Downloadable content, more commonly referred to as DLC, has become a promising and exciting aspect of the current generation of home consoles for gamers. Although PC gamers have enjoyed the benefit of prolonging their experience with games and DLC for many years now, it wasn't until the original Xbox came along for console gamers to have a taste of the sensation.
However, DLC has found itself at the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons one too many times this generation. Especially in these times of global economic hardship, gamers want to feel like the content has earned their dollar more than ever. Some content would be included on the disk in previous generations, where gamers could unlock them by completing challenges. These small awards are now exploited and kept for aftermarket sale from Xbox Live and PSN for ridiculous prices. It's not just new games either; classic arcade titles receive minor graphical updates and are then ported and sold at a premium price.
One of the most recent games to release DLC where gamers didn't feel they were being charged justifiably was Resident Evil 5, which has already drawn bad publicity around the supposed racial arguments. Resident Evil 5 released for both the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 in early March, but even before the game was released Capcom announced DLC would be made available shortly after to enable Versus mode. At the same time Capcom announced the content would cost less in Japan compared to the rest of the world. What is the reason behind the decision to offer it cheaper in Japan then? Resident Evil is a Japanese franchise and has always been popular in its home market, but arguably just as popular in PAL territories and US markets, if not more. With a larger install base in both of these markets compared to Japan, it would make more sense to offer the content cheaper to them for less and increase your sales and potential income. Or better yet, release the content to everyone for the same low price worldwide, especially when reports point to the DLC already being on the disk.
When the content released last week reports quickly made their way to the internet on the file size, a whopping 1.86MB. Suspicions are raised and Capcom are questioned if the content is already on the disk to which they replied:
"It makes use of the assets that exist in the game [but] the functionality is not currently in the game and is above and beyond the initial scope of Resident Evil 5."
Arguably then, the gamer has already spent money on the DLC and owns it, but must pay more to unlock it. Developers argue that the bandwidth for hosting and providing the content also needs to be covered. However, both Microsoft and Sony provide the hosting for DLC, in which the Xbox 360's cost is already partly covered by the Xbox Live Gold subscriptions.
Changes to Sony's PSN service may mean Capcom are hosting the content themselves, but then surely only PS3 gamers should be burdened with the higher costs. Sony changed their structure for DLC in October 2008 and details were recently released on the costs developers must pay to have Sony host it. For every gigabyte downloaded publishers must pay Sony 16 cents. It doesn't sound like a lot, but when your average demo is at least 1GB in size, it can quickly add up with a combined 20 million Playstation 3 & PSP owners using the service.
Game prices are rising and set to increase in the coming years, even digital distribution like Valve's Steam platform has failed to lower prices, with many games actually costing more than their retail equivalents. Of course the appeal and promise behind the platform was lower game prices and the ability to download your games from anywhere in the world, only half of the bargain has been kept.
Even the Xbox 360's digital service is changing, with more and more games priced higher and leaving the comfort zone they were once in. Many new titles for Xbox Live Arcade bare an 800 point ($10/£6.80) price tag or more, compared to when the service launched in 2005 and most games were more suitably priced 400 points. The two most recent culprits of this new pricing are Flock ($15) and Puzzle Quest: Galactrix ($20). So why has there been such a huge increase, particularly in the last 6 months or so? Of course developers need to make money back on what they spent developing the game, but in the process they are cutting off more and more people who aren't willing to spend money on games. Games which were touted as cheap pick up and play experiences and aimed towards casual gamers, who aren't heavily invested in the hobby.
All the meanwhile developers such as Criterion (Burnout series), Epic (Unreal Tournament) and ironically Valve (Half-Life) offered free content packs for some of their latest titles which were by no means light on features or content. All 3 of them are arguably in better positions to release content for free compared to small/indie developers of course.
It's not all doom and gloom though, as recently Treyarch's DLC map pack for Call of Duty World at War sold over a million copies and even broke records for most downloads in a week on Xbox Live. The pack cost $10 and included three new multiplayer maps and one new map for Nazi Zombie mode, along with new weapons and perks. The over shadowing news however was the release on PC where the content was free, presumably because Treyarch are all too aware of the piracy issues or reluctant to burden gamers with activation issues. Is it fair console gamers have to pay though? Especially when it's also possible to pirate DLC on consoles and the game has proved more popular on them.
For me, downloadable content was an exciting promise for this generation having already experienced fragments on the original Xbox. Over the years however I find myself buying less and less, choosing to speak with my wallet when I feel the publishers ask for too much. Instead I buy more Arcade and PSN titles now, giving map packs and "unlock" content a miss. I don't agree with paying for map packs when they are released for free on the PC or when they cut corners and remake "classic" maps from previous games, especially if I own aforementioned games. Why not reward me and discount the price for a loyal fan? So I ask you the reader, what's your opinion on DLC and where do you believe the sweet spot is on pricing?