OK, a little bit of a rant here, and I dare say as the nature of the subject I’m posting about already has massively conflicting views and strong standpoints from each side what I’m going to post here may not be to everyone’s tastes. But today I received an email that’s has started bugging me to the point that I had to bring up this discussion on that thorny subject of a games value and trade in worth.

Atari and Eden Games are about to release their latest free roaming racing title Test Drive Unlimited 2. The game features an open world landscape and a massive number of cars with almost RPG like features such as car collections, experience points, customisable avatars and even so far as to include a virtual casino in which to play various games with currency earned from races. A rather large draw of the game is the fact that your world can be populated with other drivers – you may be racing along some hills, taking in the scenery when your friend on the other side of the world might come from the other direction and challenge you to a race there and then. The point of customising your avatar and car collection is to show off and brag to fellow players of the game providing motivation to do better at the game.

The email that causes me concern came from Game, where they were offering Test Drive Unlimited 2 on the 360 or PS3 for just £5 as long as you’re willing to enter into their “Play Now/Trade Later” scheme. What this means is explained in the small print:

To redeem this offer and Play and Trade Test Drive 2 the product must be preordered or purchased on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 at the full online retail price of £39.99 and traded in at any UK GAME store by 24th Feb 2011.

I’ll come right out here and say that my personal viewpoint is skewed towards the publisher and developer side. I don’t mind the whole Project Ten Dollar scheme and the like, and the whole side of paying a little bit more for a game to ensure a developer gets the money they deserve for their work and effort that goes into creating a title. What gets me about this deal – and I fear most people will take advantage of it – feels to me like it’s saying that this title, which let’s not forget has been in development for at least two years (five if we assume they started as soon as they released the first TDU) is not only worth only £5, but will be exhausted in less than two weeks after it’s been bought. Now I know that can be a long time in the case of many games, but let’s consider these two major facets of TDU2:

It’s a big game – it actually features the entirety of the first game’s island IN ADDITION to the roads of the new game. There are about 100 cars, 60 levels to achieve and 3000 kilometres of road to traverse. That alone must have taken who knows how many man hours to make, how many late nights and weekends from the developers and artists to program and to create. Whereas the hardcore may be able to ‘complete’ the game in a weekend, to truly take in everything the game has to offer it’s going to require a serious time commitment in order to get the most out of it.

I suppose they're taking the title 'Test Drive' literally...

The online component is a pretty vital part of the game – giving you something to aim for, giving you people to race against and with and a very unique feature compared to most other games in what has been known to be a very crowded genre. By imposing this time limit on the game’s lifespan not only is this meaning you have to take it all in as soon as possible, but surely it harms the long term future of the game as well, as most people will have traded in their copies after the first two weeks which could seriously damage player numbers in the future. If everyone’s traded it in after the first two weeks, then what about people who wait for it to come down in price? Those who cannot afford to buy it in the first week (it’s notable that for this £5 deal to work you must buy it at full price first) may find that the servers are now empty and their view of the game is going to be tainted by the ghost town that the environment becomes. This results in an ever decreasing circle, only to the detriment of the game itself.

I suppose we should be pretty thankful Atari aren’t jumping on the Buy-A-Code-to-play-online bandwagon, otherwise there would be a heck of a lot of people buying it pre-owned finding themselves having to fork out an extra ten quid to get access to the more unique features of the game. (Notably the same deal is of course not being offered on the PC version; whether that be for copy protection reasons or if TDU2 is tied to an online account, I don’t know.) And yes, I will admit there is a healthy single player aspect to the game. However, I feel with this promotion, Game may be ruining the USP of the game, and devaluing the title to the point of being not much more than a pretty looking open world racer, and to be honest – that doesn’t set it apart from a lot of similar games on the shelves these days. I totally agree that there are some throwaway games that this scheme is perfectly suited for, but I for think Game should choose more carefully as to which games these are.

In a time where we are all a bit hard for cash, I think it’s still a bit off that it’s currently Game – and not the consumer – deciding exactly how much a game is worth.

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