The Downside of Downloadable Content

13 Jun

If you were to ask me what I think is the biggest leap, in terms of technology in the current generation of video games consoles, I would have to say “downloadable content.” The idea of being able to extend, refresh a game or even download a full game itself ten years ago would have had console developers dropping their light guns in shock before calling you a devil and having you exorcised.

And yet here we are, in a world where if a video game doesn’t have that little bit of DLC we declare the developers of being lazy and unsupportive. We as gamers are greedy; always wanting more until we become so sick of  over saturation we push it away and say “No more!” But are we being too harsh? Or are we actually playing into these companies’ clever little games? There is a far deeper side to downloadable content than getting that extra weapon skin for your favourite shooter, or adding a four/five hour quest to the latest action game than meets the eye.

It used to be that pre-ordering a game or getting the special edition meant you got a useless but branded trinket like a pin or a small plastic figure. Nowadays that is all in the past and has been replaced with download codes. That’s right – instead of a useless physical object you now get a normally useless digital object. You are awarded with your eagerness to purchase the game with codes for junk like extra weapon skins, character outfits or skills. Now, I have no problem with these in cases of single player experiences; I pre-ordered the signature edition of Dragon Age II and was thrilled with the extras I received from that. These items are contained in that single player’s environment and do not affect others who havent pre-ordered or forked out extra cash for the special ed.

However, what I do have a problem with is content that puts those who did get the extra content at an advantage to those that don’t. This seems to be an increasingly annoying trend in multiplayer games, rather than going down the aesthetic path and treating you to an exclusive weapon skin or bunny hat for your Master Chief. Some games actually reward you for being more eager or having more disposable income than your average player, for example Killzone 3’s collectors edition gave you a code that enabled double experience points for 24 hours and when Uncharted 3 is released later this year it comes with a bevy of extra content via pre-orders or special editions that put those with the codes at an advantage when playing multiplayer, including a fast gate to level 5.

My concern with this is “When does it stop?” Are we going to get to a point where we are literally trading lack of time and skill for codes? Where everyone stops playing and just inputs that handy four-hundred digit long XBox Live code to fast track through Call of Duty? Because you know people would pay for that.

There’s another seedy side to the world of DLC and that is “Day one content!” When a game comes out with extra content on day one, the studios pushing it out act as if this is a reason to buy the product on launch. “Don’t mind the actual game itself as it has content day one!” The problem with this is most day one downloadable content just isn’t content at all – rather content keys that unlock content already on the game disc. For instance, the total file size of the downloadable “Versus Mode” pack for Resident Evil 5 for Xbox Live, was only 2 Megabytes, revealing that the mode was already on the disc but Capcom chose to offer it as an add-on and charge a fee in order for it to be unlocked. Same goes for the Sinclair Solutions Test Pack, the day one downloadable content for BioShock 2. Shortly after the release of the DLC it was discovered that the “downloadable” content was already stored on the retail disc, and players were actually paying for a small file, much like Resident Evil 5, that unlocked content they already owned. This was later confirmed to be the case by 2K Games themselves. If I’m paying for a game disc, surely everything on that disc is mine? Why are publishers making me pay extra for something that I already own?

A common complaint in regards to DLC is price. Since Call of Duty started charging £10/$15 for its map packs, every publisher has decided that they can do the same and charge insane amounts of money for little content. This has become a growing trend as DLC becomes more popular and more of a profitable market but some of the figures are literally staggering, I mean, check this link out. I have no issue with paying for DLC. I will gladly pay £5/$7.50 for an expansion pack that plays for a few hours or so. But paying the same or more for an items pack, or a few re-used maps (I’m looking at you, Modern Warfare 2) is not fair game.

Another annoying trend is “game passes.” EA and THQ are the main culprits in this scheme – buying  one of their many games second-hand means you have to pay an extra charge, usually around £8/$10, to play the game online (for more than a week) or get content that is locked on disc. The content issue I’m not too fussed with, however I pay £40 a year for my XBox Live Gold account that gives me the right to play any game online. How are publishers getting away with this? And what happens when EA shuts down those servers that I have paid to play on? You know what, EA and THQ, in terms of your online passes, you can…

 

I HAVE EVERY RIGHT TO BUY GAMES SECOND HAND!

 

It’s not so much the principle of the passes that annoys me, more the price. I understand these companies make zilch money on the second-hand market but there is no need to punish the consumers that purchase a pre-owned version of the game. Because that’s what price point is, punishment. Charge me a little, I understand you are in fact a business and business needs money to keep the lights on. But surely charging around 2.50 is sure to make more people care less about your online pass.

I’ve ranted a bit, and for that I’m sorry. The truth is I LOVE DLC, I think it’s great. But in the grand scheme of things it’s still a model that has its flaws. All you can do as a consumer is vote. Vote with your wallet. If you think paying £10/$15 for 4 maps is horsecrap, then don’t pay it. The more of us that don’t might send a message to the fat cats churning this stuff out, and maybe then they will wise up and think twice when it comes to their pricing model.

 

Follow myself on Twitter at @ObviousPrime

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