One thing that came along for the ride with the introduction of the XBOX360 is late 2005 was the ability to add post-release ‘downloadable content’, or DLC. DLC was different from the ‘expansion packs’ PC gamers were familiar with as it was smaller and more focused, and able to be delivered much more quickly and at a lower price. The system is attractive to publishers since it allows fast turn-around on the product as well as higher profits, but through the reuse of existing assets; it is attractive to gamers because it allows for frequent and inexpensive updates to favorite games. But as always, there is a dark side …
The dark side of DLC appeared quickly: content that appeared to have been ‘held back’ from the game was quickly released for a small price. The outrage among gamers was quick and widespread: the fear was that they were now going to be paying ~$80-100 for a game and held-back DLC instead of the $50-60 based on the original game design that was publicly released.
The ‘held back’ concern could be described like this: in my recent Netbook Gamer for Jedi Academy I mentioned that at each tier only four of five missions need to be completed. For many gamers, the last mission (typically gamers would go linearly down the list) on each tier would never get played, thereby looking like wasted investment by the publishers. But if they released the game with the first four missions per tier included, then each month thereafter added one mission per tier for ~$2, that could add up to millions in pure profits.
There have been other uses for DLC: last year’s Dragon Age is a great example. Everyone who bought the game new got the ‘Stone Prisoner’ DLC, which would cost $7 for someone buying the used game to get; similarly different retailers got small items available only to customers who bought from them. All of these things add up to a great deterrence for buying a used game, and an incentive to shop with specific sites based on preference.
The debate has swung all over the place: publishers are much more careful with what they say, some gamers don’t trust publishers motives, and other gamers think their colleagues are simply being paranoid and overly demanding. Whatever the reality, the DLC market has flourished into a multi-million (if not billion) dollar industry worldwide.
But the core point of debate remains unchanged: gamers will pay gladly for items developed after the main game was ‘wrapped’ (such as Warden’s Keep for Dragon Age), but when they discover that they are being charged for content that is locked on their retail disk and that was advertised in pre-release videos … there is a Category 5 Nerdstom bound to develop!
And that is EXACTLY what has happened! A friend emailed me about the explosion on the official 2k Games Bioshock 2 Forums, which details the situation as well as pointing to the many sites covering it! So what is the deal? First off, apparently the DLC download for the new Bioshock 2: Sinclair’s Test Pack is ~24kb, which is certainly too small to be anything but an unlock code, meaning that the actual DLC is already on the disk of Bioshock 2! Also, you can apparently see the characters that were ‘added’ as part of the new DLC in a multiplayer trailer that was put out well BEFORE the initial game release:
So what is my take on all of this? Hmmm … this is actually a tough one. On the one hand I understand the business model for publishers, who need to keep pace with ever increasing costs without increasing prices – and have seen DLC as a way to do this. Yet for gamers, this is yet another case where they feel they are being abused by greedy publishers who try to take money from them at every opportunity.
As a PC gamer I install everything to my hard drive, so I see no issue with having to download the entire add-on upon purchase. But for console gamers or those with precious little free disk space, having an add-on that reuses assets and is therefore a small download is probably not such a bad thing.
The bigger question for me is: should this have been included with the original release? I would say ‘NO’. So as much as I hate to stand on the side of the obvious publisher greed, this new DLC represents some actually new gameplay possibilities and content for multiplayer gamers enjoying Bioshock 2 (personally I think that Bioshock 2’s multiplayer is junk, but some are liking it). For those having fun with those online modes, the options the new DLC are not a bad value for a few dollars – and since the original game was not broken without them, it is hard to complain that 2k Games has somehow done grievous wrong to gamers.
What do you think about this specific issue and the whole DLC debate?
Source: 2K Games Forums