Fall of the DLC

[ Back in Singapore. Sick, working on photos and worrying about the following months. ]

I’ve always felt strongly about the way videogame publishers and developers have been approaching the issue of purchasable downloadable content (DLC) over the past two-to-three years.

“Suicide Mission”
Jack Wall
Mass Effect 2
What I think the iconic song of the game is? This. Ask me to ride to my death with this playing and I’d do it.

When I pay for something, I expect to receive a complete product. A cheeseburger isn’t a cheeseburger if it doesn’t come with cheese. If I buy my burger and discover it doesn’t have that melted slice of cheesy goodness, I’m going straight back to the staff to ask for a replacement. I’m not going to shrug it off and just eat it anyway, because if I had wanted a cheeseburger without cheese, I would have just bought a hamburger in the first place.

Let’s say the company decides to give consumers the option of purchasing toppings for their burger: an extra slice of cheese, an additional patty, strips of bacon or whatever catches your fancy and makes sense. They make good money off of it and everyone is happy. People who want to dress up their burgers can do so at an added cost, whereas those who don’t may continue to enjoy their good ol’ cheeseburgers (not counting other factors such as possible size shrinkage or inflation.)

One day, the higher-ups in the company notice that lots of people are happy to pay for the additional toppings. It’s a whole new stream of revenue. So they look at the contents of the cheeseburger and decide that ketchup shouldn’t be free anymore. Ketchup is now a topping and costs a dollar. Naturally, the cheeseburger doesn’t taste the same again.

People will either:

  • pay that dollar simply to retain the taste of the cheeseburger;
  • decide its not worth the extra dollar, and learn to live without the ketchup;
  • give the dollar because they love the company and their burgers; or
  • pay the dollar because they’re used to paying for toppings already.

What would be your stand on this? Granted it isn’t that great of an analogy, but you get the gist of it.

To translate this into gaming terms, we have to first identify what could be counted as “content” whenever a new game is released. Generally, most people agree that these are assets that has been made and completed prior to launch day. Anything else developed after launch is considered “additional content”, excluding game-fixing patches.

(I’m ignoring the days when extra content was delivered for free, because back then video game development didn’t require as many resources and weren’t pressured by suits who had [and wanted more of] the money.)

The problem now is that companies are taking content and turning them into downloadable content, in the form of exclusive DLCs via platform, retailer and/or special/collector editions. The very idea of launch-day DLC is simply flawed. If they’re ready at launch, they should be in the game already. Most times they are included in the game — they’re just locked until you pay for them. If they were simply delayed due to deadlines but ready by launch day, then offer them for free, not take the opportunity make an extra dollar or two.

This is made worse when such locked content turns out to have an impact on the overall story of the game, however minor it may be. Imagine reading a book, and discovering certain pages aren’t there. They may not be major sections of the story but they do shape it.

In a medium such as video games, almost everything contributes to the narrative, not simply the story as it is told. The art, characters and their interactions. If not an RPG then the weapons, the enemies, the player character. The art and sound design. They all play a part in telling the story, the experience one gets. It isn’t something where one can simply wade in and lock stuff away.

If you’re not as concerned about narrative as you should be, then remember that DLCs have the ability to affect the fun, too. Retail and platform exclusive DLCs for weapons in a multiplayer game? Overly powerful gear or ability in a single-player game? They ruin the fun, unless you’re into boring stroll-in-the-park-easy games. That’s what the easy difficulty is for, isn’t it?

I’m not against DLCs. I’m simply against the idea of DLCs being used as a business tool to squeeze more money out of the fans. While I know that how content is distributed will not be as they were like in the ’90s, I know that its possible to tackle DLCs with a far more sensible approach.

DLCs should consist entirely of content made after launch. DLCs should be priced appropriately: a fair balance between effort, value and profit.

Since I used Mass Effect 2 for the featured song, I might as well use their DLCs as an example for how it should be done. Their post-release DLC content are some of the most memorable and fun I’ve had. Which is ironic, since the following video goes on to show us how they did the exact opposite with Mass Effect 3.

If you’re interested, then there are articles and discussions going on over various forums and websites. I’m far more favourable of indepent gaming sources, as their opinons run less risk of being coloured by sponsor preferences and really, you get to know the contributors so much more better.

But remember, as gamers, we matter too. How we choose to spend our money, who we choose to support goes to show a lot to the industry. If people keep on simply buying and paying without any considerations, it’ll only inevitably drive the fate of good videogaming right into the dirt and we’ll see nothing but simple rehashes of the same formula by different companies.

I’m boycotting Mass Effect 3. Initially, it was solely because it was under my umbrella-boycott of Origin. Even then I was very tempted to get ME3 simply because it’s a great series. Unfortunately, I won’t be buying it now. I will be getting it eventually, once Origin cleans up its act (if ever), but this is disappointing.

Not even half-happy with how this went, but at least I got one of the bigger topics off of my mind. That “Mona Lisa DLC” picture sums it up so perfectly, I couldn’t have said a thing and it’d still get the point across. Sniffing and coughing all day long, bah!

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