Saturday, August 25, 2012

Downloadable Content Analysis DLC's - The Good, The Bad, and the Very Very Ugly

 (A custom picture I made showing the clash between physical media and digital downloads. We want the best of both worlds but currently DLCs are digital download only.)

So what is a D.L.C? Simply put, it's an extra add-on to a game that the game didn't originally come with. It doesn't have to cost money, as many free DLCs have been released before, but in general because the content costs money to produce, Game studios tend to charge for it.

Depending on the company, you either love, hate, or ignore DLC content altogether. Some companies have hard and fast rules against using DLCs and others revel in it, wanting customers to spend more money on downloaded content. 

But as with every new change in Gaming we should be responsible and ask questions about it first before jumping in wholeheartedly. Firstly, how should the game industry be treating DLCs and what practices should they follow? Secondly, do DLCs have a place in gaming and if so what is that place and what lines should the industry not cross? Finally, which companies have adhered to these principles and which are out there to simply make more profit?

We'll start off with a company that loves DLCs and analyze DLCs in general as we go along.

(For some companies, DLCs are angels sent from Heaven, regardless of how you distribute them.)

The first extreme example we have comes from BioWare who had their popular Mass Effect 3 game packaged with a day one DLC. As the name implies, if you're willing to pay extra for it, in this case it was 10 dollars (800 Microsoft points), you could get additional content that would make your gaming experience better.

Later on it was found that large parts of the DLC were on every disc sold to consumers and required a special key to unlock on the disc. The DLC was also found to be integral to the story of the game and interwoven into the whole second half of the game as well. 

To analyze the issue better though we need to speak more about DLCs in general.

Here is the first central rule to DLCs:

Principle 1 "Spirit of a D.L.C"

This is an unspoken rule in the gaming industry that implies if a DLC comes out it must not be central or vital to the core of a game. A game must be enjoyable and finished completely without a DLC, or it's like your charging customers extra for a piece to finish their unfinished game. Doing that reeks of a scam and smells of fraud because no one likes to be scammed and forced to buy unfinished games. The Spirit of a DLC is that it only provides fun content after the fact that tacks onto a game.


Bioware actually admits to this central tenet of DLCs. 
Casey Hudson Executive Producer of Mass Effect 3:

"The DLC, whether it’s day one or not, is always going to be sugar on top, the extra,” he told VentureBeat. “You know, the extra little bits of content that tell side stories.”

“But it’s always optional. We would never take stuff out of the core game and only have it in DLC.”

The whole gaming industry knows of this unspoken principle because they don't want to be labelled scammers or fraudsters. They don't want their customers to think of them as greedy tycoons out to suck ever penny out of them. But we have to remember that actions speak louder than words.

Some people break this rule and claim they don't; the key to remember is to analyze their action. So let's do that, let's look over the evidence with Mass Effect 3.

1. Day One DLC: The day the DLC is released is important because it tells you when the development company was working on it. If it's released on the same day as the game that means they were coding it, debugging it, and making it part the story of the gaming from its inception. It's very very hard to tack on extra content when at the same time you're making the game itself. There is a slippery slope that you may include something in the DLC that would make it critical to having it.

Also think of it from a game companies perspective. If this content is completely additional, why not just wait til we finish the game to code it and sell it a month or two later? We don't put these things in boxes or on discs so distribution and production is next to nothing.

Day one DLCS are really an issue because, as we saw with ME3, the DLC was vital to experiencing the game. Most Day one DLCs tend to have this issue and very rarely are small additions because they've been worked on for months alongside the game itself and a lot of planning has gone on behind the scenes.

This isn't my opinion, this is what Bioware says, and it completely agrees with me. When asked why large parts of the DLC were on the disc and why it seems like the game was built with it Bioware answered:

Mike Gamble of Bioware
“Because the plot of ME3 is so richly interwoven with the character interactions and moments, you simply cannot use a DLC module to ‘insert’ a new character,” he said. “As we’ve mentioned before, that character has to be planned and the framework has to be established ahead of time for us to build off of with the DLC module.”


Erik Kain from Forbes Magazine makes a great point about this topic:

"Imagine a band releases a 12-song album for $14.99. On the same exact day the same band offers a downloadable extra that has three songs not included on the album for an additional $4.99. Then the band says that those extra songs are just “sugar on top” and that they’re trying to release “awesome music” so fans should just stop complaining because “they don’t know what it’s like to record music.”
Now imagine that the same band had, in previous years, released 15 song albums for $14.99."

So as has clearly been decided by gamers, Day one DLC, while idealistically can be acceptable, tends to make games worse off as the DLC tends to be vital to the game itself. It's very difficult to create a cherry on top when you're making the cake at the same time.

So for the gamers sake developers need to know to release their DLCs and produce them at a later date.

2. On the Disc: As mentioned above, when a game is included on the disc or large parts of it are interwoven into the game, you know you've got a problem on your hands.

Theoretically you could still fashion a game from scratch that was only an addition and put it on the disc but this rarely occurs. The temptation by producers to make a chunk of the game that is vital to the story is increased, than if they were to create the DLC after they made the original finished game.

By then they had already created a finished product. There's no threat of adding on more content if you've already worked your hardest finishing up the original game.

3. Price - As a side note:  The price of a DLC is also something that should be scrutinized. Since it adds to a game and isn't a game in and of itself and requires that you buy the game to use it, the price is critical, regardless of how much content you provide.

Most games do not require other games to play. Even Mass effect 3 can be played if you've never owned Mass Effect 2. But this isn't the case with DLCs. You can never sell DLCs as they're always connected to your account, and you never get a box or a disc for them. They require an upfront $60 dollar purchase of a previous game and they should not be integral to the story or the playing of the first game. They are the digital cherry on top, so to speak.

Given all these facts we can deduce what DLCs should cost. I'll make this my second principle of DLCs:

Principle 2 "Price of a D.L.C"

We can all agree that charging the same price as a full game is completely unethical as you're not getting the same value as a full game. Even half the price of a full game is unheard of because DLCs do not add critical gameplay elements to any game; explained already because of principle 1.

So the red line in the sand for a DLC should be half of half the price of a game. Another way of putting that is 1/4 or 25% the price of a full game. Currently that's $15 dollars.

That doesn't mean every game should charge that much. It only means that should be the upper limit and no one should pay a dollar more. Only the best DLCs with the most content should even attempt to pay this much.


BioWare Verdict

So given that the DLC was day one, that large parts of it were on the disc, and that the DLC was integral to experiencing the game which violates the spirit of a DLC, BioWare completely botched their gaming experience and as a result paid for it.

They also botched the ending of the game and as a result had to give gamers a new set of endings that actually ended the game off properly. Hopefully Bioware has learned from its mistakes and other companies can learn from them as well.

(For other companies, DLCs are like this ugly dog; kept at a distance.)

The other extreme side of the spectrum is the gaming juggernaut Nintendo. The statements they've made leave hardly any room for discussion:

Nintendo President Satoru Iwata
 “Nintendo, as a software maker, does not plan to [run a business] where our consumers cannot know in advance which [product] will appear as the result of their payment,” Iwata said. “As a software maker, Nintendo believes that its packaged software should be sold to our consumers in a form so that the consumers will know in advance that they can enjoy playing the software they purchased just as it is.”

Reggie Fils-aime, President of Nintendo of America


Nintendo seems to be worrying about the slippery slope with DLCs and how game companies might start off with good intentions but might end up selling incomplete games with DLC.

Nintendo's zeal for their customers is impressive and even if it's only a P.R gimmick it still feels good to know a company wants to do everything they can to give you a fulfilling experience.

But Nintendo does need to realize that DLCs are here to stay and we are buying them because sometimes they're done extremely well and are extremely fun.

Some best selling well done DLCs are listed below:

Red Dead Redemption's Undead Nightmare

This game literally added another 8 hours or so of a side story to the game of the year winner Read Dead Redemption. It also added a new mode to multiplayer that was survival oriented. It's simply the closest a DLC has ever come to a standalone game and it was worth every penny for those that bought it. Nintendo has to understand that a world without DLC would mean a world without this amazing game.

The 5 Fallout 3 DLCs

For a lot of people, it was Fallout 3 that introduced them to the idea of DLCs. Fallout 3 really popularized the idea and showed the hidden potential and profit for companies willing to take on the endeavor.

Broken steel became a must own when it continued the story and increased your level cap and Point lookout gave us a real taste of the south. If that wasn't enough, how about going on an Alient spaceship? Even if the first two were not must owns, the last 3 were extra experiences that gave the game hours more fun and another round of Fallout before Fallout New Vegas came out. Again if Nintendo owned the gaming industry, these gems would never have seen the light. 

Skyrim Dawnguard

As if Skyrim didn't already have enough content, we had even more added on top of it! I have to say though, the price of the addon was excessive at 20 dollars. But then again, you get so much content with Skyrim to begin with, in the long run, you've already made your money twice over. Skyrim definitely deserved more than $60 when we purchased it.


There are a ton of other great DLCs out there as well. GTA IV has two very popular ones and many of you have in mind examples of other great DLCs not mentioned. DLCs have a proven track record and while not every developer is good at making them, the fact that some can do so very well means that for gaming it's a product that will be with us, and should be, as gamers enjoy these add-ons.

Nintendo has seemed to sense this and in the middle of 2012 announced their first DLC for New Super Mario Brothes 2. It was inevitable that it would happen but no one knew that it would come months after the strongly negative statements they made at the beginning of 2012. So in that sense Nintendo is a bit hypocritical but it's all in the past now.

We all want Nintendo making DLCs and we know they'll raise the standard high because they refuse to release games that are unfinished, as we've seen with their statements. As DLCs did better and people saw their potential, companies like Nintendo had to realize that this was a market they had to get into and was what gamers demanded of them.

Final thoughts

So we've gone over the companies that hold DLC up like a holy grail and we've also gone over the very pessimistic ones like Nintendo. We've learned the two most important principles when making a DLC and what game makers should price them at. The future is bright for DLCs as it's an industry that has just started and been barely dabbled into.

Hopefully companies can get more creative with the ways they add onto games and possibly gamers as a result will hold onto their games longer knowing a DLC is imminent

What we need more of in DLCs is extra content from the games we love. What we need less of is gaming companies pawning off parts of their games and selling them unfinished, especially as Day One DLCS.

At the end of the day if game companies remember the key spirit of DLCs, they won't go wrong:

Spirit of D.L.Cs

An unspoken rule in the gaming industry that implies if a DLC comes out it must not be central or vital to the core of a game. A game must be enjoyable and finished completely without a DLC, or it's like your charging customers extra for a piece to finish their unfinished game. Doing that reeks of a scam and it smells of fraud because no one likes to be scammed and forced to buy unfinished games. The Spirit of a DLC is that it only provides fun content after the fact that tacks onto a game.

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