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RANT: Day One DLC Is Cannibalising Our Industry

Author:
Matt Gardner
Category:
Features
Tags:
Day One DLC, Development, Locked Disc Content, Pre-owned, Publishers, Retail, Used games

RANT: Day One DLC Is Cannibalising Our Industry

Capcom are right, you know.

There's absolutely no difference between on-disc content and day one DLC. To get angry about the former, is to miss the big picture: that the decision was made weeks, maybe even months, in advance.

We look back fondly on days when you knew what you were getting with a game. You'd pay your money to the friendly folks behind the counter, and you'd be given a box in return, holding discs or cartridges stuffed with secrets. You never needed to worry about the nature of the content, nor the level of completion.

RANT: Day One DLC Is Cannibalising Our Industry

Developers finished developing. Games would go gold and ship out to retailers. We'd buy said games and play them. If the games sold well, they'd get additional content - sequels, expansion packs, spin-offs - usually released weeks or months after the original game. You knew where you stood as a consumer, there was a tacit agreement of trust with the unseen creators of our culture. We got what we paid for.

Those days often seem far behind us now.

Business models have changed over the years, and not necessarily for the better; not for the consumer anyway. The advent of digital distribution has brought consoles far closer to PC models of updating and patching. This in and of itself is a good thing. Swift updates, bug fixes, patches, etc., the PC crowd had enjoyed these for years, and now console owners could too. It was only a matter of time before optional extra content became downloadable via the internet, as speeds improved, and plugged in users grew in numbers.

Somewhere along the line, consumers started paying the price for such convenience.

To return to Capcom's assertions, the issue today is not one of on-disc content, but rather day one premium additional material. Whereas we generally knew when a game was "finished" in the past, now it's near impossible to tell, with talks behind closed doors at publishing houses in the run up to release almost certainly outlining strategic business plans going forward. We're in a recession; the publishers have had to be ruthless.

And, indeed, many have been.

RANT: Day One DLC Is Cannibalising Our Industry

Looking at a situation like that of Street Fighter X Tekken, it's clear that choices have been made in advance. At some point prior to release a decision was made to sideline twelve characters and charge people for them. 1600 Microsoft Points. It is this that is what's wrong, from a consumer perspective, with the current process. Flexible pricing models have been introduced, but from the largest publishers all we've really seen is ways in which the consumer base might be manipulated in order to spend more money than they might have done before. Chopping up a completed roster into sellable component parts is dubious indeed.

And the industry wonders why pre-owned games are so popular.

We spoke at length about the used games debate in yesterday's PWNCAST, and one thing was made terribly clear. That, again, people are focusing on the wrong issue. The pre-owned market has never been the problem; it's proliferation is merely symptomatic of a deeper sickness: that people aren't buying new games.

Punishment, in the form of the online pass, has arguably served only to alienate. This is something that would never have been possible before digital distribution, and it doesn't bode hugely well for the future. The fact is that the trust between cultural creators and their audience has been lost.

RANT: Day One DLC Is Cannibalising Our Industry

When Mass Effect came out, for example, DLC was still in its infancy, on consoles anyway.  Bring Down The Sky was released nearly six months after the game released, for 400 MSP. It was a bit rushed, but the price soon dropped to 80 MSP, with PC owners later getting it for free. Pinnacle Station took nearly two years to arrive, releasing at the same price, popping up in August 2009 to remind players that Mass Effect still existed, with the convention hype over the sequel fresh in gamers' minds.

Fast forward to the present, and there are rumours of BioWare hamstringing their trilogy's ending so they might be able to sell us new ones. True or not, the fact that it's not only plausible, but makes perfect business sense in the current climate, is worrying indeed. Add to that the massive controversy over the day one, on-disc DLC that was restricted for Collector's Edition buyers, and the picture is a sad one.

Of course, there are still companies that follow the old models. Look at Bethesda, for example. Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas saw two massive games followed up by optional episodic DLC. The same could be said of Borderlands and Batman: Arkham Asylum. For what it's worth, Call of Duty's pricing model might not appeal to everyone, but at least it's fairly transparent, and Elite is exploring new ways of serving fans with premium content at flexible prices. EA Sports should also be commended for finally including Ultimate Team on the disc for free, making FIFA 12 an excellent value package.

RANT: Day One DLC Is Cannibalising Our Industry

You see, that's really the point. Gamers aren't stupid. There's a reason FIFA 12 had such a stranglehold on the UK charts for so long: it's because when bought new, it's a fantastic package. There's so much content, so much variety both off- and online, that it more than justifies its price tag. We respect that. We'll happily pay for that. If we have learned anything from the Kickstarter campaigns over the last few weeks, it's that gamers are more than happy to part with their money if they believe the cause to be worthwhile.

So to the moaning publishers and developers out there, crying about used games sales, and defending dubious business practices, I'd suggest that you stop treating your audiences as wallet-bearing sheep to be manipulated. It all ties together. If a consumer sees a game get released on the same day as optional, premium on-disc DLC, you can't really blame them for holding off on the purchase until more news has emerged. How much DLC will there be? Should I wait for a GOTY version, or at least a marketplace price drop?

The alleged lack of a long tail from sales has come about because this industry has forgotten what DLC is for: to give gamers more of what they want. Supply and demand, it's very simple. In the past, expansion packs had to be well-crafted. They had their own boxes to live up to! Just because the method of delivery has changed, that doesn't mean corners can be cut. Gamers have long memories, we know what our money is worth. Publishers, platform holders, and retailers would do well to remember that.

If we are more cautious, cynical, and suspicious as a consumer audience, it is warranted. The past few years have made us so. But it doesn't have to be this way.

Add a comment13 comments
Doors  Apr. 2, 2012 at 14:16

Nice article. Gamers need to find a way to come together and stop these greedy developers/publishers/whoever it is.

Elias  Apr. 2, 2012 at 14:26

Glad someone has brought up the old ways of expansion packs. Back then, If a game was good, you got hours of content to make a good game even better. I don't really have to go into how bad these DLC tactics have gotten today, though...

phil16  Apr. 2, 2012 at 14:30

Too true. I held off buying Mass effect 3 as i was busy and didn't have time for it. Now i'm getting to the stage I have the time to play I wondering if I should leave it and wait for the 'total edition' with proper ending DLC. I can't help but think publishers are shooting themselves in the foot with DLC. I want to pay ~£20 and get a finished (PC) game - is this too much to ask...

DivideByZero  Apr. 2, 2012 at 16:25

Well written Matt.

If you go back to games like CoD and on PC, you used to get a few new maps FREE as part of a package and then if it was a major release then it would come in a box and have lots of content. You are dead right, the quality of this has really fallen yet the price is going up. Games will, as you say, remember.

Some games are almost as bad as MMOs with the ammount of DLC they try and get you to buy you might as well just have a subscription. (CoD elite!).

I miss the days of DLC and add-ons being something to get excited about.

Anonymous1234567890  Apr. 2, 2012 at 19:20

Fifa was possibly not the best example. The Euro 2012 game will be an add on for £15.99- and will amount to nothing more than an added game mode.

The Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 games were more like experimental editions, somewhere between the 2008 and 2009, and the 2010 and 2011 games, that will be lost.

psobloke  Apr. 3, 2012 at 10:38

Well put Matt, completely agree. I've been replaying Mass Effect 1 & 2, now with all the dlc included (compared to the first time round I played with no dlc) and 2 specifically feels a completely different game from when I first played it, with new areas, characters and critical bits of story filled in with extra DLC.

I miss the old days too.

MattGardner  Apr. 3, 2012 at 10:53

Fifa was possibly not the best example. The Euro 2012 game will be an add on for £15.99- and will amount to nothing more than an added game mode.

The Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 games were more like experimental editions, somewhere between the 2008 and 2009, and the 2010 and 2011 games, that will be lost.


Important to note that I only mention FIFA 12. FIFA as a series has had its fair share of ups and downs over the years. I gave FIFA 12 an 8, but one of the things I highly praised it for was that it had content in bucketloads.

EA have rushed out cheap add-ons before, and they hardly troubled the charts. FIFA 12 sat at number 1 for weeks, and with good reason. Not saying the series has been a bastion of value, but FIFA 12 certainly was...which in turn makes FIFA Football and FIFA Street look anaemic, a point noted in the reviews for those games.

KitKatFox  Apr. 3, 2012 at 11:38

Well written Matt.

If you go back to games like CoD and on PC, you used to get a few new maps FREE as part of a package and then if it was a major release then it would come in a box and have lots of content. You are dead right, the quality of this has really fallen yet the price is going up. Games will, as you say, remember.

Some games are almost as bad as MMOs with the ammount of DLC they try and get you to buy you might as well just have a subscription. (CoD elite!).

I miss the days of DLC and add-ons being something to get excited about.


To be honest, I miss the old boxes, there was nothing like the old Il-2 Sturmovic box and the associated add-on packs that came similarly packaged. Homeworld was another excellent example of that actually, hard to believe that was 10 years ago! Anyway, DLC is here to stay as mugs just keep handing over the cash. I'll probably be joining the queue of mugs as soon as a new BF3 DLC is released...

RodM  Apr. 3, 2012 at 11:47

For the most part, Matt, I agree. As you point out yourself, some companies do provide good value for money with DLC like Mothership Zeta, or Space Marine's post-launch game modes (fun fact, while the horde mode Exterminatus was planned to post-launch release, they developed a CTF mode due to fan demand).

The problem with day 1 DLC, though, is the same overarching problem with DLC in general: the fact that determining the monetary value of such modular content packages (and pricing them accordingly) is not an exact science.

Gamers tend to accept that an 8-10 hour game is a decent length for singleplayer (Call of Duty fans need not apply). What is an acceptable length for a DLC mission or quest? Not a fair comparison? I know it isn't. But if not length of playtime, then what other measurement could we use? The amount of new art assets created? The number of new lines recorded? The number of man-hours put into the DLC by the dev-team?

This is a problem that plagues the majority of the industry. A couple of years ago, THQ and Relic decided to try and release a skin pack for Dawn of War 2. It came with some nice new skins and a few unique unit models. It was priced at $8. Needless to say, that was not an acceptable price point. After that, they started releasing their skin packs at the much more acceptable price of $3.

The above example is a case of a developer testing the waters, gauging fan reaction, and addressing the issue accordingly.

On the other side of the spectrum is EA, with their Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 pricing. $40 for 11 golf courses. The previous game had you buying 13 courses for $35. Not to try and demonise EA, but it really is starting to seem like they hate money. In order to say something nice about them, I will say that for the price, Dead Space 2: Severed satisfied me greatly, with plenty of new content to justify the cost.

Even internally, though, companies seem to have problems maintaining a consistent attitude towards DLC. Take, for instance, Red Dead Redemption.

Rockstar started off with some amazing multiplayer mode DLCs, followed with a huge singleplayer campaign DLC. Then they released some of the skins and weapons and **** that were originally preorder exclusives. Then Red Dead Redemption died. The end.

I would argue that because the RDR community is still reasonably active and populated, there is still a market for RDR DLC, however Rockstar seems to have decided instead to move their resources to other games altogether, like L.A Noire's individual case DLCs.

Instead of continuing to provide premium content even only a year after the release of the game, RDR players got some DLC at the end of last year in the form of singleplayer campaign characters ported to MP as skins, and singleplayer locations as MP maps (admittedly, it was free, and admittedly, there were plenty of new additions).

Dang it, Rockstar. I would have paid for a new gametype or extra singleplayer content, but I guess you don't want my money.

RodM  Apr. 3, 2012 at 11:57

Wow.

Went off on a bit of a tangent there. In the end I'd say that while day 1 DLC is pretty abusive of the trust gamers put in publishers/developers, fixing it would first require fixing DLC at large.

DivideByZero  Apr. 3, 2012 at 12:23

I'll probably be joining the queue of mugs as soon as a new BF3 DLC is released...


Oh yeah, me too... close quarters one anyways. But I do expect we will get value for our money.

KitKatFox  Apr. 3, 2012 at 21:37

I'll probably be joining the queue of mugs as soon as a new BF3 DLC is released...


Oh yeah, me too... close quarters one anyways. But I do expect we will get value for our money.


Are you on PC? I don't want to start an argument here, but the BF3 DLC does seem fairly good value (I say this thinking it'll be around the £10 mark) given the extra weapons and maps compared with other FPS games. I for one think that Activision had enough of my money when I paid the admission price for their games.

Mass Effect DLC has been of good quality in my experience, although I won't be going back through 3 again as I felt the ending was satisfactory.

DivideByZero  Apr. 4, 2012 at 11:29

Yeah, I am on PC for BF3. I guess time will tell for the value of this DLC.

The MW2 DLC was very poor.

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