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Roundtable: The DLC "Problem"

Roundtable: The DLC "Problem"

Thu 23 Aug 2012 2:45pm GMT / 10:45am EDT / 7:45am PDT
OnlinePublishing

Our staff discusses the issues surrounding DLC and whether gamers are being exploited

According to GameStop, every major game release for the rest of the year now comes with downloadable content (DLC) available for purchase on day one. Publishers have seen that GameStop has been able to get almost half of game buyers to add DLC to their purchase, and the result has been an ever-growing array of DLC.

Some publishers have even put additional content (that could have been DLC) on the initial game disc, which the game buyer can unlock buy spending additional money. (Capcom's use of this technique with Street Fighter X Tekken caused a consumer outcry.) Are publishers taking content that previously would have been included with the game and turning it into DLC? Are publishers using DLC as a way to increase the price of games without being too obvious?

DLC also has an effect on the pre-owned game market. When you sell a game, the DLC doesn't go with it; the new owner will have to buy it all over again. From the publisher's point of view, that means they're finally making some money from a used game sale. From the player's point of view, it means there's no way to recoup any money they may have spent on their DLC. Does this make a game less valuable?

The sheer volume of DLC being offered for some titles raises a further question: Will players feel like they're not getting their money's worth for a game when there's a lot of DLC right away? Perhaps there's a halfway point between free-to-play and a $60 game. Why don't we see a $20 game with lots of DLC to give the publisher an opportunity for profit? DLC does mean that publishers can extract more than $60 from fans of a game, but the danger is that fewer people may buy the game initially if they feel the publisher isn't giving them $60 worth of value to begin with. If publishers put more resources into developing DLC, does that mean there are fewer resources for developing brand new games? Will players turn away from games if they feel the DLC is just too much?

GamesIndustry International's staff discusses the DLC strategy in the roundtable below.

David Radd

DLC is a very dicey subject for AAA gaming and for good reason. As a hobby, AAA gaming is already fairly expensive, particularly if you're the sort to buy games just as they come out. Economics have meant that regular PS3 and Xbox 360 games come out at $60 - most people are willing to accept that. Special and collector's editions can run between $80 - $100 or more, but usually the extras are secondary to the game itself or not deeply impactful... but some exceptions with day one DLC are disturbing.

"This is a service industry and we have to remember that it does no one any good if our customers are slowly becoming more bitter and jaded"

David Radd

BioWare games are a good example of getting day one DLC both right and wrong. Dragon Age: Origins gave "The Stone Prisoner" DLC with an exclusive companion for free with every new copy of the game... but at the same time, there is a character that appears in your camp asking you to purchase the Warden's Keep DLC, which as Penny Arcade artfully pointed out, is both immersion breaking and manipulative. While Dragon Age II gave all the paid day one DLC for free to everyone who pre-ordered (before a certain date) Mass Effect 3 felt like a regression; the day one DLC "From Ashes" including a companion who is generally regarded as a huge addition to the story, only comes with those who purchase the collector's edition and everyone else has to pay $10 for something that should probably be included in all versions of the game.

No company has done a worse job handling their day one DLC than Capcom. Capcom's tact of including DLC on the disc has led some to accuse them of being lazy and contemptuous of customers. Some examples, including hidden characters in Street Fighter X Tekken, the real ending of Asura's Wrath and extra quests in Dragon's Dogma - it's debatable whether any of this should have been paid DLC at all, let alone locked on the disc. Capcom caused such an uproar over on-disc DLC that they announced publicly that they are changing their corporate mindset.

It's a positive that companies like Capcom and Bethsoft are learning to deal with DLC in a correct fashion. After the "Horse Armor" debacle with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the first DLC release for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was "Dawnguard", releasing several months after the original game, modding it quite a bit and bringing a host of new additions. Regardless of whether one thinks it's a great addition to the game or not, "Dawnguard" is an example of how to add to an existing product.

Certain DLC options are a little more difficult to parse - for instance, multiplayer. If a company wants to have an "online pass" and perhaps charge for content in that game mode or release it for free (or some combination of both) I feel they should be allowed to assuming it doesn't disrupt game balance. However, all additional costs are another barrier to entry, and that diminishes something very significant if impossible to measure: good will. Mobile games that cost a fraction of AAA games give out new content for free all the time - granted it costs less to make that content, but nothing happens in a vacuum and most customers are well aware of whatever value proposition they're getting into. This is a service industry and we have to remember that it does no one any good if our customers are slowly becoming more bitter and jaded about our games because of the way parts of them are sold.

Rachel Weber

"Wait up, Johnny Tolkien, you mean I just bought this Rings book, and you're already writing another one? Screw you!"

"No one in the posh offices at EA or Activision or Sony is watching what you're saying on the forum; they're watching where you put your credit card"

Rachel Weber

As gamers we seem pretty quick to call shenanigans, and as far as I can see, so far, it isn't justified. There may be a day when I get halfway through an epic RPG and it demands my credit details for the ending, or my space warrior is naked until I spend money to buy her some pants and some dignity, and then I'll shenanigan with the best of them. For now it's a basic transaction, a bit of extra content for a bit of extra cash.


Do you know what I wanted to do when I finished Mass Effect 3? Play more Mass Effect 3. And I could do so right away thanks to the From Ashes DLC. I wanted the same from Skyrim, but Dawnguard is still a mile off on PS3. There's a good chance by the time it rolls around I'll be obsessed with something else. Developers know that, and they've adapted. It's not a scam, it's not a way to make games more expensive, it's not going to make gamers stop buying traditional 40 titles. It's supply and demand.


Developers have big teams; they can create a damn good game and DLC at the same time. It doesn't mean you're getting ripped off any more than it does if you go to a restaurant and you order the side salad. If you don't like it, don't buy it. No one in the posh offices at EA or Activision or Sony is watching what you're saying on the forum; they're watching where you put your credit card.

Steve Peterson

I think publishers have to be more careful than ever that a game contains enough value to justify its $60 price point. Really, you want the purchaser to feel great that they only paid $60 for this amazing game. The odds of selling DLC are much better if the customer feels they got a great value with the initial purchase. Conversely, you're not going to do well with DLC if the purchaser felt the game was too short, or wasn't interesting enough to want to play more.

"Poorly done DLC can poison the waters for all publishers, if players feel they're being exploited"

Steve Peterson

Customers get really angry if they feel that the DLC is necessary to really enjoy the game. Making me pay extra to find out how the game ends would really make me mad. The controversy over DLC included on the disc is misguided, in my view. It's more convenient to me if I don't have to download the content. I'd be happier if the whole disc was filled with content that would allow me to keep enjoying the game, paying for what sounds interesting and ignoring the rest.

I really think that digital distribution makes a hybrid model possible, something between freemium and traditional. Sell a cool game for $20, then have a steady stream of DLC if people get into the game. This needs a game design that lends itself to the business model, of course. Telltale Games has been doing episodic games for a while with some success. Maybe other games could be split into smaller chunks; maybe a racing game has a dozen tracks and a couple dozen cars for $20 instead of 70 tracks and a thousand cars for $60, but you can buy more tracks and more cars in smaller chunks. Or an FPS starts with only a handful of maps and weapons, and expands later with more maps, characters, and armaments.

Really, the publishers have to start thinking and designing outside the box... the box they ship to retailers, I mean. Digital distribution and DLC should be freeing up game designs, not being stuck onto the same old designs as a way to generate more profit. Poorly done DLC can poison the waters for all publishers, if players feel they're being exploited. Remember, there are more and more free alternatives out there competing for gamers' attention.

Mike Williams

I love me some downloadable content. Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Assassin's Creed, Saints Row: The Third; if I've bought it, I've probably picked up some of the DLC for it. Pre-order freebies, additional game modes for buying new copies, and additional characters are all versions of DLC I've enjoyed.

Can DLC be handled poorly? Of course. Despite being a lover of additional content, when Capcom announced its byzantine DLC plans for Street Fighter x Tekken, the game became a no-sale for me. The NPC in Dragon Age: Origins pointing you towards the Warden's Keep DLC was jarring. Nothing is more frustrating than retailer-exclusive pre-order DLC that you can't buy after launch through other means.

"The problem for publishers is that consumers are now more price conscious than ever before"

James Brightman

These days, DLC is planned and teams are set aside specifically to work on additional content. The argument that we're losing out on content that could've been in the game without DLC is the vaguest of hypotheticals. There's an entire website dedicated to content left on the cutting room floor because ultimately a game has to go gold. It's just as relevant to ask: what if DLC had existed before now? How much of that content could you have played?

A larger problem is console publishers not willing to experiment enough with DLC. There's no reason for the binary choice between $60 + DLC or free-to-play. Telltale has been successful with its episodic model, but others don't seem to be picking it up. THQ tried the cheaper $40 price point with DLC for a single title (MX vs. ATV Alive) before running away from the entire idea. Publishers need to realize the DLC is offering them flexibility. Deciding not to take advantage of that flexibility is short-sighted.

Additional content for games is great. Being able to decide a la carte what you want to pay for is great. We should turn our attention to publishers that implement DLC poorly, not the idea of DLC itself.

James Brightman

The problem for publishers is that consumers are now more price conscious than ever before. With the economy still depressed and a flood of free-to-play titles available for gamers, many will think twice before plunking down another $10 or $15 to make an already expensive $60 title effectively a $75 title.

That said, as others have pointed out, so long as consumers feel they are getting value, and the DLC offers a robust extension to the main game experience, no player can rightly complain. Nobody's holding a gun to any gamer's head, forcing a $15 purchase. If the DLC "problem" is so terrible, then there's a very simple solution: don't buy it. Publishers will take note of that in a heartbeat.

In truth, though, I think that DLC is just the start of the evolution of this industry to a digital, services oriented business. While free-to-play may not successfully capture the whole triple-A console audience, an a la carte option to offer chunks of that $60 experience and more could be compelling. Many people don't even complete games they are playing, so why pay for that last $20 worth when you've already lost interest or have better entertainment options pulling you away.

And if physical is still predominant, there shouldn't be a problem with putting it all on the disc. If all games sold for $20, I'm sure the business would see a jump in software sales. The player could then have the option to unlock the full game right away for another $40 or wait to see what the experience is like before paying to unlock in increments.

16 Comments

Rogier Voet
Editor / Content Manager

71 31 0.4
Premium games should not act and behave as a lot of mobile and FTP titles pushing consumers hard to purchase DLC

Good DLC examples are Fallout, Borderlands add-ons that provide enough bang for their buck feels as a wellcome addition and are released at the right time that is not just after release but a month later

People who still want more will want it but it will not give the first wave of customers the bad feeling that something was withheld

Posted:2 years ago

#1

Hugo Dubs
Interactive Designer

163 24 0.1
DLCs are controversial in the way to ethicaly use them, but it remains a substainable business model for development studios.

With ever increasing budgets and development time needed to make a competitive game, don't they need to get a better product life cycle management? When a game requires 3 years and 50 millions to be on the market, its life cycle is only about 2 to 4 months top. Then, you need to lower the price of the product to extend its sales cycle and manage to make a few more dollars with it. But it is not enough. Profit sharing ratios aren't high enough to make a studios finances the next game with revenues generated out the actual game sales (I think this is why most studio were bought by publishers). A studio only take back 14 to 18% of the generated revenues while the rest is divided between publishers, distributors, and taxes.

DLCs are a way to extend a game life cycle by generating extra content with almost no extra costs for develpment studios (using already developped assets and technology). DLCs are a good thing, both for consumers and studios. Consumers have access to extra content for a game they like, and studios can survive in a market where only 10 AAA games make real profits.

Posted:2 years ago

#2

Al Rhodes
Web producer/designer

24 15 0.6
If DLC was called Expansion Packs which the good ones really are, then people would not get so riled. I had mixed feelings about the first Mass Effect 3 DLC. The new team member was from a race so integral to the ME universe that he should have been there all along. On the other hand, hey the DLC was worth it because I got the best character in the entire trilogy which was undeniably cool.

I have been playing Kingdoms of Amalur for over 60 hours (gutted to hear about 38 Studios) and feel I have barely scratched the game. Yet it is such a satisfying game to play, I already have one eye on the DLC that is available. I might wait for the inevitable DLC sale but I am bound to get the extra episodes and not bother with the 'special items' that do not lead to extra gameplay.

People aren't mad about DLC. They are mad at prices not dropping when manufacturing and distribution costs are. It's electronically distributed! Pass on some of the savings from not manufacturing a physical unit and distributing it on the road. Give a discount because the buyer can't re-sell it and recoup some money, which in my experience is ALWAYS channelled directly into another games purchase. Include free exclusive Themes for the buyer's console or items for their avatar - people who buy a lot of DLC tend to be big fans of the game and would appreciate that acknowledgement.

You know in almost every other industry, companies try their best to encourage customer satisfaction and brand loyalty. Games publishers who do not do the same are lazy and risk being perceived as greedy. No one likes being taken for granted or as a cash cow.

Posted:2 years ago

#3

Nicholas Pantazis
Senior Editor

1,020 1,467 1.4
Popular Comment
DLC when used to extend game life is a good thing. DLC when used to punish new buyers by removing essential story content is not. Rachel's example doesn't hold at all. From Ashes wasn't "more Mass Effect 3" it was a major chunk of the franchise's overarching story that was ripped out near the end of production to be resold.

DLC should be something that enhances an already complete experience. Are gamers a little entitled about the whole thing? Sure, there are problems with their reaction, but you're kidding yourself if you don't think game developers react to the fan reaction on the internet. This isn't 1999. The internet isn't the "niche minority" anymore. The internet was enough to change the ending of Mass Effect 3. It was enough to force EA to completely scrap DA3 (along with ALMOST ALL DLC plans for DA2) and start from scratch. The internet gets games localized, and makes publishing decisions now through Kickstarter and soon Steam Greenlight.

If you don't think the way fans and consumers react to video games and companies, and public perception in general, is incredibly important then you really don't understand this industry well at all. More than any other media industry, the vocal fans and gamers have been able to shape this. Some companies (like Valve) build their entire experience around these consumers and their demands.

PS: Rachel talks about Skyrim like it compares unfavorably to ME3's DLC, but it sold more than ME3 and ME2 combined. People were EXCITED to get a full game. The same is true of Diablo III and Guild Wars 2: full games with no scamy preorder bonuses or launch DLC. Maybe some gamers are already speaking with their wallets, and many of you (and many of the publishers) aren't noticing?

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Nicholas Pantazis on 23rd August 2012 6:45pm

Posted:2 years ago

#4

Andrew Goodchild
Studying development

1,253 418 0.3
Whilst I agree that if DLC isn't worth it we don't have to buy it, most of us were stung with the concept a few times when we first met with the concept in order to learn that lesson, and still have a bad taste in our mouths about it. I say this as the one idiot who actually bought Horse armour, so enamoured by Oblivion, and expecting the extra content to be a bit more substantial.



Edited 1 times. Last edit by Andrew Goodchild on 23rd August 2012 7:11pm

Posted:2 years ago

#5

Hugo Dubs
Interactive Designer

163 24 0.1
Would it be possible for "consumers" or "organizations" to set up some rules about DLC?
- Minimum length (hours)
- Type of content
- Adding at least X new features
...

It would classify DLCs and provide consumers with some references? Most of the time, people doesn't know what they buy regarding DLC.

Another rules/constraint would be that DLCs must not disturb the core experience. Take a look at Battlefield 3 premium pack... I play for several month to this game and since the premium launch I get my ass kicked by level 1 players with premium weapons... I feel a bit frustrated and this is not "fair"

Posted:2 years ago

#6

Tim Carter
Designer - Writer - Producer

570 315 0.6
A service industry?

No it isn't. It's an entertainment industry.

Posted:2 years ago

#7

Greg Wilcox
Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,193 1,170 0.5
One HUGE issue with DLC is how it shafts ANYONE who can't access it, period. No matter how you try to shine up the rather crappy process of making DLC only available to those with broadband connections and console accounts. Sure, as I noted before, some games do indeed offer up game of the year versions with every bit of content on a disc (at a better price point than the original versions), but even some of those reissues stick it to players by still locking out content as DLC.

You can't tell me in no way that the industry is losing money hand over fist by not trying harder to get this content to folks who are stuck with crappy connections in areas that still aren't as well connected as they need to be (and won't be for some time, it seems).

Posted:2 years ago

#8

M.H. Williams
Staff Writer

37 32 0.9
@Greg

That is an excellent point that a number of us probably miss. And in many of those areas, consumers may also turn to piracy if they feel they can't access content through legitimate means.

Posted:2 years ago

#9

Preet Basson
Studying Mathematics with Statistics

92 13 0.1

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Preet Basson on 23rd August 2012 10:53pm

Posted:2 years ago

#10

Paul Johnson
Managing Director / Lead code monkey

877 1,279 1.5
One of the (many) reasons that freemium is taking over in mobile is precisely to stop piracy. There's nothing to pirate if the exe is already free. Maybe the console market needs to catch up with that idea. It'd also stop the developer getting bupkis from the second-hand market which has never been fair.

We're a mobile dev that to date has made mostly premium games with some iap expansions, but free-to-play is where we're going in future. Especially for Android which looks more like the Spanish Maine than a marketplace. oo-ar me hearties!

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Johnson on 23rd August 2012 11:32pm

Posted:2 years ago

#11

Nicholas Pantazis
Senior Editor

1,020 1,467 1.4
@ Paul How is it unfair that the developer gets bupkis from the secondhand market? Do you deny a consumer's right of ownership to a product they've paid for, and thus in turn their right to resell that product? Cause that would be a pretty massive consumer rights violation. For the same reason that we're allowed to sell our movies, cars, and every other physical product we own, of course it's fair for us to sell games with no profits going to developers.

As for piracy taking profits, this is hugely faulty, and many studies have shown most pirates were unlikely to purchase under any circumstance. You're likely getting pirated almost as much on iOS as Android, and just not aware of it because you're making more sales on there, as iOS is currently a market that cares more about video games.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Nicholas Pantazis on 24th August 2012 2:09am

Posted:2 years ago

#12

Rick Lopez
Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,269 942 0.7
Im against DLC period. Unless it is warrented by the success of a game and fans are raging for more. But right now when new games are released I just wait to see whats gonna happen. Right now Im putting all capcom games on the backburner. As much as Id love resident evil 6, capcom has screwed me OVER and OVER with DLC and newer improved versions of there games. Honestly Im done with capcom. I mean DLC I can accept when they are none essential to the games. like the optimus prime skin for Transformers: Fall of cybertron. But if they are new fighters for a fighting game like Street fighter IV, marvel vs capcom, tekken vs street fighter, or DLC thats essential to the story such as with Mass effect 3, or DLC that gives you the REAL ending like asuras wrath, the I get very very pissed off. Any DLC that affects the core gameplay or story or how the game is made up in a big way, i dissaprove of.

I buy lots of games. but im at the point where little by little im just cutting off certain publishers and developers that have a reputation in making me pay 80$ thrugh 100$ per game using DLC. Im done with capcom, final fantasy, bethseda and Bioware. i bought Dragon Age and skipped Dragon Age 2. i skipped fall out new vegas... however i might go for the ultimate edition.

But frankly, they DLC is being used is just making me angry and buying less and less, like i wont get into any new franchises and will look at a moment were I can simply give up on them. Resident Evil and Devil may cry are just two franchises I left.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 24th August 2012 1:38pm

Posted:2 years ago

#13

Dave Herod
Senior Programmer

527 786 1.5
I really think that digital distribution makes a hybrid model possible, something between freemium and traditional. Sell a cool game for $20, then have a steady stream of DLC if people get into the game. This needs a game design that lends itself to the business model, of course. Telltale Games has been doing episodic games for a while with some success. Maybe other games could be split into smaller chunks; maybe a racing game has a dozen tracks and a couple dozen cars for $20 instead of 70 tracks and a thousand cars for $60, but you can buy more tracks and more cars in smaller chunks. Or an FPS starts with only a handful of maps and weapons, and expands later with more maps, characters, and armaments.
For single player games, yes. Multiplayer, definitely not. This breaks matchmaking. You have to ensure all players in the match own the content you're about to use for the next game, what do you do if half the people in the game haven't got the map/track/game mode/etc that you're about to play next? Kick all those players out of the game? Make them sit and wait in the lobby? Awful user experience to get kicked out of a session because you hadn't bought DLC. What's also terrible is buying DLC and never being able to use it because there always seems to be one person who joins the session who doesn't own it. By increasing the matrix of possibilities of who owns what, you're fragmenting your pool of players into small groups who can't play against each other.

Some DLC is fine, but fracturing the whole game into chunks can mean your players can never find games despite there being plenty of people waiting to play.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Dave Herod on 24th August 2012 8:41am

Posted:2 years ago

#14
There isn't one suggestion made here that some gamers will not disapprove of; you can please some people some of the time, etc. Rachel Weber is spot on, particularly about what signals execs will pay attention to; if 100 people complain about 'horse armour', or whatever, but 10k buy it, I think we can assume something like horse armour will be made again.

We want to make money. We want to make money by publishing entertainment software, recoup the costs of publishing it (including our salaries) and hopefully make a profit. Technology means people can acquire the software regardless of the seller's wishes - therefore DRM (to prevent sharing) and freemium (the more sharing the better). Massive costs of making these wonderful worlds and stories mean we want to wring as much out of it as possible, particularly in these straitened times, therefore DLC for everyone with a legitimate copy and some money (which means we can get some money from the secondhand market). I don't think I'm giving away any trade secrets if I mention that Microsoft and Sony have shown us lovely graphs about how revenue from videogame+DLC goes up over time (no definition of units on the Y axis, but never mind, the only way is up) accompanied by a few case studies about the potential of well planned videogame+DLC+marketing.

The sellers are trying different things to make money. It's a great example of a market. There's a variety of games, at a variety of prices - starting from zero pounds. Ubisoft has made DRM that no-one likes, Steam has made DRM that no-one realises is DRM, there's a variety of DLC and a variety of different times before/during/after release when it goes on sale, lots of different offers etc. And consumers are free to hand over their money or walk away, it's entirely up to them, we'll learn what they prefer and adapt our businesses accordingly.

It's great, isn't it?

Posted:2 years ago

#15

Hugo Dubs
Interactive Designer

163 24 0.1
You have to ensure all players in the match own the content you're about to use for the next game, what do you do if half the people in the game haven't got the map/track/game mode/etc that you're about to play next? Kick all those players out of the game? Make them sit and wait in the lobby? Awful user experience to get kicked out of a session because you hadn't bought DLC.
This is clearly what's happening, at least in BF3 where you get kicked back to the lobby when you don't have the map the server is going to. And it sucks you're right.

Posted:2 years ago

#16

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