Brave New World: The DLC Debate
Continuing the tradition of expansion packs, downloadable content is everywhere. But what does it really mean for the industry and its consumers? Lewis Anderson shares his thoughts…
Assassin’s Creed 2. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the 15th Century assassin-em-up? Leaping across rooftops? Stabbing oblivious guards in the back? Climbing buildings so high that you actually suffer from vertigo?
Perhaps you don’t immediately think of the twin evils of capitalist manipulation and corporate greed. But some do. You see, at one point in the game the plot is thrust years into the future, leaving the naïve player somewhat perplexed. When the plot skips ahead, intriguing gaps appear in the mission log that suggest there was content that didn’t make the final cut.
Unused content can be grudgingly accepted, but when it was announced that these chapters would be added through the release of paid-for DLC, gaps that were irritating at first now appeared suspicious.
OPTIONAL EXTRAS OR UNFINISHED GAMES?
Suspicious situations inevitably lead to divided opinions – and the louder side of this divide is furious. With the sort of rage more suited to wielding pitchforks and torches, they demand to know why gamers are being forced to pay twice to play the entirety of a game. Believing DLC is used as a cover for unfinished games they vent their rage: “Games are being sold incomplete! DLC allows greedy companies to rip off their customers! Vote with your wallet!” The anger is understandable but a touch naïve: videogame companies are businesses after all, and money is their oxygen.
The other side of the argument is a little more accommodating. In the case of Assassin’s Creed 2, the plot and game as a whole aren’t really affected by the exclusion of a few chapters, so it would be a stretch to claim it the release to be incomplete. DLC therefore exists purely as an optional extra for the more die-hard fans, similar to director’s cut films or best-of compilation albums – it’s not essential, but it’s there if you want it. A more rational view, but possibly not strong enough in the face of ever-inflating game budgets and the resulting higher prices.
Just how much should extra content cost? The announcement that the Stimulus Package for Modern Warfare 2 would be available on Xbox Live for a storming 1200 MS points (the equivalent of £10.20) stirred up outrage from fans. They feel that the five maps of the DLC, two of which are recycled from previous games, do not justify a price tag that’s a quarter of the initial RRP and much larger than expected.
An understandable sentiment – it just isn’t good value for money. Microsoft are being held to blame, the cost of the exclusive rights to release the DLC earlier than their rivals probably being the cause of the higher price. Still, for all the disgust, many admit they will most likely fork out the cash just because there aren’t alternatives.
On the other side of the spectrum, Gearbox’s Borderlands is on its third round of DLC and the most recent release has been well received. Raising the level cap and adding new weapons and challenges, players were eager to pay for something that’s good value for money. This is where DLC works well: players get more out of their favourite games, developers get to develop more content, and the people at the top get to watch their business ticking over nicely.
Life-span extending content has existed for as long as videogames themselves, but the idea of paying for it in digital form came with Microsoft’s move into the console market. The Xbox brought with it the business model of Xbox Live and for the first time players began seeing extra content that, for just a small fee, would guarantee them hours more playtime. [Continues]
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