How Evolve’s DLC-Focused Business Model Spoiled the Reputation of a Great Game
For the past week I have been overlooking my adult responsibility of getting a decent night’s sleep in order to stay awake until 3am playing Evolve. I can’t remember the last time I found a multiplayer shooter so compelling that it has led to me deeming sleep unimportant, and I find it particularly surprising that the game which has made me wake up each morning in a state of deliriousness is one which sought to completely put me off it with its pre-release chatter of overly priced DLC and its free-to-play business model injected into a full retail release.
I’m a big fan of Turtle Rock Studios’ Left 4 Dead series, with Left 4 Dead 2 ranking as one of my most frequently played games of the past decade. It released during a time when console first-person shooters were becoming increasingly militaristic, too bogged down in kill-death ratios for me to really sink my teeth into them and simply have fun. When Evolve was announced it swiftly moved atop my mental list of games I was most looking forward to, but then Turtle Rock and publishers 2K Games seemingly went out of their way to make it as unappealing a purchase as possible.
The announced DLC for the game prior to its release was in heavy abundance, with various different content packages, skin packs, monster packs and hunter packs all combining together to form a confusing, ludicrously expensive mess that proved off-putting to even the game’s staunchest of supporters, i.e. me. The amount of bundles announced for the game was, and still is, an irritating indicator of how the industry, namely publishers, shamelessly search through every nook and cranny of game to see which aspects they can wring more money out of, and given Evolve‘s emphasis upon multiplayer gameplay it proved to be too much of an easy task for them to do just that.
Oh, Wraith; how I hate you.
Those who pre-ordered the game would get the “bonus” of having every character and monster immediately unlocked right out of the starting gate. While this doesn’t exactly present a balancing issue given that the characters aren’t tiered, it does mean that the game was handed to these players more-or-less already completed. Then there was the issue of downloadable content, with Turtle Rock going out on record to state that they valued an individual monster character as being worth $14.99 and a Hunter at $7.49, a ludicrous claim that has no basis in reality. One character is worth more than a quarter of the entire game’s asking price? Turtle Rock and 2K were doing an awful job at attempting to pull the wool over our eyes, and they were rightly called out for attempting to do so by both the media and gamers alike.
Despite my naysaying, though, I decided to lock my self-respect away for an afternoon and pick up a copy of Evolve, despite acknowledging that, in any other scenario, this was entirely the kind of game I didn’t want to show my active support for. It was a moral dilemma; Evolve was one of my most anticipated games in recent memory, but it was also one that had adopted the kind of money-grubbing tactics that I did not want to advocate. Unfortunately the ethical conundrum proved to be too much and I gave in and bought it. I am but a weak man.
Evolve doesn’t make a good first impression, and after playing a handful of offline games I was of the belief that I had been punished for purchasing it with a game that wouldn’t live up to my expectations. After looking at some reviews online, a recurring complaint was that unless you have friends to join you in your monster hunt, you’re going to be disappointed. “That’s me!” I thought. “I’m disappointed!” And so I promptly messaged a few of my friends, lying through my teeth by informing them that I thought Evolve was “great” and that they should all buy it.
So with three of my friends now owning a copy of a game I believed to be hugely underwhelming due to me telling them it was excellent in order to have people to play with, we all set out on our first monster hunt. Fighting a Wraith, which I now know is the most hideously overpowered monster in the game (though knowing Turtle Rock this should be followed up with a patch sooner rather than later), we quickly fell to our deaths. We tried again. Another Wraith. We died.
Lazarus is one of the most interesting characters to use in the game, with his Lazarus Device able to bring teammates back from the dead.
This went on for a few more swift rounds before, slowly but surely, we began to understand the game’s mechanics. Everyone has a job in Evolve, making each individual team member feel incredibly important to the success of their group. The Assault class can be found on the frontline, dealing out damage in close proximity due to the monster. The Support class has a variety of gadgets at their disposal to impede the monster’s progress, with its second character unlock, the robot Bucket, proving to be especially useful thanks to the five attack drones he can send out in the middle of a battle. The Medic class, which I personally main, can revive and/or heal teammates along with possessing weaponry that places markers on the target for double damage. Lastly, the Trapper class can place a dome around the monster and the hunters, ensuring that it doesn’t escape whilst it is being attacked.
As each of us grew more acclimatized to our roles within the group, we began having fun. A LOT of fun. Defeating the monster no longer felt like an insurmountable task, and taking our troop online to face player-controllers beasts added a level of unpredictability to proceedings that ensured each encounter with the monster was a unique and exciting one. Though we tended to favor operating as the hunters given we had a four-man team, playing as the monster with your friends hot on your tail is in equal measures competitive and hilarious, with Evolve perhaps being the only game in existence where taking control of the monster is actually more terrifying that being one of the humans within its near vicinity, given how vulnerable you are until you reach your powerful third stage of evolution.
I’m incredibly pleased that I took a chance on Evolve despite the pre-release nonsense, but while I can say that I strongly recommend it, I couldn’t blame those who choose to keep their money and not support Turtle Rock and 2K’s antics. Evolve is a full-priced release, and to focus all of the attention prior to its launch on how much DLC the game will feature, and to then give that DLC such an inexcusably high price point, was obviously going to annoy more than a few people. That kind of talk is acceptable for free-to-play game developers to engage in given that their revenue is based around downloadable content, but those who have purchased a retail game want to know that they are getting their money’s worth in the base game. Turtle Rock and 2K failed to convey this accurately, and wound up having to spend a large portion of their time defending themselves, increasingly digging a bigger hole whilst doing so.
Evolve is a great game currently buried beneath bad press and a poor reputation, and while I always like to see people engaging with and enjoying games of a high quality, especially one as unique as Evolve, Turtle Rock and 2K Games have only themselves to blame for the many people who were put off by their pre-release talk. Evolve is now perceived as one of “the bad guys,” a game which exemplifies what is wrong with the today’s money-grabbing industry. It may transcend past that popular opinion if it manages to maintain a steady community, but it’s unlikely that it and Turtle Rock/2K’s anti-player DLC-focused business model will be forgotten in a hurry.