With Downloadable and Disc-Locked content becoming more and more the norm, Karl Quigley looks at the reception of this in the gaming community and what it could mean for the gaming industry as a whole.
Downloadable content (DLC) appeared first, at least in the form most know it, on the Dreamcast. And while the limitations were tight, it was still considered a massive breakthrough for gaming. The ability to offer new content to players through an online medium was something that would speed up income for companies and allow players to get more of the game they loved. These days, it’s rare for a game to not have some form of DLC.
But in the modern gaming age, it is becoming more and more common for developers and publishers to offer such things as ‘Day-One’ DLC or pre-order bonuses. Day-One is, as it suggests, content which can be purchased on the first day of a game’s release. Many gamers react harshly to this system. If DLC can be offered on the first day of release, surely it could be part of the original content offered on the actual disc or download. This has led to many accusations of content cutting.
Many are not bothered by this Day-One system, as a lot of DLC can be ignored. An exclusive weapon, or some extra supplies at the beginning of a game is an easy thing to look past but some of this purchasable content is not artificial or aesthetic. One such example is that of the ‘From Ashes’ DLC for Bioware’s Mass Effect 3. It involved the addition of a new character, one who is extremely unique and steeped in the history of the trilogy. This character could have a massive impact on the story, with his interaction in the world and through his very presence. But his presence was hidden behind a paywall, this is similar to 2K Games with their recently released game Evolve, announced some time before release of their DLC model. An extra monster was available to play for those who pre-ordered and it’s been stated that more hunters and monsters will be available to buy later on. They have stated however that any new maps and game modes will be free to download. Monsters and hunters, regardless of purchase, would be seen in-game when playing with those who had bought them.
This model was met with extreme criticism. Evolve’s creative director, Phil Robb, when talking with Destructoid magazine said “I don’t like people thinking we’re doing underhanded, dirty shit.” He argued that there was no pay-to-win model, which involves a player being able to give themselves an advantage by making purchases in-game with real money. The main gripe players had was with the statement that Evolve was being built from the ground up for DLC. The sixty euro price tag was only the start; if one was to buy all the currently announced monsters and hunters one would spend around one hundred and twenty euro.
This is the current state wherein a developer is honest, they are attacked. Evolve is an untested project, and many were uncertain of the initial price, never mind the knowledge they would have to pay more in the future. However, many titles and developers do not announce such things. Electronic Art’s (EA) former CEO was a supporter of the ‘Play Now-Pay Later’ model. In this model he states that after a few hours in a game of Battlefield, a player will not be money-conscious. He says that if told they were out of bullets and it would be two euro to reload, they would probably pay it.
But this is not the only type of paywall locked content; there is one which is despised by all players. Disc-Locked Content is, in theory, the exact same as DLC. Disc-Locked Content is instead unlockable content already in the game files. When bought it is not content to be downloaded, but instead a code which unlocks the content from files you already bought for the sixty euro price tag. This has been defended by some developers stating that it allows for smaller downloads, ease of access and the ability for non-DLC owners to view the locked content. Capcom is one heavy offender of disc-locked content. Street Fighter X had up to one hundred and ten dollars’ worth of disc-locked content and after this discovery, they claimed they would curtail their use of disc-locked content. Resident Evil 6 had an extra playable character and difficulty setting hidden on the disc as well. And prior to Street Fighter X, Dragon’s Dogma had several additional quests in disc-locked content.
“If told they were out of bullets and it would be two euro to reload, they would probably pay it”
There is a worrying complacency among developers and publishers for the well-being of the customer. Instead of creating games for the consumer, for the gamer, the games are created solely for profit. DLC just provides an accepted conduit to increase this revenue for companies. Disc-locked content is the best example of this willingness to exploit. The confidence that a customer will buy their game, and any future games, despite any extra purchases, must be made. And there is such assurance in this fact, they provide this content on the disc but simply one code away from the player’s grasp. Many will kick and whine and throw up a fuss, but companies will still release unfinished games for full price. Not games that lacked ambition or an experienced development team but games like Watch Dogs and Assassin’s Creed: Unity and Triple A titles from Ubisoft, a world renowned developer and publisher. Both were plagued with bugs and errors to the point of the game being unplayable for many on launch.
What does this mean for the gaming community? Some say that the controversy over DLC and disc-locked content is just a phase – one where developers and publishers are figuring out the best place to stand with such questionable selling tactics. If these companies don’t figure out where to stand soon, the players may find themselves standing knee-deep in unfinished games offering the remainder for download later.