With Dragon Age: Origins, BioWare promoted new copy sales by including a code for a free downloadable quest line. The studio is going even further with Mass Effect 2, offering an entire DLC network to users who buy the game new.
Named "The Cerberus Network," the program is free to all of those who buy a copy of Mass Effect 2 new at retail or via digital distribution. But to players who obtain a copy without an unused Cerberus code -- namely, a used or pirated copy -- access costs $15.
Once connected to Cerberus, be it through a code or paid access, players will have free access to a DLC pack containing a new character, new missions, and new items. That launch-day pack is to be followed by a further free pack containing a new vehicle along with missions and items at an unspecified later date.
Paid DLC, not part of The Cerberus Network, will also be offered separately at some point following the game's release.
BioWare isn't the first studio to directly incentivize new game sales with free DLC -- Epic Games gave a free map pack to owners of Gears of War 2, and didn't offer it for sale separately -- but it is the first to employ the tactic to such an extent. Dragon Age: Origins, which released last November, put a heavy focus on its DLC, and the greater visibility of Mass Effect 2's specially-named Cerberus Network likely signifies the start of an ongoing trend for the RPG specialist studio.
Indeed, BioWare has been using DLC to various ends, going so far as to cross-promote its marquee titles: players could download exclusive Dragon Age items by reaching certain milestones in EA 2D's free browser-based Dragon Age Journeys, and all new-copy owners of Dragon Age: Origins received codes for special armor that will be usable in Mass Effect 2.
The studio has also been slowly building on a download infrastructure that is less and less reliant on Microsoft and Sony's online platforms. Dragon Age and Mass Effect 2 content is tied to users' BioWare accounts, and data from any version of the games -- PC, Xbox 360, or PlayStation 3 -- is fed into the same cross-platform user database.
A copy of Mass Effect 2 sent to Gamasutra includes a Cerberus redemption code, which is marked as expiring January 1, 2012. As games become increasingly reliant on downloads and server authentication, questions are raised as to the future full playability of players' game collections.
Publisher Electronic Arts will ship Mass Effect 2, and its new network, January 26 for PC and Xbox 360.