Editorial: The current state of DLC

Downloadable content, more commonly referred to as DLC, has become a promising and exciting aspect of the current generation of home consoles for gamers. Although PC gamers have enjoyed the benefit of prolonging their experience with games and DLC for many years now, it wasn't until the original Xbox came along for console gamers to have a taste of the sensation.

However, DLC has found itself at the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons one too many times this generation. Especially in these times of global economic hardship, gamers want to feel like the content has earned their dollar more than ever. Some content would be included on the disk in previous generations, where gamers could unlock them by completing challenges. These small awards are now exploited and kept for aftermarket sale from Xbox Live and PSN for ridiculous prices. It's not just new games either; classic arcade titles receive minor graphical updates and are then ported and sold at a premium price.

One of the most recent games to release DLC where gamers didn't feel they were being charged justifiably was Resident Evil 5, which has already drawn bad publicity around the supposed racial arguments. Resident Evil 5 released for both the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 in early March, but even before the game was released Capcom announced DLC would be made available shortly after to enable Versus mode. At the same time Capcom announced the content would cost less in Japan compared to the rest of the world. What is the reason behind the decision to offer it cheaper in Japan then? Resident Evil is a Japanese franchise and has always been popular in its home market, but arguably just as popular in PAL territories and US markets, if not more. With a larger install base in both of these markets compared to Japan, it would make more sense to offer the content cheaper to them for less and increase your sales and potential income. Or better yet, release the content to everyone for the same low price worldwide, especially when reports point to the DLC already being on the disk.

When the content released last week reports quickly made their way to the internet on the file size, a whopping 1.86MB. Suspicions are raised and Capcom are questioned if the content is already on the disk to which they replied:

"It makes use of the assets that exist in the game [but] the functionality is not currently in the game and is above and beyond the initial scope of Resident Evil 5."

Arguably then, the gamer has already spent money on the DLC and owns it, but must pay more to unlock it. Developers argue that the bandwidth for hosting and providing the content also needs to be covered. However, both Microsoft and Sony provide the hosting for DLC, in which the Xbox 360's cost is already partly covered by the Xbox Live Gold subscriptions.

Changes to Sony's PSN service may mean Capcom are hosting the content themselves, but then surely only PS3 gamers should be burdened with the higher costs. Sony changed their structure for DLC in October 2008 and details were recently released on the costs developers must pay to have Sony host it. For every gigabyte downloaded publishers must pay Sony 16 cents. It doesn't sound like a lot, but when your average demo is at least 1GB in size, it can quickly add up with a combined 20 million Playstation 3 & PSP owners using the service.

Game prices are rising and set to increase in the coming years, even digital distribution like Valve's Steam platform has failed to lower prices, with many games actually costing more than their retail equivalents. Of course the appeal and promise behind the platform was lower game prices and the ability to download your games from anywhere in the world, only half of the bargain has been kept.

Even the Xbox 360's digital service is changing, with more and more games priced higher and leaving the comfort zone they were once in. Many new titles for Xbox Live Arcade bear an 800 point ($10/£6.80) price tag or more, compared to when the service launched in 2005 and most games were more suitably priced 400 points. The two most recent culprits of this new pricing are Flock ($15) and Puzzle Quest: Galactrix ($20). So why has there been such a huge increase, particularly in the last 6 months or so? Of course developers need to make money back on what they spent developing the game, but in the process they are cutting off more and more people who aren't willing to spend money on games. Games which were touted as cheap pick-up-and-play experiences and aimed towards casual gamers, who aren't heavily invested in the hobby.

All the meanwhile developers such as Criterion (Burnout series), Epic (Unreal Tournament) and ironically Valve (Half-Life) offered free content packs for some of their latest titles which were by no means light on features or content. All 3 of them are arguably in better positions to release content for free compared to small/indie developers of course.

It's not all doom and gloom though, as recently Treyarch's DLC map pack for Call of Duty World at War sold over a million copies and even broke records for most downloads in a week on Xbox Live. The pack cost $10 and included three new multiplayer maps and one new map for Nazi Zombie mode, along with new weapons and perks. The overshadowing news however was the release on PC where the content was free, presumably because Treyarch are all too aware of the piracy issues or reluctant to burden gamers with activation issues. Is it fair console gamers have to pay though? Especially when it's also possible to pirate DLC on consoles and the game has proved more popular on them.

For me, downloadable content was an exciting promise for this generation having already experienced fragments on the original Xbox. Over the years however I find myself buying less and less, choosing to speak with my wallet when I feel the publishers ask for too much. Instead I buy more Arcade and PSN titles now, giving map packs and "unlock" content a miss. I don't agree with paying for map packs when they are released for free on the PC or when they cut corners and remake "classic" maps from previous games, especially if I own aforementioned games. Why not reward me and discount the price for a loyal fan? So I ask you the reader, what's your opinion on DLC and where do you believe the sweet spot is on pricing?

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29 Comments

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My problem is not with DLC, but Console DLC.
As a PC gamer for the best part of 20 years I'm used to getting extra things for the game as downloads or discs and it being a serious amount of extras for a reasonable price (Best example being the Elder Scrolls expansions like Morrowind: Bloodmoon, Oblivion: Shivering Isles etc.)
What I'm not used to and will NOT pay for is pathetic releases of things that should have been part of the retail game that were "cut" pre-release and then sold after for extra income (Best example being FarCry 2's extra 2 cars, 3 weapons and a few MP maps for a daft price for stuff that should be a free release in a patch/update)

Exactly. I prefer to buy my expansion packs on CD (who doesn't?) but updates and small enhancements should be made freely available online. A great example is Heroes V which cut the multiplayer mode so the game could be released faster. Several months after it's release the multiplayer option was a free download.

Contrast that to the expansion packs for Heroes V which included many new features, enhancements, and scenarios, which was made available for sale on DVD.

I do agree that a lot of DLC is overpriced; however, if people are prepared to pay then I don't blame them for persisting.

Most DLC is overpriced just as most games are. So far I havent paid more than $39 for any 360 game and I dont intend to pay more either. The quality of games is just not there to even warrant the $50 price tag that our last generation console games had. I just dont get what gives them the right to think they can change the extra $10 for games that even worth the cost of the dvd its on. As for as the DLC I have to think long and hard before I download anything. So far the only ones that have been worth it were Ninja Gaiden II, Oblivion and Guitar Hero when it comes to DLC.

Man you guys write some pretty horrible gaming articles. This is a glorified (and highly opinionated) forum post. You should load up the Elder Scrolls Construction Set and try it out, you'll easily see how completely new content can be created using existing resources and comes out to an extremely small file size. Why you have authors writing game news that do not understand this simple concept is beyond me.

Treemonkeys said,
Man you guys write some pretty horrible gaming articles. This is a glorified (and highly opinionated) forum post. You should load up the Elder Scrolls Construction Set and try it out, you'll easily see how completely new content can be created using existing resources and comes out to an extremely small file size. Why you have authors writing game news that do not understand this simple concept is beyond me.

Yes, because adding a new (high poly) car or a new complex map or w/e will only be a couple of MBs. Face it, when a DLC is released and it measures less than 10 MBs its either tiny (= not really worth the money) or its just an unlock code for something already in the disc.

First of all, it's an editorial not a news piece. It's part of my job to write articles like these and I'm paid to give my opinion.

I completely understand how map editors and construction sets work, I'ved used them enough. In fact, you're aiding my argument here. The content is easy to create and a lot of the times it does use already existing resources, so then why are they charging premium prices for it?! Or are you going to try and tell me Oblivion horse armour was DLC gold?

Treemonkeys said,
Man you guys write some pretty horrible gaming articles. This is a glorified (and highly opinionated) forum post. You should load up the Elder Scrolls Construction Set and try it out, you'll easily see how completely new content can be created using existing resources and comes out to an extremely small file size. Why you have authors writing game news that do not understand this simple concept is beyond me.

if you could give us your definition of an editorial in comparison of an factual news story that would be great. The websters dictionary defines it as "a newspaper article written by or on behalf of an editor that gives an opinion on a topical issue." The author is just giving his opinion on how the content is being delivered and what the DLC actually is and the costs associated with content. The author knows what DLC is, that is clear from the article. The bigger question in the article that he is seem to be asking is "is it really worth it?"

The largest problem I have is that oftentimes the DLC does not justify the price.... OR that the DLC is just an unlock code for something on the disc already (ala, a sub 5MB download, unlocking a new level or cars etc). I think that if it is on the disc, you shouldn't have to pay more for it.

Also, old games don't get discounted DLC. Perfect Dark Zero - a launch game from 2005 still charges 500 points for the map pack... a complete rip when the game itself is not even sold in stores anymore. I think that map packs for out of date games should either become free after a given time (say 24 months) or severely discounted to 1/2-1/3 their original price.

Yeah everyone has seen my rants on DLC. I basically want consoles to be more like PCs, but I can completely understand some revenue being generated, I'm not completely ignorant to sensible business practice.

Valve are special with what they do with DLC, you can't expect that from everyone. However more console devs could treat their DLC setup like Criterion with Burnout Paradise - That being a fair helping of free amongst paid.

I'm happy the just announced KZ2 map pack is free, I probably wouldn't of paid for it with my break from the game - Now though the fact new maps are hitting soon for free, has spurred me into getting back into the game in anticipation for them.

I have had a 360 for some time now and i am just gona sell it I am tired of paying for things multiple times
example: I buy console then a game then the live membership then the DLC.
It has just gone to far this is the reason i have gone back to pc gaming it may cost more at first but after you build it is so much cheaper and has an unlimited amount of uses unlike my 360

So I ask you the reader, what's your opinion on DLC and where do you believe the sweet spot is on pricing?

Well, the only "DLCs" that I use are the free updates for Team Fortress 2, adding new class achievements and items, and the content patches from Blizzard for WoW.

There's no way that I'll pay for a map pack, no matter the cost. I'll go on just fine without those maps, knowing that I'll think a little longer when I am to buy another game from that publisher.

KavazovAngel said,
Well, the only "DLCs" that I use are the free updates for Team Fortress 2, adding new class achievements and items, and the content patches from Blizzard for WoW.

There's no way that I'll pay for a map pack, no matter the cost. I'll go on just fine without those maps, knowing that I'll think a little longer when I am to buy another game from that publisher.


You can pay $15/month for WoW but not $10 for maps that are released occasionally? I don't get it.

Sumeet said,
You can pay $15/month for WoW but not $10 for maps that are released occasionally? I don't get it.

The thing is that none of the things that Blizzard adds were in the game when it was released, unlike some other developers that announce DLCs even before the freaking game is released to the public, intentionally (I doubt they didn't had time to put the map in the game, or add a weapon or two, although there are some exceptions) cutting the content from the release version.

Sumeet said,


You can pay $15/month for WoW but not $10 for maps that are released occasionally? I don't get it.

When other developers reach the standards of quality Blizzard provides and actually add serious content (and not just 1-2 maps) worth the money then yeah, I might consider buying DLCs.

The editorial could be a lot better if you provided a reason for your sense of entitlement, rather than just telling us you feel entitled.

Maybe you need to read the article again?

The purpose of it is to inform and discuss the exploitation of DLC, which would otherwise be on the disk, free or cheaper. I highlight recent titles which have failed to find the right balance for content vs price, and ask the reader what they think of the situation.

DrunknMunky said,
Maybe you need to read the article again?

The purpose of it is to inform and discuss the exploitation of DLC, which would otherwise be on the disk, free or cheaper.

Most DLC is created after a game goes gold. If you bought a gamer that seems unfulfilling with what is on the disk, than you just paid too much.

That doesn't mean you're entitled to that DLC content for free, it just means that you're entitled to make better purchases in the future.

Yeah you've completely missed the point. I don't want DLC for free, I want better DLC for the money they charge. It has nothing to do with "better purchases", I pick and choose my games very wisely and make sure my money is spent on titles which only deserve it. It doesn't stop developers and publishers being greedy and cutting out content to sell later though!

How is a game like Rock Band or Guitar Hero not mentioned in this article? They are, what I assume, the premiere titles when it come to DLC.

There isn't a lot to say about them because they do it right. The pricing is competitive between RB and GH. There's not much they can do wrong, however I wouldn't say they are premiere titles of DLC though. There's nothing ground breaking releasing extra songs in comparison to say GTA4 L&D.

DLC is just a business model, is some sort of legacy from "Expansion" business model and have not relation with free download (such mods).

So, you must evaluate DLC as a business viewpoint.

Now, Resident Evil 5 is cheapest in Japan because it is managed as a local product, instead Resident Evil 5 in US or EU is a imported product, hence is overtaxed.

Magallanes said,
DLC is just a business model, is some sort of legacy from "Expansion" business model and have not relation with free download (such mods).

So, you must evaluate DLC as a business viewpoint.

Now, Resident Evil 5 is cheapest in Japan because it is managed as a local product, instead Resident Evil 5 in US or EU is a imported product, hence is overtaxed.


That doesn't make sense. DLC isn't a tangible product. It's not imported. Everyone gets it from the same place.

-Spenser

stifler6478 said,

That doesn't make sense. DLC isn't a tangible product. It's not imported. Everyone gets it from the same place.

-Spenser

localization = money , when i look to what he said about import thats what comes to my mind

[< snipped > - Calum]

The article brings up some good points, but I think you overemphasize RE5-type situations. I think those are genuinely pretty rare and I don't see them becoming more popular. As for myself, I don't mind shelling out $10 for a couple maps if I have the money and still play the game. There's a lot worse things I could blow that money on...

As for pricing increases, well, if you don't like the price, don't buy the content. Not a big deal. If they're truly making a huge mistake, they'll figure it out when they get sales reports.

-Spenser