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.
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.
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.
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.
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.