First off, let me say this: you can't nail down one particular cause for replay value in a game.
I remember playing games again for cutscenes back before YouTube allowed me to skip to what I wanted, so it's not just gameplay. Hell, I've replayed the Phoenix Wright games enough times, and there's not really too much in terms of "gameplay" there.
In fact, if I'm allowed to be vague, the only requirement a game needs for me to replay it is for it to be good. Something about it has to be worth investing time into it again.
However, I definitely think that DLC has eaten away at a portion of replay value in general.
"Depth" in games is one of those strange concepts that's easy to point out, but hard to define. It's also a bit confusing since it can mean multiple things for games, from how polished the content is to how much of it you have (though said content to have depth must meet a certain standard to put it above "gimmick" or "filler" levels).
It's this vague area that DLC more often than not eats into.
To take a recent example, Capcom recently announced that the costumes for their latest Resident Evil release wouldn't be DLC but rather unlockables. Now, besides for the obvious point this presents that unlockables are now considered exceptions to the rules of additional content, and that DLC is considered the norm, I'd like to point out the values of unlockables to depth.
Firstly, unlockables, by their nature, require input to achieve. They serve as a reward for players, often to those that continue to play a game far past what most would consider its ending. In a way, this adds more to a game and the player's experience without really putting in too much more content.
Secondly, unlockables can be used to change the entire game experience with similarly small amounts of actual changes. Game difficulties impose enough new rules that the experience feels different (yes, I'm hinting at the newest Metro game with this one). Stealth games can change to action games when the rules become more lenient. Action games can change to fast paced puzzles when you have to figure out timing. Hell, a shooter can turn into a survival game (though not strictly speaking an unlockable, look at Arma II and DayZ). These are just difficulty changes. I'm certain most people reading are familiar with the term NewGame+, and can attest that those runs are very different from just hitting New Game.
The final topic I want to talk about is something a bit different. Unlockables allow for creativity unconstrained by the normal limits of the game. Balance, aesthetics, and even lore can be tossed out the window here. Unlockables can be ridiculous or cameos from other franchises. They can allow a game to move beyond what it is and tap into whatever it wants to be.
DLC can replace 2 out of 3 of these things for unlockables, but the problem arises that the first value can be so important to a game.
While DLC secures money instantly, unlockables secure commitment, which comes with more memories about a game. I can almost sort games I've replayed or stuck around long with from those I haven't purely by how much I remember them. These are the games that I'm likely to remain a supporter of, as I enjoy them and want more of. DLC serves as a quick fix while I'm still riding a wave of hype for a game, but unlockables pull me into games and get me wrapped up in them.
I know the industry has moved towards trying to launch products as quick as possible and add more later thanks to the magic of the internet, but the push for DLC has forgotten why extra content exists in the first place (It is certainly not for adding an ENDING later on, Asura's Wrath).
Assassin's Creed's DLC didn't convince me to support them for 4 years. The Tales games didn't munch up triple digits of my life because of anything I could buy for them. My roommate and I didn't destroy the time counter in Kingdom Hearts because of paid content (okay, mine hit a couple of days, but he hit solid 9s on his file).
True loyalty isn't bought (or sold in this case), its earned.
I remember the beginning of the series. I remember being absolutely shocked when it turned out all the crusader era stuff I'd been seeing in the previews wasn't the main setting of the game. I remember loving the game far more than any of my friends, simply because I could put up with effort to 100% preparations for assassination targets.
Then implementing those plans based on the information I'd uncovered... and watching things fall apart on my first attempts...
I hadn't gotten the chance to play Hitman, or many other stealth games, so AC was my first introduction to the actual genre of stealth (rather than just the forced stealth sections in other games). I was enraptured by how each assassination unfolded, and overjoyed when I managed to take down a target without being spotted.
I loved hopping back into the penultimate chapter where you have all the upgrades and all the freedom you could ask for, playing around in cities to see what I could get away with.
When the sequel came, I was blown away. It wasn't quite the same experience, but everything still felt so free, and much quicker this time around. I remember this was the game that started destroying my sleep cycle in college, as I'd look up at the clock only to discover that it was 3 in the morning and I had my alarm set for 7.
Assassinations weren't as common, but the game made up for it with its sheer variety. In addition, the protagonist was interesting, the future side of things started to pick up with glimpses of a magnificent payoff to all of this time with Ezio.
The cliffhanger in the first game had been annoying, but this time it was painful, with a gnawing need to know more about what happens to both Ezio and Desmond.
Brotherhood finally scratched that itch, though something felt off. Assassinations felt a little less important, even if so much of the gameplay had begun to pick up. Multiplayer held my attention for a short time, but it wasn't as much a draw as playing around in the Animus had been.
Revelations wasn't bad, but I wouldn't pay $60 for it again. The game opened up after a long first chapter (with a tutorial that felt much more constricting than Ezio's civilian life had been) telling me to do whatever I wanted, only to remind me that it wouldn't give me anything more unless I went back to the dock and started the mission. These missions became less and less free, and it was only on my second time through that I realized how much they wanted me to use bombs rather than my various other gadgets.
There was a push for style over freedom, where large set pieces would unfold in ways that created linear paths, especially on the "bonus levels." The ones starring Altair, whom I was expecting to see more of, were especially jarring, telling a half finished story and demanding me to go where it wanted every step of the way.
And the Desmond stages, while not really bad, felt out of place and didn't really add anything to the character.
However, 3 was perhaps the first time I could really say "disappointed" and mean it. Missions failed for detection. Half the game with a protagonist I raced through for the promise of the one advertised to me. The setting I'd been looking forward to was treated as the background rather than the main attraction. Despite the massive amounts of items and new climbable locations, things were even more linear (item selection was a pain and missions created borders to fence you in). Trading sidequests were intrusive to the action, and the main reward was money to upgrade the ship that you'd already expended the use for by opening up those trade routes in the first place. Exploring seems like fun until an army of wolves that takes 5 whole minutes of countering to defeat jumps you (at least with Red Dead Redemption, hunting ended with you tracking down mythical creatures).
Then, to meet a deadline, Desmond gets forced into a quick ending and his ancestor gets told by the gods of plot that they don't care that the adventure they forced him on screwed up his life and that they don't care about him anymore (given that we're moving onto pirates, our favorite Native is probably getting the same treatment by Ubisoft as well).
This isn't even mentioning the fact that I was treated as QA for paying for the game at launch. Considering the fact that one glitch decided to treat me picking up a barrel as a nuke going off (if I had been wearing headphones...), I should be the one getting paid. I remember being excited when I heard AC2 used user feedback from the original to improve things. Now I feel like this approach is being used at my expense.
This was a game series about freedom to choose your own path that fell into a rut.
I was happy to support the game series back when it understood this, but Ubisoft, I've had enough. I have Hitman, Dishonored, and Mark of the Ninja which all let me sneak and take my own approach to things, all while keeping their narratives held together.
I'm tired of your yearly approach that adds so much and yet somehow feels lesser than those that came before it.
I've spent countless hours in the Animus, and enjoyed these strange, hooded, stab-happy fellows with a penchant for hiding blades up their sleeves, but I'm tired, and the series isn't what I remember.
I'm no longer an Assassin, no longer free, no longer satisfied when it's all said and done, and so I must say I'm no longer going to pay.
Don't worry, I won't become one of those pirates you hate by not paying for your pirate's adventures, but in your hope to keep me subscribed you've lost me.
Thanks for all that time I wasted with the hidden blade, and I sincerely hope you find your way back on track with the series.
Originally I meant to have a simple response/reaction to Jim's latest Jimquisition about preorders, but the post spiraled out of hand.
Anyways, as I wanted to mention, the latest Aliens game was the last straw for me and preorders. I'd realized a couple weeks back just how disillusioned I was becoming with the concept when I found myself unable to preorder the latest Sly game, despite having fallen in love with the franchise with its HD collection and subsequently finding myself ecstatic when I heard news of Thieves in Time.
Despite everything, including a price drop and a cross-buy offer for my lonely PSVita, I simply could not put down a simple five dollars towards it.
I tried to justify to myself that I was simply trying to cut back on my spending, and with Metal Gear Rising coming out in the same month, I probably shouldn't force another game in my budget. However, I did the math and I could still eat, pay rent, and even have plenty left over after picking up the both of them, so clearly it wasn't that.
I then pretending that I simply didn't know enough about it. That was the case with Crysis 3 after all, where I found a game I should have heard a lot more about suddenly appear on signs and such all over the place. I even found some evidence for this theory that I could use, with the lack of a demo or screenshots for a long while. However, I've bought games from developers I trusted or based on reviews and recommendations from people I respect with far less about the game to go on than what I knew about Sly 4. Hell, I often avoid news about games that I preorder anyways, so this couldn't be the explanation.
My true feelings were revealed in a conversation with a Gamestop worker when the reviews came in afterwards. The person working there knew I preordered games and knew I had the money, and due to how little copies had come in, they were confused as to why I risked missing out on the game.
I replied that the other two mascots of the PS2, Jak and Ratchet, had failed to live up to expectations lately (which was particularly disappointing to another worker I knew there).
When Colonial Marines dropped, I knew how disappointed a couple of people I knew were going to be, but beyond empathy I also began to feel paranoid. The Metal Gear game I was waiting for was right around the corner, and even though I'd tried the demo (though the first time I got it from the ZoE collection, it had given me proper cause for concern with the state it was in, though the second time around dispelled that problem), trusted both key parties (Platinum and Kojima), and had faith in it for years, I became filled with doubt about the final product.
The only thing that kept me from going out and cancelling my preorder to wait for a proper review is something so simple I'm surprise I haven't just shrugged and gone ahead with the canceling - a skin for the main character.
The practice of preorder bonuses has always been amazingly bad, but for the first time I actually feel like they're a sort of binding clause or, probably more aptly put, a miniature hostage scenario, where refusing to give into demands results in you potentially losing something forever (I still haven't seen Bayonetta appear for everyone on Anarchy Reigns).
The worst part about it is that these items, as many before me have mentioned, are items that the previous generation of gaming would have been unlockables, given to those that invested heavily into the game. These people would be your long term fans, ones who would preorder without incentives so long as you kept the trip to those unlockables worth it.
The gaming community used to be an amazing web of people who slowly learned from on another, even with sites like GameFAQs around, as the secrets in games were passed along from group to group, where circles of friends would get together and share what they had learned with one another.
Rumors spread throughout boards and forums that were akin sometimes to challenges as they often involved complicated series of actions that needed to be tested to see if they were actually true. Thus, the lifespan of any particular game and how long it sold for depended on how long it took a majority of gamers to explore most of its secrets.
The fact that these unlockables are now used to simply ensure that early sales are good rather than adding depth to the game is already hard to bear, but the truth is that they are also constraining, forcing fans who might still pick up the game early on to obey the timetable set by the publishers or else risking losing part of the game while its still free. Being a fan of a game still involves having all of the game's various parts unlocked, but the investment to get them has shifted from time, skill, or simple curiosity to cash.
But the other risk is just as great. Assuming you decide to stick with the preorder till launch, you risk losing cash due to a bad game. You can still choose not to buy the game, but your deposit is lost unless those in charge of your preorder are particularly benevolent.
Actually things get a bit more complicated than that. It's easier to explain through example though, so let's look at a couple of games that I got burned on preorder with.
Asura's Wrath - This game was amazing, but overpriced. The game turned out to be much to shorter than it should have been, way too easy (I'm someone who plays Normal or even Easy for my first time through most games. I was able to ace just about every level the game threw at me), and had a rather particular problem that I wish I'd learned about before picking it up. Without spoiling anything, the game happens to have good resolution that its "True Ending" immediately destroyed by creating a cliffhanger that was resolved in DLC. This game quickly fell off the radar as larger releases with better known issues about endings overshadowed it.
I ended up sticking with it for the same reasons as Rising, the preorder bonuses that came with it. Meanwhile, a game I was insanely excited over, The Darkness II, taunted me the entire month. While it ended up being just a little longer than this one, I knew what I was getting into when I eventually picked it up and enjoyed it all the same.
Brutal Legend - While I'm not upset that I got this game, I still feel like it burned me all because of the preorder. What I laid down money for based on the demo and the previews was a hack and slash game by Double Fine. Certainly, that was a part of the game, but the RTS gameplay was the center part of the game. While I might have not picked up this right away, I guarantee I would have picked it up, and probably enjoyed it more knowing what I was getting into.
Duke Nukem - Yeah...
Assassin's Creed 3 - This pretty much applies to the entire series after 2, but this was especially bad for 3. Why? The launch version of this game is effectively a beta, and a barrel in the sewers (the most quiet area in the game) decided to become a nuke at 2am (white screen and the loudest sound you've ever heard), and I only had my headphones out because I was using them with my MP3 player earlier. I still walked away with the worst ear ache I've had in awhile. I hope this has been patched by now, though I'd be more surprised if it hadn't and I've heard nothing of a lawsuit from massive amounts of ear damage.
Dragon Age II - Even if the signature edition hadn't been something being held for ransom, I probably would have been planing to pick this up first day, but without the need for a preorder, I might have waited for reviews. That first day purchase might have been scheduled after I read those reviews and I might have been able to wait for it to drop to a proper price. As it turned out, I ended up buying a $30 (max) game for $60.
This list doesn't even cover the games I missed but trusted until they released (Lost Planet 2, Silent Hill HD, RE6, R&C:A4O, Jak:TLF, etc.) or even all the games that failed to meet my expectations, but even without them it's easy to see how my faith in preordering has been shaken more than enough times.
Currently, I have two remaining preorders: one staring a game with a cyborg ninja and another a shooter up in the sky. The former is at the point where I'll find out whether or not it was worth it in a couple of hours. Depending on its outcome, it will either be my last or my second to last preorder until someone changes my mind on this system.
I'm simply tired of getting burned for trusting. If anyone wants me to preorder again, they'll need to earn my trust, which first requires them to stop making me feel like giving money traps me somehow.