Why do bad things happen to good fans? Whether it’s atrocious art, ridiculous writing or something else entirely – some crimes against fandom cannot go unanswered. When that happens, it’s time to say “BLAARGH!”
Actually, that statement is misleading. Games have long had expansion packs. The Sims, one of my first PC game obsessions, was notorious for it. This CD has pets! With this one, you can go on vacation! ZOMG a magician!
But now it feels like the gaming industry’s reliance on high-priced extra content is just another way to bleed consumers of their money without providing anything truly substantial, or by making DLC so essential to the game that players have no choice but to buy it.
Watching the online fan reaction during the E3 conference showed that gamers are getting tired of the amount of DLC that is coming from the large companies. GameTrailers.com had a live stream of the EA press conference which featured a live ticker where viewers could rate the conference in real-time. As the Battlefield 3 logo filled the screen, the ratings shot to the top of the charts. But once the words “Battlefield 3 Premium” were uttered, the ratings plummeted, with viewers outraged that EA is pushing a $50 expansion pack. Yes, it does include early access to five upcoming expansion packs and additional content, but the price tag gave everyone watching a bad case of sticker shock.
DLC is now even being talked about before games are even released. At Microsoft’s press conference they announced that the new Tomb Raider game’s first DLC pack will be released through Xbox Live first. The game isn’t even scheduled for release until March 5, 2013, and yet the company is already focusing on, and promoting, extra downloadable content.
Now, expansion packs aren’t inherently evil. Fans love to have extra content to keep their favorite games fresh. But the prices are getting to be ridiculous. One of the criticisms of Harley Quinn’s Revenge is that it’s $10 for around two hours of linear gameplay. It didn’t bother me that much, but I hesitated to buy it at first after seeing the outrage over the short story. The Battlefield 3 expansion costs as much as a new game.
I’m not saying that companies shouldn’t charge for DLC, but some games are doing just fine without charging. Valve has released DLC for Portal 2 free of charge in the past, and speculation is that the new Portal 2 In Motion DLC unveiled at E3 will be free as well.
Part of the blame can (and should) be pointed at Microsoft, who has set a precedent with Xbox Live by limiting the amount of free content that developers can release. Valve has been pointing this out for years, which is one reason why the Portal 2 In Motion DLC is only coming out on PS3, where it can be released freely without any penalty to the developer. By forcing game developers to charge for extra content, Microsoft has set a precedent. Free upgrades, maps, skins, and additional storylines don’t make money for Microsoft, and money is the bottom line. I don’t know if this way of thinking has influenced the thinking of developers, but it has to be frustrating for developers who believe that paying for the game once is enough. (I’m assuming that there are still game developers out there that think this way, even though I’m sure they are rare.)
And none of this really takes into account on-disc DLC, that stuff that is one-time-use in order to make your game harder to resell. Think Catwoman in Arkham City. More than post-release expansions, this kind of content is just a general “screw you” to the gaming public. If it comes on the game disc, it shouldn’t have to be activated with a one-time-use code. Ever.
One company that seems to be doing things right is Bethesda. Also at E3, Skyrim announced an expansion pack that allows players to become vampires and werewolves, but it’s rumored to be 1600 Microsoft Points, a.k.a. $20. But, it looks as though this DLC will add a lot of extra storyline and whole new character types. While the price seems a bit high for a game add-on, they’ve waited six months since releasing the game to introduce it to the public, and it looks as though the developers have taken their time to not only add some new gadgets, but to also flesh out whole new character classes. Unfortunately, they’re locked into an exclusive timed-release agreement with Xbox Live, meaning that PC and PS3 gamers will be left without the new expansion for about a month.
In conclusion, DLC is getting to the point where developers are pushing it to fans too hard and too often, instead of treating it as an extra bonus to fans of a game. In some cases, it’s required to play the game at a competitive level, such as DLC that contains weapons that are far superior to in-game weapons. Making DLC that is overpriced, adds little value to the game beyond making it “prettier”, or is essential to competition, makes gamers feel that the industry is more concerned with slowly siphoning money from its core customers instead of creating more unique, smaller games to satisfy a range of consumers, or creating rich additional story content that enhances the game. We’re definitely seeing some smaller games that are creating an impact at this year’s E3, but with some of the biggest announcements being DLC, it makes you wonder where the priorities really lie.