Play or pay, you decide.

Some Xbox 360 owners are upset, believing that games creators are soaking them by offering game content already on the disc on the Xbox Live Marketplace. Users trade Microsoft Points for the content. (80 points = $1) Consider:

What this means, apparently, is that you aren’t actually downloading any content — you’re just getting an encrypted key file that unlocks things already on the game disc. That is, you’re being taken for a ride, buying stuff you already own. Other allleged offenders include The Godfather, Lego Star Wars, and Microsoft’s own Viva Pinata.

From what I’ve heard, the purchase is not for content, but the encryption key to unlock the content. This content is unlockable by the player through playing the game. If the player doesn’t have the time or inclination to earn the content, he can purchase the key to make it available immediately.

This is not an example from the Marketplace, but it’s what I’m playing now. In Gears of War there are three difficulty levels: Casual, Hardcore, and Insane. Insane is only available once the player completes the campaign for the first time, on either Casual or Hardcore. Essentially, if Epic Games decided to offer the key to unlock Insane without completing the campaign first, that is the issue at stake.

The content is on the disc, but the user does not have to pay to unlock it. In my Gears example, I completed the campaign on Casual to unlock Insane. (Yay, me!) That’s why I bought the game, so even if Epic offered the key for sale, I wouldn’t buy it. I choose play. Yet, if someone else is only interested in playing the game once and wants to cheat buy his way to the hardest difficulty, I’m not going to get outraged. Good for him. That’s the beauty of the free market: choice is wonderful.

My caveat is simple. If the unlockable content is not advertised with a notice that it can be cracked through playing the game, that’s a shady business practice and should be stopped. I haven’t reviewed any of the offending content – I don’t have those games – to see how it’s marketed, but I suspect that the source I provided is correct and the content is not game creators sticking content on the disc and then charging gamers for what they’ve already paid for. There is a service underlying the fee. Why should that be a problem? Pay or don’t. To each his own.