With more and more publishers locking content on the game disk before it even ships, Sean Knight wonders whether it is a justifiable business decision
Downloadable content has steadily become a hot-button issue as developers and publishers continue to search for new ways to increase revenue. Many gamers, already frustrated by the endless creep of chargeable content, get especially incensed when they discover some of the supposed DLC actually ships on-disk. While no one would argue a company’s right to try to increase its profits, the question arises as to whether or not it is acceptable to charge customers for a digital key to unlock content that exists on the physical copy of their game.
While the issue is not new, two recent news stories have stirred things up once more - BioWare‘s recent day-one DLC From Ashes and Capcom‘s locked content for Street Fighter x Tekken.
BioWare has courted a lot of controversy over fan reaction to the ending of its epic RPG Mass Effect 3 but the trouble began before the game even released.
Initially, information was leaked on XBL about planned day-one DLC. Shortly after the leak, BioWare confirmed From Ashes and consumers were quick to demand that the DLC should have been included with the game rather than costing an additional fee.
Mass Effect executive producer Casey Hudson responded via Twitter, “It takes about three months from ‘content complete’ to bug-fix, certify, manufacture, and ship game discs. In that time we work on DLC. DLC has fast cert and no mfg., so if a team works very hard, they can get a DLC done in time to enjoy it with your 1st playthrough on day 1.”
Adding to what Hudson said, BioWare associate producer Michael Gamble claimed that, “The content in From Ashes was developed by a separate team (after the core game was finished) and not completed until well after the main game went into certification.”
However, this was not strictly true. Aspects of the From Ashes DLC were discovered on the Mass Effect 3 game disk. After the revelation, Gamble went on to defend BioWare saying, “Because the plot of ME3 is so richly interwoven with the character interactions and moments, you simply cannot use a DLC module to insert a new character. That character has to be planned and the framework has to be established ahead of time for us to build off of the DLC module.”
However, BioWare’s problems with the fans were only just begininning but that’s a different story.
Meanwhile, Capcom has come under fire after hackers discovered that DLC for Street Fighter x Tekken was locked on the disk. But unlike the Mass Effect developer, Capcom made no excuse for its on-disk-DLC, stating, “There is effectively no distinction between the DLC being ‘locked’ behind the disk and available for unlocking at a later date, or being available through a full download at a later date, other than a delivery mechanism.”
While the developer of SFxT may think there is no distinction between DLC that is on a disk or downloadable is that true? I certainly don’t think so. In fact, I don’t agree with the concept of on-disk-DLC whatsoever. No other form of entertainment has done something like this and just because the video game industry can do this doesn’t mean that they should.
However, Epic Games design director Cliff Bleszinski recently spoke to GameSpot concerning on-disk-DLC saying that the practice was unfortunate but necessary. In the interview he explains, “When you’re making a game, and you’re getting into a ship cycle, there’s often three or four months where the game is basically done. And you have an idle team that needs to be working on things.”
Having worked on Gears of War 3, which had its own on-disk DLC, Bleszinksi continued, “And often for compatibility issues, [on] day one, some of that content does need to be on-disk. It’s an ugly truth of the gaming industry. I’m not the biggest fan of having to do it, but it is one of the unfortunate realities.”
The problem I have with what Bleszinksi says is that when DLC first came about it was a way for developers to give fans a little extra something after they had purchased and played the game. It was content that was developed afterwards to expand and add to the experience of a title that fans enjoyed playing. Now all this DLC is being planned and worked on during the development process for the core game itself which, in turn, has led to it being on the disk, on day one of release, rather than being extra downloadable content released well after the game has been out. Just because there are three or four months of being idle doesn’t mean the team should be working on DLC. That time should be focussed on the core game itself and fixing or tweaking any problems (there have been several games released in a buggy state that had day-one DLC or DLC released shortly after). Once the core game is in better shape then it is time to work on the DLC.
Whatever the developer or publisher’s reason are all I know is that, when it comes to paying for a product, I am reminded of the saying, “You get what you pay for.” Every time I go to the movie theater and pay the admission to see the movie I get exactly that: I get to watch the movie. When I buy a dvd I get the movie and whatever features are advertised on there. The same goes for a book or a music cd. All these different entertainment mediums give you exactly what you paid for.
Could you see purchasing a dvd only to discover that the director commentary or gag reel has been locked and you need to pay extra to watch it? How would it make sense to buy a book only to have some extra chapters, the exclusion of which doesn’t detract from the story, sealed up and you have to pay more money in order to access them?
Unlike the rest of the entertainment world, the video game industry is selling consumers a product, sometimes a glitch-ridden one at that, with locked content for which they have to pay extra: which is wrong. Yes, developers and publishers have the right to make money. However, the approach to DLC has come to the point where you aren’t paying for a full, high-quality product anymore.
Those who have paid for a game should have access to everything on that disk. It isn’t right that consumers should have to pay more for content on a disk that they have already purchased. The fact that developers and publishers have to lie about the DLC’s existence, or defend their decision to put it on the disk, should speak volumes as to whether this is right or wrong.
If none of the other entertainment industries are doing this to their customers than the video game industry shouldn’t do it either.
Follow Sean on Twitter: @SeanDKnight