This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
By the time Evolve came out in February 2015, it'd been preceded by a marketing blitz that assured us that something completely new was coming to our next-gen systems. They were right. Evolve is the shit. There's nothing like it. The uniquely competitive game features four human players working together as Hunters in order to take down a single human player who is a giant, frothing monster that wants to eat everyone.
You can see the parallels between Evolve and Left 4 Dead, a previous (hugely successful and critically acclaimed) title in developer Turtle Rock's catalogue. But where that cooperative zombie shooter shoe-horned in a competitive four-on-four, monsters-against-humans mode post-launch, Evolve was created from the ground up to be an eSport like nobody had ever seen.
And it worked, right from the beginning. Evolve sold roughly 300,000 physical copies in its launch month alone. All was going well. Like just about every game that comes out now, Evolve had a season pass available for $24.99/£19.99 that featured four new Hunters and a monster if you pre-ordered. All systems normal, until the nickels and dimes added up to so much that the community felt their backs were going to break.
If you were to buy all of the Evolve DLC (downloadable content, expanding or adding to the original game in various ways) separately it would have amounted to $136 at launch, or around $141 if you came to the title now without pre-ordering or "taking advantage" of a season pass that didn't last a season. If you arrived late to the party, you can't get a monster that costs $15 by itself. And if you don't buy the season pass, you need to drop $7.50 for each new Hunter. These are costs that players have had to face mere months after paying full price for the base game (it's currently around $45, new).
Yeah, most of the DLC is purely cosmetic. You'll never have to buy any additional skins because they won't directly affect your gameplay experience. But the additional Hunters that you aren't forced to purchase are absolutely, undeniably important to a serious team's roster. That's a big deal, because remember: Evolve is an eSport.
Which means, as a sport (drop the "e," it's pointless), the league is broken. It's like Madden, but you only get 16 teams, with one uniform choice. You know how Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning plays like crap on the road in nasty weather? Some Hunters in Evolve aren't conducive to a positive, balanced experience on certain newly released maps. Imagine having to play as a base-release Peyton Manning in a blizzard, unless, of course, you bought the Tom Brady who can play in the snow for the low, low price of $7.99. You can swap those two players and you'll be good to go and on your way to defeating the frenzied mutant known as Rex Ryan.
So here we are, with a brilliant title but a fuckton of DLC that is making more headlines than the game itself. The additional maps that Turtle Rock has released are free, but we all know that these maps came out that way because they don't want to divide the player base. Or rather, what player base Evolve has left, as after a highly successful launch the numbers have dropped significantly, to a level below those enjoyed by Left 4 Dead's 2009 sequel.
Evolve seems to be an ouroboros of game marketing. It's not Call of Duty, even if more than a few casual FPS gamers likely picked it up. Evolve's issue is that it's a really, really hard game to get into. You will get your ass kicked, and you will lose.
If you don't have clear and concise communication between you and your teammates, or don't understand basic strategies as a monster, you will get destroyed, and losing isn't fun. Your team will never win despite someone not pulling their weight, and you'll never get lucky. It's a punishing, brutal, and rewarding experience for those who take it seriously. For others, it's an expensive skill-based game to which they may not be able to devote their gaming soul.
Evolve has a steep learning curve and its publisher, 2K, is charging a premium to experience it.
Related: Watch our documentary on the world of eSports.
Hell, you can get a golf bag, starter set of clubs, tee times, balls, and still spend less than what it would cost to acquire Evolve and its vast library of DLC. Let's face it: you'll probably be better off sucking at any other sport, "e" or otherwise, instead of dropping a stack of cash only to get eviscerated by veteran Hunters and monsters over and over. Keep in mind golfing is one of the most difficult, privileged, sports in the world—is Evolve the golf of gaming?
This is exactly the opposite of League of Legends, or Dota: free-to-play eSports that welcome all users without a pay wall blocking their entry to the game and its community. And any cash you spend on those titles will go to extra characters that enhance the experience. You could enjoy Dota 2 or LoL entirely for free if you wanted.
The fact of the matter is that it's easier with each passing day to not want to buy Evolve, and all of this would be easy to walk away from even if you already own the game, if it wasn't so badass when everything is as it should be. The thrill you get from working together successfully, or even taking down a team of Hunters by yourself, is a feeling unlike anything else in gaming. It's teamwork at its finest.
But despite Evolve's potential for greatness, many initially satisfied gamers have left the game and aren't looking back. Why? I spoke to one of Xbox One's top Hunters in Vivid Seraph, and he admitted to wanting to leave the game before finally finding a group of three other players who could hold their own on a regular schedule. Pick-up games are a fool's errand. And even if half of your four-man Hunter team is working together, you'll still likely fall to the monster
Others feel betrayed. After all, it's the hardcore players who will spend the money on the add-ons. They're also the ones who pre-ordered and are still getting squeezed for cash. Sure, early adopters are the ones who pay a premium, but that's usually in hardware, not software. Evolve's community has been vocal about game-breaking bugs, leaderboards that don't work, lag issues, and cheating that has been prevalent since the alpha. The possibility of being brand new and then pitting yourself against a skill-capped monster is real, and annoying.
There's a reason why other eSports are free: it's because it takes time to build up a community and a fanbase that can bolster the stars of the game. Evolve is heading in the right direction with tournaments, a spectator mode that brings broadcasting to the level where it should be, and an increased focus on bug fixing, but that does little to make someone want to try out a highly competitive game that asks for over $60 just to get through the door. Call of Duty does a similar thing, but it features a single-player campaign and expansive features. In Evolve, you're playing the sport. That's it. It's not your usual triple-A shooter with a multitude of modes to inspire both solo sessions and those played with online friends.
'Evolve,' launch trailer.
These egregious DLC offerings wouldn't make a veteran gamer blink if Evolve had launched for $20, or even as a free title. But as it is, the game is marginalizing the players it has left, and milking everything it can out of those who are standing faithfully beside it. At the same time, such business behavior is erecting a wall between the game and newcomers, those curious to play, which would make George R. R. Martin proud.
There's a lesson to be learned here, something that Rocksteady might have been wise to pay attention to before its reveal that Batman: Arkham Knight's DLC will run to $40—on top of the outlay for the game "proper." That's a very different breed of game, of course, but whether the player is a fan of first-person shooters or third-person sandbox games, chances are they don't enjoy feeling ripped off. Only time will tell if Rocksteady has gotten its DLC plan right.
If the industry is changing and allowing for more pieces of DLC, then it can also expand its philosophies into releasing a freemium game that doesn't require you to spend your hard-earned money on a sport you don't know if you can even play—or will enjoy playing, assuming you get that far. Evolve's current status shows that gaming can't have it both ways. Easy fatalities in Mortal Kombat X (not to mention its own £24.99 [$38] "Kombat Pack" DLC), horse armor in Oblivion, nipples inThe Saboteur: people have paid for this stuff, so game makers know there's precedent for their added-extras strategies. But there's only one community that can stand up to being ripped off. And chances are that you're a part of it.
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