Monday, November 16, 2009

DLC - What a Rip Off

So this editorial is going to generalize and while it is not true in every case, for the most part downloadable content is a rip off.

The Past

Let's start with a little history, back in the bad old days game publishers had to really test their games. If they released a game with a flaw, that was it. You wanted an extra level? Hold up the release or it is left on the cutting room floor. No second chances.

Then came the internet, and eventually it migrated to the last generation of consoles. (Except for Nintendo.) At first is was only for gamers to play against each other, but as the current generation of consoles came around the console makers added storage space. This gave the publishers the ability to patch a game (making up for incomplete testing) and fixing issues on the fly.

The Present

And then someone got the bright idea:
You know that game level we had to leave out? Let's put it back in, but make people pay for it.
Thus was born, downloadable content or DLC. Not only do publishers no longer need to test as completely, but they can continue to charge for the game long after it becomes part of the bargain rack at the local game shop. Yes, this allows publishers to get games out on time, but some companies have so embraced the model that they no longer publish full games.

I mean what publisher wouldn't want you to lay out $100+ dollars for the game, controllers and then charge you $2 for each song you could play? And they rationalize it by saying "Oh that's what gamers want, they don't want to pay for content they won't use."

Since there's no way to resell content you didn't really like, and the only place to get it is from the console maker's store, they've created a monopoly. There really isn't any competition to drive prices down, and this gets to the heart of things. Storage space is cheap, and it costs the company nothing to make extra copies of DLC for you. Thus the profit margins are much higher any time you use the store to download a game or content. Do they pass along some savings to you? No. If 10,000 people download something and they've paid the developers off, does the producer lower the price? There's no incentive to price things reasonably, they control all the sources.

The Future

And here's the really scary portion. How long until someone get's the idea to start charging for patches? Haven't you seen the writing on the Sony blog? "This update is offered free of charge!" What happens when your online game suddenly needs an update you have to pay for to continue playing? As if producers needed an more ways to take money from us.

Of course, there's the argument "You don't have to play." That is true. And going down that rabbit hole will end badly for the game/console makers.

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