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Thought: Mass Effect's Day One DLC Explained, Pondered

Angry customer meets BioWare employee.

A cause of occasional, but rather fervent ire of recent times has been day one DLC. Why do people get pissed off? Because times were you’d buy a game, and get a game. Now, the perception is you buy a portion of the game, and are then asked to buy the rest in premium lumps over the next few months. And when one of those premium portions appears the same day as the game – well, it looks like the publishers are taking the piss. “Here’s most of our game! Now pay more to complete it.” So it is likely with these arguments in mind that BioWare are making it clear that Mass Effect’s day one DLC, From Ashes, was developed after the core game was completed. But does that change anything for the player?

When I’ve raised concerns about day one DLC in the past, I’ve received arguments from developers saying that it is in fact a move that helps to keep people employed. At the end of a long development, it can be hard to justify keeping the entire team at work without a game they’re currently making. By immediately starting people on DLC, it means they keep their jobs, and the owners/publishers don’t mind as there’s more money-making content coming out of them. Which is a compelling argument. But unfortunately one that requires the engagement of empathy for strangers in the face of extra demands on your wallet.

VG247 reports that ME3’s exec producer, Casey Hudson, was explaining this on Twitter last night.

“It takes about 3 months from ‘content complete’ to bug-fix, certify, manufacture, and ship game discs. In that time we work on DLC.”

Of course, those are restrictions imposed by consoles these days. PC development tends to go up to T-1, with day one patches rolling out to fix whatever didn’t make it into the retail copies. But with Microsoft and Sony’s draconian “certification” process, developers are forced to finish their games far ahead of release so they can be approved for appearing on the plastic boxes.

Hudson continues,

“DLC has fast cert and no mfg. [manufacturing], so if a team works very hard, they can get a DLC done in time to enjoy it with your 1st playthrough on day 1. On #ME3, content creators completed the game in January & moved onto the “From Ashes” DLC, free w/ the CE or you can buy seperately [sic].”

But here’s the thing: you’re still expected to pay for the extra DLC (unless you bought the Collector’s Edition) on the same day as you paid your £35/$60 for the game. That it wasn’t intended to be part of the game during the main development doesn’t really change that. (And let’s not be ridiculous – they knew what their first DLC was going to be when they were developing the game.) There’s still the sense for players that if they don’t fork out the extra cash, they’re missing out on the complete experience.

That may not be true, the game may be absolutely complete and satisfying without it, but that’s not how people’s brains work. Just knowing it’s there, that on launch day there’s a bit more of the game that you don’t have, is damned frustrating. It’s that psychological reaction that I think devs/pubs are not taking into account when their DLC appears day one. And I think the solution is simple – release it two weeks later. That’s at the point where most day one purchasers will have finished the game, and will actively want more. The stigma is gone, the employees were still needed, and there’s new content right when the customers want it.

There, I’ve fixed everything. I don’t require thanks, just money.

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John Walker

Senior Editor

One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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