In the weeks leading up to the release of Dead Space 2, add-on fiend that I am, I purchased and set aside Microsoft Points for the paid DLC that would inevitably follow. As the day neared, my friends and I began cautiously speculating what Visceral’s DLC would add to the game, and whether or not it would be worth the fleecing we’d likely have to endure to own it. As evidenced by the post-launch add-on content released for the first Dead Space, Visceral (known as EA Redwood Shores back then) knew, or at least had a good idea, what sort of content for which gamers would be willing to shell out cash: guns (natch), clothes, and guns wearing clothes. Such was the market then, apparently, as everyone that I knew who had the game had also purchased at least one piece of the DLC, and showed little or no interest in content of a meatier sort, such as new story missions.
Visceral wasted no time, announcing Dead Space 2 DLC rightalongside the game’s release, a move which tends to leave a sour taste in the mouths of would-be purchasers, and with good reasons. Announce DLC too soon, and gamers find it hard to believe, if not outright unbelievable, that the content in question had not already been finished alongside the game, and they are therefore being charged for something that should have shipped on-disc. Viewed thus, one does not have to strain to understand why such practice makes gamers uneasy. There are arguments refuting this idea, citing that games do not simply appear on shelves as soon as they’ve gone gold, and it is likely that it is during this window that developers are hard at work producing additional content. It is commonly understood that modern game developers suffer a hastening by their parent companies and publishers in regards to a release window, and as such there is often content that they would like to have included in the final build that they simply did not have the time to complete before shipping the game. This is evidenced by the increasing frequency of day-one patches, and possibly by the day-one DLC in question.
Another common concern is the size of content packages. If the DLC is too small (byte-wise), there are those who are quick to point out that it is unlikely that the content in question could fit within a so-and-so kilobyte download, and as such, must have shipped on the retail disc. This reasons out to mean that the content has technically already been purchased and those who pay to download it are merely paying for keys to a car they already own. Shouts echo off bedroom walls and down into the forums where debates regarding the morality of such nefarious business practices rage, regardless of the absence of evidence supporting the claims.
The revenue generated by paid DLC is such that we will likely never see a slow to the release of such content, in spite of the legions of gamers who claim to have completely sworn it off following Bethesda’s nefarious release of the now infamous Horse Armor add-on for Oblivion. Since then, it appears that gamers have become more frugal than they once were, and expect a great deal more content than they had previously. Though pricing for content has yet to hit an across-the-board sweet spot for gamers, it’s getting better. As for the timing for DLC release, it is just that it seems more profitable in the long-term to have a cash-waving market clamoring for additional content a month or two following a game’s release than a merely expectant one on release day, cautious hands hovering near wallets like greenhorned gunslingers.
I like DLC and what it does for the lifespan of a game. I’m ecstatic when I am nearing the point at which I would normally be setting a game aside, having experienced all that it has to offer, only to be given pause as my finger nears the eject button by the announcement of forthcoming add-on content. It makes me giddy. I see it as more than an attempted cash-grab by money-hungry corporations who seek only to pilfer every cent in sight from gamers en masse, which seems to be the near-prevailing light in which it has been cast. I see most DLC as digital shock-paddles, zapping life back into what would otherwise have been a dead game, flat-lined and shelved among the other old favorites whose developers likely did not offer any kind of post-launch support, paid or otherwise. When I can pay between five and ten dollars to revive an otherwise dead sixty-dollar game, I pay it.
If paid DLC is such a fiendish thing, why does it sell so well? Though certain practices regarding its release and sale (see above) are questionable, the sheer revenue it produces speaks volumes to its appeal. Have I been convinced of the value of paid DLC, even if the timeliness of its genesis and subsequent release is called into question? It certainly appears so, especially given the quality and depth of some of the more-recently released content, those damnable $15 map packs aside.
The question is, have you?
Game Industry Allegiance: In question.