By Gamer_152 39 Comments
When it comes to the list of things that game publishers and developers get attacked for, day one DLC, early DLC, and on-disc DLC seem to be right up the top, often garnering the hate of game enthusiasts the internet over. I’m not usually one to side with the controversial moves huge corporations often make; I think online passes are a bad idea, I’m often disappointed with wilful unoriginality, I hate it when companies price things exploitatively, I’m against bad EULAs, and I think invasive DRM is bullshit. But in the case of day one DLC I think consumers have got things wrong, and that this kind of business move, while it can certainly be abused in some pretty serious ways, doesn’t by default deserve to be lumped in with some of the more insidious practises the industry has developed.
From what I’ve seen the essential problem that people have with day one DLC is that they feel like they’re by default being conned out of content they’re owed, regardless of how much content is in the main game or how much they’ve paid for it. The general impression gamers seem to have is that DLC available at launch is either always content that is ripped out of the main game and sold separately, that it’s something that is made by man hours which would have originally been spent on the main game being diverted, or that the company is in some other way swindling us over. I don’t believe this is a fair and accurate assessment of day one DLC as a concept, and I believe the points people often raise against day one DLC are rooted in misunderstandings or a misplaced sense of entitlement.
The Dev Cycle
In games development it’s not simply the case that all employees of a studio work on a game, that game releases, and then they can move onto other projects. With on-disc games there is a significant amount of time between the development on a game being finished and that game seeing release, where the game must go through approval, the physical boxes, discs and manuals must be manufactured, and the game must be distributed to retailers. This leaves a lot of time during which developers are potentially sitting around and doing nothing. Even during development of the game it’s not as if every person on the team is constantly working at all times. Obviously, after the initial bulk of design work that goes on nearer the start of the project, a designer has significantly less work to do, and a full team of artists isn’t a great deal of use during the big-fixing stage. I think you can see where this is going.
Often, there’s a considerable amount of spare man hours just laying around for a development studio to make use of, especially towards the end of projects. With digital marketplaces allowing for game content that’s fairly small, and can easily be developed relatively quickly, it only makes sense that developers who are able to, would use that spare time for creating early DLC. Remember, developers who aren’t working on something are essentially going to waste and may even be laid off. This method of creating day one DLC ensures that the developers stay in work, the companies and businessmen still make money, and we can get more content from the games we enjoy sooner. It’s potentially a win all round, and yet many consumers criticise developers and publishers over any kind of day one DLC, knowingly or not calling for a system where developers do their work on a game, then sit around twiddling their thumbs for weeks or months on end before working on DLC. It doesn’t make sense.
Honestly though, even if developers and publishers are not making DLC just by using the spare man hours of the employees working on the main game, I don’t think that’s necessarily a problem. Imagine we had two identical retail games which were created using the same amount of resources, employees, and time, but for one of these games the development studio had brought on board more resources and staff to work on the DLC while the main game was being developed, and planned to release both at the same time. For both games the consumer would be paying the same amount of money and get the same level of content and quality from the main game, but the game with day one DLC would be attacked by certain consumers for ripping off customers, even though we can obviously see that wouldn’t be the case.
In addition to downloadable day one DLC there seems to be a particular disdain for on-disc DLC. Essentially, I make all the same arguments for that kind of content that I would for any other launch DLC, but people seem to regularly express the view that purchasing on-disc DLC means paying for something you’ve already bought, in a way downloadable launch DLC doesn’t. However, it can be seen that this is not the case from the fact that many of the people who complain about on-disc DLC know about the on-disc DLC in a game when they buy it. They will enter into a deal where they pay money for a product in which they know some of the on-disc content is restricted, and then complain that they’ve been ripped off, despite the product functioning exactly as they believed it did when they willingly exchanged money for it.
I believe a large part of the controversy over on-disc DLC specifically has come about because people feel that if something is physically in their possession then they should have access to it, because we have traditionally been used to buying products and having access to everything in our possession, instead of also taking into account licensing issues and content restrictions that have come with the digital age. However, I have yet to hear a good argument why such content restrictions alone mean we’re getting conned. In terms of how it functions and what you’re paying for on-disc DLC is identical to any downloadable day one DLC, except that customers can get their content without lengthy download times and those with little hard-drive space don’t have to have it consumed by downloaded data.
The True Problem
Ultimately I think the controversy over day one DLC begins to touch on a very important issue in the industry, but I think it has its sights a little off. We shouldn’t be whining over whether games have early DLC or not, but what we should be looking at is whether game content, whatever form it comes in, is giving us value for money. I’ve seen no good argument for why we should be owed any more than what we’ve paid for, and there’s no reason we should be given anything simply because it was made before the release of the main game, that’s the exact kind of thing people are talking about when they use the phrase “gamer entitlement”. If a company has given you a product of appropriate quality and length for the money you paid, you can’t say fairer than that. My issue is that a lot of companies aren’t doing this, and this is what we should be voicing our complaints over, instead of attacking the red herring of the concept of day one DLC.
At least here in the UK I think the default £40 price tag just seems like too much for the average game, and many out in the U.S. have argued that $60 is too much as well. What’s more we have seen a lot of badly priced DLC, from single-player experiences that end all too soon for what we’ve paid, to handfuls of maps for popular games being sold at extortionate prices. I doubt they’re going away any time soon, but in a world where we don’t all have limitless bundles of cash to spend on video games, and the industry is quickly trying to eradicate the used game market and take more control over their sales it’s sad to see. Don’t hate day one DLC, hate not getting your money’s worth.