Tuesday, November 17, 2009

EXP Podcast #52: The Difficulty with DLC

"Thank you Mario. But our princess is in another castle! I'll show you the way...for only $5!" This scenario might be an exaggerated nightmare, but the world of DLC is becoming an increasingly complicated one. The recently released Dragon Age: Origins launched with day-one premium content, some of which is actually offered by in-game NPCs. Unsurprisingly, many gamers vehemently disapproved of this and set out to form angry Internet mobs. This week, we discuss Sean "Elysium" Sands' plea for gamers to re-evaluate the merits of premium downloadable content. He makes a thought-provoking argument, suggesting that DLC may be the price we pay in order to perpetuate the existence of gaming as we know it. Do his ominous predictions have you reaching for your wallet? We invite you to jump in with your thoughts, free of charge.

Some discussion starters:

- What kind of DLC have you purchased? Do you have specific personal rules about what you buy?

- Do you believe that one game's DLC can subsidize other games, or will it just yield more DLC for that game?

- Is there an ethical component to DLC from an artistic or democratic standpoint?

To listen to the podcast:

- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes here. Additionally, here is the stand-alone feed.
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking the title. Or, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format.
- Subscribe to this podcast and EXP's written content with the RSS link on the right.

Show notes:

- Run time: 30 min 52 sec
- "A Dirge for the Sinking Ship," by Sean "Elysium" Sands
- Music provided by Brad Sucks


  1. One thing about the parenthetical on the dialogue option for the Dragon Age DLC: they also use the same parentheticals to denote specific uses of your character's skills. There is a precedent for jolting you into the awareness that you're playing a game within the same framework of the dialogue system. I agree that giving you a quest indicator before you purchase the game is rude, and I'd prefer keeping the purchasing of the game and the playing of the game separate, but when I first saw the prompt I wondered what the big deal was. It's not like there's voiced dialogue hitting you up for money.

  2. Hey Julian,

    Thanks for making that distinction. The way you describe it makes it seem less irritating than the isolated screenshot I saw.

    It would be nice if they separated it from the game world, but at least this way they've avoided having an equivalent to the "Whaddaya Buuuyin?'" guy from RE4 pop up to hock add-ons.

  3. @ Julian

    Now that you mention it, I think the real potential horror is that voiced dialogue. A Billy Mays like character trying to hock DLC is terrifying.

  4. I think there are two mayor reasons for DLC theses days(from the publishers point of view).

    1) Easy money:

    The engine is there, so just get some extra content out there, without all the trouble and expenses a physical distribution would include. There are good and bad examples of that, the GTA4 content seems to bea good example, especially since they were kind enough to get that on disc as well after some time.

    2) Giving used games buyers a hard time:

    The Special EditionDragon Age include day one DLC for free(of course the RRP for the SE is higher...)
    I can totally see every game coming with a bonus code for DLC(you otherwise would have to pay for) just to encourage people to buy their games new instead of used. After a certain amount of time used copies with unused DLC codes would be pretty hard to find.

    I my opinion publishers would be pretty stupid thinking that DLC is some kind of magical cure for all of their problems.

    Since there often seem to be GOTY editions of games after all the DLC has been released, there are certainly a lot of people, including me, that now seriously consider waiting for that final editions of games to be released before buying them.
    For example, after Fallout 3, I heard a lot of people saying that they wouldn't buy the next Bethesda game before the final includes-all-the-DLC version.

    Personally I haven't bought any DLC yet. I'll get those GTA4 campaigns on disc, however I'm still interested in that Mirror's Edge DLC(extra time trial tracks). They seem to be pretty good, so maybe thats gonna be my first DLC, especially since I probably won't feel too bad about investing money in something like Mirror's Edge ;)

  5. DLC is basically a trick to make a game more expensive without making it cost more. The problem in the industry right now is that while the market is growing, the cost of producing games is growing even faster. So publishers are hard pressed to get more revenue from their titles. Nobody really wants games to be more expensive than they already are so DLC is a patchwork solution. DLC is also excellent revenue for publishers since it's direct money almost without any middlemen in-between. In case of Rockstar, they even got paid for it by Microsoft big time.

    GOTY editions appear very late where most of the revenue was already made. You think you save money but all you do is to play the full price at a time when the game is worth a lot less. It's a way of getting a "second wind" for a title. And as the name implies, it only works with popular titles. I don't see a GOTY Edition of Mirror's Edge.

    I mostly get all the DLC for a game if I'm into it because I'm a completionist whore. So far, my only disappointment was Mass Effect. That was trowing money out of the window. Also, the Red Faction one wasn't so hot either. But the Fallout 3 DLCs are all quite excellent and Burnout Paradise is awesome as well!

  6. @Christian

    The Mirror's Edge DLC is interesting: most people disliked the combat in the game, so creating DLC that plays to the game's strength might be a way to salvage a game. Of course, if you bought the game new, it would be like paying an extra tax to make the game good, which would be quite annoying.


    Great point about the GOTY editions. I had never thought of them in that way before, but you're completely right.

    The world is definitely getting harder, or at least more expensive, for completionists!

  7. I can't agree with that GotY argument.

    Even if you pay full Price for the Fallout 3 GotY edition(which you probalbly won't), you basically get the main game for free, since DLC alone costs 60 bucks.

    That's one of the main reasons for me hating digital distribution: Shit just doesn't get cheaper. For how long have I waited for Braid to drop to 800 pts now?

  8. @Christian

    I've been thinking about your point over the past week, and it's a pretty compelling one.

    The counter example would go like this: a cheapskate might rather have them drop Fallout 3 to $40 and not include the DLC, as they wouldn't have bought it anyway. If the actual dollar amount is the driving factor behind a purchase rather than the $/content ratio, thrifty folks are out of luck. However, your point about value per dollar is a good one.

    The thing about digital content is that it usually doesn't get cheaper...except for when it does.

    For example, Valve regularly offers ridiculous deals from Steam, dropping full rental games like Prince of Persia to the sub-$20 level. Similarly, the PlayStation store will or the Rock Band store will occasionally discount certain content to give it a push.

    For the publishers, this is a great way of generating free money: with digital distribution, they can cut out the retail and physical costs of putting game on a real-world shelf. At the same time, they can lure someone in to buying a game at a discounted price rather than not buying the game at all. For example, I heard plenty of people talking about buying Peggle for $1 a while back. They would have never bought it at full price, but since it was only $1, interest was manufactured where before there was none.

    However, as you show with Braid, digital distribution does give the providers more control of the market, as it cuts out secondary sales. We are largely at the whims of corporate goodwill/greed, which is a precarious position to say the least!

    Thanks for giving me something to ponder as I sit around waiting for a Braid price drop :-(