/ Technology

Downloadable content is killing the game

Money and PlayStation controller

There was a time when you could buy a video game, take it home and play through all there was to offer without spending any more pocket money. Dreaded downloadable content has destroyed that dream.

Buying a video game is simple. If I want my Call of Duty fix I just have to go to the store, buy it at full price, take it home and slot it into my console or PC. Right?

Well, modern gaming isn’t quite that simple. There are installations and updates to look forward to, as well as another beast – downloadable content (DLC).

In theory, DLC is a positive. You’re getting extra content, whether it’s more levels, maps or guns. And most of the time you want to pay for it. But it seems to have taken a sinister turn.

Do you want fries with that?

Video game publishers appear to be seizing content that’s been developed for a game, and then asking us to pay another five quid for it. It’s like going to one of those pretentious restaurants, ordering a £15 steak and then being asked ‘do you want fries with that?’ Of course I do, I don’t just want a slab of meat on a warm plate! ‘I’m sorry sir, fries are extra.’ ಠ_ಠ

This very topic recently came to a head, with the behemoth publisher Electronic Arts (EA) announcing exclusive DLC for pre-ordering (or buying the limited edition) of Battlefield 3. If you don’t want to do either of these things, this booty will cost extra.

Over 3,000 have voted that this is a ‘bad idea’ on EA’s official forums, with the social news site Reddit using its influence to boycott the game. Fans are not only upset about having to pay more for content that’s available on day one of the game’s release, but also that it could give others an unfair advantage when playing online.

Bombarded by emails, EA responded that the DLC ‘will not give you a significant advantage on the battlefield’. That as it may be, day one DLC still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Can DLC be a good thing?

There are a number of ways DLC can be done right. Giving it away for free is obviously the best option. Burnout Paradise is a great example – Criterion Games pumped out multiple updates, without gamers having to dig into their funds.

The gaming industry will no doubt argue that making video games is expensive. And, of course, it is, reaching budgets in the tens of millions of pounds. They’ll also argue that DLC works – gamers buy it and are willing to spend more on games they love.

I’m with them on that – I spent extra dosh on Uncharted 2, simply because I loved the game. But Naughty Dog’s ethics felt much more honest. The developer finished making the game, gave it to us for £40 and then started work on DLC. Our gaming expert Jack Turner adds:

‘DLC has a part to play in games, and seems an unstoppable force. However, consumers need to be reassured that the content they are paying extra for is actually additional content, rather than a cynical way to milk an existing product.’

I’m willing to pay extra money for extra content if developers put in extra work. But creating it all, holding it back and then seeping it out for more cash feels so very wrong. Making games might be expensive, but buying them is costly too – why should we be a cash cow?

Jeremy says:
16 June 2011

The developers DO put in the work. Better than voting with a petition, vote with your munnies. Developers and publishers react to the market. If I were in their shoes, I’d sell content all day long until nobody bought it. Which is pretty much what they’re doing.

Even on-disc content is still something they’ve created, potentially to be sold as part of the experience. You only have to decide whether it’s worth it to you.

Andrew says:
17 June 2011

I thought downloadable content would be a big deal for GTA 4, but I found that I only wanted to play what was on the disc.

Dave says:
17 June 2011

I agree. I miss the good ol days. I hardly ever buy DLC and now I have no idea why the Reapers are coming to earth in Mass Effect 3.

John says:
17 June 2011

I personally think DLC is a GREAT idea but, ONLY if used correctly. Having extra missions, story modes, co-op modes etc can be absolutely AMAZING! What really ****** me off is how companies are now using it as a cash cow, and releasing bit-part games then making you pay out of the nose for some cheap DLC (I’m looking at YOU activision!!!). I bought escalation the other day and baulked at the price £10.99 – you have GOT to be kidding. If I buy all three packs thats over 30 quid; thats as much as I paid for the WHOLE game!! There is no way in **** those packs are worth that money. All COD games are too short as it is and do not have enough content, DLC should be free or be 3 times the size if they expect me to pay that kind of money. They are a joke! RDR zombie pack cost £15 the day it came out and that had NEW multiplayer experiences AND a new game experience as well with a story! The COD packs are just bloody maps that were already made and just not included in the game when they should have been. Where are the new modes, new weapons, and other cool ****?

Steven McNally says:
17 June 2011

I HATE content that’s available before or at release if a game. The one that comes to my mind is when Dragon Age 2 was releasing, and there was a DLC pack available on the store from the Wednesday, but the game wasn’t out until the Friday.

I find DLC like that infuriating, as it is just making a fool out of us. You buy it brand new on day one, so developers get their share of the revenue, but still want more money from you. If you’re going to do that, then reduce the price of the game.

The DLC I quite like is content you can get a while after the release that extends your gameplay once you’ve been done with the game for a little bit. For example extra characters in fighting games, new missions/quests in adventure games to bring you back to it.

I don’t think it’s “killing” the industry, as generally you don’t need to buy it to enjoy the core part of the game, and even if people boycott it’ they’ll probably buy it when it comes out anyway. Nobody forces you to get it.

As I said though, if it’s available from day 1 I really feel that it should be on the disc.

I think DLC is an area where some companies will milk it and some companies will use it to good effect. The COD series vs Naughty Dog (Uncharted) are a good comparison as mentioned. COD is the ever increasing cash cow, they are always seeking new and inventive ways to strip you of your cash, it will soon be like the gaming version of a budget airline, where you can buy it for £5, but your gun will cost £5, your armour will cost £5, your bullets will cost £5, the maps will cost £5, they’ll probably be admin charges, card charges etc etc. Drip pricing I the term is. Uncharted 2 however was possibly one of the best single player games I’ve had the pleasure of playing without needing to buy any DLC. As for the multiplayer, there was DLC that cost but Naughty Dog also made a good effort to keep the multiplayer constantly fresh, they had amazing communication with the players, changing things up – probably testing a whole host of ideas for Uncharted 3.

In a world of game trade-ins, DLC is seen by publishers as a way of ensuring their invested cash makes its way back to their pockets.

I think the real fear should be subscription models for console gaming. COD elite. You buy the game, you buy the DLC, you pay for your XBox Live, AND you pay a subscription for multiplayer. A step too far.

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