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The DLC Brouhaha


In a week that saw Electronic Arts notch an award for being the Worst Company in America, no doubt due partly to the mega-publisher's DLC policies, Capcom too weathered flak for its handling of downloadable content. Irked gamers lodged complaints with the Better Business Bureau in a bid to stem the tide of on-disc DLC released at a premium post-launch.

Ever the clowns, Capcom formulated a response (aka, they dusted off their stock response to these matters) and it's indicative of a growing attitude among publishers:

"At Capcom, we value our customers"

Hold on. It's all a bit rich already. This from the company that sells 108kb character costume packs for £10, that farms out its core franchises to developers that go on to create things like Operation Raccoon City, that "HD-remake" such venerable games as Resident Evil 4 and put zero effort into doing so and that attempt to manipulate its fans into ratting out those who deviate around paying for those £10 costume packs.

"and make every effort to resolve customer complaints. We are sorry to hear that [censored] was so disappointed with the Street Fighter x Tekken game (''SFxT''), and would like to respond to his complaints."

"SFxT has an enormous amount of content, fully developed and available for play and enjoyment immediately on-disc. Given the 38 characters available for full play, as well as multiple play modes, SFxT provides great value for all players from day one. While Capcom is sorry that some of its fans are not happy about the chosen method of delivery for the DLC, we believe that this method will provide more flexible and efficient gameplay throughout the game's lifecycle."

This is PR guff and insulting PR guff at that. How locking content on the disc and selling it two months down the line "will provide more flexible and efficient gameplay" is beyond my reckoning. Does having costume packs pre-loaded on the disc decrease online latency? Of course not. That Capcom are willing to tout this drivel is a stinging testament to the respect it has for the people paying for its products.

"There is effectively no distinction between the DLC being ''locked'' behind the disc and available for unlocking at a later date, or being available through a full download at a later date, other than delivery mechanism."

It's sad to see a developer bearing such disrespect for its fans. Not only have Capcom tackled the original point with all the finesse of a vertigo-patient playing pin the tail on the donkey, they've managed to demean anybody who takes genuine umbrage with their DLC practices in the process. Clearly the point is not that the content is on the disc. The point is it's on the disc because it has been deliberately hacked from the main game to sell in the future. It's a fleecing act; one that is gradually becoming more prevalent in the industry and one at which Capcom are arguably the gurus.

It bears repeating. If the additional content is available as a full download at a later date, the implication is that content has been developed after the core game, not removed from it (The Ballad of Gay Tony certainly wasn't gutted from GTAIV). There's no good reason why developers that work on downloadable content post-launch or during the certification process shouldn't be rewarded for their additional work. The argument that all DLC should be free is folly. DLC should not be free the same way dessert should not be free because you bought a main course and a 7-Up. What should be free is costume packs, cheat codes, characters or whatever else that has been created in tandem with the game, that is on-disc and that has been locked as part of a deliberate swindle.

BioWare took this to the next level with its launch-day DLC for Mass Effect 3. Touted as content “completed while the main game was in certification and not available on the disc”, hackers promptly found that to be an outright lie. EA and its church of developers have been particularly offhand with DLC and when the publishing powerhouse responded to news that it had been voted worst company in America, rather than taking the opportunity to reflect on why so many of its customers were willing to vote it a worse company than the Bank of America, it emerged with hauteur:

"We're going to continue making award-winning games and services played by more than 300 million people worldwide."

What's particularly disheartening about EA's response and From Ashes is just how cynical they both are. Players invested in the Mass Effect universe are absolutely going to pay for the Prothean team member Javik included as part of From Ashes. EA and BioWare know this. It's why James Vega isn't the DLC character. It's why From Ashes is launch-day DLC. The Prothean story-branch is too enticing for anyone with a modicum of passion for the Mass Effect yarn to spurn.

Capcom are right in claiming there's no difference between accessing content on-disc through an unlock code or releasing it later as actual downloadable content. It's the notion of content being removed from the core game to be sold at a later date that is the problem, not the delivery mechanism.

Of course, the counter-argument in some respects is nobody is forcing you to buy anything and I wholeheartedly agree with that as long as the content isn't integral to the game. Capcom have every right to sell costume packs for £10 and if people choose to buy those packs, who am I to stop them? But developers shouldn't cower beneath a fortress made of bullshit and bile. If you're going to fleece your customers for every penny, don't insult them by pretending that there's no difference between creating new content after development of the main game has been wrapped up and removing content from the main game to sell at a later date. Don't lie about the practice. Companies exist to make profit and they're responsible to shareholders who give zero fucks about the people that are making them rich. Fine. But have the scrap of respect required to not to treat your paying customers like morons.

The blatant disrespect for the customer and his intelligence is equally as unsettling as Capcom's tacky policy of selling costume packs for £10 or EA's increasingly shoddy and gutted DLC.
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About Mark Seymourone of us since 2:26 PM on 06.04.2011

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