FNG Logo created by Nick Serr

20 March 2009

Why I Seriously Hope DLC Will Go Away; Make the Gaming World a Better Place Again

I know, I know... I got excited yesterday about Steam's news about DLC content being made available for games even if you didn't initially buy it on Steam... but this whole concept is starting to really drive me nuts; which is now popping my excitement balloon.

DLC... which stands for DownLoadable Content, seems to be the big rage for game publishers nowadays; in order to extend the life of an existing game engine and make it more profitable. While seeming like a good business idea to start, it's quickly growing into an absolute annoyance to gamers.

See, from my limited understanding of DLC's history, it started with exclusive packs on certain platforms a game was released on, providing extra character skins, weapons and other things not necessarily relevant to the main game's story, but a fun gimmick to perhaps entice gamers to choose one platform over another for that particular game.

But now, DLC is turning into something like unto a "middle-road" between the skin/weapon packs and full-blown expansion packs (which have been popular on the PC platform for many years) which not only provide extra goodies/units, but provide extra missions/campaigns that extend the main game and its storyline.

Recent DLC's like Prince of Persia: Epilogue, and Tomb Raider: Underworld's two DLC packs (which I understand to be named "Beneath the Ashes" and "Lara's Shadow") have opted to extend their respective games' stories with an extra mission (or set of missions) that provide a short stint of extra gameplay (around 3 hours or so) but aren't quite like full-blown Expansion Packs that provide about as much extra gameplay/story as the original game did; just using the same game engine.

Fans of these series have been dying to get their hands on these continuations of the story.

The problem is, the companies providing the DLC haven't changed the original formula to allow all platforms the game was initially released on to enjoy the new parts of the story. Instead they follow the same pattern originally set forth when DLCs were testing the waters; keeping it exclusive on one/more, but not all, of the game's platforms.

Needless to say, this causes quite a stir with the portions of the game's fan-base that play on a platform that is excluded from getting the content.

Many get angry that they won't be able to continue the story on the platform they bought the game on. Others are upset because they feel this extra gameplay was really part of the original game's ending and should have been included to begin with; leaving them feeling like said company is trying to exploit them and just make a quick extra buck (or $10.)

I wasn't sucked into this mess until I bought the 2008 release of Prince of Persia (PoP) from Ubisoft. The game instantly sucked me in, and I couldn't put it down. I had so much fun with it, hitting all the right chords for me, that when I reached the end (after gathering all 1001 light seeds to get the full game experience and story); I was left hungering for more.

When I found out it was getting some DLC to expand the story, I about wet my pants... that is until I found out the PC platform was falling victim to the exclusion game that seems to run rampant in this new found niche of the industry.

Of course, the PC fans were appalled, especially because the only reason we found out was from a volunteer moderator on the official Ubisoft PoP forums posting (no official announcement) that the DLC wouldn't be coming to the PC for "business reasons."

The PC gamers were extra confused for a couple of reasons:
1. Just a few months prior, Ubisoft announced (also in their forums) that the retail DVD version of the game would be completely DRM-Free. This was incredible news to PC Gamers and a display of faith in the PC community that they would be honest and buy the game.
We couldn't understand why now Ubisoft would turn around and say, "... oh, but sorry guys, you don't get the rest of the game." It really didn't make much sense.

2. Ubisoft never offered a more detailed explanation as to what the "business reasons" were; despite pages of pleas from gamers from multiple platforms that thought it was a shady deal. All kinds of speculations arose, none of which were confirmed and none of which really held enough clout to be assumed true. Many still did assume, which I can't totally blame them since they were never given any concrete information from Ubisoft to solidify anything.

Let's stop and analyze some of this for a bit. Things to consider:
1. Ubisoft set up the PC platform to fall miserably lower than other platforms because the game was released on other platforms before the PC. Naturally, fans of the series that own multiple platforms would go purchase it for the console first, not wanting to wait for the PC release. So it was left to those who have made PC their platform of choice, or simply didn't have another platform option to buy the game to wait for the PC release and buy it then.

Still, many of us purchased the PC version in many different forms... Retail DVD (most that purchased this way did it because they wanted to support the No-DRM movement, despite preferring a digital distribution option.) I personally would've bought it through Steam, and Ubisoft offers the download through their own digital download store.

So, was Ubi setting the PC gamers up for a failure by holding off the release, so low sales could be blamed on piracy, and thus put an end to a No-DRM movement?

The numbers that were thrown out had comment placed on them saying they didn't account for digitial distribution sales... so comparisons were skewed anyway. But let's talk about low sales, since that was one of the speculations as to why they wouldn't release Epilogue on the PC...

2. Even if the 200,000 (give or take) sales number was accurate... if 75% of the gamers bought the DLC as well at $10/gamer, that would be $1.5Million the company would make by selling the DLC on the PC platform.

One of the Ubisoft level designers mentioned in a Steam forum that the conversion of the DLC for PC wouldn't take that much, certainly not $1.5Million, so it's not hard to conceive that the DLC on PC would be profitable.

Prince of Persia in the Top Seller List
I'm quite confident the number of sales for Prince of Persia on PC were higher than 200,000... but of course, Ubi wasn't willing to reply to requests for solid numbers that included the digital distribution sales. They have, however, posted for weeks on their digital distribution store, that Prince of Persia has been in the Top Seller list... at #2 from what I've seen every time I've been on there over the past several weeks. (So either it really is kicking butt in PC sales through their store, or all of their games are selling like crap!)

3. Some speculated piracy, but we all know by now that piracy was lost revenue to begin with. I'm not condoning it; in fact, quite contrary, those that know me get annoyed at how much I advocate against it. But the fact is, it happens. It sucks, but it happens. And that was money Ubi never stood to make, because the pirates do what they do and aren't paying customers to begin with.

But money WAS made on the PC version and hopefully enough to cover their expenses of porting it to the PC to begin with... if not, shame on them for not releasing sooner on PC (unless they couldn't finish the port in-time, which is understandable, and then we can't look at Ubisoft purposely setting up the PC sales for a failure.) But the timing still logically explains why the PC sales were bad, regardless.

But I digress...

I speculated that perhaps with the economy being in the state it's in and large companies having to do layoffs, etc... that perhaps the developer resources are slim a Ubisoft right now and they had to allocate those that would port the DLC to PC to other projects set to make them more money sooner (like HAWX, etc.) While this theory hasn't been officially confirmed either, it's a little more substantiated by a response from "Furyo" on a Steam forum thread about Prince of Persia DLC:
"The entire DLC team is now hard at work on Assassin's Creed 2, just like me, and while we've all followed the release of the DLC with interest, working on any other game or release is the last of our concern, team-wise. We could not possibly make them raise their eyebrows with anything else than what we were tasked to do."

If that's the case, fantastic... why couldn't that have been explained to us months ago when we first asked? We could support that. We'd still beg for a future release of the Epilogue on PC, but would understand why it didn't happen when the consoles did.

But again, Ubisoft was completely unwilling to make any effort to offer reasons more meaningful; and despite what, at the time of this writing, 63 pages of pleas for the DLC to be released on PC or at least a better explanation why... we're only being met by sarcastic and not-so-PR-friendly responses from the mods to get over it and move on with our lives.

Which brings me back to my point... DLC needs to just go away. And soon.

We gamers of any platform (many of us on multiple platforms) have enough to worry about when trying to decide which game our money goes to. We don't need to be plagued with having to then gamble with which platform we should purchase a given game on, since we'll have no clue which one(s) will get excluded from story-relevant extra content when it is released.

And what about the gamers I mentioned before that feel the companies are only trying to make an extra fast buck? Combine all of these angry gamers together and I have a feeling the gaming industry will see sharp drops in its future if they continue with the DLC madness using the same formula of exclusion.

I don't mind the idea of companies doing DLC, if it's done right... meaning story-relevant content is made available to ALL platforms the game is released on. If a company knows they're going to do DLC, they need to analyze ahead of time which platforms they'll be able to support and only release the game on those platforms.

And to those that complain that it should come free... I don't know that I agree. I think it's fan-freaking-tastic when companies are willing to do so (Valve and Team Fortress 2 is a wonderful example.) but I look at a 3-hour-long DLC like I do a movie... except better because I get to interact with it instead of just sitting down to watch. And most of us end up paying around $10 (or more) to watch a movie of lesser or equal length, so why not for 3-hours of interactive goodness? It's all about perspective there... and I'm ok to support the creative talent that bring us these excellent games with a little extra cash for expansions...

That said, I also want to say I understand the other side of the pricing argument... some argue that they shouldn't have to pay 20% of a full-price of a game when they're not getting 20% more game. That's a fair perspective too... and I'm not sure where the compromise can be made. Maybe DLCs need to follow the Expansion Pack formula instead?

Regardless, at this point in time... We gamers would be better off if DLC just dropped off the face of the Earth. Let's go back to the time when we could purchase a game without fear that any extension to the game would be out-of-our-reach because we happened to pick the wrong platform to buy it on.

And no one is immune... as mentioned before, Tomb Raider: Underworld was released on six platforms (according to the official site): Xbox 360, Playstation 2, Playstation 3, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, PC. 5 platforms are excluded from the 2 story-continuing expansions there.

So it's time for DLC to die... or for DLC to be available to all platforms a game is released on. We need to send the message loud with our money. Only purchase games from companies that fully support all platforms they release a game on. Don't purchase games from companies that don't.

Doing so will either stop the DLC exclusion madness, or it will fix it. This isn't a time to be passive, but to make your voice heard. Feel free to share your thoughts.


Anonymous said...

I agree with all of your insightful, wonderful points. I too was absolutely enraptured by the new Prince of Persia... and then felt betrayed by my newfound love when the only explanation Ubisoft gave was 'business reasons' to not releasing a story-specific DLC on the PC.

That One Guy said...

Thanks for your support! I appreciate it both here and on the Ubisoft forum thread; despite their completely ignoring us.

They can't ignore lost money, so hopefully we can drum up enough support across the board to send a loud and clear message, not only to Ubisoft, but to other companies that are pulling the same crap.

I really want the full Prince of Persia action, it's a masterpiece to be sure.

Anonymous said...

Well said, I totally agree with you