The new RPG Oblivion is a fantastic game. Intricate, sprawling, beautiful. The incredible lighting, physics, and detail brings the strongest PC to its knees. It seems to be the first game that really shows the Xbox 360 off to full potential.

The developers (Bethesda) are selling small content updates for download for both PC and 360, about $2 an update. Unfortunately the first product, the "Horse Armor Pack", looks to be nothing but some graphic models that had been heavily promoted in prerelease screenshots. Fans are pissed off, vowing not to buy something they feel should have been in the game they already paid $50 or $60 for.

It's too bad Bethesda's plan is starting out this way. Selling microcontent add-ons for games is a brilliant and consumer friendly business plan. Neverwinter Nights has done it successfully with new adventures for sale for $5 to $10. And a bunch of alternative games are doing it, like Doubloon Oceans in Puzzle Pirates. Some day there will even be commercial markets for fan-generated content, although so far only The Sims and Second Life have begun to make that work. It's all part of the transition of games to a software service rather than a shrinkwrapped package. It will happen.

Alas, Bethesda has introduced this concept poorly to their customers. The next two products (Orrery and Wizard's Tower) look better, containing actual story, although I'm irritated to learn that apparently the fantastic Mage's Orrery I keep hearing about in-game is something I'll have to pay extra for.

Bethesda is positioning all this as an experiment. Good. I hope they decide to become less miserly. Selling microcontent add-ons to games is a great idea, but you have to be generous about it.

  2006-04-05 12:02 Z