Wednesday, July 27, 2011

How Downloadable Content Can Be Done Properly

The idea of downloadable content (henceforth referred to as DLC) sounds good on paper. It's a way to extend existing games by adding more characters, chapters, modes, etc., providing more entertainment for a small fee or sometimes even for free. What could possibly go wrong?

Like too many things in the gaming industry, publishers overuse the latest fad in an attempt to rake in as much money as possible before consumers become wise to their tactics or sick of the concept. After doing a little research, I've come to discover that DLC is being largely used to nickel and dime the game-buying public through withholding content or releasing incomplete games. I can't say I'm surprised that some publishers would use this dirty trick, but I thought it was being exaggerated how widespread it was, figuring consumers wouldn't put up with such nonsense.

DLC seems most common in shooters and fighting games. In the former case, map packs and weapons are available as DLC, and in the latter, characters and stages. This might sound like a way of expanding such titles, but a majority of this content is available since day one, indicating the content was already completed and was withheld from the final product to be sold as DLC. In a few more extreme cases for fighters, DLC characters and modes are already on the disc, and the paid DLC is nothing but one line of code that unlocks the content.

CapCom is the worst offender of DLC; their content in games like Mega Man and Resident Evil are simple things like a Hard Mode or a character that cost an extra $2-3 each, and in most cases are already stored within the game. Didn't we used to get rewarded with this stuff by simply completing a game? Microsoft isn't much better. As I just discovered today in my research, Microsoft actually requires a specific fee for most types of DLC. Even if the developers wish to offer the content for free, Microsoft will not allow it to be released as such.

These kinds of practices should not be accepted by gamers. It's one thing for publishers to use such dirty tactics, but ultimately it's the consumers who decide which methods of distributions are best. Complaints mean nothing if DLC is purchased anyway, so the only thing companies will listen to is the almighty dollar. Stop buying bogus DLC, and it will no longer exist.

Looking around for legit uses of DLC, I didn't find much, but there are some out there. One such case is Fallout 3, where the main game is complete and packed with content, and the additional DLC is sidestories that are not necessary to enjoy the game but are available for those who want a little more for a modest fee. It isn't the best usage of it, but it's at least content that wasn't withheld. A couple other large, open-world games appear to have followed this as well.

Now, that isn't to say DLC has no place whatsoever, people just need to recognize what is legit DLC. There actually aren't many cases where DLC is necessary, so it isn't something that should be used in a majority of games. Only a specific few where it makes some sense. Here are some of my thoughts on how I believe DLC cold be used to benefit consumers:

1. Fighting games. How many versions of Street Fighter II did we see on the SNES? How many versions of Street Fighter IV are we going to see? How many Marvel vs CapCom's are being made? Since fighting games don't change much from version to version, DLC seems like the perfect way to offer new content for fighters without charging full price for a new game. New characters and stages can be offered for modest prices, and things like balancing fixes should probably be free. This seems a lot better than CapCom promising DLC for Marvel vs CapCom 3, some of which was to be free, then announcing the DLC will not be released but instead put into a new retail versoin, Ultimate MvC 3. Which sounds better?

2. Sports games. There is really no reason to release yearly editions of football, baseball, etc. when more often than not, the most significant change is the updated roster. Instead, roster updates could be offered for a fair price, and a new version could be released every few years or so, when lots of new and updated features are added into the game. Unfortunately, this will never happen as long as millions sports fans are willing to pay $60 each year.

3. Music and dance games. This is perhaps the genre where DLC makes the most sense. Do we really need to see a new Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Just Dance, etc. every nine months? Especially when individuals are likely uninterested in at least half of the ~50 songs included in each version? A better way to distribute these games is with DLC. Instead of coming with pre-loaded songs, a music/dance game disc should be blank, and come with 50 song download tickets. Musical taste is highly subjective, so let the consumers decide which songs come with their game. Then, if anyone wants more than 50 songs, additional song downloads should be $1 each, which I believe is comparible to iTunes pricing. Perhaps if Guitar Hero and Rock Band followed this strategy, the rhythm game genre wouldn't have been a fad that is currently fading into a mere footnote of the “don'ts” section in gaming history.

And there you have it. Three fine examples of how DLC could actually be beneficial to consumers instead of a pathetic cash grab by publishers. There may even be a couple more; if you have any ideas, let me know by commenting. As far as combating bogus DLC, note that it's largely the publishers, not the developers, who implement the DLC. In most cases, developers are not the ones who make distribution decisions, it's the financial backers, the publishers. So if blame is to be placed, make it on the CapComs and EAs of the industry, not the folks who create the games.

1 comment:

NinSage said...



I don't think I need to say anything more.