Every now and then, someone pops out of the woodwork to complain that the games industry isn't innovative any more. This is clearly nonsense. Certainly, publishers might have an ongoing love affair with barely distinguishable sequels and a herd mentality that makes sheep look strong-willed, but consider this - year after year, the industry invents new and previously unheard-of ways to make you part with your cash. If that's not innovation, what is?
Download Content (DLC) is a new arrival in the exciting field of wallet-stripping, and the Xbox 360 is on the vanguard. Many Xbox 360 games have content available for download sometime after launch, allowing you to hand over a few measly Microsoft points for access to new maps, models, missions and the likes. It's a great idea in theory, obviously - who doesn't want to extend the life of their favourite game a bit? In practice, though, there's some suspicion about it. Nobody wants to find themselves paying extra money for content that should have been in the game in the first place.
Hence these DLC roundup features, where we'll be looking at the bits and bobs that have made their way onto Xbox Live - and, soon, PSN - in the past few months, and checking out what's worth whipping your card out for, and what deserves to sit, dusty and unloved, in the digital dustbins out the back of the Marketplace.
For a while, at least, Phantasy Star Online was perfect. Stylistically it was Dungeons and Dragons made over with neon-pink harajuku dyed hair, eyes twice underscored with black pen and a lipsticked mouth blowing cherry gum bubbles in outer space. Ideologically it was an avalanche of firsts: The first console-based MMORPG; the first major genre departure for an ancient and venerable Sega franchise; the first Dreamcast title to show what was really possible with its emergent online service; the first international software to successfully implement a bilingual text mechanism that allowed Americans, Europeans and Japanese to communicate near indistinguishably with one another.
But, above all of this, for those first few months at least, it offered an arresting glimpse of that unique redemptive jewel hidden somewhere deep within the murky definition of online gaming: people working together and helping each other for fun. It was zeros and ones threaded into a warm blanket of community through a winking 56k loom. PSO, that big bang from which this newest Universe has grown, taught console gamers for the first time to think about somebody else; it kept us up to the small hours tending a digital Petri dish in which comradeship, camaraderie and companionship multiplied and evolved with each shared adventure.
Experts helped newbies; items and knowledge were freely shared; Ragol was conquered time after time after exquisite time; Naka-san smiled down from the watching stars as we played in his unfurling dream. It was hard to imagine how the future of gaming lay anywhere else other than in the warm co-operation of millions gaming strangers made inpixellate.
Perhaps unaware that Microsoft was going to haul down Xbox Live for the whole of Tuesday, SEGA has a Phantasy Star Universe open beta planned for Xbox 360 users - starting this weekend and ending on Wednesday, 18th October.
The beta, explicit details of which can be found on the game's official website, will allow anybody with an Xbox Live Gold account to download the game, create a character and go adventuring with friends.
The download file, which is up on Marketplace right now (940MB), will be available until Sunday, and, as you might imagine for a beta, SEGA's hoping you'll offer some feedback using the form on its official website.
New details have emerged of forthcoming PC, PS2 and Xbox 360 title Phantasy Star Universe - including news that you'll be able to create and customise your very own virtual living space.
That's according to an article in Famitsu, partially translated by GameSpot, which says you'll use special "remodelling tickets" to choose yourself a room from a range of designs.
You'll be able to spruce up your space by purchasing special items, and give other players presents, too. When you're online, up to five players can come and join you in your room - and even when you're offline, it'll still be open for others to come and visit. And if you need to drum up a bit of cash, you can even hold a jumble sale in your room to get rid of any unwanted junk.
Phantasy Star PC/PS2 won't talk to the 360 version.
Those of you looking forward to Phantasy Star Universe on Xbox 360 will have to encourage your friends to do the same - SEGA's confirmed that while people with the PS2 and PC versions will be able to play together, Xbox Live players will be closed off to them.