As a gamer, there’s no worse feeling than purchasing a really promising title, only to find out that it’s completely broken and unplayable. However, as a “fix”, some developers have hidden patches, crucial story elements and other content behind a paywall, readily available for purchase so that gamers can complete or otherwise “enhance” the experience. Whether the platform of choice is a console, PC or mobile device, DLC has become a more prominent fixture in the industry since the public rollout of the Internet. While some users have been either disgusted or elated by the ever-increasing (and sometimes, never-ending) demands in-game to purchase new content, industry leaders have touted that “DLC is the future”.
“From an economic standpoint, releasing an incomplete game, and later charging for DLC makes economic sense for all parties involved. I should know. I got my Master’s Degree online in 6 months.” -Unnamed Financial Executive
According to research conducted by Murketing Chimps, Inc., releasing an incomplete game provides multiple benefits: 1) studios can work their developers less, 2) release deadlines can be readily met regardless of completion status, 3) initial price points can remain “low” and “attractive”, and 4) unlimited income potential through DLC. “It’s the perfect plan”, says the previously unnamed executive. “By working our developers less, we can save tons of money by not having to pay them as much and reduce the amount of insurance we would have to provide by law, thus passing the initial savings onto our customers. However, since the majority of the game is locked behind paywalls, we have unlimited income potential, and the average gamer won’t care. It’s not like we’re taking ‘food off the table’; the majority of our customers live with their parents.”.
In the gamer camp, opinions are varied. One anonymous Google+ user touts that “paid DLC makes sense if it adds to the story”, with a follow-up response from another user admonishing industry leaders to “make all DLC free”. Extreme opinions on either end state everything from “DLC is the future, deal with it” to “DLC must die“. Without a cohesive, shared plan to fall back on, decision makers have taken the reins and decided that DLC is “in everyone’s best interests”.
Developer Gearbox Software has defended its DLC practices by stating that providing new heads and skins for characters at the “low” price of $4.99 is a “hella rockin’ deal”. Gamers now have the privilege of customizing characters to their tastes, and getting Moxxi’s sweet rocket launcher to boot in Borderlands 2. “We learned relatively early that character customization need not be free. Why not provide these options at a later time, hide them behind a paywall, and make a profit? Seems like a no-brainer.”, states one anonymous executive.
“But, she’s got a new hat!” -Smithers at the “new” Malibu Stacy in-store release.
Mobile gaming has emerged as the top platform for DLC (aka in-app purchases), prompting many developers to consider moving their operations to storefronts like the App Store and Google Play. Certain executives have noted that there is a potential “gold mine” to be found in mobile gaming, with unlimited income potential through in-app purchases and ad revenue. “We’ve found the perfect model for in-game ad revenue”, states one developer. “By simply placing a fullscreen, clickable ad with a tiny ‘X’ at the top, our earning potential can grow exponentially.”. Further, children have been identified as “easy targets” for in-app purchases, whose eagerness to complete or add to the game equal “easy money”.
Some of these practices have not gone unnoticed by the FTC, who recently settled with Apple over in-app purchases to the tune of $32.5 million dollars in 2014. Despite increasing federal pressure, developers and publishers continue to approve and release games with more DLC and in-app purchase opportunities than ever before.
In another instance, developer Capcom has recently come under fire for providing gamers the option to pay for content that already appears on the disc. Capcom defended their position by stating that “it provides for easy compatibility” between players, whether they chose to purchase it or not. While some gamers cried “foul”, others were content to buy the content to get the “full experience”. “Who cares what I spend my money on? It’s not like I’m hurting anybody”, admonished one gamer.
With the gamer camp so divided, and AAA executives with seemingly limitless budgets and pressing deadlines to meet, there’s little to indicate where the video game industry will be in another twenty years regarding DLC practices. But as long as gamers are willing to spend money on DLC and executives are willing to provide it, DLC will continue to be the modus operandi for the gaming industry for years to come.