Batman: Arkham Knight recently launched with enough built-up hype to disrupt the Moon’s orbit and make Stan Lee awake in a cold sweat. But as excited as a lot of people were to play the latest instalment of the superhero tie-in series, a whole lot of fans found their faith wavering when presented with the option to pay £33 on top of the standard full price for a season pass, essentially paying in advance for planned content with no guarantee it’ll be worth your moolah. So even if you weren’t affected by the disastrous PC problems that led Warner Bros to suspend sales until their product can be rendered fit for purpose, you’re still left with just two options: paying around 150% of the standard game price and trusting a mega-corporation not to exploit you, or sticking with the standard edition and feeling like you’ve bought a Star Wars Lego set that’s missing the lightsabers.
The saddest thing is that Arkham Knight is hardly an isolated case, being merely the latest example of big-name game companies exploiting ravenous fanbases by nickel-and-diming them at every opportunity. There are even apologists who try to justify such behaviour as a necessary evil given the ballooning budgets of AAA game development, as if the latter wasn’t a problem that the publishers brought on themselves with unreasonable spending. So in these grim times when console manufacturers push to control the games you buy and publishers consider an alternative Batman skin something to put behind a paywall, it’s fitting that a little game called Terraria should happen to release a massive free content update four years after its original launch.
Terraria came out back in 2011, when Minecraft was first starting to spread like an ill-advised attempt to burn down a single tree with your flint and steel. They offered similar open-ended exploration experiences, but Terraria’s soul lay in spelunking, loot-gathering and boss-ganking, earning a devoted fanbase in its own right. It was well worth the tenner it asked for and would have held up today even if its developer hadn’t chosen to embrace a business model that a big publisher wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot money stack.
Though updates aren’t as frequent as they were in the first year of launch, Terraria has still enjoyed at least three major expansions since its release, entirely free and often coinciding with a Steam sale. So whereas Warner Brothers and other publishers charge at least £30 for a vanilla game and increasingly more to get content that used to come sprinkled on top as standard, the independent developer Re-Logic has provided multiple substantial updates (or Cabdury Flakes, to continue my tortured analogy) for no charge, and even offered a timed discount for the base game. In short, an indie company that lacks a publisher to fall back on and is thus far more susceptible if a business move turns sour, has offered an infinitely better consumer experience than a company with enough money to fund multi-million ad campaigns for most of their games.
Terraria may be an exceptionally generous example and there’s no shortage of shady nonsense going on in the indie scene as well, like how the early access model has become synonymous with scam artists and unreasonable promises, but these days it seems the only thing you’re paying for when you hand over a premium to get your mitts on a big-budget game is some pretty lights and sounds trying to make you forget how shallow the underlying experience is. Re-Logic have had massive success by treating consumers with a shred of dignity and relying on the quality of their product to do their marketing, whereas just getting Arkham Knight to work properly on a PC which exceeds the system requirements is apparently too much to ask.
It’s a good time to be playing videogames, but only if we keep our wits about us and stop throwing money at promises.
Batman: Arkham Knight image rights belong to Warner Brothers and the game is available now
Terraria image rights belong to Re-Logic and the game is available now