Sunday, 22 January 2012

Downloadable Content (DLC)

I wrote this article in either late December 2010, or sometime early 2011. I originally intended to use it in issue 1 of Pixellation, but as i already had other articles in there, this one just got side-lined. I also felt it didn't fit right in the mag, so decided to leave it out of the final draft. I have revisited this article with the intention to post it here, however the article needed a fair bit more work before posting it. So after some more work, here it is.

   DLC (Downloadable Content) has really taken off over the last couple of years, more so as online gaming has grown bigger and bigger with every passing year, and it is now big business whether you like it or not. It’s not necessarily a new part of gaming, and its form and range can, and has varied, and is constantly changing to the tune of either what the publishers/developers want and are willing to offer, as well as what gamers are demanding. Looking back many years ago now, as DLC began to really blossom, and publishers, developers, console manufacturers began to take notice and realise its so called ‘true potential,’ we should all be asking some very searching questions about this form of content. What should constitute as reasonable priced DLC? Is the consumer getting short-changed? Should we accept small piecemeal offerings over larger more substantial ones? Lastly, how should DLC be properly delivered?

   The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is a perfect example of a game with DLC, and it certainly proves both sides of the argument, for and maybe against it, it also served as testing ground in a way, one that other developers and publishers were keen to keep an eye on.

   First off then, with the likes of the Horse Armour Pack, this now infamous bit of content caused a bit of a storm when it was released for Oblivion, it seems like nothing now, but at the time, (and this wasn’t that many years ago now,) a great many people argued back and forth over its value. Some offered that it’s just an accessory if anyone wants it, an item some might want to add to their game to personalise it more, further more nobody had to purchase it, the DLC wasn’t essential to the game. Others would argued what its point for existing in the marketplace was, because nobody would surly spend their hard earned cash on such minute content that didn‘t contribute to the game in any meaningful way. But also, for how much it cost, surly it couldn’t be justified to gamers, could it? But you know, it did sell, not spectacularly, but it sold enough to make on-lookers in the industry realise that such whimsical, nonsensical content, that took such little time and minimal effort to produce would sell. It turned out to be a no-brainer for some, as the cost of such small man hours to slap this stuff together, against the exuberant cost charged to the consumer, that even with such low sales figures, they would still make a profit over an extended length of time. If by any chance such DLC did sell by the bucket load, then hay, drinks on the house!

   Just look at the marketplace for this kind of DLC today, its stuffed to the brim with pointless content, every day there seems to be more outfits, uniforms, weapons, trinkets and every other little nick-knack forced onto the marketplace for ninety per cent of all games released. Even now more pointless stuff is been conjured and released, extra ability’s, different classes, better models, shouldn’t these have been in the game from the start? The worrying thing is this trend is set to get worse, not better, and even more worrying is that at the outlandish price charged; a lot of gamers are actually buying this stuff.

   As gamers, shouldn’t we be asking for, and buying more meaningful content that enriches and expands our games? Wouldn’t we rather spend a reasonable amount of money on decently priced content packed to the brim with hours of fun? Once again this is where the brilliant Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion showed the way: the two expansion packs, Nights Of The Nine and The Shivering Isles, were massive pieces of expanded content that have been hugely successful and highly praised. The Shivering Isles alone was forty hours or more of extra play time that was set in a new luscious part of the Elder Scrolls universe. Both were produced after the game was released and both have been championed and critically acclaimed by gamers and those within the industry, so surly everyone would agree this is what content should be, huge, overflowing with substance, and of course, reasonably priced for what the content offers.

   This kind of content has continued, sort of, but not always in a good way. With good content following the same kind of huge expansive DLC for the same kind of games, if you look at what’s been released for GTA4, and more recently Red Dead Redemption with the Undead Nightmare. But other games have seen reasonable priced content around the lower £6.50/$10.50 (800 points) price range, and this shows good value for money to. However, there are some bad trends that have emerged, and unfortunately seem set to continue, and while some see certain DLC for the shallow gold farming it really is, others can’t see the wood for the trees and lap it up in droves.

   It’s quite unfortunate that there are many other such bad points about DLC: how and when it’s created can walk a very tactless line, with the way in which it can be delivered being rather dubious, and at best unjust. In some cases content is being created alongside the development of a game it is intended for, it all might seem innocent enough, but to most it doesn’t seem fair and smells of publishers and developers cashing in and taking advantage of the consumer. Gamers rightly argue that developers should be focusing all their concentration on the main game at hand, especially when games ship with a lot of glitches and bugs these days, or when a particular title turns out to be lacking in certain areas, or sometimes as a whole. The other argument is that, if this content is being made alongside the game then shouldn’t it then be in the game and on the disk! It seems like a slap in the face when you spend £40/$60 on a game only to find a certain amount of content then being released as DLC the same day as the games release. Briefly, (and some time ago now,) there was the argument floating about that, on the Xbox 360 at least, this content couldn’t fit onto the disk. But this was quickly beat down as a poor excuse by angry gamers who called BS on such claims, and as it turn out were subsequently proven right when the feature was added to the 360 to allow for games to be installed onto the hdd. As such, it turned out that very few, if any, used up the full capacity available on a disk, and especially by those games which had its DLC released in this manner.

   Some publishers and developers must have taken notice that gamers were complaining about this, that’s not to say they stamped this practice out, far from it, its still the norm in the marketplace, no, instead they have come up with a new method to their madness. Now it seems companies are hiding the content on the disks, locking it away so you can’t use or get to it, so all are oblivious to its existence, then, some time later after release, announcing that very same content for the game in question. You then buy the DLC, only to find that the download is only a few kilobytes in size, why? Because the DLC is just a code to unlock the content already stored on the disk. But is this practise right? Is it fair? If we have paid for the game, and thus the content on the disk, are we then not entitled to play and experience everything on that disk? Do we, as the purchaser, not own the disk and there for entitled to use what’s on it? Or maybe this is just more crazy thinking to? If content is to be withheld from gamers when they buy games using these kinds of unscrupulous tactics, shouldn’t they then be made aware of this fact at the point of purchase? Then sign a legal document of agreement, stating they acknowledge this fact, and hence wave any issues or complaints with such a practise with said game? Surly it breaks some kind of laws to advertise and then sell a product to a customer as being the whole complete package that they will have complete access to, but then secretly restricts parts of that product without them knowing or being made aware of it.

   It could be said that in terms of DLC its still early days yet, but no gamer should be short changed along the way to wherever it is this form of content is moving towards. It should also be said that gamers should not be taken advantage of, or used as an easy source renewable cash cow by games companies. No excuse should be championed either, by any company, in their tactless and abhorrent approach towards DLC, and such exhausted complaints about the used games market and diminishing returns have proved baseless. Gamers can be a loyal bunch, supporting certain companies who’s wears take their fancy, who also support the industry by buying a good many titles through any given year. Respect goes both ways, nobody likes to feel short changed, especially in these hard times, so a tightening of quality control, an increase in length and a substantial widening of meaningful depth would go a long way. Also a drastic rethink on how and when DLC should be made for any given game is in order, as well as stopping altogether the rather shady practise of withholding content on a disk from the consumer (which they are rightly entitled to,) then later allowing them the chance of unlocking it as paid for extra content.

   Gamers can always vent their anger on forums or to the companies directly, but the best way to protest when you see something you don’t like is to vote with your wallet, if you don’t like it, don’t buy it, this will be the only way to force the type of DLC we want in the right direction. It would be in everyones best interest if these issues were ironed out, as gamers, developers and publishers would all benefit in the long run.

By Casey Suou Layne


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