a good example of the sort of “Altering the Deal” that I’m mainly referring to here. For a much better example, we need to look to the online multiplayer.