In-Depth: Is DLC Ruining Gaming?
Frequent readers of the site know that we typically save Wednesdays for reviews, but this week is special. For a couple of weeks I had been toying around with the idea of writing an article about console exclusive DLC for multi-platform games; then the Battlefield 3 pre-order DLC news broke. Sometimes the timing even coincides with a thought and this requires you to be flexible and change your plans; this is one of those times.
It is by no means a new question and one that is likely to have many different answers depending on who is answering: Is DLC ruining gaming? I’ve decided to answer this question in the best way I can. In my opinion, as a consumer. I’ll try to explore both sides of the issue as best I can, but at the end of the day, my part in the gaming world is that of the gamer/consumer; the person paying hard earned money for an awesome, one-of-a-kind experience. It is this view that I offer you now.
My answer to the question: Yes, unfortunately. DLC is still a fairly new concept in gaming and as such, is still being defined. Most publishers are attempting to properly build a model that improves the final result for both the individual gamer and for the business; capitalizing both the experience and the economics. Unfortunately though, we are moving faster and faster towards a model that favors the business far more than the gamer.
DLC as a concept is really quite fantastic and some games/companies have done it well. While I will spend part of this article slamming EA (just admitting it now), there is no doubt that they have brought some great content to the market for games like Mass Effect 2 and Dragon’s Age in the form of DLC (Although that is likely more Bioware being massively awesome than EA getting it right). These games have released additional episodes that have allowed them to expand a game far beyond the disc; it doesn’t feel tacked on, to put it simply. Adding quality content to extend the length of a undeniably full and complete experience for a reasonable price. This is the “good” DLC, which is relatively simple to define, but the “bad” DLC comes in many more forms.
First is that the DLC that was taken from the game’s final product to be sold later. As far as we know, this doesn’t happen frequently, but it is a hard thing to narrow down. Often, day 1 DLC, and by that I mean DLC available on launch date of the base game, is looked at suspiciously and assumed to be this type. Basically, some studios have decided to get in on the DLC cash train by actually removing content, sometimes weapons, maps or even whole levels of the campaign, from the base game’s finished product so that they can sell it separately later. The reasons this upsets gamers should be fairly obvious; they’ve been sold a game that was purposely short-changed in an attempt to get more money from the consumer. It’s like ordering a pizza and once it arrives being told the cheese is extra. This isn’t content that adds to the game, it in fact takes away from it and at best can only succeed in making it whole again.
Having touched on it already, “Day 1 DLC” is also viewed badly, and for good reasons. Besides the suspicious nature of the content’s timing (basically, if it was available on launch day, then why wasn’t it included in the game?), day 1 DLC makes a brand new game feel incomplete immediately. You’ve barely managed to unwrap your $60 video game that has only been on store shelves for hours, yet you are already missing the full experience. As a consumer, this makes the product feel overpriced and you feel ripped off. These are not feelings any seller of quality products wants their customer to feel.
Next on the list is the console-exclusive DLC for multiplatform games. I personally find this the most irritating, as a consumer. A game is coming out on Xbox 360 and PS3, but the PS3 (or Xbox) version is getting packaged with additional content that the other one is not receiving. Now, I know this makes sense from the point of view of the console manufacturers. Microsoft wants you to buy Battlefield 3 for 360 rather than PS3, obviously. Yet all it does is manage to cheapen the product. I own a 360, at this point if I wanted to own a PS3, I would. So, when I go out to buy a game, I already know what version I’m buying. I imagine this is obvious for anyone who only owns one system. Even if I owned a PS3, all my friends have a 360 and if I want to play this new game with them, my decision is also already made. When a game, for example Dead Space 2, is packaged with additional content for PS3 (a full copy of Dead Space Extraction in this case), it only manages to make the 360 version appear to have less value. There was no chance I was going to buy the PS3 version, but by making the game seem worth less to me as a consumer, EA lost out on a full priced purchase from me (I decided the minute I heard about the exclusive that I simply would refuse to pay full price for the 360 version).
Each console wants to present the idea that even for non-console exclusive games, they are the best experience. But in the end, I’m just unhappy with the developer and so they get a lot less of my money. Now, Dead Space 2 sold very well, so I’m apparently in the minority of gamers who really hates this type of thing, but I stand by my opinion that it can’t be good for the industry as a whole. I don’t want the “same thing but less” just because of the console I choose to buy. Notch, the developer behind Minecraft, made a perfect jab at exclusive DLC in general with this tweet:
Lastly, we have pre-order exclusive DLC. This is the stuff causing all the trouble this week for EA and Battlefield 3. Many games offer some form of pre-order DLC, something to encourage gamers to reserve a copy of the game before it comes out. For the last year in particular, those pre-order bonuses have varied from store to store, each one hoping that their specific bonus would entice you to shop there. Most of these bonuses offered no actual change to the game experience: a different character outfit, early access to unlockable items but not exclusive access, etc. Even when it has allowed for some sort of in-game “boost,” it has almost always been for single player only; routinely avoiding multiplayer. Well Battlefield 3 has changed that. Among the pre-order bonuses for Battlefield 3 include a weapon and weapon attachments that will be exclusive, not just early unlocks, to gamers who pre-order at certain retailers. (The details are still unclear but it seems at least a couple of these pre-order items will be genuine exclusives rather than early unlocks) These items could actually tip the balance of multiplayer and what is most important, they can affect the experience for other gamers.
I think this is the heart of the problem and the underlying cause of the rush of hate for the Battlefield 3 announcement. EA is doing more than just giving some players who pre-order the game an advantage in online multiplayer, they are giving those who don’t buy early a disadvantage that they can never recover. (And for the record, I am not commenting on the map pack that is also being used as a pre-order incentive.) They have basically said they are willing to tip the balance of their games in favor of the gamers who are able to spend a few extra bucks. The scary thing is that it may just work. Battlefield 3 looks amazing, I have to admit that, and gamers are known for speaking out at length when angry, but then buying the game anyway; especially with big name games like BF3. So while the Internet is ablaze with seething hate for EA right now, with some gamers even claiming to have canceled their pre-orders, I can’t help but be cynical. I fully expect most of these same gamers will wind up with copies in their hands the first week. Now, of course the typical response to stuff like this can be pretty much summed up perfectly by the following image:
Normally I would more or less agree with this concept. If you think DLC is overpriced or worthless, then don’t buy it. Sometimes this is easier said than done, as the lack of content may leave the game feeling unresolved (sort of like buying a book only to find out the last chapter costs extra), but for the most part, is completely doable. The problem here is bigger though. By not pre-ordering to get this DLC, you might be at a disadvantage to those who do. EA is hoping, or better yet, betting that gamers will rush out to pre-order the game just to avoid this possibility. It is not uncommon for gamers to spend in excess of 100+ hours playing multiplayer in games they love, so there is little doubt that they would not want to have that spoiled by items they can never have access to. While comical, this hypothetical pre-order DLC advertisement for Tetris nails the problem:
As the anger has risen amongst fans, EA felt it necessary to respond to the claims that the game will be unbalanced, stating, “The three exclusive items in the Physical Warfare Pack were specifically chosen not to be overpowered or imbalance or break the game in any way. Owning these items will give you a more varied arsenal, but it will not give you a significant advantage on the battlefield.” This, of course, raises a couple of questions and reeks of backtracking. First, if the weapons don’t offer much to the gamer than they make for some pretty poor bonuses, why bother? Second, if EA hadn’t taken these weapons out of the game, wouldn’t the people pre-ordering have gotten them anyway, without having to purchase the game from a specific retail store? Lastly, and this touches on the second question, how can you justify admittedly removing content from a game and then calling it a bonus when you give it back? If I stole $10 from you and then gave it back and called it a gift, you would, at the very least, think it was a lousy gift. Even if the weapons do turn out to be minimal in their effect, which is likely, this small step can easily lead to big ones. Activision set precedent and a new price standard for map packs because millions bought them at $15, EA could easily set a new standard in pre-order DLC if they see large amounts of people willing to pre-order for a possible advantage.
So what can we as gamers do? Quite simple really; don’t buy it at all. Don’t just skip out on the DLC, skip out on the whole game. Will BF3 possibly be an epic experience? Yes, and it will definitely be unfortunate if it has to be missed just so that a message can be sent to the industry of where the line is. You can bitch all you want, you can send as many angrily worded emails to every single contact you can find on EA’s website, but at the end of the day, the only real way to reach them is with your wallet. Believe me, if Battlefield 3 pre-orders are high and the game is a significant success, we will see more DLC of this type in the near future. DLC could stop being a “bonus” and start to become a significant part of the base game experience (and even content removed from the game), ’til eventually you can either afford to play the game on day one, or you will never get the full experience. Unfortunately, gamer’s attitudes towards this whole process is one of largely apathetic acceptance and those of us who decide not to buy or partake out of concern of where this is going are likely to be in the minority. Now I’m not calling for a full boycott like many have been. I’m just simply stating that if you disagree with this practice, show it the way that makes the biggest difference.
Agree? Disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comments below; just remember to be civil.
In-Depth is a periodic editorial segment on CBR that provides an expanded look at certain issues and events in the gaming community. The opinions stated do not necessarily reflect those of Clearance Bin Review and all of its authors and should not be viewed as news coverage.