Downloadable content didn't make a graceful, poised entrance into the gaming world. See horse armor. I laughed pretty hard when I first read about Bethesda offering cosmetic horse armor for 200 MS points. This, of course, wasn't the first DLC to be offered, but it is one of the first that most people will remember because of how hilarious it was at the time. A time in which DLC was not integral in the story, did not contain massive amounts of content, was not used to coerce customers into preordering for full price, and major DLC additions to the game certainly didn't come out at launch. DLC was reserved for fun, but unneeded additions for the serious fans to prolong the game between releases/expansions.
King of DLC
Let us step into the present time. Dragon Age II is just around the corner and there are already 19 DLC items coming out at launch. Two of those items are major pieces of add on content. One of which everyone who buys a retail copy will get for the first few months. The second is only for people who pre-ordered before an arbitrary date, all others please insert seven dollars. The rest are various items procured through a daunting process of signing up for email newsletters, playing the demo, hoping a certain number of people play the demo, purchasing items from epicweapons.com, playing a facebook game, pre-ordering at certain locations, buying Dead Space 2, and the list goes on and on. In the end, to get the "full experience" a fan of the series will have to spend hours and countless dollars chasing all the promotions before the game is even out.
I supported EA when they decided to add in content for new purchases. This way they could entice potential used game purchasers to buy a retail version, so EA sees more profit. This is totally understandable. Most fans like to buy new and support the developer anyway. Packing in a small incentive for the collector's edition is common practice as well, as is giving people who preorder a little bonus. Okay, I'm still with you EA, but this is where sanity ends. Like previously stated; facebook games, purchasing unrelated full games, buying fake weapons from a subsidiary, being a member of the EA social network, newsletters, blah blah. Combining all this together starts to turn the stomach. One begins to wish for the days of horse armor!
EA and Bioware aren't the only offenders, but DA2 makes it all too easy to use them as the prime example.
"Streamlining" is a relatively new term to the gaming industry. In other industries the word means: "to make more efficient" or "to build an ugly camper out of flashy materials and then overcharge for the name." (Airstream for the uninformed) The first is used on the business end to make more money (efficiency through subtraction). In reality, streamlining in videogames is more along the lines of the last meaning. They take what made the first game great and then cut features, redirect focus onto more mainstream game-play, up the Hollywood factor, shorten the game, and bank on name recognition to sell copies. These are touted as great things as they supposedly "enhance the flow" or "allow more people to experience the game." In other words, they enhance the flow of money directed into the producer's war chest by changing the game to suit these hypothetical casual players who were afraid of the rich game-play and story of the first game.
Streamlining in rare cases does help a game. Look at Mass Effect 2. This, however, is less of a testament to streamlining as it is to how clunky the original game was. Mass Effect 1 was never known for its deep game-play, so turning up the action was a good thing. The majority of games that are streamlined into a sequel do nothing but disenfranchise the fans who originally made the game a success. Casuals do not build new IPs. Core, dedicated players turn high quality original titles into major successes because they support games during their infancy. We see this all the time in the music industry. Core fans that supported their favorite bands while they were playing in the cellar of a bar lose interest when the corporate producers turn the band into marionettes, lines connected directly to the CEO's fingers. They call these bands sell outs, which fits here as well.
I'm not saying I do not want a sequel to be different from the first game, not at all. I want it to be innovative if they are going to change the formula. Addition by subtraction is a way to make something better, but it isn't the only technique that should be used.
Price is always a delicate balance between many factors of which very educated individuals spend a life time studying. On the surface, game prices have been rather steady this generation in terms of a retail price. PC games have seen a recent jump to 59.99 which, in my opinion, is not justified in the same way that console games were. The reason is tied to the console manufacturer taking a sizeable royalty on each disk pressed for their system. PCs, on the other hand, are entirely open and there is not an entity which demands a royalty for the system's use. It seems strange that a bump in the price of PC games is needed especially when one considers most PC games are now ports or an afterthought of a mostly console game.
The less obvious price increases are concealed in the cost of DLC, collector's editions, and special versions of the games. To get the full experience from a lot of newer games the player must purchase upgraded versions of the title. Gone are the days of the collector's editions housing figurines, maps, and other fun-to-fans yet unnecessary items. Today these upgraded versions are piled high with many hours of additional content, exclusive weapons, codes for clubs, and other content which was developed at the same time as the title. It begs the question, which version is the full game the developers originally designed before it was butchered into different tiers by corporate accountants?
I thought DLC was supposed to lengthen the experience through episodic content and mini-expansions, not create a tiered monetary structure for dividing content from which producers and developers could reap more profits from fans at launch.
I will help you on your quest, for a modest price.
Big Deal, Right?
I know some people will think I am making a big deal out of nothing. Most of those DLC things for DA2 are only items anyway! You would be right. As of right now, it isn't game breaking. A purchase of DA2 without any of the DLC benefits will certainly give the player their money's worth with 40+ hours of game-play and such. This is not my argument though.
Simply take a look back in time. Step back to when Oblivion came out and then horse armor quickly followed. Now look at what they are doing with it. Pressuring people into preordering so they get all the content, packing major storylines in with collector's editions, begging for facebook friends to get an item, and the list goes on. It has only been 5 years since the introduction of horse armor and look at how DLC has permeated our buying experience. Oblivion DLC was created after the true game came out, now DLC is considered at the concept stage. Before the first wire frame is drawn, they are thinking of ways to break up the content to milk your wallet.
I, for one, am not going to support the model. I've decided to put off my DA2 purchase until the ultimate edition comes out at which time I will purchase the full experience for a reasonable price.
I am not against DLC adding to the game after release, but it kills me to see content created in tandem with the original game to cash in on day one.
Do you think it will get a lot worse?
Do the DLC pack ins affect your buying decision?
Do you think DLC is worth the time and money?