It’s easy to feel cynical about DLC. John took a stroll through that particular minefield a couple days ago, and while he found plenty of good buried beneath all the righteous fury, worrisome practices still abound. Day-one DLC, season passes, and the like litter the current landscape, and – despite what some might claim – business models do influence game design. It’s unavoidable. With some fervent passion, Paradox senior producer (and former Battlefield maestro) Gordon Van Dyke, however, argues that this doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and lets rip at others who make it one. It’s only when companies lose sight of what’s best for their communities, he told me during a recent interview, that we have a serious problem.
“We actually have a very unique way that we’re going to do additional content with War of the Roses,” he began. “We’re not disclosing it [right now] because we want to make sure it works before we get too intimate with that. But we push the boundaries. I like to try different things. I like to figure out the best things for consumers and how we can be most fair to them. I want them to go ‘It’s worth doing this. I want to give them an extra five bucks because they’re giving me a lot. They’re not trying to screw me over.’”
“If, for whatever reason, someone could only buy the base game – maybe they didn’t have a lot of money – why should I punish them? Or maybe they want to buy another game and have a different experience. Why should I be upset at them for that? So we will always keep our players together. We won’t have premium game modes or all this other crap.”
It is, then, a fine line to walk – especially where multiplayer games like War of the Roses are concerned. After all, conventional wisdom says that players won’t stick around unless the carrot you dangle in front of their noses is absolutely essential. And yet, it’s entirely possible for something to be both essential and detrimental. Van Dyke explained (in his own words, not ours – Ed):
“So Call of Duty’s a perfect example of a group that does very lazy DLC. They give you a map pack, and now they’ve segmented you away from a massive amount of people who have the game. So, at best, I heard they sold to 30 percent of their playerbase. That means you can’t play with 70 percent of people who also have that game. And if you look at that in a corporate situation, they’re gonna be like ‘Yeah, we sold to 30 percent of our install base! That’s fantastic!’ They don’t give a shit about the player.”
“I know some of my friends at DICE are gonna be pissed at me, but you know what? I think most of them agree with me. A lot of these decisions don’t come from the core developers – the guys who are really putting in all the hard work. It’s coming from people who are completely disconnected. So hopefully gamers understand that the core devs aren’t the ones who want to push stuff like that.”
Really, though, why should it matter to those business types? So long as the money makes it into the right bank accounts, everything’s fine and dandy, right? Well, that attitude, Van Dyke believes, is poisonous to the health of both the community and the business. The recent anti-DLC sentiment, after all, has arisen because savvy players are wising up. They can tell when something’s amiss, and – though it may not reflect on publishers’ bottom lines right this very second – it will matter in the long run.
“Does this penalize anyone who just bought the base game?” Van Dyke asked. “By penalizing that player who just has the base game, he’s not gonna want to play. It’s like, you guys have just totally punked me. Fuck you, I don’t want to play your game.”
“That’s why I like working at Paradox. We’re more like ‘OK, how does this affect our entire player base?’ [CEO] Fred Wester’s been really nice to me and pretty much lets me go off and do anything I want, because my objective’s always about how I’m affecting the entire group.”
For Paradox, then, the bottom line is responsibility. And though DLC’s a thorny subject, Van Dyke thinks it’s actually simpler than we – both players and developers/publishers – are making it. Savvy players, for example, dig up details about how day-one DLC came to be with near-paranoid fervor, but ultimately you could argue, they only do it because gaming companies have given them a reason to feel mistrust. Recent times, meanwhile, have seen many developers and publishers respond by getting on their soapboxes about certification times and business necessities. For Paradox, however, it all comes back to treating the community well – not explaining why they can’t.
“Sometimes day-one DLC is [content that was cut from the final game],” Van Dyke admitted. “To be honest, sometimes it really is. It does happen for pre-order stuff, because sometimes you don’t have the time to make that extra content. But other times, a studio might have a completely separate team, and they’re off on their own. But the end consumer doesn’t understand that – nor should they have to.”
“I think it’s more of a perception issue. I think it’s actually very rare that day-one DLC’s like ‘Well, let’s just cut this content off [from the final game] and sell it.’ But it doesn’t matter to the end user. They’re not part of your production team, so why the hell should they know that? So you have to be conscious of that, and you have to deliver it in a smart way. If you still have DLC, maybe hold it off for a little bit. Because there is a negative perception, and perception is reality.”
Check back soon for the rest of my chat with Van Dyke. We also discussed his experiences trying out real-life armor and weapons for War of the Roses, his time working on Battlefield at DICE, and – as fellow Americans working for non-American companies – commiserated over our deep-seated fear of British cars.