So there’s a great hue and cry about the (alleged) proof that Mass Effect 3’s “From Ashes” DLC wasn’t conceived and developed finished after the rest of the game, as alleged, but that it was intended all the time. EA’s contention has been that the work was only done after the rest of the game was over; that it was developed in the “gap” between the game going gold and getting certified by the console manufacturers.
I’ll embed the video that shows what we DO know about the DLC character. Warning, slight spoilers. (And these spoilers are as far as I’m willing to go; I still haven’t played ME3 yet.)
So let’s go over some early thoughts about what this proves and doesn’t prove.
- It DOES prove that the decision and planning to include this character in the game happened before the game went gold. They went to the extent of adding in hooks so that the character would be playable.
- It DOESN’T prove that the campaign and content is the sort of notorious “on-disc DLC” that people dislike. You do download something when you download “From Ashes”. Nobody seems to have proven what it is, though.
- It also DOESN’T prove that the character’s playable in the full game. All we saw in that video was that the character was selectable. We don’t know if his dialogue or influences on the rest of the game are in as well. We can’t assume one way or the other on that one; we simply don’t know.
- It DOES prove, though, that it’s possible that the character could have been cut for purposes of monetization instead of time. That’s the key argument here. EA has insisted, and continues to insist, that From Ashes was made after the full game was over. Sadly, we don’t know whether or not we can believe them. If the character had been “patched in” completely after release, then that would have been a solid indicator that what they said is true. Instead, we have a strong indicator that the critics’ charges MAY have been true.
It’s that latter bit that I think we need to focus on. Whether or not the DLC was made in that interstitial period between gold and release is far less important than why it was made during that period. If it was because they simply couldn’t get the content done in time and it was facing the chopping block, then that’s one thing. If it was conceived and planned FROM THE VERY BEGINNING to be DLC, then that’s something else entirely. That was a DECISION, and they could have just as easily decided to put the character in as part of the base game.
So let’s look at their defence as posted on Game Informer.
“From Ashes is a 600 MB+ download with all new content, including the mission on Eden Prime, new dialogue options and conversations with Javik, new cinematics, the Prothean weapon, and new appearances for all squad members. All of the above content was completed while the main game was in certification and are not available on the disc.
“As stated previously, in order to seamlessly integrate Javik into the core campaign, certain framework elements and character models needed to be put on disc. We did something similar with Zaeed and Kasumi in Mass Effect 2.”
This doesn’t say “content that we added in later when we could”, like with Shale in Dragon Age. No, this says “we planned out our DLC releases very carefully at a very early point”. It says “we were planning on monetizing this character and his plotline and made a point of building that monetization into the game”.
And, yes, “monetizing” is the right word. What nobody is talking about is the simple fact that THEY DIDN’T NEED TO CHARGE MONEY FOR FROM ASHES. So what if it was finished between gold and release? That’s just a kind of QA arbitrage, taking advantage of the fact that console QA standards for DLC are less rigorous. They could have patched it in as a reward for people buying it new, just like with Shale or Zaeed. That’s the standard they set and subsequently broke.
Heck, they could have patched it in for everybody. Even if Microsoft doesn’t like free DLC, they could have just made it free on other platforms and charged some cursory amount of cash on Live. There would be outrage, but they could just point it at MS for their ludicrous DLC policies. They’d look like the heroes, instead of the villains.
That’s not what happened here, though. What happened, I think, is that every moment of this whole thing was intricately planned out. From Ashes was planned as an attempt to get money out of people who cared about the setting, just as Zaeed was planned as a way of encouraging people to buy ME2 new, and Shadow Broker was planned as a way of answering the hanging questions about Liara.
If the DLC was developed afterwards, it’s because they planned to do that. From the very beginning, they planned to hold off on Javik. They planned to give additional plot-relevant content to those willing to pay a significantly higher price. They planned to make people wonder whether they’ve missed something important. They planned to make extra money playing these QA arbitrage games.
Making you pay extra for this content was their decision. It’s all on them. If people are dissatisfied with that decision, with those plans, then they have every right to complain, and yell, and vent, and rage, and post angry letters and videos and all the rest.
If they don’t like it? Well, they shoulda planned for that.