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The real hustler: DLC

Today I’m not going to write my usual rant or generic post about arguments tied to Free Software but rather a commentary about modern content, in this particular case, games. If you don’t care, or if you feel like I’m a cancer to the Free Software movement because I do play proprietary games, then you’re free to not read this post at all. Thanks.

There is one thing I love about the “cheap” (less than €10) games that are available on “PlayStation Network” (Sony’s digital content delivery platform — or to use less buzzwords, their online store): they often are multiplayer, either via network or locally. This is something I find quite important because of two tied reasons: most of the games you buy on BluRay for PlayStation 3 are single-player, or only allow network multiplayer, but at the same time I often have friends home to play with. Of course there are notable exceptions like Street Fighter IV and Naruto (to name two I have) but even these only stop at two-players modes, while games like Worms and Bomberman Ultra (both available on PSN for less than €10) can be played with three and more people.

Following this idea, yesterday I bought Hustler Kings, a pool game for the PS3, something that, with a friend of mine, we were waiting for a long time. I like pool, both the real thing and the videogames, so I felt like it was a nice €8 to spend on that (it’s still less than a single session at a pool place around here). The game itself is pretty cool, both for what concerns the pure graphic aspect (very shiny), and the local gameplay, the AI is not too stupid and not too perfect in the non-Hard modes — something that cannot be said of Bomberman Ultra.

While the game provides different modes of play, beside the usual 8-ball pool game (9-ball , English black-ball , and cut-throat ) it still lacks snooker which I got addicted with FooBillard. And for those wondering, I couldn’t get FooBillard to work any good in the last years, both with and without compiz. Given that it seems to be dead upstream that really makes me sad.

What I haven’t had the guts of trying yet is the online play. While, obviously, all games provide a “online game experience may vary”, this game does not really have much of a network-bound problem as it’s mainly turn based, so I guess the gameplay itself wouldn’t change much. But rather than the usual methods of network play, the developers of Hustler Kings tried to go one step further – thus the name – and I quite like the idea: you play for (fictitious) money with other players, investing from the balance you can earn in local play as well. Might not sound that much new but they also seem to have added two extra quirks that I hadn’t found on other games before.

The first quirk takes form of a special “trophy” for the PlayStation 3: you can only earn it by beating another player that has it, with the developers of the game being the only people starting with the trophy on them. This makes the whole competition interesting for the “completitionists” out there.

The second quirk actually made me a bit angry for the moment, but then I thought it was actually a very interesting way of playing it out: special chalk to make complex shots easier is available on the store… not with the virtual money, but with actual money: €0.25 a piece (at least for two out of three versions, the last is a combination of the other two so I guess it’d be priced slightly higher). While they might sound pretty useless for playing locally, or for those who play over the network with friends, they are most likely the required edge that allows entering the online hall of fame.

Now it’s interesting to see the way different developers (and thus different games) consider the so-called DLC (Downloadable Content): some make it the very basis of the game (LittleBig Planet, the various Rock Band and company), others provide expansions (Fallout 3 , Brütal Legend ). I don’t think I have seen anything as interesting as the Hustler Kings method up to now though. The price of the single DLC (the chalk) is very small (even though the PlayStation Store will impose a €5 minimum fund), and it’s neither strictly needed to play nor essential to face other players that have it. And it’s not a one-time expense (like music tracks or costumes).

Comments 2
  1. Interesting concept. Next thing implement the virtual high dollar pool cues instead of a house stick?The majority of shots don’t need ‘english’ (spin) though. It’s about shot selection and ball speed for position. But if your a fan of the game you likely know.

  2. They want real money for a higher chance to win a virtual trophy? What’s the value? Paying for software development and content building and server upkeep are all sane and right. Paying for bits the server flips and don’t cost the company any more money – not. I understand paying for the privilege of playing against the top tier players, but you don’t get that with deluxe chalk – just people with extra money or people who take a computer game too seriously.The way to make lots of money from not-so-revolutionary games is to get users addicted and have a stable source of revenue, aka WoW. I’m against that, and paying for chalk seems like a step in that direction.When choosing an on-line opponent, is there an enforceable way to designate a game “no enhancements” so that you can play based on skill alone, like it should be? The game designers don’t have an incentive to add that feature, but if pressured it might level the playing field.

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