It looks like we’ve officially graduated from paying to beta test games, to now paying to alpha test games. Meet Dirty Bomb, a free-to-play first-person-shooter that is currently being developed by a studio named Splash Damage and will be published by WarChest. After doing the usual scoping out of the game’s site, I threw together some information into a first draft article, then began working on getting ready for the news hit which you can watch above. As you can tell from the video, as I prepared for the news hit, the topic became less about the game itself, and more about the obscene prices that are being seen in some of these pre-order packs for games that intend to launch “free-to-play”. What we’ve wound up with is games like Dirty Bomb and Neverwinter focusing on selling us the biggest, most expensive starter packs they have.
The first pack that is available from Dirty Bomb that will get you into the alpha test (keep in mind that we are talking ALPHA tests, not beta) will run you $320. If you just can’t live without instant alpha access and access to the developer’s IRC chat, this is the pack for you. Now these packs have some real world swag in them as well, like a poster, a hoodie, and a beanie, so it’s not like you’re giving away that much money just to play a game, but at the same time, personally, I have no interest in swag for a game I’ve only just heard of, and have never played.
These purchases are of course optional. No one is forcing us to buy $320 starter packs for alpha versions of free-to-play games we’ve never heard of, but the fact that they exist is a bit comical. That being said, someone reading this right now has probably already purchased this wonderful pack, and if so, congratulations.
So that’s the premium pack right? The other packs must be at a price point that the rest of us who might be interested can pick one up without selling a kidney, ignoring the fact that we’d be paying the developers for the privilege of finding the bugs in their game. Well, it looks like the next pack is $240. It comes with less overall real-world swag, but still gets you that guaranteed alpha invite. Yay!
The last Pack that guarantees you instant alpha access is going to set you back $120, but it only comes with a soundtrack, an artbook, 5 merc characters you can play, and an actual real world Dirty Bomb t-shirt. Now that isn’t too terrible if you want to compare it to buying a collector’s edition of your favorite MMO. Of course, you’re probably not paying $120 for a game that you can just get for free in a few weeks, but hey, I could listen to a good argument for why this price point isn’t horrendous for what you’re getting. But then I’m just reminded once again that these pre-orders are coming out during the alpha phase.
I’m not saying that this is going to happen to Dirty Bomb, but from the alpha phase a game is still subject to being canceled. Hell, there are games that never make it past beta, and even a few that don’t last more than a few weeks after launch. So $120 or more still seems pretty steep.
The last two packs seem more reasonable. There is a $60 pack that gets you 3 mercs to play in-game, and a $30 pack that will only get you 1 merc. I sure hope merc doesn’t equal a regular in-game character, because if I have to buy even one I think that you’re disqualified from calling yourself a free-to-play game. Oh, and I almost forgot. You don’t get guaranteed instant alpha access with these two packs. Yep, giving $60 to a alpha stage F2P game is no longer good enough to get you instant access. Nice.
The prices on starter packs just keep going up and up with every new game that has them, and it really surprises me that the focus always seems to be placed on the most expensive packs, which they’re gonna sell the fewest of, instead of trying to get a lot of folks in on inexpensive donations. This, to me, screams cash grab, and they don’t really care if the game is being properly tested or not. The biggest problem I’m seeing with this buy to test culture that’s popping up is that studios are attracting folks who want to play the game, not test it, and these players spend a lot of time in general chat and on the forums complaining about broken features instead of reporting them and helping to identify the cause. If the developers are treating it like a game you can buy and play, then so will the players. Believe it or not, there was a time when a development studio would pay the players to test their games. Now players are paying studios for the privilege of finding all the bugs in their game. But we’ll see, who knows, maybe that actually means only the most dedicated players are getting in and the game will be better for it. I’m more than willing to be proven wrong.
Just to be clear here, I’m not bashing the game itself. Based on the footage they’ve shown (you can watch the full demo video below) Dirty Bomb is a good looking game. My only issue is with these cash grab tactics that are being used. It just feels like the consumer is starting to be abused a little, and it’s time for us to decide if we’re going to put a stop to these practices, or if they are fair. If you want your game to go free-to-pay, that’s fine by me. If I enjoy your game I am very likely to drop some cash your way. But this is just asking too much for me. I’m not saying I’m right, but I think it’s time the gaming community started a conversation about how these pre-order packs are being handled, and the prices that are being put out there.
It’s going to be interesting to see if these starter packs continue to grow in popularity as games are developed, because if people are buying them, there’s no way development studios are going to stop offering them.