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Where Are Our Games Going? Part 1: DLC

Posted by vecima (more from this author)
Tuesday, May 11, 2010 - 5:59 pm (EDT)
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We have fully entered the age of Downloadable Content (or DLC) for video and computer games. Developers can now continue to deliver on the story, give us new missions or maps to play on, new items and weapons, or even put armour on our horse. There is often a price to be paid for this content.  Is it worth it?


DLC has, as far as I've observed, 3 main forms.  There is free DLC - no fuss, no muss.  Who cares how it works, it's free, right?  The next form is content that is completely (or mostly) downloaded to your hard drive.  The last form is content that is on your game disc (or digital copy) at the time of purchase, but which is "locked" untill you pay for it.  I'll refer to this as "unlocked" content, because you pay for a "key" that unlocks the content.  In actuality most DLC probably falls into a very large gray area between downloaded, and unlocked.  A particular piece of DLC may use some textures or models from the retail game, but throw in some new textures and maps as well.  For the purposes of this article, I'm not going to discern much between them, but it does seem like a sensible place to draw a line between what we should get with our game purchase, and what we could be expected to pay extra for.

Aside from the forms of DLC, it also comes in many sizes.  A skin pack for example may only take a few megs, whereas a full addon-pack with new weapons, sounds, missions, and characters could easily top a gigabyte.  Price also varies from free, to just a few dollars, to the latest addon for Dragon Age: Origins costing (US)$39.99. This is another hot topic with many gamers drawing their own lines in sand regarding how much they are willing to pay, and what they expect in return.

As I see it, there are plenty of appropriate places to use DLC to expand on an existing game.  One such area is music titles like Rock Band and Guitar Hero.  These make sense because with a downloadable content model, you get to pick (to an extent) what music you want, and there is way too much music in existance to be able to put it on the game disc anyway.  Free DLC is also an appropriate use of the formula.  It's never wrong to give gamers something additional for free.  In order be an appropriate use however, I'm of the opinion that the game must be complete at retail.  Patches are OK, and it's fine if they contain extra game content (after all they're free), but in all fairness paid DLC is only appropriate for content that is truly beyond the scope of the game.

Now let's examine inappropriate uses of the DLC model. If we agree that what we listed above are appropriate uses, it shouldn't be too hard to figure out where we find it inappropriate. Charging money beyond the initial purchase price for elements that make up the initial story arc are one area that I would deem inappropriate.  As an example, Assassins Creed 2 from Ubisoft did not ship with chapters 12 or 13.  Nor did the game end at chapter 11.  What basically happened is (confirmed by developer comments) The game fell behind schedule, and these two chapters were cut from the game in order to finish the game on time.  Then they were sold to gamers at an additional charge.  That is, gamers had to pay extra to get the complete game that the developer planned on making from the beginning.  Let me just state my opinion on this - it's wrong.  It's very very wrong.  I personally couldn't justify spending the money on this "DLC", so I didn't even though I enjoyed the game.

Another example that generated some heat was Bioshock 2.  Gamers at large went into an uproar when they found out that the "download" for the DLC had an extremely small file size, and that it just enabled content already stored on the game disk. I wouldn't have paid for something like that, even if I did play the Bioshock 2 multiplayer.

This is certainly not to say these are the only offenders of the inappropriate DLC model, however.  Another recent popular DLC was the "stimulus package" map pack for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.  This pack contains 5 maps, but only 3 are new.  2 of them are re-makes from Modern Warfare.  If we look at what it took the developer, Infinity Ward, to make these and lean that up against the profit, the numbers are astounding.  The pack sold 2.5 million copies the first week.  Thirty seven million dollars.  Did it cost 37 million dollars to make 3 maps?  I doubt it.  Did it cost even a million dollars?  Again, I doubt it.  Let's assume Infinity ward are the best paid developers out there, and every level designer makes $100K a year.  If 2 level designers worked on each map until they were finished, ant it took 4 months to complete, than so far the studio would have payed $50K per map, or $250K for all five. I'm being generous in giving them 4 months to complete (it was probably more like 2 weeks), and again, I'm assuming 2 very highly paid people worked
on each map.  Now toss in marketing (if they even had to do any) and play testing, and maybe the cost approaches a million, but I still see the price as totally unnecessary and undeserved. This was the first PC game that I saw retail for the full console price (US)$60 on Steam. To put this in perspective, the digital copy (they don't need to pay for a box or disc), of a pc game (most of which are cheaper by 10 or more dollars than their console counterparts) retailed for the full console price, while disregarding many of the features pc gamers have enjoyed on their games in the past (but that's a whole other article). Despite how much I played the game when it released, I passed on the DLC.  In fact I had already sold my copy of the game by the time it game out.

I've called out these games to help illustrate my point.  In Assassins Creed 2 and Bioshock 2, the content could easily have been included in the game, or released at a later date for free. In the case of Modern Warfare 2, It should have been released at a much lower price. When Valve fell behind schedule during the development of Half-Life 2, did they cut out the "Follow Freeman" chapter and sell it to us later? No. They delayed the game until it was everything it should be.  They made the right decision, and did the right thing by gamers. Countless other companies have done the right thing in the past. Over the past few years things have been changing.

In the end, All any individual gamer can do is vote with their wallet.  That's what I did.  I'm not going to pay for stuff that I feel should have been in the game, period. If these developers keep up this kind of crap, I'm going to stop buying their games. I know they don't care, because I'm just one person, but I encourage, and in fact urge any gamers reading this to do the same. Not because I want you to help change the games I care about, but because we should all be discerning with our purchases. We should all be sure we're getting a deal we feel we deserve. If every game simply went along with the pack, buying every piece of DLC they can find, it will encourage publishers and, sadly, developers to give us less and less for our up-front purchase, and charge us more and more to own a complete game.

Stay tuned for Where Are Our Games Going?  Part 2: DRM

categories: game, commentary, gaming, dlc

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Posted Tuesday, May 11, 2010 - 5:59 pm (EDT) by vecima (more from this author)

I'm a web developer by trade, and a game developer by hobby. If I'm really lucky one day I may be able to switch the two! ;) I founded Type 3 Studios a bunch of years ago in the hopes of doing just that. I'm interested in gaming, game development, and the communities and industry surrounding computer and video games. I'm also really into music. Long live metal \m/

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Kenny said:

Excellent points, and well deserved on the industry's part. First I'll play Devil's advocate for a moment.

As far as Assassin's Creed 2 goes, I agree. Both chapters should have been in the game anyway. However, time constraints and executive meddling can sometimes interfere with a complete project. It's true Valve made the right move in delaying HL2, but what about a title like Xenogears? Most of the second disc, sadly, was composed of cutscenes going over the remainder of the story with very little gameplay because the budget had run out. I personally would have liked to see an updated version with the originally intended content added. Since the game is being released again on the PSN, it would be the perfect oppertunity to add those lost segments. But naturally, as the team has long since been dissolved, this would be impossible.

Now imagine for a moment that Xenogears was released in a time like today, when the developer could concentrate on getting the parts they could finish out to players and add the rest later. Wouldn't players be happy that they were getting a true ending for the extra development time? And wouldn't companies be happy that the public was willing to invest in the completion of a game that had gone overbudget?

I'm not saying that releasing an incomplete game is always justifiable. (a la Assassin's Creed 2.) However, it isn't always an evil manuver by the company. Sometimes developers screw up, and they need the cash. Sometimes they are evil and they're price gouging (MW2's Stimulus package, which is something I actually bought. How stupid of me.).

Ultimately it's down to the customer deciding if they like a game and a developer enough that they wish to get some extra playtime for their money. If it fills in a major segment of the plot like AC2, and was added because the game was rushed to it's release date, the content added should have been free. However, I won't hold too much against Ubisoft because the price of the content was relatively reasonable due to the amount of game time added. Two chapters of the story plus a bunch of side missions and a new (relatively useless) spring jump move. I for one viewed the purchase of the two segments as a necessary expense because I wanted the whole arc and I bought the story enough to invest in it. It's a vote of confidence by the consumer if they choose to buy these kinds of products, not necessarily an endorsement of mass consumer stupidity.

Monday, May 17, 2010 - 11:19 pm (EDT) login to reply


vecima said:

You also make good points, and I never meant to imply stupidity on the part of those who support or buy DLC.  My concern is with support for it pushing the industrty at large to give out less and less for the initial purchase, without dropping that price.  There are certainly situations in which DLC is acceptable and beneficial to everyone (gamer, developer, publisher), but amongst many of the recent AAA titles this isn't the case in my opinion.  I'm interested to see the Alan Wake game vs it's DLC - a case where we're being assured that the initial game is a complete game, and that the DLC (free to those who buy the game new) is a beneficial addon, not an essential story chunk.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - 5:44 pm (EDT) login to reply


Kenny said:

I have played the Alan Wake DLC. It's rather surreal, actually. As far as I can tell, the two parts of the DLC content are set entirely in Alan's mind, as the "Words" that showed up in the final chapter in the game crop up as essential gameplay elements in the new DLC. It's quite bizzare and strangely entertaining. I rather liked both DLC parts. The first one came with new copies of the game, the latter had to be purchased and was longer as a result.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011 - 6:08 pm (EDT) login to reply

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