Saturday, May 15, 2010

The danger of priced downloadable content

Since the start of this console generation, we’ve been assaulted by downloadable content. The incessant nagging of this digital devilry can be troubling but it’s not all completely trivial. On one hand it’s a nice boost for the games we truly enjoy, but it could be giving companies the wrong idea. 

What!? You want $15 for new maps? Let me start off by saying that DLC is a fantastic idea. Now that practically everything is online, having the ability to expand on a game is marvelous and easier than ever. Expansions, extra content, new maps, it can all be distributed without any real obstacles and it can make for a richer, more entertaining experience. With all the good though, come the spam and the most contrived forms of DLC you can imagine.

It all starts with pictures, themes, and clothing for your avatars. Sony offers premium themes and micro-transactions through their home service, but I feel this is much, much worse on Microsoft’s Xbox 360. Games typically offer picture packs with five or so photos you can use for your profile picture. You also have to pay for extra clothing and accessories for your avatar. And to top it all off, you have to pick up Microsoft Points to do any of this. Sure it’s your choice to pick up any of this stuff, but would you willingly pay $10 for an assortment of profile pictures and a lightsaber for the avatar you only see for a couple seconds? 

The Prince can't believe he had to download this to get the real 
ending eitherI feel that customization is a requirement to making your account unique in many different ways. Adding a premium price on every little thing walls off the crowd who might’ve explored this feature further. There are still various amounts of free materials you can download, but anything worthwhile is priced. For me, if it’s even a dollar I’m not going to bother with it. For one, I have to pick up extra Microsoft Points that are just going to sit on my account since there’s no way to buy the exact amount. That’s not a huge deal, but more importantly I’m turning on my system so I can play some games, not look at my avatar.

This is all trivial though compared to how certain games are abusing the ability of DLC. As I stated earlier, it’s amazing how developers can augment their games whenever they want now. However, there have been quite a few games that have been built around the utilization of DLC. Tomb Raider Underworld pretty much had no ending unless you picked up the DLC. Ubisoft’s new take on Prince of Persia had a cliffhanger ending that was only answered if you picked up the Epilogue Pack. Even the renowned Fallout 3 dabbled in this theme. In its defense, the extra content was actually good, but a lot of it was glitchy and if you bought them all it’d cost you an extra $50, or almost the price of a full game.

 If you bought all the DLC when it  came out, you were practically
 buying a new game To go against DLC would be stupidity. A lot of it is quality material and especially for competitive multiplayer games and titles like Rock Band, it’s almost necessary. But no matter what way you look at it, it’s tough to justify a price-tag for something you can’t test out. You don’t know if the maps are the next best thing or are equivalent to a pile of rotting carcasses. Demoing certain content can make or break something but with talks about bringing prices to demos, that too could be an issue. 

All I’m saying is that tagging a price to everything isn’t the way to get your extra content sold. Why not award players with pictures or avatar awards for doing certain things or unlocking trophies/achievements? And if you’re going to release 20 different episodes of extra content give the players who bought the rest a little discount or gift. Just a little more focus on quality can make the distinction between excellent and forgettable DLC.
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