When speaking specifically to the consumer population of the gaming industry, you’d be hard pressed to find a topic of more heated debate and controversy than the idea of DLC, and for good reason. These days, you can’t even seem to get the plastic off of your newly purchased game without being bombarded by DLC announcements. The release of arbitrary DLC after seemingly every new modern title is simply becoming exhausting.
It’s annoying. It’s frustrating. It’s a concept that is here to stay whether we like it or not.
But are gamers (those who despise DLC) just in their outspoken objection to the practice of releasing pricey add-on content? Cliff Bleszinski and Rod Fergusson, lead developers at Epic Games, told Game Informer that they believe those people need to rethink their opposition to the practice.
“What people need to understand is that extra content is something that you have to plan.” said Fergusson.
Bleszinski then added, “You don’t just lift up a rock and say, ‘oh shit, there’s new levels!’”
Fergusson explained further by saying, “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.”
He then attempted to explain that DLC is another way to resist the competitive used games market.
“It’s less about shipping what’s left over. It’s not about, ‘Oh, we had this map left over’… it’s keeping the disc in the tray. In a used game culture that you have to actively fight against, I think DLC is one of the ways that you do that.”
It is certainly an inspiring outlook on the concept of DLC isn’t it? To think, all of this time we’ve been protesting “immediately following release” DLC because we think we’ve been getting exploited by developers and publishers, yet by releasing DLC instead of including such content at launch they are actually leading the fight against the evil used games market!
Sorry, Epic. I’m not buying it.
Considering that there is already planned DLC coming for the recently released Gears of War 3, it’s hard to consider Epic a neutral party with an objective standpoint. The harshest critics of DLC will argue that developers often intentionally prevent selected content from being released on day one of launch, and while I’m not sure the intent of DLC is that malicious, its growing popularity over recent years has undoubtedly led developers to question the maximum amount consumers are willing to pay for a single product. We have already seen a few facepalming examples of this quite recently.
Take Mortal Kombat, for instance. Less than a month after the game hit store shelves, a DLC plan had been announced that would give players the option of purchasing a total of four new characters and their classic skins as well. I ask, why? Why could these characters not be included on the disc at launch? These are the kinds of developer actions that lead us to believe that DLC is nothing more than a quick cash-grab opportunity in attempt to squeeze every nickel and dime possible out of consumers. But can we blame them? After all, the industry is a business and it’s the public that willingly purchases this content. Every time we do, we give the developers/publishers an excuse to release whimsical DLC for every future product they create. Activision and the Call of Duty games are perfect illustrations of this point.
When I bought Call of Duty: Black Ops for its initial $60 price tag, I was able to thoroughly enjoy it for about three months until Activision underwent the process of systematically exploiting naïve consumers. How did they do this? By doing nothing more than releasing a bunch of multiplayer maps. If you were to buy all four of the Black Ops map packs, you would have spent $120.
That’s $120, on a single game. Those that bought into the nonsense could have bought an entirely new game with that $60 they handed over. Activision essentially sold many customers one game with a loadout of maps and made a profit that normally would have taken them two whole, completely different games to make. This absurd and extremely blatant misuse of the concept of DLC puts those of us without another $60 at an experimental disadvantage. In fact, every time I get to the main multiplayer menu, Activision must remind me that I am a broke asshole who has not bought the map packs that are required for some playlists. Nevertheless, I would rather be a broke asshole than a susceptible fool who throws money at game developers when they offer me minute features that are exceedingly overpriced. As developers, there is simply no justification for making customers pay an extra $60 for your title’s full experience when they have already purchased the game at full price.
Of course, there is always the argument of, “If you don’t want the DLC, don’t buy it.” It’s a maddening argument, really, because the point is we should not have to pay extra for a game’s complete experience when the advertised price for the “full game” said$60. Some gamers do not have $15 lying around every time a developer wants to release some new map or character option, yet that’s what it takes nowadays to get the entire content available for some of our favorite games, and that sucks.
There remains a small fraction of developers and publishers who understand how DLC used to be defined and realize that add-on content should be a supplementary addition for an already complete game experience. Rockstar was once the paradigm of this concept. Grand Theft Auto IV’s expansions for example, The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony, provided players with two uniquely distinct stories and offered them the perspective of two brand new characters. It is this type of DLC that developers should try to imitate – wholesome experiences within that respective game universe which add further replay value to the core journey.
Similarly, the Undead Nightmare DLC of Red Dead Redemption gave players a valid reason to return to the Old West that captivated them so heavily in the original game. In addition to a single-player extension, the DLC brought five new weapons, new animals to hunt, and eight new multiplayer characters as well as an addictive online co-op mode that played out as a survival horror side-game.
Rockstar was indeed the model for DLC that gave gamers actual, sustainable content for a reasonable price. That was of course, before they bought into the idea of the “season pass” with L.A. Noire, which entailed a long term, pre-paid, post-launch downloadable content plan. Customers could get all of the announced DLC, which would cost $20 if bought individually, for $12. It is the idea that, “Hey! there’s lots of DLC coming for this game and you can get it all discounted if you invest now. But hurry! The pass price will only be on sale for a limited time!”
It’s definitely an interesting idea, but it has a fatal flaw. Most of the content that is offered in the pass consists of uninteresting, insignificant features. The L.A. Noire Pass for example, featured four new cases, none of which were very long or comprehensive, and a host of suits, guns, and challenges. This idea of the “season pass” seems to be emerging as a popular trend among developers as it has been taken up by Epic for Gears of War 3 as well as Activision who are pushing their Call of Duty: Elite service, which for an extra $40 annually gets you monthly DLC, daily competitions with virtual and real life prizes, the ability to level up your clan, and “Elite TV.” Yeah, more shit you don’t care about at a questionable price.
It is truly exasperating the way in which we can no longer enjoy the full experiences of anticipated games without consistently forking over more money to get them. This recent game release schedule saw some of the most anticipated games in quite some time, and it is very likely that more than just one title caught your eye. Let’s go back to the beginning of October. If you were planning on getting Rage, Batman: Arkham City, Battlefield 3, Modern Warfare 3, Skyrim, and Assassins Creed: Revelations, you would need a hefty $360 put aside for your expensive hobby. Now we add in the element of DLC. Every single one of those titles has had or will have DLC in one form or another. Should you decide to pay for just one DLC pack for each of those games, you’ll find your game budget well over $400 just for software.
It’s no wonder why gamers opt to buy used games as opposed to buying them at their full retail price. It is because video games, put plain and simply, are not cheap. The used games market, speaking purely from the viewpoint of a gamer, is a positive cycle of the industry as it keeps more money in the pockets of consumers. Developers are so quick to hate on the idea of buying games used because not only do they not see any of those profits, but they know that the majority of gamers prefer to go to the store and pick up a physical disc of each game. As such, video game retail conglomerates like GameStop have them by the balls in the sense that as much as retailers need the products from developers to sell, developers need a chain store for their products to be on display and available for purchase. Developers need retailers, and since retailers make next to nothing on the sale of new games, they need the used games market. It is a perpetual cycle that devs are stuck in.
The thorough GameStop statistics report put together by Gamasutra reveals this process in detail. According to the stats in the report, GameStop’s used product segment contributed $146 million, or 90 percent, of the company’s total gross profit in fiscal year 2009. The company makes a 50% gross profit margin on used game sales, compared to just 21% for new games as they are allowed to keep 50 cents for every dollar of used game revenue, but only 21 cents of new game dollars. It was also estimated that 53% of all games that GameStop sells are used games.
Why do you think GameStop pushes the pre-orders of big upcoming releases so hard? Is it because they genuinely care whether that title does well commercially? Of course not. They need those games traded in so they can open their doors day after day. When you go to GameStop and pay the full $60 for a new release, GameStop maybe makes $5-10 off that sale. A week later, you go back to the store to trade it in for something else and get $30 of in-store credit. GameStop will then sell that used copy to someone else for $55 or $50. Either way, they’ve turned a significant profit off of that second sale and in fact made money twice off of the same game. Yes, they do make an initial profit from the sale of the new copy, but it is the sale of the used copy that increases their profit margins ten-fold.
It is ironic how developers are ready to condemn the used games market for what many devs would consider to be considerable profit being unfairly ripped away from them. Funny, when I have to pay $15 for a map pack just so that I can join the selective playlists that all of my friends are enjoying, I tend to feel the same way.
If developers want to cash in on the used games market they feel cheats them so badly, why don’t they offer cheaper DLC to used game buyers, instead of implementing those pesky “one time use” codes, so that developers and publishers can earn some of that pre-owned sale revenue? It would create a positive system for all parties involved including the ones making the games, the ones selling the games, and the ones buying the games. This way, developers will no longer have to “defend against” consumers who simply want to trade-in games so that they can afford to purchase that dev’s future products, without the developers seeing any profits.