Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

DLC – It Sells Games…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 10, 2010

Cliff Harris has a very frank discussion about the role downloadable content (DLC) has played in his latest hit indie game, Gratuitous Space Battles

Ad Stats, and Why People Make DLC

I know I kinda miss the days where games just had “expansions” and “sequels.”  But while the bite-sized chunks of additional gameplay DLC often offers is often less satisfying than a full-fledged expansion, it still serves the same purpose. As long as it is appropriately priced and does NOT seem like an attempt to force customers to pay extra for content that should have been in the game in the first place, I don’t mind. In fact, I’m kind of a fan. Though I did wait until I got a combined pack when I bought Gratuitous Space Battles

Patches serve the same purpose, but tend to have a negative connotation… even when they are adding additional features.

There’s yet another role that DLC can play, which Cliff doesn’t mention. But Brad Wardell of Stardock has suggested in the past — making piracy less convenient. Especially when free add-ons are available only to registered customers.  Sure, it will eventually be pirated anyway, but it seems that pirates tend to have a lower attention span for maintaining non-new games than customers.

Of course, the big topic of the article is how difficult it is to attribute success to online ads. Sounds like buying general-purpose ad space on the web is wasted unless you go really, really big.  It sounds like it would be better to target a few sites that cater to the needs of your audience…

Filed Under: Biz - Comments: 5 Comments to Read

  • Calibrator said,

    I like cliffski for the way he communicates, even if I don’t play his games. However, I don’t think that he is always indicative for the games market – especially not in this case.

    The real problem for gamers is IMHO not DLC or its pricing: It’s the ever shrinking length of singleplayer campaign of the main game!
    The newest number I often read is “around 5 hours” – for Star Wars The Force Unleashed II, the new Bond game (Blood Stone) and the new Medal of Honor.
    The single player part of Call of Duty: Black Ops is so short that it’s practically only an alibi to print a feature onto the box…

    This naturally reduces development costs drastically as less content has to be produced – for a regularly priced main game, of course.

    If the publisher then offers a second campaign via DLC with, say, 2 to 3 hours for a price of $6.99 to $9.99 it appears to be in relation to the price of the main game.
    If you really liked the short main game you practically have no other choice than buying the DLC…

    However, what really happens is that they are selling you a “complete game” now for an increased price (main game price + DLC price). If the main game and the first DLC are both successful the next few DLC packages are being made (see Fallout 3 for an example).

    If everything is “complete” (as in “we can’t milk the hardcore gamer anymore!”) they publish the same stuff again as a “Game of the Year Edition” or something like that.
    If you are a player that possesses some patience you don’t wait until this edition is in the stores *but* until it drops in price to around $10 to $15. In Germany most GOTY-packages drop in price drastically a few months later and I assume that this is the same story everywhere.
    Of course you also get fully patched games then…

  • Silemess said,

    My feelings on DLC are a bit mixed. I’m not in favor of it as a rule, most often because it gets released with the big studio titles. After paying $60, I have high expectations for what a game should deliver and I’ve been finding those expectations not being met far too often. So to see them offering DLC makes me think that it should have been included in the original purchase.

    But when a game has given me the playing hours back that my working hours were spent on? Then I don’t mind paying for that extra content. The catch is, an expensive game means I expect a lot of play time. I don’t have a lot of play time as a rule. So what there is, is precious.

    If I find myself getting fed up or not having fun, it doesn’t matter if then if the game would take a while to complete. Similarly, even if the game is a lot of fun, unless it was designed to be a new experience with each play through, I don’t like it being short.

    So if the game can navigate that restrictive minefield and deliver? Kudos and cash to them for the DLC they’ve made. If not? Then DLC will have the opposite effect they intended, I won’t be buying it and I’ll be even less likely to buy their next game on the expectation they’ll short change me next time as well.

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    To respond to Calibrator first, single player campaigns aren’t getting shorter to reduce development costs or make the length of DLC or its price point more attractive, but because it genuinely costs more and takes longer (the latter causing the former) to produce art assets and animations for current generation games.

    Concepting, modeling, sculpting, texturing, and animating a game character like Nathan Drake from Uncharted is a much more lengthy and difficult process than it was to create Lara Croft for the original Tomb Raider. I know, I create art and game assets, and it takes longer and longer every year to match what the gaming masses demand for a “state of the art” game. We are to a point where we are essentially having to make photorealistic movie sets and actors – except our audience can walk all around the set and stare at every object in the room up-close and for as long as they want. Naturally when it takes more time and energy to create each level in a game, you will end up producing fewer levels.

    On the topic of DLC, I like it just fine when it makes sense and is priced well in comparison to the main game. If a base game gives me 10 hours of enjoyment for 50 dollars, DLC that only adds 1 hour of gameplay had better not exceed five dollars.

    Bethesda has produced some great DLC with Knights of the Nine for Oblivion and especially the Fallout 3 DLC.

    Speaking of Bethesda, I think the way they initially handled DLC for Oblivion is the exact WRONG way to do it. Namely nickle-and-diming players for a new piece of armor, or a new weapon, or a single short dungeon.

    New weapons and armor DLC especially tick me off, because being a game artist myself, I know how quickly such items can be made and nearly the exact man hours involved, and the $3-$5 price charged for a single “cool new outfit” or “awesome looking weapon” is ridiculous in comparison to the price paid for the full game.

    Coyote, I too miss the old days of awesome expansion packs released a year to year-and-half after a base game. For usually around $20, they added substantial content and were sometimes near the same length in added gameplay as the original game. Using the same engine and graphics and gameplay as the original game allowed developers a year or more to do nothing but remix and write new quests and locations and stories.

    To finish on that last note, I hope DLC leads to more sequels using the same game engine – as I said in my response to Calibrator, the current arms race in graphics is largely unsustainable. Will players really be satisfied if we succeed in making photorealistic games indistinguishable from reality if those games cost $60-$70 dollars and only last an hour?

  • skavenhorde said,

    I remember when Ultima 7 came out with an expansion for the game. At the time I didn’t quite understand what it was about and was furious, but now I’d give anything to have just expansions back 🙂

  • Calibrator said,

    you seem to disagree by confirming what I wrote (producing art assets *is* producing content – which is expensive).

    We also share the same opinion about overpriced DLC like the Oblivion horse armor but I see different consequences:
    The graphics arms race won’t result in one hour long single player campaigns in full-price games, even though the publishers seemingly try to determine the minimal length that gamers tolerate.
    It actually does already result in engine reuse (especially visible in games with episodic character like the ones from TellTale) and in simpler, often cheaper games by circumventing the retail market (example: “Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light”).

    Apart from the graphics and content race there is another use of DLC that is distributed exclusively via the networks: Preventing piracy to some extent and especially either weakening the used games market or making additional deals. This of course works only if the DLC is so important that the buyer wants to upgrade the game (enabling multiplayer for example).