Dustin’s Two Cents—Downloadable Content

7 06 2010

Here we are, a pleasant afternoon in summertime Georgia. A cat sleeps by the window, a cold Guinness rests on the coffee table, and a young man’s thoughts turn to Downloadable Content.

DLC has spawned some controversy lately in response to EA’s new online pass policy, in which certain features of the game will be free to play for those who buy the game new. These features will be available at an extra charge for those who rent the game or buy it used. Some feel that this is a rip-off for people who buy pre-owned games—a perfectly legitimate way to purchase them. Others drink the corporate Kool-Aid: content like this is simply a reward for contributing money to the people who made the game.

So, in which camp do I fall?

It’s a tricky question. Consider buying a car. If I go to the local Chevy dealership today and buy a new Malibu, they’ll offer to sell me a GPS package for a few hundred bucks. Fine. But what if the dealer gets the car with the GPS, rips out the navigation system, and sells it back to me after selling me the car at full price? Certainly that’s price gouging. People say the same thing about games—Day One DLC or free-for-first-owner content should be included at no cost.

The problem is that there’s no standard for video games. Before you piss and moan that those new cars and tracks you can buy for your racing game were available day one, and should have been included, consider this: who’s to say how many cars or tracks should have been packed in for your sixty bucks? Different racing games vary wildly in content. The same goes for the number of quests in an RPG or maps in a first person shooter. To my way of thinking, just like with the car and its GPS, if the game makers spend more time and money on a piece of content, they should be able to charge for it—even if it’s available day one. (And note that games usually go “gold” and finish production a few weeks before they arrive on store shelves. That “Day One” content may not have been ready in time to make it onto the disc.)

The real tricky problem comes when you buy some shiny new DLC and find the download is only a few kilobytes. That’s right: you just paid for something that was already on your game disc. Is this price gouging? Again, I would argue that if that content required more resources than the publisher/developer would have spent on the game normally, they have a right to ask for more of your money for it. This isn’t actually new—when you purchase the Student or Basic editions of Microsoft Windows or Office the disc you buy contains the premium versions of the software—if you cough up the cash to pay the difference.

I suppose we won’t settle this argument today. I haven’t even touched on the tragedy that is promising free content to first owners when a big chunk of console gamers don’t have their boxes hooked up to the internet. But try to remember that without the extra revenue of DLC, your games might go up to seventy or eighty dollars in the future.

And that leaves less money for beer.

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