[GAMING] DLC or “Why Are Your Fingers In My Pocket Again?”

Downloadable Content. DLC.

I don’t know where I stand on it. The gamers are weighing in on it. It’s obvious why the industry likes it: More money out of an existing product without extensive redevelopment. But, at the end of the day, is it an industry screwjob, or is it a legitimate and logical extension of the online world that is modern gaming?

I’m not against DLC, I’ll say that first. Some are, and a fair argument has been made for “I paid for the game, don’t sell me seventy percent of it, and they charge me more for the other thirty percent”. I’ve had that thought myself with some DLC, especially early on, while a lot of companies were trying to figure it out.

And I’m a cynic, and occasional misanthrope, too, so, you can imagine where I’m leading with this.

But, you’d be wrong.

I’ll use a couple of examples here.

First, Borderlands 2, which I just wrote about specifically in terms of DLC. The new game followed the old games’ formula: four character classes to choose from, a fully fleshed-out storyline, with, I’d guess (I’ve not finished yet, I’ve started three characters now, and am moving each of them along different paths, where possible) thirty to forty linear hours of gaming without doing the replay thing. I’ve already got forty hours in, with those three characters. I’m also about, I’d guess, about half, maybe two-thirds of the way through the game, as sold to me (if you consider the game completed on one game through, with one character). So, my entertainment-cost-per-hour is about a buck and a quarter (I paid $59.99 for the basic game).

Except it’s not quite. Because, I bought the Mechromancer for 800 xbl points. Now, I could have had that free, if I’d gotten off my ass and pre-ordered. But still, that’s ten bucks. So, make my entertainment-cost-per-hour two bucks, if you include tax on the game too.

But that’s only going to go down, as I play. By the time the first DLC mission/story comes out, I’ll likely have played through the game once with at least three characters, for about 30 hours each play through, and probably be working on a second play through with one of the characters. So, by then, my entertainment-cost-per-hour has dropped to what? Maybe a quarter an hour? Something in that neighbourhood?

SO, that’s a pretty good return on investment, as far as I’m concerned.

But even beyond that, one of the arguments (I linked to it up there, and I subscribe to the site LinkDeadGaming, I like ‘em, I like their opinions: I’m just not sure I agree with this one) is that we’re being trained to pay for 70% of the game, and then buy 30% of it later.

To carry Borderlands 2 a little further, I don’t think I only got 70% of the game. There might be an argument for 95%. But, the original game was four characters, the new one is four characters. You don’t NEED the fifth character to enjoy the game, I know that from experience. But if you want that extra bump, it’s there, and, it is additional development and writing, there’s cost associated with providing it. SO, a fee is probably legitimate.

Same goes with the additional areas/stories/stuff that will come with the Borderlands 2 DLC over the next eight or nine months. They’re just that: additional. If they’re on a par with the first games DLC? They’re going to be worth the money. I had a blast with The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned, The Secret Armoury of General Knoxx, and Claptrap’s New Robot Revolution. And I got HOURS out of each of them. They were exactly, in my mind, what DLC should be: well written, well thought out, planned, extensive, and offer something beyond the original game, while still being true to it.

SO, yes, for Borderlands (the original) I paid sixty bucks for the original game, and ten bucks for each of the three DLC packs (there were four, but I didn’t need the arena stuff in Mad Moxxies). So, ninety bucks for a game with, by the time I was done, probably a hundred hours of direct, linear (with some grinding for achievements, I tell no lies: shootin’ zombie heads off is FUN) game play.

And yes, the “seasons pass” for Borderlands 2, at 2800xbl points ($35 give or take) is not cheap. But that gets you all four of the new stories.

I don’t feel that those should be included as a matter of course. The game you get on the disc is complete. You don’t need the add-ons to enjoy it.

Are you still with me?

So, am I 100% in favor of DLC?

No.

Because it can be done badly, too. And that can go two ways.

I love Turn10’s Forza4. Truly. But there are, every month, one to four community/rivals races I can’t take part in unless I buy the car-pack of the month, for 800xbl points. And THAT I actually do need to buy, to enjoy the game I paid for, to the fullest. There’s an achievement I can never achieve, In a game segment I HAVE ACCESS TO, BUT CAN’T PLAY, unless I spend that extra money. And on top of that, they’ve been doing this every month since the game came out last September. If you bought ‘em all, that $60 original purchase is now up around $200, if you have all the DLC.

And yes, the cars take time to develop. And they cost money in licensing. I get that. But is it necessary to charge for five variants of effectively the same car? The Viper, Corvette, and Mustang are the primary offenders here: there’s all these variants that aren’t a lot more than visual differences, and you get a couple of ‘em in each pack. Well, I’ve driven a ‘vette in the game. I don’t need four more from the same generation of the car. I’d rather see strange and rare cars (preferably not exotics, too!) I think this is an example of what some people complain about: there’s no real value added with these car packs, but they do influence your ability to play the game you bought.

Can Turn10 get me back with DLC? For sure.

How?

MORE TRACKS. I’ll buy track packs. They do a brilliant job on the tracks in the game, real or imaginary, and I would pay 800 xbl points to buy a licensed, real-life track. Definitely. In fact, I’ll tell you where they need to start. Bathurst, Australia.

The other side is even worse: when DLC gets released as a new game, with a full new price.

Left 4 Dead 2, I’m looking at you.

Left 4 Dead, much like Borderlands, wasn’t supposed to be a hit. I mean, I’m sure every company puts out their gaming hoping, but it wasn’t a pushed title, it was, for lack of a better description, a mid-season filler.

And, it was fantastic. It scared the shit out of me. I was playin’ with Mightydogking over XBL one night, and the phrase of the night was

“AAUUUUUUGH! NOOO! GETITOFFGETITOFFGETITOFFMEEEIT’SEATINGMYFACE!”

The first time you disturb a witch, you shit your pants.

Thing is, L4D2 is also excellent. But it came out a year later, at full-game price, and it was EXACTLY the same game. Exactly. Basically, it was DLC, or a mild expansion pack. It was NOT a full new games worth: not in the way that Borderlands2 is: A couple of new character skins, and a new monster or two with a couple of new environment/levels? That is NOT a new game. That’s DLC. And if it’d been 600 points per level, as DLC, it would have been a smash. But it was a $60 game. And the fanboys were, rightly, pissed.

They rushed it to get the money while the first one was hot (this is, of course, my opinion) and yeah, they got paid. But I think they’d have done better, long term, if they’d have done DLC, and worked hard at a new game, two or three years later.

Either way, I know almost no one who raved about L4D2, even though (maybe because) it was exactly as good as L4D.

And that’s the situation with DLC as I see it. I like DLC. It’s good for the companies in terms of additional revenue, and it’s good for the fans, as they get more of what they like. If it’s done well, and if it’s not done solely to generate some cash, but to advance the game, and expand it. DLC is not inherently bad, or a screw job: it’s not an excuse for companies to put out an unfinished game and then make a few bucks “topping it up” to what should have been released.

At least, it shouldn’t be.

What it should be, I think, is what’s happened (and continues to happen) with Borderlands, and a few other games have figured out: It’s an opportunity to grow the franchise by giving the fans more (and here’s the important bit) of substance, to carry them over until the inevitable sequel comes out.

But it’s the “of Substance” that is important. It’s got to be a new story that expands on what has gone before, combined with new levels (if it’s level-driven character/skill development). It’s got to have a new spin on the same gameplay, but still be the game you know. Basically, it’s got to offer you something new of substance. And it’s up to the developer to decide what “of substance” means, for sure. But it’s also up to the fans to tell the developer if they don’t think there’s enough substance.

DLC is a developing idea, there’s no doubt. Games themselves have had a long evolution, and I expect the same from DLC. But for people to want to buy it, it’s got to have worth. Which means it can’t just be a cash grab, pulling on fans heartstrings.

DLC is here to stay. Here’s hoping it gets used, not abused.

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