Right then, I will preface this article with the premise that I am extremely well aware that everyone and their mother has already weighed in on the debate as to whether or not DLC (downloadable content) is evil. However, unlike most I am going to be championing the cause. Sort of.
Most people would have you believe that this DLC thing is a new kid on the block, only appearing within the last 6 years in the Gaming Industry and Microsoft was chief architect of it. Well, that’s ok. I’ll forgive you for thinking along these lines, you probably weren’t even born when DLC actually originated. I know I wasn’t. So without further adieu, I introduce the….
The Gameline. Or as it was known, the CVC Gameline (Control Video Corporation) was a specially designed cartridge for the Atari 2600 way back in 1983. Remember that console? No, probably not. The Gameline was a larger than normal cartridge with a phone jack, which connected to your phone line and allowed you to download third party titles from CVC’s central server for a fee. Like many things in the Video Game industry crash of ’83 the Gameline vanished into obscurity. Don’t worry though, the man behind CVC eventually went onto found everyone’s favourite company America Online.
So there you have it. It’s an archaic idea.
Developers Spend Less Time Fixing Bugs In Favour of DLC
One of the arguments I’ve heard crop up in the DLC debate is that games have more bugs now because developers (or should I say Publishers, in all honesty?) care more about money and shoving DLC down our throats rather than producing a quality product? Well, I don’t know. This is a pretty big claim to make. For both for and against. There’s certainly a fair amount of bugs in modern games but that might just be down to other issues. Having said that, I don’t remember too many older games that weren’t bugged or you could glitch in some capacity.
Bugs are inevitable. Anyone who has ever programmed a system of decent size (not just games) can tell you that. And no amount of beta testing will uncover everything. It’s just the reality of the situation. It’s been there since the beginning of the Game Industry and it will likely continue until the end of time. I will say this though. The support now is much better. If your Super Nintendo game had a bug in it, the developers couldn’t just put a patch out there on the internet for you to download and fix your game. It wasn’t possible.
But wait, Dean what does this have to do with DLC, I hear you asking (Yes, you in the corner Jimmy). The Games Industry is a business like anything else and what do businesses need to do to survive? Make money. DLC revenue might just be paying for the guys who fix the bugs in your games long after the game itself was initially released.
DLC aint like those expansions we used to get!
Oh my, my dear friend. You couldn’t be any more mistaken on our mutual acquaintance downloadable content. DLC isn’t just about those add ons, full games themselves can be downloadable content. In fact, as the Games Industry involves, you can expect to see more and more of that and less of a focus on in-store retailers. Ok, that’s a cheap point. So I won’t leave it there and move on just yet.
As I said, I was going to be a sport about this point and talk about DLC add-ons and how they compare to the expansions of yesteryear. Well, yes, the majority of DLC add-ons floating around on the internet are indeed short and potentially trivial. I see you cheering, please hold off just now. There are DLC add-ons that compare to the size of these expansions you miss so much out there to be found. For example, Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening or Traitor’s Keep (which was longer than I expected considering the Fable III DLC prior) for Fable III. There’s more to be had but I’ll leave you to do some investigations, after all, I don’t know what your requirements necessarily are!
But before I move on, one more thing. Expansions to games were fairly rare, generally speaking, only being developed for games that were a large commercial success or only really appropriate in some arenas (Roleplay Games). DLC add-ons as they are now, only developers to extend the experience of the games ‘out of the box’ for those that traditionally wouldn’t have received that kind of treatment in the past. Not all DLC add-ons are great, but then again, not all expansions were great. And inevitably some people will get more mileage out of a new outfit for their character than others and the same could be said for new quests.
How dare these developers charge me extra for the content already on the disc!
Hold on there Sally, this is quite a biggun to tackle but tackle it I shall. There are two points to this I feel, content in general believed to be on the disc then unlocked when purchasing the DLC add-on or having to buy the online aspect of a game. I’ll start with the first point then move onto the second. I’m not going to deny that this may or may not have happened already but there is a lot of misinformation around how this kinda stuff works (especially Day One DLC – another gripe that’ll be co-tackling with this). An example of wrongly being accused I refer back to Fable III. Shortly after the game was released, multiple DLC addons appeared in the Xbox Live Marketplace.
Most of these were paid, one however, was free. Yes, a free weapon pack! A lot of people downloaded that free weapon pack first, then proceeded to download the other content. The astute noticed that the first download (the free one!) was a couple hundred megabytes in size, while the others they downloaded later, were only a few kilobytes in size. So naturally, people were angry. They thought they’d just paid for content that was already on the disc. It sure looked that way, but it wasn’t. See, Fable III has an online component and the developers decided that, although some people might not buy the content that cost Microsoft points, they wanted those players to be able to go into the worlds of others who did.
So this free weapon pack contained all the information that was necessary for those players who didn’t want the content to be able to join the game world of someone who had bought it and vice versa. Despite the initial lynching, many people were left red faced in what was an astute move by the developers. This is where Day One DLC also comes into it. You buy the game the day it releases, go home, stick it in your console of choice and hey presto, if you’re connected to the internet you probably got an update to fix some bugs and there might already be some content available.
It’s time for a little bit of Deana-cation (See the start of the article for the Gameline). When a game is “finished” it is sent off for certification before being mass produced (You know, onto those disc things) and sent around the world. This process is called going “gold”. Hence the picture above. Once a game goes “Gold” a developer can no longer work it. The time this period takes varies up to a couple of months as far as I know (some less depending on publisher) and so the developer focuses on some things. Their bug fixing department kick into overdrive, to try and make sure your experience is great (hence the update you might get on release day) while those who haven’t moved on to the next big thing (re: New game) will work on providing new content.
They might be things they thought were cool, it might have been content they had to cut out of the game because they didn’t have the time during production or whatever. But that Day One DLC I can confidently say is NOT on your disc (Exceptions to every rule). The moral of the story here? Don’t be so quick to flame the developer. Think it through, maybe probe some people for answers and you might find yourself in a similar situation to what happened with Fable III.
Electronic Arts are doing it. THQ are doing it. Activision are going to be doing it with Modern Warfare 3. What are these publishers doing? Online passes! This is another matter for some contention. As it is now and for the foreseeable future, when you purchase a new copy of a game, you are not going to be paying extra on top for the online pass. Each of these games ship with an unlockable code that is one time use for online play. I’ve heard a few good stories about people not getting them at the retailer and managing to get it at no additional cost from the publisher. But like I mentioned, new games come with this code so you’re not paying… or are you?
For those who don’t know, in the arena of used games, publishers and by extension, developers don’t get any revenue stream from used game sales. None at all. You may think that’s fair, but it’s very safe to assume that publishers particularly, do not. If they could, they would probably eradicate the used game market entirely. But they can’t. So we have online passes. You buy a used game that has this feature and low and behold, either you don’t have a code or the code in the box has already been used! What now? Head on over to the relevant website or via your console market place and for about $10.00 (estimate), you can get your own unlock code and play can resume as normal.
I’m not going to fault them their share of the used game market and let’s face it, it could be much worse.
This is a point that I’ll not be so quick to defend the DLC climate I’m afraid. I won’t go so far as to join the “oh my gosh, rip off prices” camp but will say this is something that not only publishers but we consumers need to work on in a unified front. (Ok, we probably have little to no input in the long run, so it’s something publishers need to work on!) How do we determine whether something is a fair price? A rough guess would be how much mileage we get out of it versus the cost.
A lot of people scoff at the 1200 Microsoft points cost of Call of Duty DLC these days and I tend to agree that it’s a little steep (1200 Microsoft points is the same price as a pretty good Xbox Live arcade game). But all things considered, an avid Call of Duty fan will get many, many hours out of that DLC far beyond what the average gamer would get from X game they purchased at full retail price. And this mileage will vary. Especially depending on the type of gamer you are. Some of us like to explore every nook and cranny, get all the achievements etc while others will quite happily smash through the content and move on. In that instance, group A are clearly going to get more out of it than group B.
So can we even use time versus cost as an accurate measure? I don’t know, but feel free to leave your comments below as always. This same argument can be applied to avatar items and the cost of them (120-200 Microsoft Points for Xbox Live users I think, for a single piece). With those, I think they could stand to be a lot cheaper than what they are, but then again, I’m not making use of my Xbox Live avatar that much so I don’t particularly care what he looks like and what people think of his appearance, where as others will. See what I mean?
I have rambled on a bit longer than I intended to, but when the flow strikes, you just go with it. But I’ll wrap it up here never the less. I think there is definitely great potential for misuse in the DLC arena and I can understand the fears some people have. But DLC alone, is a vehicle with immense positive potential to take gaming to the next level (and I think it’s already in the process of doing that). I think sometimes we as gamers think that we aren’t buying products from a business, but the reality is, we are. If this doesn’t sit well with you, there’s certainly a thriving indie and free game market you can get into and not have to worry about the commercial overlords.
And as consumers, we still have our time honoured ability to refuse to buy something if we don’t like/think it is reasonably priced. Your missing dollars are more likely to concern publishers than the complaints you make on the internet.
This was a subject I wanted to write about for some time now, despite it being done to death but I hope you’ve either found it enlightening (by way of my opinion or my Deana-cations) or disagree to the point that you have to let me know. Yes, for good or bad, I’m hoping to see a nice ol discussion down below in the comments section. So don’t be afraid, offer up your own opinions or flame me.