Downloadable Content (DLC) has been a total game-changer this generation for consoles. From PC-like expansions, to map packs, we’ve seen just about every type of digital good sold either on Xbox Live Marketplace or the PSN Store. Under all the glitter and gold of really great DLC, is a very dark world. Something much worse than the nickel and dime DLC trick (I’m looking at you Guitar Hero and Rock Band), I speak of DLC that’s delivered on the game disc. Is this practice ever acceptable, or is this just another way to make gamers pay twice over for content they already own?
There seems to be a disturbing trend among game publishers and developers. It appears that the need to have DLC ready and available upon a games release has moved to the need to have the first batch on the actual game disc. You’ll notice how DLC that should be a big file will be but a few KB to download. There is a weird gray area here, as to what content you own when you purchase a game versus what content you don’t. I’m not exactly sure if the developer has any control, or if this is strictly publisher initiated. At any rate, it reflects poorly on both of them from a consumer stand point.
Warner Bros. offered varying DLC content to stores to entice people to pre-order Mortal Kombat. Basically, if you pre-ordered from GameStop, you got classic Scorpion and his classic fatality at release. Best Buy gave out classic Sub Zero, Toys R Us had classic Kitana, Wal-Mart had Mileena & the special edition included a code for classic Ermac. Immediately after release, these character DLC codes were selling on EBay at an incredibly high price. Naturally, it’s a no-brainer that Warner Bros. would step in and release them all; they just didn’t tell you that you already owned them. They came on your game disc, which you already purchased.
Don’t think Warner Bros. is the only party guilty of this practice; Namco Bandai did it with Beautiful Katamari & Soul Calibur 4, Capcom did it with Resident Evil 5 and 2K did it with Bioshock 2. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, unfortunately, there is no real way to know just how many games have had this practice applied to them. Would you as a consumer, buy a car only to find out a month later that you must buy a key to unlock the use of reverse? I don’t think you would, and I don’t think anyone that works for any of the game publishers would either.
Publishers have tried to justify the reasoning behind having DLC on disc. 2K, being the most vocal, came out and stated that the reason was for players who had the content versus those who did not. This seems to be a popular dead horse to kick within the industry. They further explained that it would hurt the multi-player aspect of Bioshock 2 by dividing it:
“I noticed there was a bit of confusion about our Sinclair Solutions Tester Pack file size, and I wanted to clear things up for you. The way our engine and game structure works is that people need to have the exact same content for people to play together. One of the challenges with post launch content for MP is that it can split the player base, and we want to avoid that whenever possible. For this content, creating the DLC package the way we did allowed for us to not split the player base – so whether you purchase the new content or not, you can still play with your friends.” – 2K Elizabeth (posted 3/11/2010, via 2K games forum thread, 2K: Why is the DLC 24kb only?)
So in other words, they did it for the player who doesn’t buy the DLC. Guess what Elizabeth, everyone who bought Bioshock 2 also bought the Sinclair Solutions Tester Pack DLC! It was on their disc, they had no choice but to buy it. It makes no sense that you would bar these players from playing what they paid for. No logical person would ever willingly let a big corporation rip them off, yet Elizabeth here seems to be convinced otherwise.
I think maybe consumers should break it down for publishers and developers alike. DLC delivered on disc is a terrible business model and will certainly cost you customers. Gamers are not stupid people, a lot of us look at the file size of what we are downloading. Trust me, we know when we are being duped; it’s depressing and highly alarming to think that some of these great companies need to resort to such a dishonest selling practice.