While critics are lining up to praise Evolve, Turtle Rock’s new multiplayer shooter is taking a pounding from the people who matter most: the gamers who will make or break this new franchise.
Leading up to release, Evolve had everything going for it: it won “Best of Show” at the 2014 Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3), along with “Best Action Game,” “Best Online Multiplayer,” and “Best Console Game.” It also won “Best of Gamescom Award” at the 2014 Gamescom show, prompting Take-Two (the parent company of 2K Games) CEO Strauss Zelnick to brag it was the only game to win both the top E3 and Gamescom awards in the same year. The Internet was buzzing with positive feedback following the game’s alpha test in October of last year. All signs pointed to a slam-dunk new intellectual property for developer Turtle Rock and publisher 2K Games.
All of that changed when the game’s pricing and downloadable content plans were revealed.
Evolve would launch at $59.99—a steep price for a multiplayer-only game, as the backlash to 2014’s Titanfall proved. For $79.99, gamers could purchase the Digital Deluxe version of the game which came with the Season Pass, which costs $24.99 separately. For $99.99, the PC Monster Race edition included the base game, the Season Pass, plus an additional monster and two more hunters that would not be included in the Season Pass (an option not available to console players).
On top of these disparate versions of the game, Evolve would also feature an in-game cash shop for purchases of additional content—a feature traditionally used in free-to-play games which make their bank with micro-transactions but inappropriate in a full-priced retail release.
Finally, Evolve launched with 44 DLC packs not included in the season pass, meaning even gamers who shelled out 80 or 100 bucks for the game would still have to pay more for everything available in the game. Each of these packs totaled over $130, although some of these items were included in bundle packs; utilizing those, players could grab all of the additional content for around $60. How charitable.
The consumer backlash against Turtle Rock and 2K Games had been mounting for months with the revelation of Evolve‘s pricing plans, so much so that Turtle Rock’s creative director for Evolve pleaded with gamers not to believe they were trying to “split the community, no pay to win, all that kind of bullshit that are hallmarks of DLC plans specifically made to leech money out of people.” Take-Two’s CEO Zelnick weakly claimed, “I guess controversy generally speaking is a good thing,” prior to release.
Once the game hit the market, gamers made their displeasure known where potential buyers were most likely to see it. Evolve currently has a rating of “Mixed” reviews on Steam, the largest digital PC game retailer in the world, with the top user reviews for the title all being negative and lambasting the game’s pricing and DLC. On Metacritic, the average score for user reviews of the various platform versions of the title range between 4-5 out of 10, and on Amazon the user review averages are all hovering at the 2.5 out of 5 star range.
Gamers are making it known that, for at least some of them, the anti-consumer policies on display have turned what looked to be a must-have title into the poster child for publisher hubris. At best, 2K’s strategy appears to be utterly myopic in the face of consumer concerns. This trend of being treated more like ATMs than customers is fresh in many gamers’ minds, fueled by the distastrous launches of triple-A franchise titles, such as Battlefield and Assassin’s Creed, in the recent past.
At worst, it looks like a publisher looking to cash in quickly on a title whose long-term success they have little confidence in—a kiss of death for a brand new, multiplayer-only title. Whether the backlash will translate to a loss in sales or backtracking from the DLC plans remains to be seen, but if nothing else, it shows an increased degree of discernment from sections of the gaming public.
Follow Noah Dulis on Twitter @Marshal_Dov.