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Is Downloadable Content Ruining Gaming? A Look At The Saturation of DLC Files and Micropayments

by: Dabe ; edited by: Michael Hartman ; updated: 4/17/2012 • Leave a comment

Riding the crest of a micro-transaction wave, almost every video game developer has to consider the impact of future DLC files and downloadable content for their games. This topic is a dicey one and this article looks into the subject.

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    Is Downloadable Content Ruining Gaming?

    With the ever increasing movement towards micro-transactions, DLC files and bitesized downloadable content for games, it seems only a matter of time before we’re paying upfront for individual levels as opposed to full experiences. The rising tumult of egregious gamesmanship from developers and their publishers is somewhat frustrating.

    This article tries to look into the idea of downloadable content and whether it is a positive move for an industry at the forefront of new media or if this advancement towards a digital distribution model is hurting the quality and fecundity of video games.

    Companies like EA, Ubisoft and Activision all work on the principal of DLC files and furnishing their games with “exclusive” downloadable content. In this system they often convolute the market with unnecessary add-on’s or underwhelming extra content. A pertinent example would be the ham-fisted and rudimentary DLC files attached to Mass Effect 2 post-release.

    For 400 Microsoft points, user’s will get a small slice of action existing within the universe, satiating any further desire to continue playing the game. Their are various problems or areas for discussion with regards to this digital distribution model.

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    The Business Behind Downloadable Content

    DLC 003 Firstly, the advent of downlaodable content has given developers (Bioware being the Mass Effect 2 analogies own creators) an avenue to showcase pieces of content that were either cut from the original or unfinished before the games initial release. This approach would assume that developers are releasing DLC files that are either not good enough to be put into a retail package or using cut content as a means to gain further income.

    This seems a particularly cold move from companies like EA or Bioware, giving out snippet’s of content deemed unworthy of the original experience, while making consumers pay an always rising amount (recent DLC files for Mass Effect are priced at 560 Microsoft points as opposed to the lower price points of the first game’s downloadable content).

    DLC 002 On the flip side to this, being privileged enough to receive this abandoned content could be seen as a positive, with players getting their hands on extra content (at a sneakily attached cost) for a beloved game they have been enjoying. This view would be widely accepted if the content were perhaps more worthwhile.

    With DLC files akin to Oblivion’s Horse Armor or any of the paltry Mass Effect side-missions, its hard to really believe in this view of downloadable content as providing a welcome mat of content for avid consumers, especially given the bitesize standard and pricing issues.

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    Besthesda and Bioware: Providing Acceptable Downloadable Content?

    It should be pointed out that there are pockets of great downaloadable content in existence, although they mostly fall outside of the idea of micro-transactions, with developers creating such a wealth of content as to force them into releasing full scale expansions or a collection of meaningful “episodes”.

    Two of the best examples of this come from developers Besthesda, who decided upon a full scale expansion pack for Oblivion while releasing several well equipped DLC files for Fallout 3, each with their own serviceable content and sufficient depth to warrant the pricing.

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    DLC Files And Besthesda

    The Shivering Isles was also released as a separate retail offering, emphasising just how much value their was to be had from the package. The 5 DLC files for Fallout 3 came with highs and lows, but most if not all contained enough content to warrant playing them through, also adding enough longevity to an already grand undertaking that the main game offered.

    It is salient to note that these two examples are often in the minority however, with developers preferring cheeky cash-in’s and superficial downloadable content packages as opposed to post-development expansions. It is probably further testament to Besthesda’s community appreciation that they have produced acceptable DLC as opposed to instant downloads (Horse Armor excluded).

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    Unlock Codes For DLC Files

    DLC 004 Another dicey area of downloadable content comes from games that decide to release a key or unlock code in order for the player to access something already on the game disc when purchased. Having to levy further payment to access the content that you’ve supposedly payed for already is a terrible move, often enacted by JRPG companies who want to give the user useless items for an extra surcharge, indicative of the current state of downloadable content and how unregulated and nefarious it can be.

    Unfortunately, there is a new practice that exceeds this cheap trick, with the aim being to combat second hand game sales.

    The second hand game market has been a staple of gaming for quite some time, with plenty of outlets willing to take trade-ins and sell used copies of games, so it would be a hard pill to swallow if companies decided to hamper this market. DLC 005 Companies, not content with first time purchases of their software, have began restricting used copies and cutting off access to parts of their own game.

    To do this, a one off scratch code will be placed in a new box for the game, the customer will enter the one time code and access the necessary game elements. In the case of EA and Ubisoft, as of this writing, that equates to multiplayer portions of the game.

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    DLC Files And Their Effects

    DLC 001 Therefore, to play the multiplayer sections of a specific title, the game has to be bought new and no doubt at a premium. If you do enjoy used copies and buying them there is salvation however, albeit an expensive one, as a charge of around $15 will buy you the multiplayer unlock code from an Xbox 360 or PS3 marketplace.

    This swindling is further proof of the defamation and overall business practice companies are willing to engage in order to win some cash back for their efforts. Its hard to blame them when the license is there. Making it easy to use unlock codes or content keys to swindle some naive consumers.

    It is a shame that we end up on the receiving end of this however, with a myriad of poorly thought out or overpriced garbage bursting to get out of the marketplace and onto a console hard drive, users have to wade through the sea of downloadable content in order to find that one piece of relevant and well handled DLC. This is where over-saturation derives its meaning.