Written by Jim Thomas Thursday, 11 February 2010 22:54
Digital distribution is a phrase that most gamers look at with apprehension. It's kind of a double edged sword. On one side, being able to download content from the safety of your home and access said content within minutes, is convenient. On the other hand it raises the question of if you really own that content. Technically speaking, there is no hard asset that has been purchased. Are you able to resell your digital content once you are finished with it? If not, then technically you are only licensing it. Either way you look at it, it's a touchy subject. And one that's been debated to death. I want to focus on another side of digital distribution that has taken a ugly turn recently. Add on downloadable content.
When downloadable content (DLC) was first introduced gamers rejoiced. Micro-transactions allowed consumers to stretch the life out of their favorite titles, or add new abilities and costumes. More often than not, DLC was offered at a fair price and consumers were pleased. In the beginning DLC was seen as a way to extend a games life, or support a community. More recently publishers have turned to the dark side of DLC, and I fear that if left unchecked it could change the way industry operates.
2010 has brought a slew of blockbuster games. The first quarter of this year has been one of the best I can remember, and we are only 2 months in. Games like Mass Effect 2, Bioshock 2, Dante's Inferno, and Heavy Rain have commandeered consoles across the country. While major publishers are still reeling from the effects of the "FINANCIAL CRISIS," the focus to the core gamer has returned. With that focus, publishers are eyeing new models to get you to part with your hard earned dollars. The most prevalent being "additional content," I am all for "additional content," as long as said content can be classified as a supplement.
The recent trend has been to offer this "additional content" the same day a retail title launches. This raises an interesting question. Can content released the same day as the title hits market really be "additional?" If you ask me, content that was ready to be released that same time as a game should have been included in the game. Typical development times for additional levels runs months. Which means this "additional content" was developed coincidedly with the game, and then held out to be marketed separately.
Mass Effect 2 for example launched with "The Cerberus Network Card." This code, came boxed with every new Mass Effect 2 game. Once connected to EA's servers, you enter the code and gain access to exclusive content at no additional cost. Free content for gamers, but a kick in the nuts to game resellers who rely on trade-ins and resales. If you purchase a used copy of Mass Effect 2 and want access to the Cerberus Network you have to pay up. This type of content isn't a detriment to most gamers, neither is it the most concerning.
What concerns me are games like EA's most recent title, Dante's Inferno. Included in the game comes a note card detaililng upcoming DLC available for purchase. Additional costumes, a prequel level, and a new co-op feature all to be available within 2 months. Players owning a PS3 and purchasing Dante's Inferno have access to this content for free (likely subsidized by Sony). Xbox owners will have to pay up for this content. But the question remains, why wasn't this content included with the game? It's apparent that the game was developed with this in mind. There is even a menu item for the "Trials of St. Lucia" on the title screen, followed by "coming soon." Did the game hit a deadline and need to ship faster? Likely not.
Rebellion's ambitious Aliens vs Predator game is also guilty of a similar tactic. Players who purchase the "Survivor" or "Hunter" editions are treated to 4 free multiplayer maps at launch. The standard edition lacks these maps but you will likely be able to purchase them when the game launches next week. You could argue that the "limited" editions of the game cost more, so the inclusion is justified. But you would be a fucking idiot. Publishers aren't giving "limited edition" purchasers more content for the extra money they charge. They are simply stripping it from the standard edition and making you pay more for it.
In essence this day 1 DLC is the publishers way of saying that they no longer favor the $60 price point for retail games. Sure you can pay $60 and get a new game, but it won't come with all the features that were planned for it. If you want the game as it was intended you have to get the special edition, and it will set you back $70. Oh but it does come with this sweet art book, and a soundtrack. Are you fucking kidding me? If this happened in any other aspect of your people would be furious. Could I get two creams in my coffee please? "Right away sir, but that isn't included in a standard coffee, it will cost $1.00. Can I interest you in our delux version? It comes with cream and this awesome crossword for $0.50 more" The sad fact is that more gamers aren't outraged by this type of bait and switch. The even sadder fact is that there is some idiot right now that just paid 320 MS points for 5000 experience in Dante's Inferno. Yes that's a feature, and yes it takes like 2 minutes in game to earn 5000 experience.
The fact of the matter is, if left unchecked this type of short term thinking on the publishers part could have dire consequences for the industry. The next thing you know you'll find a download prompt at the last level of God of War stating the fight with Zeus will only cost you an extra $5.00.