Obviously, the title of this article is not what the acronym DLC truly defines. These three letters create an abbreviation for the phrase “Downloadable Content,” which is most commonly used when referring to DLC for PC games or current gen consoles (the 360, Wii, and PS3). But, is this title very far from the truth of what a DLC is?
As gamers, what is it about downloadable content that makes our mouths water and eyes widen? DLC packages provide gamers with a proverbial teat from which we can milk out every ounce of entertainment within a game we have come to know and love. By downloading new content into seasoned games we make our games new again...effectively creating a novel experience within a comfortable environment. However, does that want of content and unbridled love of gaming give developers the right to milk our wallets for every ounce of greenery as well?
From a marketing perspective DLC’s are genius. Instead of asking gamers to pay $100+ for an “all inclusive” game on release day, developers have created a mantra of smaller transactions (typically $10-$15) for smaller “packs” of downloadable content spread out along the lifespan of a game. This, according to proponents of the strategy, keeps material fresh and creates a “new” experience for gamers throughout a longer time frame than the core game would be able to accomplish alone.
However, from an opposing point of view, that of a hardcore gamer who is going to pay for this type of content on a continual and loyal basis, the DLC mantra feels eerily akin to nickel and dime tactics employed by big business. When engaging in the pros and cons of this debate, many gamers point to the fact that this “new” content is routinely complete and ready to play when the core game is released. For example, and you knew this was coming, the Call of Duty series reportedly has many, if not all, of their multiplayer maps created before the core games are released.
Hmm, does this mean that we are paying for “new” content, which by definition isn’t new at all? That is absolutely what it means. However, is this wrong, or just good marketing?
I argue both. You see, at the end of the day video games are a business, and a VERY large one at that. In fact, the video game industry typically generates an income of $2.6 billion annually (Baylor University), enough to fund the annually salary for the President of the United States about 6,500 times (based on a reported $400,000 per year for the President; feel free to check my math if need be). So, as a business, the gaming industry and those who run companies within it have an interest in making money, you won’t find me having any problem with that.
What you will find me having a problem with are the misperceived principals of honesty that front as a Wizard of Oz curtain covering DLC releases. Major developers allure gamers into thinking that this content is always new; a freshly developed packaging of content for which the developers used feedback from the audience in creating new and improved content for us to utilize. However, as mentioned before, there is nothing new or improved about the content. Generally speaking, DLC is simply old content that hasn’t been taken out of the packaging yet.
What becomes even more infuriating yet, is the direction in which major gamesakes are taking their DLC mantra. Take, for example, two of the most well know upcoming titles on the market: Modern Warfare 3 from Activision/Infinity Ward and Battlefield 3 from EA and the Dice development studio. If you have somehow missed that these two titles have laid the framework for some very direct and heated competition, you might want to create yourself a YouTube account and start watching a few videos.
Activision and IW struck first with their highly controversial release of information about Modern Warfare 3's use of the COD Elite program: a subscription based service which will entitle members to perks such as improved map and weapon analytics, weapon stat tracking, player career tracking, and dedicated website access (just to name a few). Correspondingly, Dice struck back with a few extras of its own, namely pre-order bonuses and day one DLC that could add aspects to the gaming experience within BF3 without having a subscription based price scale. Obviously, these two are at each other's throats to win over the market. In fact, this competition has become so inflamed that the CEO from Ea released a statement saying that he wants “Call of Duty to rot from the core…” I don’t know about anyone reading this, but where I’m from, them’s fightin’ words...
However, the competitive nature of gaming is not problematic for me. What is problematic is the way EA and Dice are handling the DLC for Battlefield 3.
(*Note: please refrain from "you're just a MW3 fanboy" comments here. Remember, this is an artilce on DLC, not subscription based content and, therefore, I will be discussing BF3's controversial DLC decision, not MW3's Elite program. Subscription based services are a totally different issue deserving its own write-up and conversation)
Now, I’m not going to go into all the meticulous details of the controversy here, it would take too much time to cover everything and if you’re reading this you have probably already familiarized yourself with the issue anyway. Nonetheless, the controversy in a nutshell is this: Battlefield 3 will be released with a “preorder claus” of sorts, one which offers extra weapons for the game and a DLC which is purchasable on day one of release.
This is a prime example of how DLC can become just another way to gain money, rather than a way to provide content for gamers who love the art of gaming.
Why? One, there should NEVER be an in-game advantage purchasable for players on day one which allows people to buy themselves a better kill-to-death ratio. Skill should always be the one variable which sets players apart, not bank accounts. Two, if these things are available at the beginning of a games release, why not add them to the original game for us to enjoy? Are we, as customers, not paying for a game and the development that has gone into that game as it is when it hits the shelves on release day?
My rule for DLC is this, if it has been created and can be made available when the games goes live, then it should be free. Why? Because as gamers we are paying for the development of a game up until the release date, the actual point of sale. However, if something is made that adds a new enjoyable element of the game, which developers had to come up with and create after a game’s release, then sure, by all means offer it to us at a reasonable cost so we can then expand that game’s experience.
Think about how many good relationships this would generate between video game corporations and gamers. If Ea/Dice were to simply release BF3 with the content readily available up to the date of release at no "extra" charge to gamers, would that not win over MANY people who already feel that Activision is a company only interested in their customers wallets? Could that show of good will and good faith not help to tip the proverbial odds in Battlefield's favor in a big way?
At the end of the day, this is what i know: I know that I am a brand-loyal kind of guy. If a brand treats me well, I will return with my wallet in hand to continue purchasing products from that brand until the relationship is tarnished. For me, the way in which a developer, publisher, and/or company handles the DLC for their release is the variable which proves whether or not they have as much respect for the gamers buying their product as we have for the games they are making. Correspondingly, video game publishers are not going to stop doing something that makes them money until we, as the ones giving them those funds, cease to hand over cash until they provide us with content worth spending it on.
[In the latest episode of our podcast we discuss EA and DICE's decision on DLC: http://www.gamersriot.com/archives/2743]