Witness two sides of the DLC debate engage in a battle of Biblical proportions.
Two groups of people find themselves staring at an enormous pearlescent structure suspended in a seemingly infinite expanse of clouds. The last thing they remember is driving overworked and sleep deprived from the Penny Arcade Expo. Well, that and being abruptly awakened by a pair of bright lights followed by deafening noise. It doesn’t take long for them to realise that they had crashed into each other. And the burly dude in ridiculous cosplay blocking their path is heaven’s own bouncer – St Pete.
One of the groups happens to be video game journalists, whereas the other is a motley crew of developers and publishers promoting their latest DLC-addled release. I’m not going to say which, because you all know who I’m talking about.
As it turns out, good ol’ Pete happens to swear by video games as an excellent tool for passing eternity. The catch is that he isn’t quite amused by the increasing trend of games being raped left, right, and centre just so that a few can make a fortune selling him items that should’ve already been included in the tin.
He is tempted to condemn the lot in hell, where they would be forced to spend an eternity playing the PS3 version of Ra.One, but then he’s pretty sick of the #GamerGate business as well. Unfortunately, since there aren’t too many Ra.One copies to go around, one of the groups will have to be let into the Half Life 3 launch party instead. That’s heaven, in case that isn’t clear already.
The solution is simple. The video game makers have to justify the recent DLC business, whereas the journalists have to show otherwise and prove why the publishers deserve an eternity of Ra.One for robbing kids of their lunch money. Loser plays Ra.One for eternity. Each group picks the best amongst themselves for the debate and this is what transpires.
The Critic: Where do I even start? How do you even begin justifying $136 worth of day-one DLC bulls*** evident these days?! We’re dealing with essential weapons, items, and characters that aren’t included in the $60 retail release. Not even in any of the ridiculously expensive special editions or “season passes”. Prepare for an eternity of staring at “King Khan’s” botoxed arse, bi***h!
The Developer: Spoken like a lazy-ass, Wikipedia-citing hack that you are! Why am I not surprised, you reactionary, click-baiting clown?!
St Peter: Language, people! Put a lid on the unnecessary swearing.
The Developer: Well, what I’m trying to say is that if this “journalist” had done his homework, he would’ve known that the average cost of developing a AAA game in the ‘90s was $100,000. The most expensive game of that era – Doom II – was made for less than $200,000.
The Critic: I’m sure it made a shit load more than that in sales.
The Developer: It sure did. But things are a bit different now. At $20 million, the average AAA title these days costs 200 times as much. Most of the really good ones are even more expensive. Heck, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Grand Theft Auto 4, and Gran Turismo 5 cost $200, $100, and $80 million, respectively. These aren’t even games belonging to this decade. To put things into perspective, Activision has earmarked $500 million for marketing and production associated with Destiny.
The Critic: You’re throwing big numbers that mean absolutely nothing. How about you cut your management 101 bullshit and get right to the chase?!
The Developer: Let me cite an example. The 2013 Tomb Raider reboot sold a million copies within 48 hours of launch. It went on to push 3.4 million units off the shelves in a month. That’s 34 followed by five zeroes and multiplied by $60. So one would assume that the reboot was a resounding commercial success? Not really. On the contrary, this critically acclaimed game was considered a financial failure.
The Critic: And your point is?
The Developer: A game that costs $100 million these days absolutely must sell anywhere between five to ten million copies. That’s frankly unrealistic. The writing is on the wall – no matter how good your AAA game is, you need to monetise it with DLC to recover your development costs and post a profit. And that sure isn’t a crime by any stretch of imagination.
The Critic: If there’s one thing you suits are good at, it’s manipulating numbers to fuel your logical fallacies. Allow me to remind you that Octodad – an indie game developed by small team – made $5 million. Everyone and their uncle knows that Marcus “Notch” Persson made $2.5 billion off Minecraft. The truth is that you suits fail to realise that creating video games is more art than business. To make art, you need ideas. You can’t just throw money at a project and magic it into success.
The Developer: Did you just imply that AAA games have no imagination?!
The Critic: No shit, Sherlock. When you pour million into making a videogame, you essentially kill your risk appetite. So instead of bankrolling a brilliant but risky idea, you pick a proven formula and dumb it down further with your pointless “focus” groups consisting of casuals showing signs of Down’s syndrome. And that’s how we get release after release of Call of Battlefields.
The Developer: Hey, you have conveniently glossed over the fact that Call of Duty rakes in billions despite all your bitching about formulas and generic themes.
The Critic: That’s increasingly proving to be more of an exception than the norm. Big-budget formulaic titles get stale rather quickly. To fuel the hype train, you initiate a vicious cycle of shoving millions into games for bigger explosions, better marketing, and expensive mocap/voiceover talent from Hollywood – none of which have any effect on the meat of the experience. I mean gameplay, in case you have forgotten about that little aspect. This is a grave you have dug on your own, so don’t penalise gamers with mindless DLC bullshit to make up for that. Change your shitty business model for Pete’s sake!
The Developer: I’ve been eaten alive. Vladimir. Just remember that I am exist. The davil.
The Critic: What?!
St Peter: Yeah, what the hell?!
The Developer: That was from a suicide note written by a developer named Vladimir Pokhilko shortly before he brutally bludgeoned his wife and 12-year-old son to death with a hammer.
St Peter: That’s pretty f**ked up.
The Critic: Wait… are you trying to say that videogame developers are Devil-worshipping family killers?
St Peter: Yeah, what are you getting at?
The Developer: Well, apart from being a Satan-loving murderer, Vladimir was also the genius behind the most recognisable game in the history of mankind – Tetris. But he wasn’t born a killer. Something drove him to take that extreme step.
The Critic: Let me guess – he made no money from the game, did he?
The Developer: Bingo! What I’m trying to say is that big ideas mean jack shit without a proper business model. Videogame development is a cruel, heartless world. It isn’t uncommon for even the largest developer to fire employees in the hundreds post launch. However, that is absolutely justified because once a game is completed, there’s no need to retain all the coders, artists, and quality assurance people. With the DLC model, these people don’t have to be fired. They can continue to make a living by working on the same videogame. Isn’t that great? Don’t you have a heart?!
The Critic: You know what your problem is? You just don’t get it. Here’s the thing – DLCs aren’t essentially the problem.
The Developer: Wait… did you just concede your main argument?
The Critic: *sigh* You suits are so conditioned to treating consumers as suckers, who must be conned out of their last penny, that you fail to consider the ideal way to go about it. Instead of shoving DLCs down gamers’ collective throats, how about you give them a legitimate choice instead?
The Developer: I don’t get it…
The Critic: Exactly. You just don’t get it. Look at what Lord Gaben did at Valve. Team Fortress is a free-to-play game depending solely on the sale of in-game hats for revenue. Gamers aren’t forced to buy those. These cosmetic items don’t affect gameplay in any manner. Yet, the hat trade has generated an eye-watering $50 million as of 2011.
St Peter: Mother of God!
The Critic: That’s right. Gabe hired a renowned economist – the same one who was recently sworn in as the Greek Finance Minister – to fine tune the digital economy underpinning its Steam distribution platform. The result is a well-oiled DLC mechanism that doesn’t intrude on the creative aspect of games, but still makes the company a lot more than any of your DLC blackmail could ever hope to achieve. The company is even willing to share the bounty with gamers. DLC initiatives such as Steam Workshop have earned participants over $57 million. And you don’t see anyone complain about that.
The Developer: …
The Critic: Gimmicks such as Diablo 3’s Auction House only serve to break gameplay balance and alienate gamers. You’re not going to win any fans if you charge real money for repairs (I’m looking at you, Real Racing 3), and then code the AI to behave like destruction derby drivers. It’s simple really. Don’t shove DLCs down our throats. Give us a legitimate incentive to pay and we will. But destroying the gaming experience to tack on some shitty DLC is a sure-fire path to perdition.
St Peter: Well, speaking of perdition, that reminds me… did I mention that our old’ pal Lucifer has had so many videogame makers over the years that he has only recently managed to modify the Ra.One source code to incorporate Oculus Rift support? Well, looks like we have found ourselves a fresh batch of beta testers now, haven’t we?
Nachiket "therapist" Mhatre
Nachiket has been obsessed with computers and videogames since the 8086 days. But don't you go asking him about his earliest gaming memory. Not unless you are fine with being subjected to an interminable monologue romanticising the warm monochrome glow of early DOS games and how the medium has since lost its soul at the turn of the millennium. When he isn't being a corporate slave at MySmartPrice.com, Nachiket spends his free time tinkering with hobby grade R/C, practicing archery, or just sharpening his knives for relaxation.