1. My take: a simpleminded analysis that misses the broader point, even if gets some details right. Sure, people derive value from the games they buy, and they buy the DLC because they feel like they’re getting value for their money, and it would be — with the shortest possible view — stupid to leave money on the table on make things free that could be revenue-generating.

    But, as usual in these kinds of discussions, the counterexample is Valve. Valve that is a much-loved developer, enjoying huge amounts of goodwill and customer loyalty, in no small part because they don’t play the nickel-and-dime DLC game.

    I’d suggest that the long-term goodwill is worth a lot more to Valve than the extra money today but general feeling of distrust-ranging-to-outright-hatred from its customers that EA has opted for.

    In the the author is right about one thing: along with taking every opportunity to excoriate the greedy, shortsighted practice of some publishers, we should talk with our wallets as well. For my part, I don’t buy EA games.

  2. The main problem is that gamers really don’t punish bad publisher behavior. For every individual that opts to not buy a game in protest of these antics, there’s 500 that complained but bought it anyways, and another 500 that just don’t care. Frankly I can’t really imagine how far a company would have to go before a noticeable chunk of gamers would abstain from a game that they would otherwise play.

    I understand playing games of bad companies, though. Gaming is an extremely social passtime. Even playing single player, odds are gamers are talking about their experiences with others. For me, excluding myself from my gaming friends stings way more than opting out of a game I’d probably find fun. All it takes is one or two caving (or not caring) and a domino effect results.

  3. I didn’t buy Mass Effect 3, even though I was originally planning to get the collector’s edition. And you’re right that it’s a social thing. I see everyone talking about the game, or wanting to play multiplayer, and it keeps making me re-evaluate my decision, but I’ve decided to be stubborn about it. I’m not sure that I’m making the right decision, but I’m sticking to it for now. It’s driving me crazy to not know how it ends, but I’m trying to at least take a tiny little stand about it, as petulant as it makes me.

    Of course, I’m not kidding myself into thinking that I’ll never play it. I’m sure that I’ll pick it up someday for $10-20 on sale, but for now, I’m choosing not to buy it. At the very least, I’m denying them my infinitesimal piece of their release-week numbers, and I’m denying them the $50 extra dollars they could have gotten out of me for the collector’s edition.

  4. I keep waiting for someone to write a really wonderful in-depth examination of this (ie, of DLC in general), because there are so many interconnected issues here that I don’t feel up to thinking it through myself. But some brief coffee-addled thoughts:

    The author mostly engages in a debate about practicality: does DLC actually make commercial sense? Is EA sacrificing brand loyalty for a quick buck? Is this a sustainable practice across the industry, or across time?

    But there’s also also and ethical question: to what extent are companies justified in taking money from people? The author even notes that splitting up a game like this “might not be particularly ethical,” but then doesn’t engage with how or why. Partly, there’s the issue of deceptive marketing: HERE BUY OUR GAME! IT IS X DOLLARS. Except, that’s not really “the game,” nor really “the price.” The “game” is GAME+DLC and price is game price+DLC price, and that circumvents some people’s purchasing constraints. It tricks people into spending money, since people care less about multiple small purchases and more about single big-ticket purchases even if the total cost is the same.

    Together with this is the question of how much utility one gets from the DLC; I’ve seen a much of stuff that I would consider to be horribly, horribly overpriced (horse armor being the most common citation). It’s not always clear going in whether DLC is or is not priced ‘correctly’ — the contents of the DLC in relation to the game itself are opaque. For instance, some people have complained about purchasing DLC for Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012, only to find that the DLC ‘unlocks’ were for items that could be unlocked in the game. They, naturally, felt a bit cheated. There are other examples.

    Then there’s a games-as-medium issue. Gaming — PC gaming, at least — was historically quite hobbyist. Look at all the custom levels for Doom, or for the original Half-Life. Look at all the mods that have become commercial games! This has been a distinguishing characteristic of gaming for some people. DLC, arguably provides a dis-incentive to make modding easy; if someone can go in and make new weapons, you can’t sell them new weapons as easily. If someone can go and host a map on a server and let anyone play on it — then it’s harder to sell them map packs. Some companies — again, notably Valve — have offered up DLC while still making their games customizable and moddable.

    Hand in hand with that, there’s the question of games-as-art and games-as-shared-cultural-experience. Games are social, in the same way most art is social: people like to talk about it. I never bought the Mass Effect 2 DLC; when people talk about the Lair of the Shadow Broker, I have no idea what they’re talking about. The plot, the themes, the ideas of that work convey themselves differently to me than to someone who did purchase it; I can’t think of another medium for which that’s true — that the central experience of a work is so variably based on purchasing power. I fear that with something like Mass Effect — for which a lot of people take the plot seriously — breaking out plot-elements makes it an objectively worse game. If all we care about is profitability? No problem! If we care, as a society, about having and sharing stories and experiences? Then it quickly becomes and issue.

  5. cjelli said : only to find that the DLC ‘unlocks’ were for items that could be unlocked in the game.

    I agree with almost everything you’ve said here, but want to point out that allowing everything to be unlocked in-game but giving the option to pay to shortcut that process might be one of the most consumer-friendly form of DLC, at least for non-competitive games, and at least assuming the in-game time economy isn’t structured to make acquiring the content through natural play a dull, dull grind.

    I’ve noted elsewhere that I think this could ultimately be a way for indie devs making casual/mobile games to distinguish themselves from the greedier companies like Zynga that are liable to take their game idea and refashion it under their own brand.

  6. nobody said : I agree with almost everything you’ve said here, but want to point out that allowing everything to be unlocked in-game but giving the option to pay to shortcut that process might be one of the most consumer-friendly form of DLC, at least for non-competitive games, and at least assuming the in-game time economy isn’t structured to make acquiring the content through natural play a dull, dull grind.

    That’s an excellent point, especially given that caveat; Team Fortress 2 is an example of a mainstream game following that approach — there are weapons that can be unlocked through in-game activities; all weapons can drop through playing (via random selection, which favors people who play MORE of the game, regardless of skill level), and can also just be purchased outright.

    In the example I cited — for Duels of the Planeswalkers — the issue isn’t that unlocks can’t be purchased: it’s that people purchasing the DLC did not realize you could unlock the content in-game, and that the wording on the DLC did not make that clear to them at time of purchase. Which is to say: it’s the deception that’s the issue, not the existence of the unlock-as-DLC itself.

    (The specific issue I think is that the individual DLCs state clearly that they add no new conent, but by purchasing ALL the DLC in one go — Steam has a “buy all DLC” button — you could buy it without seeing that notice. Not the biggest of problems, admittedly, but it annoyed a few people.)

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