Friday, February 24, 2012

Downloadable Content

I think just about everyone whose opinion I care about in the gaming scene has a vocalized opinion on DLC. It's a matter I keep close to heart, because DLC is a slightly obscured term for "paid game content" which has acquired a relatively unbecoming context as of late.

And I understand why, and I see it as two main reasons.
The first one is that publishers are doing these things to extrapolate more money from their fan base. I see this as unethical and greedy. It's a betrayal of the trust and financial investment fans are willing to put into franchises they love.
Second, because it rarely adds value to a game. This is a tricky subject, but I see the root of the problem as the fact that the games are so damn expensive in the first place. Let's be honest--If the game in question was $20 a lot of us would probably feel much better about DLC.
But then there's also the lack of added value. Usually DLC is gimmicky, rushed, badly thought out, and generally clashes with the theme, plotline, or mood of the game.

Here's an instance of what I would consider "good" DLC, and how I see it being both sensible and economically profitable:

A large, episodic game. Perhaps it's an RPG or a shooter--I don't know. But the point is that it's heavily plot based and the story is long. If a developer wants to make this game in the conventional market, there are few desirable options: they could try to cram it all in to one game, which would likely come with compromises. They could release the game in multiple entries with sequels, except there are publisher expectations and player expectations which come with sequels as well, not to mention the older games eventually feeling dated, leading to no one wanting to play the earlier ones and by effect not playing the later ones--it becomes a highly niche title/franchise which makes it even less viable. It would be difficult in either case for the developers to make a good profit and to by extension continue their series.(and, you know, get paid in general)

Neither of those options, in the standard etiquette, are desirable. But here's one that is:

The game is released entirely digitally. Why?
1) the "base game" can be free and can act as the demo--The first chapter or two, for example.
2) episodes of the game could be sold as paid content. This makes the game very approachable for newcomers and devoted fans alike. It helps maintain a revenue stream so long as the developers keep making their episodes. But here's the main point: this is genuine, quality, polished content that's part of what the game is really about. It's not a tacked on extra, it's the core game.
3) the base game(engine, art assets, etc.) stays in the same base so it can be updated uniformly as time goes on.

This sounds good on all accounts, right? The player wins, the developer wins, the publisher wins.(if there is one) I see these sort of systems as the future market for gaming, and it goes right in-hand with digital distribution. The fact is, DLC is the natural child of digital distribution, he's just waiting on daddy to let him grow up and walk on his own.

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