Video game development has never been easy: from the quirky, difficult-to-master machinations of the Atari 2600 all the way up to the daunting modern day tasks of delivering photorealistic, expertly produced gaming content on the PS4, Xbox One, and PC, it’s safe to say that game devs have never had it easy. However, despite the complexity of their work, neither dev nor publisher has seen fit to escalate the price of their games to a point beyond the typical $60 threshold. While that may sound like a favor to consumers, greedy, manipulative executives have found ways to boost revenue without outright raising their prices. We’ve seen an explosion of slimy, underhanded money making tactics in the past couple of years; from randomized loot boxes to ludicrous amounts of microtransactions, gaming has become more expensive for the end user than it has ever been.
Of course, this isn’t a trend we’re seeing across the board, as plenty of publishers out there are happy to give away exorbitant portions of their games for free or for very modest prices. Sure, this might sound like a rarity to those forking over most of their cash to publishers like Electronic Arts or Activision Blizzard, but it really does happen. Look no further than The Witcher dev CD Projekt Red or Digital Extreme’s and their oft-praised Warframe if you want to get your hands on games made by studios that actually treat their customers with an amount of respect.
30 Rip-off: Battlefield 4’s Ultimate Shortcut Bundle
Electronic Arts has long considered the concept of “player choice” to refer not to differing styles of play or gameplay experiences among its audience, but instead to the degree to which players will be willing to fork over cash for more weapons, skins, or unlocks. For the player apparently so desperate to get ahead in Battlefield 4, EA offered up their “Ultimate Shortcut Bundle” which allowed players to pay a hefty $50 fee to unlock every unique multiplayer feature. Why play the game when you could just spend more money instead? It’s no wonder why we haven’t seen this feature rolled out in any of the subsequent Battlefield titles.
29 Giveaway: Fortnite Battle Pass
Fortnite, the battle royale gaming sensation sweeping the nation, has made waves not only due to its free multiplayer component, but for its innovative DLC practices. While most of developer Epic Games’ contemporaries would probably be happy to implement some sort of loot box or microtransaction into their games, Fortnite has differentiated itself by offering the $10 Battle Pass to interested players. For such a meager fee, players will be able to unlock and complete challenges to earn their favorite skins—a step above the glorified casinos seen in other titles.
28 Rip-off: Destiny 2’s DLC
Activision Blizzard have fallen from grace quite dramatically: once the iconic publishers behind such classic titles as World of Warcraft and the Call of Duty series, a shifty merger and a slew of dishonest, money-grubbing recent releases have made these once great names seem much less inviting. 2014’s Destiny was once heralded as the successor to the Halo franchise, but an underwhelming debut title hampered those claims. Destiny 2 hasn’t fared too well, either; overpriced and keen on recycling content from previous games and expansions, Activision Blizzard's player base is currently far from happy.
27 Giveaway: Warframe
Digital Extreme’s Warframe is often compared favorably to the aforementioned Destiny 2. Both are competitive third-person shooters with online components and heavy sci-fi elements, but one has seemingly been done so much more elegantly than the other. Warframe treats its player base with respect, often dolling out heaps of new content in the form of game updates and free DLCs—lest we forget that the game is already free to begin with. Players have claimed that even those who invest a minimal amount of money in their Warframe experience will get more mileage out of it as opposed to what $60 would earn them had they purchased Bungie’s game.
26 Rip-off: Tomb Raider’s Tomb Of The Lost Adventurer DLC
While the recent trilogy of Tomb Raider reboots has been made with some contention among gamers, the quality of these games is seldom debated. What is debatable, however, is publisher Square Enix’s insulting insistence on the inclusion of microtransactions and micro-DLCs. Perhaps the most egregious offender was Tomb Raider’s Tomb of the Lost Adventurer DLC. Lara Croft fans will be familiar with the small, puzzle-centric tombs scattered throughout the 2013 game; they generally only added a few extra minutes of gameplay and served as a lackluster means of living up to the “Tomb Raider” title. Lost Adventurer added an extra explorable tomb to the game, which amounted to a $3 fee for an extra five minutes of content.
25 Rip-off: Star Wars Battlefront II
This should come as no surprise to those who have been keeping their ears to the tracks when it comes to maligned industry practices, but Electronic Arts’ Star Wars Battlefront II will forever be remembered as a major misstep for the publisher and an eternal reminder that they simply shouldn't be trusted. Essentially built from the ground up to move microtransactions, Battlefront II’s multiplayer progression system was initially entirely tied to randomized loot boxes, which meant that the only way for players to get their hands on the gear they wanted was to buy a bunch of boxes and hope for the best. Perhaps the least consumer-friendly move the notoriously shady publisher has ever pulled, this debacle won’t soon be forgotten.
24 Giveaway: Killer Instinct on Xbox One
If you happen to be a fan of fighting games and have an Xbox One sitting around in your living room, you may want to give this Killer Instinct reboot a try. Though many Rare properties have sat around collecting dust since the late 90’s, KI has returned and is as gloriously gruesome as ever. As an added bonus, anyone with an Xbox One can try the game out for free, as a player’s first character is totally on the house. If you decide later on that you’d like a more robust experience, you are free to pony up some dough for the rest of the cast. Some might want to just buy the thing wholesale, but this serves as a risk-free way to ease people into the experience.
23 Giveaway: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
CD Projekt Red, the developer behind the tremendous Witcher series and the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077, are generally held to be one of the greatest video game developers and publishers of the modern era. The proprietors of Good Old Games—a popular online retro game retailer—there isn’t much the organization has done that hasn’t been met with praise. Furthermore, their handling of the DLC associated with their already beloved release The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt stands as one of greatest content seasons of the past decade. With two major expansions the size of some standalone titles and a host of free DLC pieces, CD Projekt Red gave away hundreds of hours of content and asked very little in return.
22 Rip-off: The Amazing Spider-Man’s Osphone Games
Though the upcoming Marvel’s Spider-Man looks to be a promising entry into the wall-crawlers collection of video game adaptations, poor Peter Parker hasn’t been treated all that well when it comes to the world of interactive media. Some still point to the fifteen-year-old Spider-Man 2 movie tie-in on the PS2 as an example of great superhero gaming content, but the age of that title should really exclude it from modern contention. Furthermore, while most judge these games by their standalone releases, it must be said that some of the DLC offered alongside these titles is just awful. Take, for example, the Osphone game’s available in The Amazing Spider-Man. Though paying for phone games in real life was bad enough? Try doing it in a video game.
21 Giveaway: The Legend Of Zelda Triforce Heroes’ Den Of Trials
The Legend of Zelda is a beloved, long-running gaming institution and a primary example of the artistic merit inherent in the development of video games. You would be very hard pressed to find a gamer lacking in experience with the franchise, and even those who tend to steer clear of Nintendo and their products have likely indulged in the series a time or two. Though the Japanese company has proven to be slow to adapt to the modern internet age, they have released a few positive pieces of DLC content in the past, chief amongst these updates being Triforce Heroes’ Den of Trials, which added a new area to the game and greatly expanded the game’s replayability.
20 Rip-off: Black Ops Pass
As previously mentioned, Activision Blizzard hasn’t done much to rekindle faith in their consumers, and the upcoming Black Ops Pass new tactic by which they intend to take players for a ride. While most of us have begrudgingly grown used to the concept of a season pass, Activision Blizzard have taken sleaziness to a whole new level by tying the Black Ops 4 season pass to one of several special editions of the title. No longer can consumers simply by the DLC when convenient; Activision Blizzard now wants their consumers to stump up the green far in advance of the release of the content for which they are paying. Shady beyond belief, it’s hard to believe this sort of practice continuing to be viable in the future.
19 Giveaway: Super Mario Maker’s Event Courses
While some thought the Wii U’s Super Mario Maker to be an idle, lazy cash-in on the Mario Bros. name, it turned out to be a pretty innovative and fun piece of content with development options robust enough to generate some pretty intricate, difficult levels. Seriously, you’ll be hard-pressed to come across levels as difficult as some user made ones in any other official Mario game. Nintendo also introduced a set of temporary event courses—special, Nintendo designed levels through which players could earn new costumes. While it wasn’t a huge deal in terms of actual content, Mario Maker’s event courses showcased the fact that Nintendo cared about its community and earnestly sought to prolong the vitality of their game.
18 Rip-off: Sonic The Hedgehog’s Very Hard DLC
Sonic the Hedgehog, often colloquially referred to as simply Sonic ‘06, was one of the worst games in an already decaying franchise and probably one of the worst games released during the seventh console generation. Be that as it may, few remember that Sonic ‘06 actually received some cheap DLC after release. In an era in which the practice was still relatively new, gamers were certainly upset to learn that the $4 “Very Hard” mode included with the DLC added a bunch of bug fixes that improved the overall game experience. Making a bad game is one thing, but holding game patches ransom behind a DLC paywall takes things to another level.
17 Giveaway: Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare
What’s this? EA gave away DLC content for free? Has the world stopped turning? Are we in The Upside Down? Electronic Art’s third-person botanical warfare simulator Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare has sort of been forgotten by time at this point, but it is important to point out that they actually gave out a sizeable amount of content in a nearly three gigabyte patch which included eight new characters, a new map, and a myriad of character customization items. Content updates tend to be a great way to revive or maintain a game’s player base, and, though Garden Warfare has certainly gone by the wayside, it’s nice to know that there may be a small bright spot in EA’s otherwise gangrenous, black heart.
16 Rip-off: Fire Emblem Fates’ Revelation DLC
It’s become a common practice for developers to launch broken, unfinished software and fix it up via free updates or DLC later on. While tiresome and damaging to the product, the increasing ubiquity of content patches means that this trend won’t soon be over. Nintendo, typically a publisher divorced from unpopular industry practices, dipped-their toes in the shady DLC water with the release of Revelation, the DLC accompanying the popular strategy RPG Fire Emblem. Revelations was billed as a “true ending” to the game experience—a claim which many fans found to be off-putting. The DLC released as a $20 addon, but a $70 definitive edition of the game was eventually released.
15 Giveaway: No Man’s Sky
Hello Games’ cartoony space exploration sim No Man’s Sky was one of the most disappointing video game releases to occur in the 21st century. Hyped up to be the definitive space exploration title hosting a boundless, incomprehensibly massive playspace, gamers were disappointed to discover that, upon launch, the game was essentially devoid of content. Wide as an ocean but shallow as a puddle, few stuck around to see what No Man’s Sky would eventually become. With a whole host of free updates which gradually transformed the game into a pseudo-facsimile of what was once promised, those who have long ago abandoned the game may want to go check out what’s been added in the years since launch.
14 Rip-off: Middle Earth: Shadow Of War
Warner Brothers’ 2014 Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor was generally held to be a remarkable title thanks in no small part to the game’s extremely unique nemesis system. Antagonizing NPC’s played a major role in the experience, and the orcs with which the player did battle turned out to be the single most captivating aspect of the release. Warner, however, decided to capitalize on that success and tie the nemesis system in the game’s successor, Middle Earth: Shadow of War, to randomized loot box drops. This system removed the organic nature of the feature and essentially turned the experience into yet another loot box slog-fest. This was actually so unpopular that Warner eventually pulled loot boxes from the game altogether.
13 Giveaway: Splatoon 2
Though Nintendo was initially pretty slow to provide reputable online services (an issue that admittedly still mares the Switch), the publisher knocked it out of the park in terms of providing a proper online experience in the Wii U’s Splatoon. Their player-friendly practices were continued in the sequel, Splatoon 2, and fans were showered with updates which introduced new weapons and items. Some argue that these features should have been in the game at launch, but delivering such content piecemeal post-launch tends to be a very common practice in an era of rapidly increasing internet availability.
12 Rip-off: Evolve
Like a group of curbside kids selling hot chocolate in the middle of July, publisher 2K really didn’t understand that consumers just didn’t want what they were selling. Though initially an interesting asymmetric multiplayer third-person shooter, Evolve was absolutely inundated with underwhelming DLC and microtransactions. Just about everything in the game needed to be paid for: from new monsters and characters to simple solid-color skins, every piece of content came at a price. Though this may have been acceptable if the game launched for free, asking consumers to pay hundreds of dollars on top of the $60 they already forked over for the game was just ludicrous.
11 Giveaway: Monster Hunter World
Sure, most of the games in this franchise may have initially released as $60 titles, but Monster Hunter publisher Capcom has proved time and again that they aren’t interested in diluting the gameplay experience with segmented DLCs and unnecessary loot randomization. While franchise fans likely wouldn’t expect much less at this point, Monster Hunter World has and will enjoy a good amount of free DLC in the form of global events and content updates which will ensure players remain with the franchise for years to come. Monster Hunter World is also a PS4 exclusive—another of a number of great exclusives for Sony’s console.
10 Rip-off: Metal Gear Survive’s Save Slots
Konami has had a long and sordid falling out with both their fanbase and Hideo Kojima, their poster child and one-time primary game developer. The Phantom Pain may have been a hit, but Konami really took it too far with their 2018 spin-off/Metal Gear reimagining titled Metal Gear Survive. Years behind the survival game trend, Konami’s awful trend-chasing can only culminate in an upcoming Metal Gear Royal—the horror! Worse still was the monetization of just about every facet of their already premium experience. Gamers were aghast when it was discovered that the publisher wanted you to fork over an extra ten dollars in order to buy extra save slots. A feature so basic and barebones should not be held behind a paywall, and this move was totally unforgivable.
9 Giveaway: Horizon: Zero Dawn
Yet another exclusive award for Sony’s already overcrowded eighth generation trophy case, Horizon: Zero Dawn is considered to be one of this generation’s must play experiences. Unique, interesting, and yet familiar terms of gameplay and map design, the game didn’t need to rely on positive DLC practices to win anyone over. However, developer Guerilla Games kept producing quality paid and free content for months and even years after the game’s initial launch, and Horizon stands today as an example of how post-launch content should be rolled out. While EA and Activision Blizzard seem to be wrapped up in the concept of “games as service,” other publishers have it all figured out.
8 Rip-off: NBA 2K18
Sports games have for years trended toward pay-to-win, microtransaction-laden cash grabs (look no further than any of the recent FIFA games for examples of how not to implement microtransactions into a game), but publisher Take-Two took things to a new low with the release of 2017’s NBA 2K18. The game featured customizable characters, but just about every piece of content relating to that system was locked behind either a massive grind or a paywall. For those fed up with the hour of futile gameplay, forking over some green would grant some cosmetic items, but paying for everything the game offered would quickly become expensive. Should these practices continue, few will be playing the 2K sports games in the years to come.
7 Giveaway: Free Cars In Forza
Another unlikely benefactor, Microsoft often seems to care about their bank accounts more than their player base. The Forza series—a long-running Microsoft console exclusive franchise—has exhibited a number of shady DLC practices in the past. However, Forza players have been treated to numerous free vehicles and community-friendly updates in the past. While still not exactly the most player-centric video game developer in existence, Microsoft has, at the very least, proven that they won’t nickel-and-dime their fans ad nauseam. Too bad you have to own either an Xbox One or a high-end PC to run some of these titles.
6 Rip-off: Bethesda’s Creation Club
Players were extraordinarily skeptical of Bethesda's Creation Club when it was announced back in 2017, and their skepticism was justified: though the publisher insisted that these small content packs would work more like micro-DLC’s than premium mods, that’s essentially what they turned out to be. Player-generated mods to games like Fallout 4 and Skyrim have flourished over the years, and Bethesda’s intent with their Creation Club seems only to have been to make a quick buck off of that community. Literally charging for content which could be downloaded for free elsewhere, Bethesda’s Creation Club was, and still is, little more than a complete rip-off.
5 Giveaway: A King’s Tale
While Final Fantasy XV was well received, the pre-order bonus exclusive title Final Fantasy XV: A King’s Tale was sort of a strange proposition: a prequel of sorts, it was a retro style beat-em-up which in some ways was intended to pay homage to the franchise’ 8-bit roots (though it was clearly looking to adapt the classic 16-bit look of the Nintendo’s old SNES). A package initially intended for Final Fantasy superfans, A King’s Tale was eventually made available as a free download for everyone. It didn’t provide much in terms of legitimate Final Fantasy XV gameplay, but it was a nice distraction and a fun, free inclusion.
4 Rip-off: The Auction House In Diablo III
Diablo III was a pretty big deal when it released back in 2012—so big, in fact, that the game’s servers were infamously ill equipped to deal with the torrents of people hoping to hop online. Though the game was very well received, it certainly suffered from a few quirks: for starters, it was one of the first major game releases to feature always online DRM, which ticked of more than a few gamers. Diablo III’s auction house, however, was probably the worst offender: an in-game market in which players could theoretically trade and sell game items for real-world currency, it created such a massive issue that Blizzard eventually had to remove it.
3 Giveaway: Nintendo’s Ambassador Program
Though the title may suggest that Nintendo is actually looking to become a sovereign country and institute a suite of geopolitical experts to help with the transition, Nintendo’s Ambassador Program was actually designed as a way to reward 3DS early adopters. If gamers had purchased the system before the August 2011 price drop, they were eligible to download up to twenty free virtual console games from the eshop. Perhaps not a groundbreaking giveaway, but the program was and is a nice way of thanking the Nintendo faithful.
2 Rip-off: Guitar Hero Live
It’s little wonder why the plastic guitar fad of the late 00’s faded into obscurity: the games were too expensive, peripherals too numerous, and the novelty too fleeting. To nobody’s surprise, Activision’s 2015 attempt to revive their Guitar Hero franchise was about as successful as Nintendo’s Virtual Boy console, and so many gamers passed up on the chance to return to the stage the few even remember this reboot. Worse still was the fact that, instead of the ability to purchase extra DLC songs, players had the option to rent them for a 24 hour period. You’d have to make as rich as an actual rock star to afford this stuff!
1 Giveaway: Friday the 13th
As the concept of asymmetric multiplayer was captivating audiences in titles like Evolve and Dead by Daylight, the time seemed ripe to release what had the potential to be the most captivating game of that sort conceivable: Friday the 13th The Game. Unfortunately, the game was forever marred in the minds of many thanks to how hilariously broken and buggy it was when it first launched. Written off by many mere weeks after release, the Friday the 13th devs have clearly sought to atone for their missteps in the form of various free content updates and DLCs. Giving away tons of free skins and customization points, at least nobody can claim that Jason is too stingy.