DLC, Huh… What Is It Good For? Absolutely Nothing?

DLC – Downloadable Content, yes that old chestnut – something that has been a mainstay on the PC for what may seem aeons, but is relatively new to the video-games console, arriving at the end of the previous generation courtesy of Microsofts original Xbox console. It didn’t kick however off until the release of Halo 2 and it’s subsequent map-packs. But since then has the advent of the DLC age been a beneficial addition or a hindrance to the progression of the video-gaming experience?

To the gamer of today, DLC is pretty much a given when you purchase a game from any retailer whether it be via online or the traditional bricks-&-mortar retail method. For those not in the know of its official terminology, downloadable content or rather DLC as I will refer to it for the duration of this article, is essentially additional official content for a videogame acquired via the internet. This had traditionally been a method utilised to add extra content to a videogame by way of extra maps for the multi-player facility or extra missions for the single-player experience, now however it has many connotations, some good and some bad.

Micro-transactions

Due to the rise in popularity of DLC it has also given rise to its uglier relative; the ‘Micro-transaction’ a simple method by which the developer can continue to make money from the sale of its IP by offering aesthetic changes such as character outfits (skins), team-packs for sports games and unlocking different options or modes for the game. This has been a very cost-effective and income raising initiative essentially selling the consumer the goods for a game by way of charging for an unlock code. Yes that is right, you are paying more to unlock the items that are most likely already on your game disc that you have just paid for.

The price? 200 MSP (£1.71) Yes scream till you’re horse… sorry

There are however instances where the micro-transaction works to the benefit of the consumer, a great example of this would be the model for which many MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) developers are now creating their games to work within, simply due to the fact that WoW (World of Warcraft) pretty much killed off the long-term momentum of any and (almost) all MMORPG’s and their attempts to charge a monthly subscription fee. Turbine’s LOTRO (Lord of the Rings: Online) was one of the victims of this colossal monster and as such in 2010 switched to a Free-to-Play model, this resulted in a huge turnaround in its popularity and now the game is a profit making endeavour and also enticing to those unsure how to initially get into a MMORPG (see more here).

Another approach was the model with which THQ based their game MX vs ATV: Alive which was sold as a base-model at a lowered price-point (£29.99 in the UK). Featuring a set number of tracks, game options and vehicles, it was up to the consumer to decide whether they were happy with the ‘base’ game or they wanted to enhance the experience and pay more for extra modes. As an experiment in this case I felt it was a very respectful approach and one which other Publishers/Developers would do well to look into.

Pre-Order Incentives

You expect to be enticed into buying a certain edition of a game depending on the DLC content or other pack-ins offered to you by a specific retailer. A shining example of this would be the recent releases of Batman: Arkham City which had certain DLC made available to you depending on where you pre-ordered the title from. In the US there were various retailers offering an exclusive costume unlockable only by pre-ordering and purchasing the game from them, in the UK this differed slightly as instead of the focus on different Bat-suits from various retailers, GAME & Gamestation stores had the exclusive Robin pre-order content*. A great way to entice the gamer into buying a certain good from this retailer, but ostracising all the other gamers who chose to purchase the game elsewhere.

The impetus on the ‘Retailer Exclusive’ is one of the negatives of the DLC within games, it forces the buyer to either choose their loyalty to a certain retailer and take the plunge, or forgo the extra content entirely. All for the sake of a bit of aesthetic difference, some of you may snigger and call the gamer fickle. But when a game is essentially segmented so that a certain retailer reaps the benefits of what is termed a ‘Money-hat’ (whereby a certain entity pays an undisclosed sum to secure certain ‘privileges’) and forcing the fans of the game to buy from them even if otherwise they would have no inclination to do so, is downright petty and unfair.  But what it comes down too in many cases is still seen as “just business” for the developers and publishers looking to shore up their bottom-line.

*sings* It’s not about the money, money, money… ahem, ok then yes it is.

There are however good sides to the argument of the pre-order/day-one purchase, first up with had an announcement from Ed Boon of Netherrealm (developers of the Mortal Kombat series) earlier this summer stating that all the retailer exclusives would be only be that for a period of timed exclusivity and as such available in a fully featured paid DLC bundle. A great way to sate the appetites of the consumers and also to thank them for their loyalty to the franchise by not locking them out of all the assets for the game.

Ed Boon’s tweet:

The 7 Klassic outfits & 3 Klassic fatalities that were retailer exclusives will be bundled into one DLC package. Trailer coming on Friday
25 May

Some developers/publishers gain the consumers trade by doing day-one (or initial shipment) release special, limited or collectors editions of their games in various stages each featuring bundles and pack-ins that are not only focused on the unlocking of content already available, but the promise of additional content down the line. Modern Warfare 3 came in two guises this year, the ‘Standard Edition’ (£44.99) which comprised of the single-player and the multi-player facets of the game. The ‘Hardened Edition’ (£79.99) came with the game as well as a years membership to COD Elite (£34.99 separately), enhancing the multi-player experience by creating a tiered gaming community enhanced by this additional paid extra that allowed certain functions and additional features to the purchaser of said edition. Battlefield 3 not to be left behind also sold a “Limited Edition” of its game which was a couple of pounds more than the standard edition packing in unlockable extra weaponry and the promise of a free map-pack (to be released in December), however they also made the mistake of promising a free copy of Battlefield 1943 (on the PS3 disc alongside the main-game) only to retract it via a lone tweet later, this issue was rectified earlier today thankfully.

Get out of here… I mean get over here!

*As this is a Warner Bros published title, all the DLC will be available as a bundle after a period of timed exclusivity expires.

Project Ten Dollar – or £6.45* to the stickler in currency conversions.

This is day one DLC that will usually be packed in alongside your game disc in the form of a code on a piece of card, a ploy by the publisher of the game to endear themselves to you by often promising it to be a “Limited” or “Special Edition” of the game. This in many cases in-fact nothing “Special” or “Limited” at all, all the publisher has done is to include an “Online-Pass”, and often (as is the case with all of EA’s games) promised additional future DLC, or in laymans terms if you buy the game new it comes with a code to unlock your game fully-featured. However if you were to buy the game pre-owned you will have to dip in your pocket (again) and pay extra for the chunk of the game now deemed obsolete (in many modes) due to the fact you decided to forgo the full RRP of the product and are thus penalised by the publisher for your indiscretions (meaning you do not have the registered online activation related to the title). EA (and other publishers followed) went to war against the pre-owned market and how retail capitalised on their ‘IP’ (intellectual property) by reselling the games at prices of which the developers/publishers would never see a penny. This plan of action as called “Project Ten Dollar“.

What?… you are paying for an experience that costs us a lot, ok?

It’s not about the money. Honest

*Due to videogames unusually wonderful way of conversions, it never quite works out that accurately. The price is usually £7.99/£9.99 for us cash-rich Brits /sarcasm.

Enchancing the Experience by way of – The ‘IGP’ – In Game Purchase

A polite way of letting you know that you need to pay more for the full experience of the game, a wonderful example of this is would be EA/Bioware’s Dragon Age: Origins game which contained a piece of DLC called Wardens Keep amongst others. A wonderfully deep and intricate game which I highly enjoyed until I came to a point in the game whereby I was in a conversation with a sagely fellow, he put forward the question of whether I would be willing to make a trek to a strange place where there would be adventure, plenty of loot and another look at the lore of the world and the Blight which afflicts it. In my mind I am thanking Bioware for deigning to add such depth to a game and can not help but valiantly take up this man on his offer, he replies in a tone that completely removes you from the story by casually stating that I must pay to enter this section of the game, all connections I had to this game are broken as I refuse to pay another penny more than the £45 already bestowed on the game. Admittedly it was a gift and I didn’t pay that, but my uncle did, but that is deviating from the point. The game already has taken much from the consumer and asking them to fork out more money for content that is already on the disc is over-stepping the mark somewhat. Fair to say, if I wasn’t lucky enough to have received the code from other sources I would never have played that section of the game. But it is something that soured my experience somewhat and has as such made me question the ethics of buying such a game until its GOTY (Game of the Year) edition is available for a decent price.

 Image courtesy of Penny Arcade

Map-Packs and Story Companion pieces.

The more traditional approach to the DLC, Activision have this game sorted out across all their gaming IP’s it seems. CoD (Call of Duty) receives no less than three map packs throughout the course of a year, each costing around £8.99 on PSN or 1200 MSP (Microsoft Points). These usually feature around 4/5 maps in a bundle which sounds like a pretty good deal. However with the release of Black Ops last year, Treyarch (seen as the 2nd team with regards to the CoD universe) released the Rezurrection pack which featured 5 maps and the inclusion of the ‘bonus’ zombie mode. Ironically having to pay for this mode which was included free in the previous Treyarch CoD iteration ‘World at War’, as were four of the five included maps which were essentially ‘remakes’. Money-grab much?
Other games privy to this but only guilty to varying degree’s (depending on how you look at it) are Rocksteady creators of Batman: Arkham City with the announcement of new upcoming Storyline DLC. If you have played through the game, as wonderful as it is, it does seem that you are not getting exactly the ‘whole’ experience and it in some quarters it is being seen that certain parts of the game have essentially been sliced out for the benefit of being sold to the consumer later. This all sounds rather negative doesn’t it?

Why so serious?
It seems DLC is here to stay, it is a lucrative part of the gaming industry which is seeking to recoup ever-increasing developmental costs. It is also fair to say that as gamers, we have never had it quite so good. But the mere thought of DLC does rankle one, as an addition to a fully competent game, DLC can be a wonderful beneficiary experience and something that expands the universe for the consumer with respect and good faith. There are however many more instances, many more than I care to list here where the advent of DLC and the online phenomena has created a negative rift for the gamer, it is one where you feel in retrospect unsure of exactly how much your game will cost you. For the FPS gamer, specifically the Call of Duty crowd, DLC can really add to your experience but the question is “Exactly how much of what you are playing has been freshly created for consumption?”, it is quite the predicament. For the developer it is a touchy subject, do they endeavour to continue supporting the game after launch with DLC for the communities sake or is it merely for the cash-grab?
Cliff Bleszinski creator of the Gears of War series makes no secret of the fact that they have DLC in development before the game itself is released. In an interview with Game Informer Magazine covered over on CVG Cliff and Rod Fergusson had this to say:

“What people need to understand is that extra content is something that you have to plan,” said Fergusson before Bleszinki chimed in, “You don’t just lift up a rock and say, ‘oh shit, there’s new levels!'”

Fergusson added: “There are people who think that the first day of DLC development is the day after you launched. That’s not the way it works.
“A lot of it is that you have to prepare and plan and manage your resources and your people and everything to allow for that,”.

 I feel THQ aside, Nintendo are the ones that really get it when it comes to the issue of DLC, Reggie Fils Aime stated this when interview recently for Games.com

“We’re unwilling to sell a piece of a game upfront and, if you will, force a consumer to buy more later. That’s what they don’t want to do, and I completely agree. I think the consumer wants to get, for their money, a complete experience, and then we have opportunities to provide more on top of that.”

I couldn’t have put it any better myself and that pretty much sums up my opinion on the use of DLC within videogames, as a compliment to the experience I am all for DLC, as a means of ‘squeezing’ the consumer for extra revenue for pointless add-ons I do not agree with at all. As a consumer we trust the developers of the game to provide us with a full-length gaming experience, not something that we are buying into what is essentially episodic content without no prior notification. If I purchase a game irrespective of genre, I am expecting the full experience to be there on the disc, not to be greeted with hub-like infrastructure which severely delineates the entire experience by requesting I pay more than the already substantially pricey fee to progress further, or even to see the full story transpire.
DLC at the end of a day is a service being provided to the end-consumer, if this service is provided and is not totally honest about it means it is essentially a scam and something that needs to be cracked down on by regulating authorities. But then again, I cannot see that just happen because at the end of the day, it is just a game… right?
As always feel free to post your opinions in the comments underneath if you feel you have anything to add to this topic.

3 Responses

  1. I got so into reading this i'm now late cashing up :).Nice work. DLC extras are a con, gears 3 has all its dlc on this disc including the upcoming new campaing footage and that cost 1200 msp! or you have the option of buying all now anf future content for 2400. so £20 more.though sad to say i love the game i WILL fork out the money for this content.cheers Jase

  2. Hey, you linked me here from D*. I feel like there's definitely pluses and minuses to DLC. As you pointed out in the F2P MMO section of the article, there's an instance where the consumer benefits. However, I would say even as far as the standard game, DLC is not always a bad thing (emphasis on the "not always"–sometimes, it is a racket).I have no problem paying a developer for new and expansive content on a game I've already played and beaten. Additionally, (while I may not do this), if someone is willing to pay for a different costume for their character via DLC, that's up to them. DLC has always existed in some fashion even if that is only an expansion to a pre-existing game. The problem, as you were apt to point out, is when consumers are given an incomplete game or have to pay to unlock certain elements already on the disc. (The pay passes for used games is a whole separate issue). I would say though, that as far as charging for access to portions of an incomplete game, those make up a minority of DLC.In the end, I straddle the line of DLC. I will purchase some, and I won't purchase some. Regardless, this trend will continue especially with the increased costs of developing triple A titles. I hope this does not sound like an excuse for developers who hoist constant DLC. I simply want to show that there are two sides to how developers approach DLC, and I would say, for the most part, most developers respect their consumers with how they handle DLC. And for those who disagree, there's the option of not purchasing the DLC or even the game. Most developers are very up front about the plans they make for DLC releases.

  3. Chris Hallam says:

    I totally agree with you, extremely saliently put response and one which more than adequately explains many peoples stances on DLC. As a delivery format it is certainly contentious but this is often only as a result of the developers choice of implementing such a facility.DLC is here to stay whether we like it or not, but whether it is used for good or evil is down to the developer/publisher. But at the end of the day we as consumers have the ultimate choice 'Buy or not to buy?', this is our only voice/medium with which to effectively show our support for such future efforts.Thank you for taking the time to comment.

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