In the 2004 documentary “Some Kind of Monster,” the award-winning film that offered fans a thrilling peek into the less-than-peaceful world of the band Metallica, there is short scene where drummer Lars Ulrich ruminates on the nature of art. He does so while relaxing in his home beneath a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat, which he later sells at an auction for over 2-million dollars.
The painting in question is Basquiat’s celebrated “Profit 1.” When asked about the songwriting process, Ulrich responds with a few questions of his own while contemplating Basquiat’s process: “How does he feel that there is enough of that kind of gold thing? How come there isn’t another twenty strokes up in that black area there that is kind of bare? Where are the starting points and where are the end points?”
Ulrich’s questions are impossible to answer, unless you are the artist himself, and even in that instance you’ll have to describe the indescribable. Artwork is the enamel of the delicate human spirit. For this reason we treat the creative process with a degree of dignity and respect, regardless of whether or not it yields a profit.
On March 6, the blockbuster sci-fi video game “Mass Effect 3″ was released to much fanfare, but also to a type of dissenting pandemonium. The game’s difficult-to-master combat system, epic story, and scintillating graphics were not the topic of conversation surrounding the release.
“Mass Effect 3″ possesses release-day downloadable content. DLC is more or less extra goodies publishers sell to consumers to accompany a title.
Traditionally, DLC was released some time after a popular title’s launch to extend its life cycle and, as you might expect, squeeze extra profit out of a hit game. Of course if you’re going to package DLC with a title at launch, gamers are naturally going to wonder why it wasn’t just part of “the launch,” for which they just shelled out sixty bucks.
The problem with day-one DLC is that nobody likes to have the wool pulled over their eyes. Unfortunately for publishers, gamers are a particularly vocal bunch, and “Mass Effect 3″ has become a focal point for fair practices between corporations and the consumers that allow them to exist.
Let’s say Basquiat were alive and did want to add some extra strokes up there where it’s kind of bare—would he have the right to charge the current owner to do so?
Of course. It’s the economy, stupid.
Purchasing visual art or video games is not like purchasing food or medical services. It’s a market you choose to enter in to, and the publishers of art have to be inordinately crafty, because their business relies on hits. And if your business relies on a string of hits, meaning it does not benefit from the economies of scale, it’s not entirely a real business, is it?
This is why book publishers, movie studios and game publishers can evaporate into thin air, whereas the Meinekes, Comcasts, Walmarts and Netflixes of the world are nearly impossible to kill, regardless of how bad they are managed at a particular point in time.
Electronic Arts, the publisher of “Mass Effect 3″ needs your money for what? Hit intellectual property. If they don’t develop that, they will likely disappear.
Gamers understand this. Moreover gamers don’t want EA or any other premium publisher to disappear. What they don’t understand is how you can call a tile finished on March 6 and then prove it is unfinished because there are additional goodies out there to spend more money on.
The situation is like Pringles versus Sun Chips. When you purchase a bag of Sun Chips your initial reaction is, “why is this bag half-empty?” A tin of Pringles, on the other hand, is brimming with tasty chips. On a quantitative level, which purchase would you feel better about?
A word of advice to gamers: Pick up “Mass Effect 3″ for hours of entertainment that you don’t need to worry about downloadable content to enjoy. A word of advice to publishers: Be like Pringles.