Wednesday, January 6, 2010

DLC - Directly Lost Cash?

The prices of games have been more or less steady the last decade. Now and then a game such as Call of Duty, Modern Warfare 2 comes along and causes a fuzz by raising the price but overall prices don't change much. The development costs of games keep on going though while the player numbers don't increase by that much. So publishers have to keep on trying to find more ways to get the money from our pockets without raising the retail prices of their games. DLC seems to be the newest card they've pulled out of their bags and it's quickly gaining more and more popularity.

At it's base, it's a nice idea. Instead of spending four years creating one big hit-or-miss blockbuster you can spend some time to create smaller pieces of content. If you can add a few hours of gameplay for $5 everyone will be happy. The customers will have a reason to keep on playing your game and the waiting time between content will be reduced. For the publishers, it's pure profit, there are no retailers who grab at your money with their filthy paws. One week after its launch Dragon Age already lured in a million dollars in cash from its DLC alone so there's some big profit in it. And Bioware plans to keep releasing new DLC for years to come.

Despite all of its potential DLC still forms a controversial topic these days. I suspect that it's partially because we, pc gamers, have been spoiled by developers such as Valve or Blizzard. Blizzard is still releasing free patches and the occasional map for starcraft ten years after its launch. And Valve are the masters of free content. If I take a look at how Team Fortress 2 looked when I bought it and how it looks now there's a huge difference. Every few months they'll release a free content patch with new maps, new items and give me a reason to install it again. When we're used to that kind of free, dedicated support then why would we want to pay for some horse armor?

Recently even Blizzard has been adding DLC to their games. Pandaran monks and little Kelthuzads are now available from their pet store... at a cost of $10 each. I find this price point to be very high for an item which has no use but I'm sure that these two items will have make Blizzard a few hundred thousand dollars. Luckily, so far all the content you can buy in WoW have been luxury items. You can pay to transfer your server, buy a minipet or even change your race but none of this will make you better at WoW. If they'd ever go so far as to sell epic weapons or armor I'd never look at my account again.

On the other side we have Bioware which has been really pushing DLC with their latest release. They added Shale, a companion which you can only get with hard cash (he is free the first time you play). Shale is a companion which is interweaved through the entire game. This seems to be a case where they programmed it and later decided to pull it out of the game and ask money for it. Asking money for something that should be in the original game is unethical. They do this again by adding a chest for your items in the second DLC package. A chest for your stuff is a must have in an RPG with a limited inventory, I would have cursed if I didn't have one. It was already hell to play with just my inventory plus the chest they added later on.

Then they added an NPC in your camp (see screenshot) which would link you to their site! One minute you're talking to him and expecting to get a quest. The next minute your suspense of disbelief is completely shattered as you get the option to visit the Bioware site and spend some of your money! If you really must promote your items then show me a banner in a game launcher but please don't ever promote your DLC in game again.

And finally they also added the Dragon Armor. Sure it's fun to get a powerful item but this item was so powerful that I didn't replace it during the entire game. RPGs are about pimping your characters, finding a sword with one more +awesomeness! If you're just throwing us an ├╝ber item at the start of the game you're ruining that part of the game.

Bioware has now announced their next expansion for Dragon Age. It's going to cost $40 and it will be released four months after the original game was released. Four months to finish a full blown expansion? Forgive me for thinking that this expansion might just be a big, overpriced DLC package. Are the borders between DLC and expansions beginning to fade? We'll see in a few months.

Like it or not, DLC is here to stay. As long as they're adding new, exciting content at a reasonable price it can strengthen a game. And if we see a minipet priced for $10 we can just decide to pass it. After all, voting with our wallets is the one right publishers can't take away from us.

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