My thoughts on downloadable content

It seems that ever since downloadable content(DLC) has become popular, developers have been announcing upcoming DLC before the full version of the game has even been released. My main issue with it is whether developers are hacking away parts of their full game and saving it for future DLC packages in order to charge the customers more for what should have been in the full retail game. The main complaint against DLC is in fact this issue. I don't think anyone is arguing that charging for extra content which the studios took time create is unfair, although if they are to charge the consumer, the content should be significant, and not just an extra jacket or one level, more like 5 new weapons, an extra character, and 10 new levels, or something along the those lines. What people are worried about is the practice of withdrawing content from an initial release and later, release that content which should have been in the full retail version, as downloadable content.

First, I would like to describe and explain the rise of DLC for those who may not be very familiar with it. It was successfully implemented for the first time on Xbox Live, although it's beginning trace back to the Dreamcast. The most popular titles for which DLC was available were initially Halo 2, Ninja Gaiden, and Splinter Cell. These addons packages were available for free though. Microsoft decided to charge a fee for the first time with the game, Mech Assault in 2002. And from there, they just kept the ball rolling with paid DLC. This method of content distribution has spilled onto other home consoles like the PS3 and Wii, and has even been used for handheld consoles.

Back to the present. I can't help but be a little suspicious when development studios are announcing, in detail mind you, what DLC will be offered before the launch date of the full game, and I'm looking your way, Infinity Ward. But to examine this problem, we really must define what exactly a "full" game is, as the whole argument behind this rationale is that they are withholding content from the full game and charging extra for it. So what constitutes a full video game. A full game is game which the developers initially had conceptualized and created prior to launch. It should also have a complete story, meaning, not the "to be continued..." received at the end of Halo 2. Content which affects gameplay, like weapons, vehicles, maps, is a bit harder to pin down and label as something which completes the game rather then add "extra flavor" to it.

Often, developers will withhold characters, weapons, or some other in game feature they eventually release later as DLC. Generally, these are restricted to smaller items which don't change the balance of the game or outright make your character godly. Especially for First Person Shooters(FPS), DLC will generally be extra maps to to play with your friends on, for example Halo 3, Call of Duty 4, and Killzone 2. While it's almost impossible to truly figure out if the developers withheld those few levels from the full game, just so they can squeeze another 5-10 dollars out of you, we can look a the full game itself and tell if it was under par in number of maps, weapons, or features. This is difficult in itself as making a comparison between the game in question and others is not fair; they are different games. But think about how you felt the last time you played your favorite FPS, or RPG. Did you feel like the game was half assed and rushed, and truly didn't feel like it lived up to it's potential until you downloaded the DLC? If you did, then you might say yes, the developers did withhold content that you already paid for when you bought the game. This case can be demonstrated with Resident Evil 5 and Disgaea 3. In the case of Resident Evil 4, the Xbox Live DLC for this game included a versus mode which was a total of only 2mb, which meant the versus mode itself was already on the disc, which the players had to pay extra to unlock. Capcom chose to screw over their customers who had already paid for the game which entitled them, at the very least, to everything on the disc. Nippon Ichi's Disgaea 3 also included several characters which were on the disc, but required an fee based activation to play. These cases, are instances of unacceptable practices by studios to hide the true cost of their games. "$60 for a great game? Sure, sounds like a deal. Another $15 to actually play everything on the game... well shit."

Most developers refrain from releasing DLC which includes information on the plot of their game, which is great. Occasionally there are alternate endings, or post-ending game play but these are few and far between. The practice of withholding content is a serious issue in modern gaming and gamers should really take a look at what they are paying for, as should developers look at what they are offering to the consumer. Epic Games, a studio who made big hits such as the Gears of War series and the Unreal series, understood the importance of continued free updates and content to it's customers in order to increase their brand image and customer satisfaction, but M$(Microsoft) had forced them to follow the Microsoft business model of charging a fee for DLC. Is this what it has come down to?

UPDATE: Microsoft is at it again. They are forcing Valve to charge 560 Microsoft pts for the Left 4 Dead DLC "Crash Course" for Xbox Live. Valve would give it out for free, like it does on the PC, if they could. Valve understands the importance of customer satisfaction and how it leads to higher sales, while M$ can only see it's monthly sales figures.
Valve: “We’re Not Charging You Extra for DLC, it’s Microsoft”


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