Christina Norman, who works for Riot Games, once worked for BioWare on Mass Effect. And at GDC, she had a few messages about the day-one Mass Effect 3 DLC and the backlash.
“There’s no point in releasing DLC a year after your game has come out when most people have already sold your game back to GameStop three times; that means getting it out early; that means even day one DLC. That is a terrible thing to some players. Players rant – they know nothing about this DLC that’s coming out except its name. But then it’s ‘oh this game must be incomplete, the game must be ruined.’ Game developers are not evil. Some are evil, But most are not evil.”
She them went on to put her foot in it with; “We just want to release awesome stuff. Players please, give us a chance. Judge our games based on what they are. Judge the DLC based on what it is. Stop thinking you’re a producer and telling us when and where we should be building our content.”
For a start, there’s nothing wrong with DLC. But she is wrong on her first point – DLC was designed to make sure games were kept, and enjoyed, and sustained over a period of months to years. That was the whole sell of DLC in the first place; your game would be maintained over a period of time, up to about a year, with new missions and content. DLC that is being sold on the first day of a release is not DLC. Most of it is ON THE DISC. What you have there is a stealth tax on a game. A punishment on legitimate purchasers. And these people wonder why piracy is an issue?!
Secondly, a game has to stand alone without DLC. This is where BioWare have failed in recent times; I refer to Dragon Age 2, of course, a game which felt so unfinished that it got widely panned. When people playing a game say the game feels unfinished, and THEN accuse you of holding back, that isn’t a complaint to ignore – these people have paid up to £50 for YOUR GAME, ma’am. That, despite my usual insistence that it is still value for money in most cases, gives them the right to ask if they’re getting the full experience. Charging £10 extra on the first day for missions and content – sure, it may not have been “ready to go on the disc fully”. But it’s sure as hell there for the release, isn’t it? It’s not hard for someone to make the logical deduction that content is being held back. Why not hold onto it for three weeks and THEN release it?
We will, of course, judge games based on their content. But when some content – large parts – is sold separately, it isn’t about being a producer. A producer with an ounce of morality in his or her body would know that the current DLC trends are pretty crummy. This is about accountancy, about profit, about getting as much out of the customer as is possible right off the bat. Games that are being made to essentially make money, regardless of the consequences, and games that often don’t feel loved.
Again, back to Dragon Age 2 for this – at no point in Dragon Age 2 did I think anyone working on it loved the project. It was competent. Capable. But the limited maps, the awkward animations, the script, the lack of balance – these are things that a project with some love in it would have attempted to redress. Even then, there is still sometimes a sense that someone loved a project – just maybe loved it too much. Dragon Age 2 felt unloved – and the lack of modding tools essentially killed it off before Skyrim came out, where the userbase could have found it in their hearts to make things better, BioWare sadly felt they were the ones in control – and held back.
And back to the beginning again. DLC was, originally, about supporting and sustaining games over a period of time, rewarding loyal customers with small content additions for a small sum of money every couple of months. A game that has day-one DLC, that isn’t DLC. It’s punishing new customers, whereas those who often wait a year end up paying far less money for what ends up a more complete product.
No-one is saying game developers are evil. But the expectation to milk customers as hard as you can right from the bat has to stop at some point. Once upon a time, loyal customers who bought a product at release were rewarded for their purchase, and their loyalty. They got access to neat exclusive toys and clothes, and often a code for some free DLC in a month or two, things that those coming slightly late to the party would find they were not entitled to.
Now, those same people who were rewarded for their purchase are the ones who are paying the price, and it is those who have the patience to wait a little while who end up reaping the benefits with more complete version releases later on.
This wouldn’t be acceptable in any other industry. So why it is THIS industry that chooses to abuse the customers it should be tending to and nurturing is beyond me.
The only way it makes sense is overzealous accountants. And even then… one does have to ask the question; do you need to recover the costs so badly that risking the loyal customers who have is worth it?