I was wondering earlier today why it annoyed me so much when people defended the lack of content in Halo 5 on the basis of “free DLC.” At face value it seems perfectly acceptable, they’ll add everything back later and we don’t have to pay for it, so why worry about it? But the more I think about it, the more I began to realize that, conceptually speaking, that’s the basis of an Early Access title on steam.
For those who don’t know, Steam (pc games sales platform) has a program called “Early Access.” It allows independent developers to publish unfinished games to the Steam Store in order to fund them. For indies, this is great because it gives them more incentive and money to develop their projects. Where these developers might be out of a job next week, they now have the money to continue developing their game. And that’s pretty frickin cool. However, it can also mean that projects you paid for, projects that made promises, might not always keep those promises. The downside to an early access game is the uncertainty of it, you’re essentially paying for promises that they’ll finish it, but there’s no penalty if they don’t.
Halo 5 appears to be following this business model. The game was bought for full price, but contained 1/10th the content of previous iterations in the series. Now we’re waiting for 343i to add everything back as “Free DLC”, but with no guarantee that we’ll actually see everything they failed to include the first go around. 343i aren’t going to work on Halo 5 forever, they have to work on Halo 6. So there will come a point when they stop updating the game.
There’s no guarantee that 343i will be adding everything they took out of the game back in the future. Sure, we have promises for Forge, and we’ve already received BTB, but beyond that? There’s no word on infection or race, there’s no word on theatre updates or a functioning fileshare like we had 8 years ago. There’s no word on VIP, Territories, Grifball.
Honestly, I don’t like this principle from a triple A dev. It makes sense for an independent developer to release an early access game, they don’t have the backing of a major corporation like Microsoft to fund them. Microsoft needs Halo to push consoles, I have a feeling 343i isn’t exactly strapped for cash.
At the end of the day I believe DLC should be used to add additional content to the game, new gamemodes, new community features and armor, not return content that was missing from the base game, or content that people have come to expect from the series. I’d much rather see Halo 5 launch with the full array of gamemodes and then add things like Ricochet and Invasion as their own “big updates” at a later date than pay for promises that we’ll see infection again. Early access is paying developers in the hopes that they’ll complete the game later, and that’s what Halo appears to have become.
Whether or not that’s a bad thing is up to you. It’s entirely possible that 343i will add everything back and then some, whose to say, and the concept of an early access game isn’t inadvertently bad. I just think that it’s something we should be cautious about going into the future, and not necessarily something we should actively support.
EDIT: TL;DR: Halo 5 seems to be following the business model of a Steam Early Access title, in that you’re paying full price for the promise that the rest of the game will be completed and/or added at a later date (with no repercussions if it’s not). It’s not outright wrong, but I think it’s something we should all be wary of going forward.