Unlockable content

Is it just me or is unlockable content one of the coolest things about console games? Not hidden easter eggs or secrets that you need to read a faq about but things that you know are there and get if you play the game long enough or well enough.

Take for example the maps you can buy in advance wars and advance wars 2, the class upgrades in Disgaea, Mini-games in Wario Ware, cars and tracks in the gran turismo series.

How come we don’t see this kind of thing in PC games? Sometimes there’s a campaign that you have to play mission by mission but how come most PC games just lay it all out in the beginning? I know that RPGs and shooters have a progression that you go through but it seems like a whole lot of strategy games could include this type of unlockable content model.

Take for example Civilization III. Instead of having maps you can download on the web, why not include those in game and have you able to buy them for a certian number of points? What if you could only play 4 civs in the beginning but for every win you get you get points that you can use to buy more civs? How about railroad tycoon III you can play any scenario from the beginning, why not make me win a couple basic ones for “railroad stock” and then let me trade my stock for more maps?

There are a few games that have had this to a limited extent like the campaigns in Heroes of might and magic III, you have to win the earlier campaigns to go onto the next ones. Even a bonus campaign at the end if you win them all. Painkiller had the tarot cards. I’m racking my brain but I can’t think of any more PC games with this kind of feature but scores of examples in console games come to mind.

Does anyone else feel that unlockable content could improve a whole bunch of PC games?

I hate unlockable content.

Mostly because the games that I’ve played that had it would’ve been so much better had the content been available from the beginning. If the game is fun and sparkly without the unlockable content being in the game, then that’s fine. But if you keep the good stuff back… Ugh.

Happily they usually include cheat codes to unlock most things.

I was struck by the same thing when I spent some time with console games last year. I’d really love to see more unlockable goodies in PC games too. I guess there might be a significant portion of PC gamers who don’t like the idea of witheld content, but personally I’ve found that the “carrot on a stick”-approach usually increases the enjoyability of a game quite a lot.

Actually Rome: Total War is doing just that. Initially you only have the three Roman factions to play and you have to unlock the other factions (Carthage, Selucid, Gaul, etc…) by defeating them. Alot of people on the RTW forums don’t like the idea but I do.

In MTW the user had to choose between all the factions, which I think were 11 or 12. Many offering vary different play experiences. Thats a good thing, but alot of people only ever played 2 or three factions and missed out on sections of the game. I think if the factions were unlockable like RTW than people wouldve had more incentive to play more factions.

Also the Roman campaign is likely to be the most detailed and features dealing with the Senate. The non Roman factions don’t have anything like the senate. So that could be why they want everyone to play a Roman campaign first.

I love unlockable content if it’s done well. It adds a lot to the replay value of a game. My only complaint is that everything should always be unlocked for everyone in multiplayer. I remember in Forsaken you had to unlock the best ship and it was way better than all the others, giving people who had it an unfair advantage. Likewise I think need for speed: hot pursuit 2 required you unlock good cars before you could use them in multiplayer.

I’d guess that there’s a good 20% of Super Smash Brothers Melee that I’ll never see because the time investment required is just too great.

I hate unlockable content.

I suspect most PC gamers (myself included, generally) don’t like unlockable content because they feel that in effect they’re not getting what they paid for. If a good chunk of the game isn’t available until and unless you jump through certain hoops, there’s a chance some folks will never unlock it, thus having purchased a game where they’ll only get 40, 50, or 60% of what they paid for.

Imagine, to use the example above, if Civ III had been advertised just as it was, but when you played it you found that you had to beat certain scenarios to get to certain civs to play. Many people would not be able to play the civ they wanted to play from the preview coverage, because they either could not or didn’t have the time to unlock it. These gamers would not be happy.

Face it, the dynamics of console gaming are different from those of PC gaming. Just different.

Count me in on the “hates unlockable content.” But I don’t mind content rewards. It’s more semantics and design than anything else.

If you want to reward me with new content, make it part of the gameplay. Instead of unlocking cars, let me win the money to buy better cars. If there are really cool optional levels, don’t make them unlockable, just offer them as an “optional mission” choice when you progress to a certain point in the game.

On the other hand, this seems to me to be largely a matter of semantics. Lots of PC games require you to jump through a series of hoops to access certain parts of their content. In fact, I’d argue that most of them do. If you don’t finish levels one through five in a shooter, you’ll never see level six. If you never get your character above level X in a MMORPG, then there are vast regions of the game that you will never see. Most games are full of content that you have to fullfill certain criteria in order to see. Is “locked content” really different from this in any substantial way?

I think the thing that is sometimes annoying is when you have locked content that is ridiculously difficult to unlock. Console games often do that, and if you are the sort of player who wants to see everything eventually, it’s like running into an absurdly hard level in a shooter that you can’t get past. But I have no problem with the idea of locked content in general, especially when used as a way of doling out rewards in games that otherwise might lack a sense of progress (like racing games).

ya, i hate unlockable content. especially in games that are focused more towards multiplayer. i swear that 80% of kung fu chaos was locked out. thank god for my mod chip and xbox-saves.

I’ve got mixed feelings about this. If a game, via dynamic gameplay, really doesn’t have much inherent replay value I can see why unlocking content seems like a good thing. It gives you a reason to try and stay interested in the game you just spent $50 for. But if the gameplay is rich and varied, unpredictable and unscripted, enough there’s really no need for a carrot or a stick.

The game’s the thing.

I really don’t have much against unlockable content but it seems kinda cheesy, really. It’s a console device for disposable gameplay that needn’t be imported into PC titles.

Think it’s just you - unlockable content sucks.

I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see this break down along console/PC lines. That is, people who are primarily PC gamers will dislike unlockable content and console gamers will favor it (it’s a generalization, no need to flood the thread with “Nu-uh! I’m the opposite!” stuff. I know it’s not an absolute).

I think that most of the reason is that it’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Consoles have long had unlockable content, and so console fans think it’s cool. PC games rarely have it, and to present a PC gamer with “Hey, we’re going to start giving you less, unless you ‘work’ for it!” is likely to be met with “F that noise, lamer.”

I don’t play enough on either side to fall into either group, but I like unlockable content if done right. Stuff that unlocks as you get better, as you go is good. While I’d like it to be “in character”, it doesn’t have to be. For example, I don’t disagree that in a racing game, not locking the cars but rather making you earn cash to buy them is fine, but I also think the devs wanting you to progress to a certain point instead of mastering one track and re-playing it to pile of coin is fine too.

I think the SSX style of unlocking things as you get better at the game but before you finish the game (same with Links or Tiger Woods) is great for that kind of game. I also like the Madden Cards system (though I never actually USE it in practice, I like earning points and buying cards).

I’m not as much of a fan of the Resident Evil style, mostly because I don’t much like replaying entire games, and partly because I’ve never thought those unlockables have been all that great. New costume? Okay.

As for the Civ III argument, I don’t think that they would have marketed the game as they did if they had planned it to be locked down to 4 civs at the start, making you earn the right to play others (I think that they’d have needed to make the different civs play more differently to make that worthwhile, though) I wouldn’t worry about false advertising in that sense.

I don’t think that the “But you’re paying for game you don’t get to play!” argument doesn’t hold water if the unlockable stuff is done well. That is, if it’s fun but not essential to the game, and if there’s enough game content to make the purchase worthwhile before unlocking anything, it’s no big deal. I’m not sure that unlockable content is any different then “secrets” in the FPS games of old (I have no idea if they still do that, where you shoot an otherwise plain looking section of wall and you find hidden goodies). It didn’t impact game play, but unless you were anal enough to shoot every piece of wall to find it, you weren’t getting to play “all” of the game.

Isn’t the very nature of almost all games about performing actions to unlock content? You have to go through level one to unlock level two, and often within level one you have to find a key to unlock the rest of the very same level. People who say they don’t like unlockable content either aren’t being specific about what they really mean, or only play the sandbox mode of RollerCoaster Tycoon or SimCity.

All games are composed of unlockable content, but it seems to me the real questions are how much is locked away initially (esp. for single vs. multiplayer), how much gets unlocked, critical and noncritical unlockables, and most importantly, the effort vs reward ratio between the two. To say you don’t like unlockable content just strikes me as odd.

It doesn’t have to be be bad, no. The idea of, say, in Rome: Total War not being able to play the non-Romans until you beat 'em as Rome makes sense from a lot of reasons (the game isn’t called Carthage: Total War, for example). And sure, every level-based game requires you to progress through levels. But we don’t think of that as unlockable content. We think of that as normal progression. So yes it’s “semantics” in a way, but it’s more like how comfortable we are with certain paradigms.

Take a FPS and tell someone you can’t go to the Airport level until you finish the Warehouse level, no one minds. Tell them you can’t go to the Airport level until you master a four-part jumping puzzle, collect fourteen rings, and find every secret door in the Warehouse, then people start to mind.

Likewise, giving the player a cool but not essential doodad for doing someting out of the ordinary is fine. Locking up essential game content isn’t, generally. Many FPS games give you the weapons in a set progression, but often let you get a better weapon earlier if you find a secret or access a very hard to get (in effect, unlockable) area. That’s ok, because eventually you’ll get the weapon anyway. Games where you’ll never see something vital unless you jump through hoops tend to be frustrating for many players.

It’s mostly a matter of play style, expectations, and taste I think.

That was exactly my point. Like you say, it’s an effort v. reward thing. If they make the content ridiculously difficult to unlock, then that’s annoying, much like a ridiculously difficult level in a shooter that you can’t get past (and thus never finish the game).

Maybe it does come down to semantics in some cases and my reaction might more reflect my tastes than some objectively impartial observation. And, yes, I definitely tend to respect games designed to be capable of a sandbox, or at least extremely non-linear and dynamic, mode more so than level-n-boss, static scenario, puzzle or heavily script-based games.

Games that are fully fleshed out while also offering additional content as a hidden, unlockable, bonus seem to be an exception rather than the rule though. If a game is designed with unlockable content as a major motivator to keep playing then that’s taken into account and becomes a ‘feature’ of the game. And a feature it seems some people really do like. I’d just rather have more effort paid on dynamism and depth of the immediate game experience rather than the herrings in a bucket of unlockable content. Jumping through artificial loops that are nakedly artifical kills any sophisticated suspension of disbelief and that’s my holy grail.

The key question, to my mind, is what is “done well?” I think locking huge portions of playable content is not “done well.” As much as I love them, I’m a bit tired of Camelot’s golf games where you start off with maybe two of eight courses and two of twelve golfers available. I’m tired of only being able to play St. Andrew’s in Links on Live because I haven’t sunk the time in it yet. Kung Fu Chaos and Super Smash Bros. also seem to be pretty big offenders. Locking over 50% of the game, when you’re talking about a non-linerar, non-story-based game, detracts from the value of the base game.

I feel that is the perfect compromise.

I’m presently playing .hack//Infection and the unlockable extras are handled well. When you get a rare weapon called the Spiral Edge, you can keep it or you can give it to a girl who’s been lusting after it and she’ll join you as one of the optional characters. As you reach more milestones in the game, you are given extras like wallpaper, music and movies. Unlocking a good chunk of this stuff involves no effort whatsoever since it would occur naturally during the course of the game. However, if you want it earlier, the option exists to sidetrack and get the goodies.

I’m loath to disagree with you there; that argument has been done over ad infinitum. I play MMORPGs and a few choice FPSs on my PC and everything else on console. I wouldn’t want to switch that since each system is doing what (to me) they do best.

Case where locked content is just annoying:

A car race game where you can’t access half of the tracks until you beat the entire course.

If I buy a console racing game and I just want to run single races with friends and not play through the entire course, then let me play any track, dammit. Same with locking away the cool cars. Fine, make the cars and tracks rewards in a campaign. But single missions or multiplayer? Gimme all the assets, dammit, you have my $50 already.