Multiplayer: Should $90 Give You Everything?

Should 'Guitar Hero II' and other games advertising certain playable songs give you immediate access to them?

If you pay for a game, should you then have to work for it? Should a game like "Guitar Hero II" that advertises certain playable songs give you immediate access to those songs? Or should the $90 the Xbox 360 version of the game costs give you a handful of them along with the right to try to unlock the ability to play dozens more?

"Unlocking is for kiddies," blogger Jonah Falcon wrote last week. He didn't mean that in a nice way. He made that claim in a comment attached to his blog post on the topic, in which he charged that the "Guitar Hero II" box should have noted that Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child 'O Mine," Spinal Tap's "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight" and other songs listed on the box could only be played by unlocking them — which involves playing other songs. He called it "deceptive advertising." (Editor's note: "Guitar Hero II" on the Xbox 360 was developed by Harmonix, which is owned by MTV.)

It's a tricky issue. If games gave us everything at once, we'd complain. If they kept us from getting what we really wanted, we'd complain as well. I'm mixed on this one.

First, I've come to accept that some game content will always be locked from me. I'm just not good enough a gamer to conquer every obstacle coded into the discs I buy or am sent by game companies. I'll never see the final two sets of racetracks in "F-Zero GX." I'll never see the last challenge stages of "God of War." Did I deserve to because I paid for the first or because I spent so much time on the second? The content I'm missing isn't central to either game. There are enough tracks for me to race in "F-Zero," and my failure in "God of War" bonus modes didn't keep me from completing the game's substantial single-player adventures.

Second, when you accept that buying games involves buying stuff you'll never get to, the question then becomes, how much can you accept not reaching? I'm no pro at fighting games (see "Multiplayer: Putting Up A Fight"), so I was pleased to discover that last year's "Mortal Kombat: Unchained" for the PSP bucks genre conventions and begins with every fighter unlocked. I'm not good enough at fighting games to have gotten to all those fighters any other way. I was frustrated when the dazzling GameCube shoot-'em-up "Ikaruga" was too hard for me to make much progress in, but I was thrilled to discover that, for every extra hour I played, the game granted me a few more free lives the next time through. I did mind that I was bad enough at "Mario Kart DS" that I couldn't unlock some of the game's later course. I was grateful that a family friend borrowed the game and opened them for me.

Third, it's tempting to look for new solutions as controversial as they may be. For a few extra dollars, Electronic Arts allows owners of "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07" to unlock all courses and characters in the game. The old-fashioned way of doing that is to play the game a lot. The really old-fashioned way would have been to find a cheat code on a free Web site or in a magazine, but that's a solution EA has the power to turn off. Would you pay to pick the locks barricading the content you want to access? People buy virtual gold for online worlds like "World of Warcraft" instead of playing for it, sometimes because they just don't have or want to spend the time to get it any other way (see "Documentary Reaps Truth About Game's Controversial 'Gold Farming' "). These measures might suit the effort needed to get a top item in "WoW," but should playing in some golf courses require an extra investment of time and money?

Falcon said he would have been happy if the "Guitar Hero II" box included a disclaimer explaining what it took to get to each of the game's advertised songs. He'd prefer even more another solution: not locking so many songs. Let the gaming content go free, he's saying. Should we be able to play the best rock songs out of the box? Is that a money-bought right? Or a privilege to be earned?

— Stephen Totilo

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