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The Reasons I Dislike Downloadable Content for Video Games

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It seems that most people have a certain dislike for the idea of paying extra for a complete product, but what is actually wrong with it? Here is my take on the idea of paying for things like DLC and the more complex issues regarding paid mods.

It's quite possible that these points have been touched on by many others before, but I'm going to lay out what I think here anyway. I feel that quality is a big problem that spans the entire world economy today and microtransactions are an aspect of the matter that I wish did not catch on.

Passion builds great games, a desire to make money creates adequate games.

Games already cost $60 at launch, what gives? Often times they never worked correctly at that point anyway.

With many games that have been developed, a company will start with an idea, then develop it for a set amount of time before releasing it. The problem with this is that most games that have ever been made are an experiment. What can we do differently? How much of the same can we get away with? Most games aren't ready to be slapped together right from the get-go, they start as rough ideas and evolve from there, often times changing form repeatedly. Then as the clock starts counting down and your project isn't finished, you start frantically slapping things together until the last minute hoping that it'll all work out. Most of the time it doesn't and the project is littered with bugs and defects that can sometimes render it unplayable. Buyers of the product are then put in the position of hoping that their fellow gamers purchase enough copies of the title to render it finished before the developers give up on it.

This is a terrible policy and it has killed many great projects in the past, bankrupted studios, and demolished the reputations of entire swaths of companies. Despite this, many companies still do this very thing, almost as if they must justify their existence by releasing games on a schedule, regardless of the quality. It comes down to money, and in this realm, there are a few problems. One of the biggest issues with money is that people keep wanting more of it, they want a return on their investments. That is perfectly understandable, but it casts light on an important problem. If a company is making a product to justify their existence rather than because they want to, the quality of the product will suffer. Personally, I believe that game studios would make more money by creating products they enjoyed rather than doing it simply because o money. Passion builds great games, a desire to make money creates adequate games.

So then, why do broken games cost $60? I think the answer to this is consumer confidence. When you buy a product at a certain price, there is an expectation that you will get something good for that price. However, most games released at this price don't deserve the reputation the price represents, and they end up with overinflated promises. People buy into it because of what they think the product will offer. In reality, the product usually represents one or two cutting-edge leaps that only slightly raise the bar. In other words, you get a flashy video showcase with the latest in software technology, created via extreme investment from an industry giant. Or in a worse situation, little investment, which truly illustrates the issue with things like DLC. A large part of what you're paying for is experimentation, because video games aren't toilet paper. You can't just input trees and output a video game that will sell. Video games are a need in the same way as any other form of entertainment, consumers are built in because they enjoy the product, not because they can't live without it. Antics like this can only last so long, the video game crash of 1983 is an example of this.

Video Game Development is like putting together a meal, it's an experience you plan to sell.

Sometimes DLC is included with the game/game disc, why should we pay for something that was part of a complete package already?

What game companies do is similar to building a meal, and they sell the meal to you for an industry standard price. There is a problem though. Once you find out that some of the ingredients are missing from the meal as it was illustrated on the menu, you inquire to the waiter why that is. The waiter then tells you that those ingredients were part of their premium customer package and that to get them added in, you have to buy a season pass. Then you sit there feeling dejected over the fact you've been eating something that is somehow less than what everyone else in the restaurant is eating. You sign up for their program and charge your credit card for the extra money, and you get your upgraded meal. You get an additional entree and your ingredients added. You enjoy your extras, but not as much as you thought you would. Later you find out that the restaurant actually put something in the regular food to make it taste worse, and they also have been slipping small charges into the bill that weren't on the menu. When you inquire about what the charges were for, they say it's because you've been adding extra salt to your food after it reaches the table. Enraged at how you've been misled, and knowing that you have only had the season pass for a day, you demand a refund. The host simply says, "We don't do that here."

Then you go to a movie theatre to watch a movie, followed by being told during an intermission break that you have to pay more money to watch the end of the movie or buy the season pass so it doesn't happen again (even though it very well might). It's a huge problem with being up front, but it also segregates the community between the haves and have-nots.

The DLC problem: "What can I get away with selling before customers riot?"

The DLC problem: "What can I get away with selling before customers riot?"

How much does it add to the experience in comparison to cost, what is a ripoff?

Value, like any concept involving money, has to do with usage. What is the quality of the item you received? How long will it last? How much can you put it through on a daily basis? How well does it work? Does it do what it's supposed to, did I get the product that was advertised? These are all questions related to value, and they are questions we should be asking when we buy a product at any point, this point being video games.

So, firstly, what does your $60 buy you? That depends on what game you buy. In a competitive environment, companies should be fighting to get you the most for your money, so that in the end you keep choosing them over their competitor. This seems to be less and less the case moving forward as companies have been ripping apart their IPs for all they will sell for, parting them out for the market to consume in pieces. It's like leaving out choice elements of a painting to be added later at a cost to the buyer. "What do you mean it wasn't finished? I paid for something only partially completed?" Except with a painting you usually get to see what you are buying. With video games, companies hide behind copyright quite a lot in order to prevent you from seeing their product until you've already paid for it. Now that companies are offering refunds, it's less of an issue, but still an issue nonetheless. $60 as the standard release for a video game buys you what the market sees as standard fare. In most cases, it buys you boatloads of art coupled with crappy or uninspired gameplay. In some cases, the art isn't even good. Every company has a different philosophy, and they have different goals with their games. Most of the time, however, companies will hype a game to the point that it is far beyond the scope of what it can deliver, just to boost initial sales. It's a delicate con, but one that has limits. Companies these days are made and broken by the fine line that exists between pushing the market to the limit and destroying their reputation. This is something that honestly shouldn't be the case, especially with art.

The best way to determine whether or not a video game is a good price is not how much it cost to make, or how shiny it is, but what you could do with the money instead and why. With $60 you could by a toolkit that might save you from having to pay a plumber or mechanic in the future. $60 could buy you 3 brand new movies, or the same amount of seasons of a television show. $60 could buy you a day's worth of meals, or a wonderful night out. When you compare a video game to those, does it provide equivalence? Can you get at least six hours of high-quality gameplay or over 30 hours of above average gameplay? Does the game change a dichotomy in your life that improves your existence in a fundamental way you'd go about your life for the better? Is there something integrally fascinating about the game that you just simply cannot ignore? If you find yourself answering no, then why are you paying that game for $60, or worse yet, compilations of DLC that cost more than $200-400!?

DLC is an addition to something. The parent property to the DLC is critical to whether or not the DLC even has a chance of being worth something. The original content has to be solid, but it has to be possible to improve, otherwise what is the point? So we find ourselves with a product that will only sell if the original was lacking something or if the DLC is just so amazing that it's a must have in addition to the original. If the former is true, it raises the question of, "Why wasn't it a part of the original game?" And if it's the latter, it shows the true dominance of the company as an artistic powerhouse in the industry that probably deserves the money. The biggest problem is it's almost never the latter, most of the time micro-transactions and DLC are just a bid to get more money, they rarely improve the game and you're left with a situation that has already deteriorated before it's begun.

For a DLC to truly be great, it has to offer value for money. If you can get a great movie for $20, then a DLC at that price needs to be of similar value. For $20, you should get at least 2 hours of the best gameplay of your life, or there should be something that makes up for it in the long run, such as replayability. When you have to choose between a good meal or a DLC, that DLC better be just as nutritious.

What are you actually buying here?

What are you actually buying here?

...DLC libraries for games tend to be entirely unattainable, requiring you to spend hundreds of dollars for content parted out into microscopic pieces.

Why I like expansions as opposed to DLC.

An expansion to a game is like the medieval empires of Europe finding out that there is another continent to the west, an unexplored virgin world. They do this without taking anything away from the old world. An expansion is pretty easy for most studios to make while using some of the excess profit from the original game since the extra content uses the framework from the original. Not being a brand new game, there is no expectation for drastic innovations, and the ease of original adaptation means the price doesn't have to be high for the product to make a profit. It's also the promise of something substantial, like the sequel to a good novel. Satiation of your desire for more good content that you can trust.

DLC, on the other hand, can be anything, and as the name suggests, it's usually not part of the original product you received. Deception regarding these products is high due to the loose definition. Consumers looking to buy in have little to nothing to go on when making a purchase. If you liked the base game, there are chances you'll like the DLC, then again the DLC may have been made by an intern that doesn't know what they are doing. Oftentimes DLC are simply neat ideas that were part of the original design of the game but were excluded for monetary reasons. They have a habit of making a game that would have otherwise been delicious into something rather bland that needs to be 'upgraded.' The profit models for DLC generally tend to be deceptive and unoriginal.

Worse yet is that DLC libraries for games tend to be entirely unattainable, requiring you to spend hundreds of dollars for content parted out into microscopic pieces. If a talented artist can create an object in a game in just a few hours, including the implementation of the complementary assets and scripts within the game, then that content will be relatively inexpensive to publish. Say you give your artist a rather generous salary of $180 for their time and you factor in the QA team's testing, you are looking at a profit after selling around 250 copies at $1. Say you've sold 10,000 copies, that's around $9,750 in profit. A 3,900% return on investment, I wish I could make that kind of money! That is only the tip of the iceberg and not something that an average consumer can do very often. Does that sound like a good trade? Do you think the artist in question even sees a fraction of that money? There are entire games that regularly sell for $1 that have considerably more content than that, all you have to do is look at any digital marketplace and set the filter results accordingly. What we have here is a get rich quick scheme that only helps the publisher. This is why I think expansions are usually a good thing, but DLC creates poor video games and a market saturated with overpriced content.

DLC Trivia Quiz

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. What was the first platform that supported Downloadable Content as we understand it today?
    • Microsoft XBOX
    • Sega Dreamcast
    • Sony Playstation 2
    • Personal Computer
    • Nintendo GameCube
  2. What was the name of Bethesda's notorious $2.50 DLC from 2006?
    • Summerset Isle
    • Horse Armor
    • The Vile Lair
    • The Pitt
    • Knights of the Nine
  3. What was the name of the highly controversial Mass Effect Story DLC that released shortly after Mass Effect 3?
    • From Ashes
    • The Illusive Remenant
    • Shroud of Dreams
    • Liara's Testament
    • Shattered

Answer Key

  1. Personal Computer
  2. Horse Armor
  3. From Ashes

Interpreting Your Score

If you got 0 correct answers: Good Try! Check out " " for more.

If you got 1 correct answer: Good Try! Check out " " for more.

If you got 2 correct answers: Good Try! Check out " " for more.

If you got 3 correct answers: So you're either familiar with this, or you've done your homework. Good Job!

Achievements shouldn't require you to pay extra to obtain.

DLC should always add to a gaming experience, not be a part of the core experience that was withheld. If a DLC reaches the size of an expansion, don't penalize players who don't have the expansion by taking away their 100% completion, separate the two. Achievements should always be given to those who accomplish core events and principles in the game, it is a recognition of their skill and dedication. As such, it should be held in high regard amongst gaming communities, developers, and players alike. Hiding game completion in additional content is a cheap and unauthentic way to get gamers to fork out more cash for a product they've already bought.

Map packs, what happens to the part of the community that doesn't have them?

When DLC is released as multiplayer content that is only accessible after money has been paid in, it creates a schism, another issue between the haves and the have-nots. It's a game where the kids at the park tell you that you can't play because to didn't ante up. To be a player, you have to reach into your wallet and plop in another quarter, the Arcades all over again. When does the glut end? While it's great that companies keep adding content to their games, this content should be sold in large parts for a good value or not at all. Instead of tacking more and more onto an existing game, it should come out of base profit, or sold as an all in one expansion that doesn't take anything away from the original. Parting it out into tiny, overpriced pieces does nothing except obscure the aim: to make as much money as possible. That is an irresponsible attitude for any company, but especially one that sells art.

Multiplayer achievements are also a problem for a similar reason in that communities don't always survive, and add-on modes that exist behind a paywall tend to die quickly. This means that certain achievements may become impossible to obtain after a given period of time, you shouldn't have to be in on a game day one to get core achievements or experiences, that's just stupid, but it happens all the time.

The name of Bethesda's new 'contracted content' program.

The name of Bethesda's new 'contracted content' program.

"All hail the great Empire of Bethesda, to thee we pledge our wallets!" This is where the idea of DLC goes from being disingenuous to outright despicable.

Mods, or modifications, for video games have been a method by which the community who've sprouted up around a video game can enhance the game of their own volition. As a rule, mods are a form of expression as well as being a starting point for a considerable number of would-be developers. Entire genres of video games have been born from mods through the years, and the positive effects on the industry are undeniable.

A paid mod contributes to the concept that a company owns content that it didn't create simply because of the platform they created, at the expense of artists and members of their gaming community. Bethesda's Creation Club is an idea that would probably be entirely beneficial were money not involved but has become a bastardization that reaches to the very core of game development as a profession. The Creation Club is the latest in a trend of breaking games into pieces that you buy as you go, stripping the soul away from the content in the process. It's an attempt to get people comfortable with the idea of putting a hole in their wallet for the sake of emotional gratification, it's the epitome of unethical on the level of drug dealing. Parting out overpriced 'merchandise' to unwitting addicts who don't understand or care about the condition, and it's only going to get worse from here.

For those who do understand the problem, we are furious, but what can we really do about it? This article was my answer, but you can also vote with your wallet. Beyond that, the abused copyright policies these companies hide behind prevent any further recourse. I think it's always been important to discourage this type of behavior, but it's becoming increasingly more important now as the situation is reaching critical mass.

"We need to release DLC to make a profit on our games."

This is a symptom of uninformed consumers and a lie straight from the deepest circles of hell. It's true that video games are expensive to produce, especially if you are on the cutting edge of Triple-A experiences, but the idea that DLC is required to make a profit is a telltale sign that a disease is corroding the fabric of the digital games industry. It strikes a chord eerily similar to the complaints of video game publishers as the arcades were becoming irrelevant. As with any free market enterprise, you have to find a way to produce your products at a price that allows for market consumption. Statements like the section title show that the level of entitlement in the video games industry at this point borders on absurd.

Star Wars Battlefront 2 is a recent example of how pbulishers are taking DLC abuse to the next level.

Star Wars Battlefront 2 is a recent example of how pbulishers are taking DLC abuse to the next level.

So what about free-2-play games?

When you look at the market today, you'll see that it's inundated with free-2-play titles, as well as premium titles that have thousands of purchasable goods. The term 'free-2-play' is often a misnomer because games require money to support, if nobody is paying for the game, the company will go bankrupt. So the company needs to find a way to get enough people to buy their 'extra content' in order to make enough money to justify continuing support for the product.

This is a big problem because if you make the game traditionally and don't withhold anything vital, it's unlikely that you will rake in enough money to produce the game since players would be hard-pressed to find a reason to pay for the game. The second problem is that the game community is generally padded with 'cannon fodder' players that can't afford to buy premium content in their game. These players come from the sectors of society that are looking to play a game with their friends but can't keep up economically. That leads to a disparity again between the haves and have-nots, this usually corrupts the soul of the game and prevents any true competition within the gaming sphere.

Games are virtual reality, meaning in this case that they only attain the status of true art when they are separated from reality.
No form of micro-transaction will ever be good for the soul of a video game. That being said, there is a place for digital marketplaces.

Social conventions like fashion allow for cosmetic items to be sold for real currency without hugely impacting gameplay. However, the idea of selling cosmetic items approaches unethical when it demands that a player buy the extra content in order to compete or fit in, and like most types of microtransactions, works for some games better than others.

Ultimately I think that free-2-play games would work best if they simply had a subscription to unlock all content, but had the 'cannon fodder' players instead fulfill the role of the most needed classifications. In other words, they'd take the core roles that the game requires to function to ensure a healthy community. This would allow free players to compete without making premium players feel like they are paying for nothing.

Video games have also had the problem of being a profitable by nature, largely due to the limited number of developers. Hoards of young people have overwhelmed the industry with the idea of following their passion and make good money doing it. As the economy struggles to find it's footing, the built-in audience for video games isn't growing as quickly as the numbers of people that want to profit from them. This creates a huge problem for indie developers trying to break into the industry as the big publishers gobble up all of the money that consumers spend every year. The bright side of this problem is that the indie developers of today that manage to thrive will become the seeds of future masterpieces.

Parting Thoughts

In my honest opinion, the DLC craze is the result of companies trying to take as much of the pie for themselves at the expense of the customer as possible. They look at what another company is doing, and after seeing how much money that company is making, they decide to follow suit in spite of the ethical complications of that decision. This behavior is destroying the games industry, and it's becoming rare to get anything good for your money.

In the end, it's up to the consumer to decide what to do with their money. As for myself, my heart loathes the idea that mediums with such potential like video games have become lost in the idea of making money through deception. In case anyone has forgotten, greed is a deadly sin and it destroys what it touches. It may be difficult to finance any venture, but that should never be an excuse to saturate an industry with overpriced garbage. I long for respectful competition to become the standard again, and I pray that the video games industry as a whole would stop fishing for what they don't need.

Why can't we just make a game that is finished, then release that game for a decent price, and only add content if it's popular enough to justify? What's so wrong with that?

Polygon's take on Bethesda's Creation Club

Gamesradar's '8 worst DLC' article

GamingBolt's '15 Worst Examples of Microtransactions


© 2017 AJ Shirley