Thursday, November 8, 2007

Expansion Packs

When I was a kid, I hated expansion packs. I felt like the game company was robbing me, asking for more money just so that I could have a few more levels, a few more features, a little more functionality. And as a video game kid, I couldn't help but comply. Thirty dollars more for the Lord of Destruction expansion for Diablo II? You're an ass, Blizzard. Why didn't you just include this in the original game?

But I was wrong. Dead wrong, in fact, 95% of the time. It's true, a lot of the stuff included in the Diablo II expansion probably could've been included in the original game, though it obviously would've taken some time to get it resolved and programmed and tested and produced. But hey, what's a few more months when you're talking about thirty whole dollars? Well, it's time for the next game to come out, like Dungeon Siege for example.

But more than that, how about the fact that it is thirty dollars? Expansion packs very rarely rival the original game in price, and often, shortly after the expansion comes out, a full package include the game, expansion, and occasionally a strategy guide becomes available for $50. The "Battle Chest," as it's sometimes called. Take that into consideration the next time you pay full price for the newest Tiger Woods, or Madden, or 2K game. Expansion packs offer about the same amount of new content as the annual iteration of the popular sports games, but are available for substantially less money than the original game.

Let's cite a few examples of particularly impressive expansion franchises (Blizzard will dominate the list, but they dominate gaming, so it's reasonable).

World of Warcraft - The Burning Crusade expansion offered a brand new continent, two new races, a new profession, hundreds of new items, monsters, and skills, and a few more "instances," or dungeons, to those unfamiliar with the game. The next expansion, set for this winter, will add another continent, another new profession, a new class (far more interesting than a new race), siege weapons and destructible buildings, and another bevy of new items, monsters, skills, etc. The new expansion, in fact, is the main reason I'm continuing to play and pay for World of Warcraft. I've always wanted to be a death knight.

Starcraft - The Brood War expansion was one of the earliest expansions in my gaming career. It offered a few new units (not too impressive), but also offered completely new campaigns, with a full compliment of missions to undertake that rivaled and perhaps even surpassed the original campaigns, at least in terms of difficulty. That shit was hard.

Half-Life - Not along the same conventional expansion pack lines, but Half-Life spawned a number of expansions, such as Opposing Force, Blue Shift, and Team Fortress. On top of that is the immensely popular Counter-Strike, which started as an independent mod of Half-Life, but was developed into an official release. All of these games were relative successes on some level, and they're all built on the same framework of the original Half-Life. Chip, I promise, someday I'll play that set you bought me for my birthday a few years ago.

However, to be completely fair, there is one game franchise that has completely murdered the concept of an expansion pack to the point of obscenity: The Sims. The Sims came out with seven total expansion packs from August 2000 to October 2003, and while each was available for a reasonable price of $20-$30, the rapidity with which they were released suggests that they were not delayed by coding or testing constraints, but rather in an attempt to generate as much revenue as possible from each set of added features. While Maxis and Electronic Arts are entitled to take whatever path they choose to released their product, it has made me wary of purchasing new games, knowing that the potential for several expansion packs in the near future exists.

But The Sims is the exception and not the rule. For the most part, expansion packs offer game companies the opportunity to respond to requests and suggestions from their respective gaming communities, and expand and enhance their video game experiences. As a sincere gamer, I'm all for the production of top-quality titles, and I like the idea that, if enough people think a certain new feature or game change is a good idea, the company has the chance to integrate it into the game through an expansion pack.

And now you know part of the reason I refuse to buy brand new sports games.

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