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29-11-2012, 08:53 PM #1
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A frank discussion about the state of downloadable content, with added BLAME
Downloadable content. I think most of it, 80% or thereof, is terrible.
We can probably count the amount of genuinely good, worthwhile DLC's on both hands and what games they were for. But those games tend to have some shit DLC's too.
The rest of it is dire crap and ever increasing. The DLC's tend to be overpriced, full of reused assets, meaningless gameplay, segments and ideas that weren't good enough to make the original cut and they reak of absolutely minimal effort that in all honesty, some studios should feel completely ashamed of.
Developers and publishers seem to have fallen a long way from the expansions and standalones that regularly did the rounds , until the inception of Microsoft's Xbox LIVE service and Valve's STEAM in the mid noughties. Once the digital revolution began and we began accepting the NO TAKE BACKS agreements we make to use these services, it seems like Developers were ready to drop any old digital shit down the interweb for us.
The first thing that needs to be addressed is the length of DLC or the amount of added content and that inevitably leads us into the price too.
For the prices we pay for the downloadable content is threadbare at best. In my experience I often pay around 20% to 25% of a game's original asking price for single downloadable expansion and get perhaps 5% to 10% of the original play time at best.
Mass Effect, a series I have a lot of love for even if it's like the love of a battered wife, is one of the worst contenders for this. Its expansions mostly offer a fraction of what the main game offers and what is offered generally doesn't compare to the quality of the primary product either. If I was to buy a Mass Effect game that was simply one of its DLC's fluffed up to four times the amount of content for four times the price, well, I'd be raging. The internet would be convulsing and frothing at the mouth.
So is it wrong of me to expect that if I buy a piece of downloadable content that cost's 25% of the full game, I receive another 25% of content, as oppose to the 5% we generally get? 25% more voice work, weapons, gameplay, levels, systems, whatever? 25% MORE?
All the BIG first person shooters are especially guilty of this too. Expansions offering a paltry three or four maps for a quarter of the games asking price. My problem with that, is that most of the time it's just maps. Rarely are there any new weapons or gameplay modes added in. There is never any single player content provided. More often than not the single player just forms an asset base for DLC that appears at a later date.
Now from what I gather, Microsoft are one of the root causes as to why downloadable content is in the sorry state it is in, because of variety of factors, but mainly contractual stipulations and then the obligations of developers and publishers that seek to make games and content for xbox.
Microsoft would appear to demand that DLC's are priced according to the amount of content, probable length along with forcing the parity and the pricing of downloadable content on even other platforms. Limits to download sizes are also enforced which also has a knock on to content (quality) generation for multi platform games.
Somewhere down the line seems to have been an unwritten agreement by most devs and publishers to go along with what Microsoft dictate, and push that towards all platforms and games.
And yes I do know that it's not everyone towing the Microsoft line. PC devs seem to getting used to offering content for free again, especially with all the new models of game development and funding that are sprouting up now. Apple absolutely expects the devs of iOS games to release free content and updates for their titles. Valve are pioneering homebrew downloadable content along with providing hosting for free mods. This all gives me great hope for the future of gaming.
But still, some dangerous precedents have been set that bode ill for the consumer.
29-11-2012, 09:17 PM #2
I for one love the push toward DLC. For two reasons: Cost per content and variety (and frequency) of content.
Cost wise, "most" DLC is not as bad as it gets made out to be. Let's look at a few examples
BF3: Premium. Even excluding Karkand, you get 20 maps, at least 10 guns, and at least 8 vehicles (Based on the lower bound of the schedule page). For 50 dollars. Even going by the expansion packs of yore that is pretty good since it costs the price of 2.5 expansion packs (assuming 20 bucks per expansion) and contains about as much content as a new game in everything but the guns.
A recurring trend is the "season pass" which is either given free with a pre-order or can be picked up for the price of one expensive DLC by waiting a week or two for a sale. That also greatly lessens the cost of DLC.
Hell, take a look at Kingdom of Amalur. For 10 dollars each you got two good sized DLCs with pretty varied locations. Those would definitely have passed as expansion packs in the old days and would probably have cost 20-30 bucks a pop.
Of course, then you have Paradox and Firaxis (Civ5, right?) who are gouging the hell out of people. Which is actually kind of funny. The most PC-oriented devs are the ones plowing us in the ass whereas the console-oriented devs actually have halfway good deals. Don't get me wrong, all devs have some crap DLCs. But as far as cross-platform devs go, it seems the console-oriented ones are less likely to ream in the ass (probably because they can't publish as many due to limitations of XBOX Live).
And I strongly disagree with the "If it costs X% of a new game, we should get X% more content". The cost is dependent on development time. If it takes the devs 5 years to develop a combat system, I don't expect the DLC to contain a radically new combat system. I think it is much better to just think "Is this Y dollars worth of fun?". If it is, get it. If it isn't, don't. Simple as that.
More important, is the variety and frequency of content. An expansion pack is a large investment of time and money on the dev's part and has high expectations. So you don't get as many choices. That is why Tribunal and Bloodmoon had one new environment each. And, ironically, had length comparable to a Bethesda story-based DLC :p. Whereas Fallout 3 baiscally had a new environment and lots of new toys with each of the DLCs. And we got 5 (I think?) DLCs in less time than it took to get the two expansions. And (probably) for about the same price.
And I REALLY don't want to have to go back to relying on users to make my content. Why? Because I am old enough to REMEMBER when we did. There were a few really good mods for TES3, and there were a LOT of nipple rings and nude mods. And as the "graphics requirement" gets higher, fewer and fewer modders are even capable of making stuff that won't clash horribly.
29-11-2012, 09:49 PM #3
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29-11-2012, 09:59 PM #4
I think it's important to distinguish between singleplayer and multiplayer DLC.
When I buy Modern Warfare 3 today, it might cost me about, say 20$ when I get it cheaply. Might seem like a good deal, but the playerbase is split up thanks to the DLC packs. Meaning if you don't want to wait ages for another match, you better pay up. (I'm guessing something like that goes for BF3 as well, with the split-up playerbase and all that)
On the other hand, there is Crusader Kings 2 (the only game I bought more than one DLC for). Most DLC here is cosmetic, new music, new face sets and new unit models. I like the music, I like new face sets, so I bought them. Coincidentally, I also have the Ruler Designer DLC, which is bollocks but you don't need to buy it if you don't want to.
The "meaty" DLC like Sword of Islam has tons of stuff, but the patches make the base game better too, meaning you don't get "left behind" when not buying the DLC.
29-11-2012, 10:14 PM #5
29-11-2012, 10:29 PM #6
Borderlands 1 and 2 have so far been value for money on DLC, with perhaps the exception of Moxxis in BL1. It was a good length, but it was too samey as it was just an arena shooter. The other DLCs made up for it though and you got plenty of bang for you buck. They also used heavily different assets and themes in some of them, throw in new enemy types and in one case a new vehicle.
Bioware DLC for the most part I tend to feel ripped off with. They're never anywhere near the quality of the main game, replacing the conversation screens with "press A to hear squad member tell a story, have no interaction".
Most DLC I really don't care about. All that crap paradox sells for Magicka? The suits and robes and multiplayer maps are meaningless to me. Granted, I wish we got back to the days of "here's a map editor, go nuts", but at the same time I can live without 200 gun game maps.
29-11-2012, 10:51 PM #7
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So the total game has to remain the same size too, as that's limited by budget. So say you have a 30 hour game, and then a DLC that is 1.5 hours long (5%) for 20% of the price. The way they correct for that is to make the base game 25 hours long, and put in a 6.5 hour long DLC for 20% of the price.
Does that suit you better? Or is what you're actually asking for "more content for less money" because that won't happen.
This 'exploitative DLC' everyone sees... that's people that are either 1) rich, 2) stupid or 3) totally obsessed with the game subsidising the price for everyone else. It was the alternative to putting $5-10 on the RRP for everyone to cover increased development costs. Looked at that way, it's a fairly elegant solution to the game-price issue.
29-11-2012, 10:55 PM #8
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29-11-2012, 10:56 PM #9
29-11-2012, 11:03 PM #10
I totally agree with the OP, but I think it's too simplistic.
If a DLC costs 25% of the main game it should have a lot more that 25% of the content. Let's not forget that the engine and content creation pipeline are already in place, that 25% of work is going to content only.
I think the main metric about DLC is just whether it's made in house or farmed out to some porting studio. I would say that most in-house DLC is good, but when it's farmed out it's really hard to have something worthwhile.
29-11-2012, 11:20 PM #11
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Like I said. There's two ways to make DLC 'bigger' relative to the base game: add more content to the DLC, or put less content in the base game.
This way madness lies.
Better to just look at the DLC and decide if it's worth it for you or not. Pro-tip: you can get 100% of the original game content for $0 extra by simply replaying the game for a second time. Once you realise why you don't do that, and instead buy expansions, DLC or new games, you realise why this % of the base game content measure has no meaning.
29-11-2012, 11:25 PM #12
You can replay the game, but with the enormous backlog it's not easy, at least for me. I'm playing AC2 for a second time, having a lot of fun, but sometimes I think if it's not best to play something different, I have hundred of brand new games. But that's a different issue.
30-11-2012, 01:24 AM #13
30-11-2012, 01:32 AM #14
I think the main problem with a lot of DLC often comes down to poor implementation and integration with the existing game.
I don't necessarily want to rag on Bioware specifically because I think they've done some pretty decent DLC for both Mass Effect & Dragon Age on occasions, however they've also been guilty of some mis-steps as well. As a stepping off point I think it's useful to look at a couple of examples of the bad, and why they were bad.
Zaeed & Katsumi. Outside of however one feels about each characters personal missions, both of these characters felt tacked on Vs the other characters in Mass Effect 2 because when engaging with them on the ship there were no cut scenes unlike other characters, plus they had little or no interaction with other members of the crew. With Mass Effect 3 it seemed Bioware took on board the criticisms when it came to implementing Javik and integrated the character much more closely into the weave of the main game (I'm going to leave the 'cut content' accusation out of it). Curious to see whether the Omega DLC goes a good job of integrating Aria with the games other characters tbh, or whether there's a clear demarcation.
The Exiled Prince. I actually didn't bother with this optional character/DLC when I played DA2. So I was a bit surprised and a little put out that I'd constantly run across items in boxes, chests and crates that were essentially for him. DLC should always be discreet and there's should be this sense that something is somehow missing from the game by its absence.Why yes you're right I'm deliciously evil
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30-11-2012, 01:37 AM #15
From what I understand about the Omega dlc, it's just Shep and the new characters introduced, so there's no interaction between the squad members and her.
30-11-2012, 03:51 AM #16
My feeling is that one should judge the cost of something by how much they reckon they'll enjoy playing it. Measuring the number of guns, the play time and other such nonsense get's you into really weird territory. Should we not have standard pricing schemes for games? Maybe we shouldn't, but I really hope your argument for why isn't that game X is too short and game Y has too few guns an maps and game Z should have more singleplayer content ... because all of that works in terms of saying whether or not a given game is worth your money or the money of someone asking you to recommend games. But determining the absolute market value of a game relative to others based on these sorts of tiny details gets us into really absurd territory. How do you compare Battle For Middle Earth to Portal 2? The number of guns? The number of units? The number of multi-player maps?
I also don't think DLC needs to be well integrated into the game. Cosmetic add-ons, content add-ons, madly-out-of-fiction mini game add-ons? If you make it and players enjoy playing it then it's fair to sell it. If players buy it over and over but no one seems to really enjoy it, then maybe you're exploiting their trust or their sense of completionism (or maybe your fans are a bit termpermental ... depends). Otherwise, have at it! It's optional content, so I won't hate you for developing crappy content I don't want. Things get more complicated in multiplayer games, I agree. We don't want to split the community, but at the same time we don't want to churn out content at a loss. I suppose a company could dedicate X% of the profits to free content and when that runs out, run-up an expansion and repeat until the game dies profitable and filled with juicy content. There are quite a few ways to solve it without just releasing paid mappacks from here to infinity, but I'm not convinced that doing so harms multiplayer all that much. I don't play enough multiplayer games (here meaning any) that use this model to really say whether it has a noticeable negative impact.
I like DLC that does something weird, silly, and out of character for the game. Sure, more of a game I love is nice. But what I really love is variety. If you can give me a novel experience without forcing me to buy or install a whole different game? I'll gladly pay you. Let me play with mechanics that were underused in the main game. Give me a take on the world or the mechanics that I wouldn't expect. Damn the fiction if you have to--but openly; don't pretend that this DLC continues the story if it really does it fit. Give me a collection of weird Mass Effect missions with no plot and no logic other than "Isn't this a cool bit of design that you totally didn't see coming?" I don't want more of the same. I want something new; maybe something set in the same world or with similar mechanics ... but something new. In Dishonored for example ... sure I'd love more story and worldbuilding. But I want to see dramatically new places with a dramatically new take on the world of Dishonored and maybe even some new mechanics. I want, in other words, a good sequel. That's going to take a while, so in the meantime I'll play other games or accept really-sort-of-wonky DLC like the one recently announced.
I guess a lot of people want DLC that gives them something in between. An mostly-retread-but-with-some-slightly-new-bits? I'm not really into that. I'd rather replay a game or play something new.I think of [the Internet] as a grisly raw steak laid out on a porcelain benchtop in the sun, covered in chocolate hazelnut sauce. In the background plays Stardustís Music Sounds Better With You. Thereís lots of fog. --tomeoftom
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30-11-2012, 04:53 AM #17
Flash NEWS: Big Corporations Still Greedy As Hell. More at 11.
30-11-2012, 09:13 AM #18
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30-11-2012, 10:11 AM #19
Shareholders are stupid, shares perceived value can be trumped up by things with negative gross value because of spin. DLC is something that largely falls into that category. I know you are hold off buying games I'm excited for because of trickles of dlc.
That said I bought every Orcs Must Die(1&2) DLC and only really regretted the most recent one because it felt uncreative.I'm failing to writing a blog, specifically about playing games the wrong way
30-11-2012, 02:52 PM #20
But just use some common sense:
Major publishers are still pushing the DLC model. If it were bad, they wouldn't be.
Indie devs are pushing the DLC model. If it weren't making them profit, they wouldn't be.