Home Game On or Game Over DLC: So when is it the right time?

DLC: So when is it the right time?

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Microsoft versus Sony, Battlefield versus Call of Duty and Forza versus Gran Turismo. These are some of the rivalries that can get people talking about console wars. “Game On or Game Over” is your place to get inside the minds of Nicholas and Andy as they seek to find the true meaning of gaming and tackle some of gaming’s most controversial subjects. Both are award winning authors – although the awards haven’t been mailed or created yet — but trust them. Would they lie to you?

Andy: You and I, and our one reader for that matter, have all played a lot of games. The typical cycle is buy the game, beat it, put it on the shelf for a month, pull it back out and play the new DLC, back on the shelf, and then rinse and repeat. We follow that pattern until either there is no more DLC incoming or we’ve simply had enough of the game. We’ve talked before about various DLC practices that companies employ, but there another aspect of DLC that I want to touch on this week. This came to mind after a pair of games I have played had drastically different DLC releases and – for me anyway – were problematic both times.

I want to talk about the actual timeframe DLC is released. I think we are far enough along in the cycle of gaming to know that there will be DLC for damn near every game that comes out. We’re long past complaining about “They kept this out of the base game to charge me for it later.” For the sake of the start of this discussion I want to talk about two games and then dive deeper. First being Battlefield 1 and the second being Ghost Recon: Wildlands. How are these games similar… well they’re not really it’s how different they are in how they treated their DLC. With Battlefield it took 5 months for the first expansion to drop. Ghost Recon on the other hand dropped both of their expansions within a very short time span.

I loved Battlefield 1, I played the crap out of it. Yet, after a while I was playing the same thing over and over again and I slowly faded away from it. When the first expansion dropped I found myself just not excited to play it again. DICE, in my opinion, waited way too long to drop that DLC. Ghost Recon is almost the exact opposite, both expansions released within a month of each other I believe. To me, it almost seemed like they panicked because the first was so poorly received that they wanted to try and grab as many DLC sales as they could so they spit the second one out right away. I loved the base game, but their direction for the DLC put me off and I sold the game.

In my opinion a good DLC strategy, I can’t believe I just typed those words, is one that is a steady drip of content to keep gamers engaged, to keep the disc in the tray, and to keep the gamers attention. Waiting 5 months is inexcusable, as is throwing two expansions at gamers within a month of each other. Before I jump completely onto this soapbox (or someone pushes me off a cliff), I’m curious your thoughts on shall we say “proper DLC etiquette” from developers. What say you good sir?

Nicholas: I think it’s a really interesting topic that you’ve brought up this week. I remember when I first purchased my Xbox 360, the notion of DLC was such an amazing and mind-blowing concept to me. Here I had purchased a game for $100, a game that provided me with the same amount of content as titles on my Nintendo GameCube did, but then a month or so down the track I could add even more to it. Maybe it was just the Nintendo simpleton in me, but it was really cool at the time.

Back in the day, I found myself playing the same game for a long time, unlocking achievements and really savouring the experience, but nowadays I find this happening less and less. Where I could play something like NFS Most Wanted seven times when it launched, the last game I played more than once was Deus Ex Mankind Divided, and the only game I really regularly return to is Forza 6. The reason I say this is because as time goes on, for me, I find the relevance and enjoyment of DLC dwindling to almost nothing. You’ve mentioned five months for Battlefield 1 being too long, but for me, even if the DLC came out while I was still playing the game I find it difficult to keep interested.

Take Deus Ex as an example. I spent 24+ hours playing the game about a month or two ago. Simply put, I loved it a lot. That said, when I finished it, even though there were expansions there for me to play, I didn’t want to. I had played through it once, played through it almost another time again, but by that time I had started to get over it and wanted something new. Now a new setting, but a new everything. Characters, gameplay, the lot. So for me, the DLC was irrelevant.

From my opinion, and perhaps this is a bit of a cop-out, but proper DLC etiquette is really dependent on the individual. Where people like you will want something within a month or two of launch, there are some out there who are happy for big DLC drops months after the initial launch. Hell, I remember seeing on my dashboard that EA have announced new Battlefield 1 DLC at E3! I can tell you that you’re definitely more invested in this though, so let me ask you – what do you consider to be the DLC drop sweet-spot?

Andy: It’s a bit ironic isn’t it, that just a couple years ago there was a groundswell of people complaining about DLC and now, here I am, complaining about when it’s actually released. Strange times we live in man, strange times indeed. To answer your questions though, in my opinion the sweet-spot for a DLC drop is partially dependent on the type of game. Take Battlefield 1 for example. Releasing the first DLC five months after the game released… that’s too far. For a shooter like BF or Call of Duty you need the player base to be actively engaged and give them enough things to do to keep them playing. I would say releasing the game in early October, the first DLC should have been dropped in early January. That way all the holiday games are out, people have had a chance to play them, now give me a reason to keep playing or catch me when I’m between games. As it was, I moved away from BF and when they did drop the DLC I went back and briefly played it and it didn’t “feel” the same. The love and need to play it just wasn’t there anymore.

For a game like Skyrim or Fallout, waiting a little longer (but still not five months) is OK because it’s not simple map packs, it’s full-on expansions. In that case I’m willing to wait a little longer to get more complex content. Then you have a game like Forza Horizon 3 (I still hate driving on the wrong side of the road, you Aussies are crazy). They’ve had two major expansions and multiple car pack drops, along with their weekly ‘Forzathon’ challenges. That’s how you support a game and keep people interested. The expansions injected new life and the car packs kept me coming back to check them out.

I’m to the point now where I have embraced the idea, the idea mind you, of DLC. If it adds good content to a game I like, then it gives me another reason to stay invested. But, and here’s the catch, developers and publishers are taking advantage of it. With their season passes, promises only to deliver half-hearted efforts, skip on what’s there and disappoint people. I mean how many times have you seen “pre-order the season pass now!” but 1 – the game isn’t even out yet and 2 – they don’t tell you what’s even IN the season pass. But hey, on blind faith give us money. I think that’s as big of a sin as stretching that sweet-spot out on when to drop DLC. What do you think, is this an area where we are being taken advantage of? Should we be more vocal about it, and stop throwing money at this stuff right away?

Nicholas: I think it depends on the situation to be honest. Purchasing a season pass on good faith with no indication of the type of content that will follow is a major stretch. For me, it’s just not something that I’d commit to with so little information. Alternatively, if a developer releases content a few months after release, while it might seem delayed for some of us, is something entirely in my opinion. Like you, there’s a good chance that I’ll pass on it simply because my interest has waned, but it’s not to say that there aren’t others who will.

The question that comes to mind as we discuss this though is, ‘who is the target audience for this DLC?’ We’ve discussed the topic of uncertain season passes and lacklustre content packs in the past, yet they continue to be made, sold and bought. That makes me think that there’s a market for all of this and we’re just not part of it. Perhaps Forza Horizon 3 aside, whenever I think of DLC for racing games it’s always in the case of car packs. More often than note, and Forza (as a series) is guilty of this, one or two cars will be great, and the rest of the pack is filler. Shooters are more often than not map packs and weapons, and as a single-player gamer, none of that appeals to me either. Like I said though, there are people who love and buy this stuff, so…

You asked the question of whether we’re in the era of being taken advantage of, but the thing is, car packs and map packs have existed since DLC became a ‘thing’ – so I’d like to put the question back to you – are we really in an era of being taken advantage of, or have our preferences just changed as time goes on, but the industry has stayed as-is? What do you also think of what I’ve said above – are we simply just not the target market for DLC? Is it more suited towards those more ‘hardcore’ gamers, with perhaps more time to play and who remain dedicated for much longer than what you and I do?

Andy: Man, that’s a lot of questions to answer. Let me do my best to try and answer them all. First, who is the audience for DLC? I think that’s a multipart answer. To begin, I think it’s for those die hard gamers that snap up anything related to a specific game. Second, I think it’s for those who have faded away from a game for whatever reason, as the developer tries to entice them back with more stuff. Lastly, DLC is just as much for people who have never played the game. Think of it this way. A gamer may have thought about the game on release, but decided against it. They see the announcement of DLC and now they think about the game again, this time with more content. Thinking of it that way, I can see the appeal to developers for kicking out so much DLC.

I still go back to the idea that we, as gamers, are being taken advantage of. Maybe not in terms of individual DLC, but more in terms of the “season pass” nonsense. Maybe part of it is, like you said, my tastes in games and how I “consume” them has changed, but I just can’t get past this concept of  buying a season pass without any knowledge of what will be in it and when it will be released, and I haven’t even talked about them selling the season pass before the game has even come out. But that’s an argument that has been made time and time again so we won’t rehash that right now.

I think one of my biggest complaints about DLC is we’ve reached a point in gaming where every game has to have DLC. There’s no more beating a game and being done with it. There’s only beat a game… and wait to see what comes out in two or three month (or more). Some titles frankly shouldn’t have DLC. They should be happy with the ending and just move on. But, unfortunately we’re not in that world anymore. With all that said though, I don’t want this entire article to be negative on DLC. There are a few times where DLC can be positive and really add something new to a game. So, even with all we’ve said what has been your favourite piece of DLC you have played? What was it about it that really stood out to you?

Nicholas: Before I answer that question I want to touch on a point that we haven’t really brought up just yet, and the idea came to me when you mentioned that every game seems to have DLC these days. Despite the fact publishers seem to be pumping out this extra content, the fundamental fact still stands – no-one needs to buy it.

The reason why I say this is because it’s links in quite nicely with how I answer your last question. When I try to look back and think of all the DLC content that I’ve downloaded, it seems somewhat few and far between. I know I’ve downloaded a few car packs for the Forza Motorsport games, but aside from that, I’ve not brought a map pack for a shooter perhaps ever, and I think the last real expansion I bought for a game that I really liked was the ones for GTA IV (yes, IV). Those two packs for that game were incredible – not only because I loved GTA IV as it was, but because they offered new characters and stories too. Extra guns, different vehicles and a few new ways to play through the missions as well. For me, if you ever wanted to know how to do DLC right, look at Rockstar. I remember buying a few expansion packs for the Mass Effect games too, but nothing that seemed too memorable. They were OK, but that’s about it.

When I think about why that’s the case though, for me, the biggest thing to consider is money vs. value. When I think about car packs, the standard cost is about $10, and for me, it just doesn’t seem worthwhile. I recently downloaded the NASCAR expansion for Forza Motorsport 6 and that cost $20 – but it was mostly because I had spare credit that wasn’t being used.

So I’d like to pose some questions back to you. I mentioned that I’m not really one for buying DLC very often – are you in a similar boat, or do you like to try them out? If so, do you ever feel compelled to for a game you really like? Furthermore, is the cost of the DLC and the perceived value ever a reason why you wouldn’t buy it? If so, what would you be willing to spend and for what content?

Andy: You are certainly correct, we don’t have to buy them. For me part of the reason I buy some DLC is I want the complete game. I realize that only contributes to the problem of getting developers to make more DLC, but damn it I want the full story! It sucks when a game seems to rip a piece out of the main game and hold it back as DLC, or even when a piece is ripped and then “given” away as a pre-order bonus. So, I guess that’s just another way that we are being taken advantage of.

I think the single best piece of DLC I have ever purchased was ‘Point Lookout’ for Fallout 3. Everything about that DLC for me worked. It added a new area that was good-sized. New quests, baddies and weapons, but the environment was just amazing to me. I loved every part about it. That is the bar I will always measure future DLC up against, and to be honest, I’m not sure any piece of DLC will ever match that for me. Maybe in the back of my head that’s another reason why I buy DLC more often than not, I am waiting for that magical moment when it all comes together.

I absolutely do think the cost of DLC is a direct relation to the perceived value of the content. I remember the first map pack I ever bought was for Call of Duty World at War. It was for $10, and I thought it was a fair price. Fast forward a couple years I remember when Call of Duty bumped the price of each map pack to $15 and the message boards, forums and internet went ballistic. Yet, even with all that outrage… people still bought them. They didn’t have to buy them, but they did. Even with all the faux outrage they still did the very they that they were mad about. It’s funny how that works isn’t it?

As we wrap things up this week I wanted to touch on something that I am mildly concerned about. It’s a trend that I have heard mentioned previously, but it was touched on (with very little fanfare I may add) at E3 this year. It’s a simple string of four words that I think gamers will hear a lot more in the coming years. Games as a service. What this means for gamers is the industry is trying to move away from the pay-once model. Instead they (the developers/publishers) want to move to a model of continuous pay-to-play. We’ll move farther away from owning a game. Everything is going to come down to micro-transactions, and fees for new content and all that goes with it. It will be more than just skin packs and extra characters. We all know developers and publishers want to squeeze as much money as they can out of each gamer and I think the games as a service mantra is really going to ramp up to maximize that outlook.

So to close what’s your opinion on the games as a service idea? Should we embrace it, push back against it, or complain about it and still do it anyway? Is it something to be worried about going forward?

Nicholas: Having not kept too abreast of the announcements at E3 this year, I was unaware of the ‘games as a service’ concept, but if I’m honest with you, it doesn’t surprise me too much. Reason being, this seems like the next step in a series of changes that the industry has been trying to push since the last generation. You and I grew up in an era where gaming was mostly single-player, and multiplayer was local co-op at best. For me, that’s where I want gaming to stay, and it’s evident in the types of titles I play. The thing is, that’s not where the new wave of gamers are being brought up, and nor is where gaming is going.

We all know that the implementation of online gaming was the last major development in video games, and it’s only gotten stronger over time. From my perspective, it looks like developers of console games are always trying to tap into the success of PC games – namely those juggernauts like StarCraft, World of Warcraft and Counter Strike. Graphically, none of those games compete with modern console titles, but despite that, there’s something about them that keeps millions of people hooked across decades. Hell, people literally die playing them. When was the last time you heard someone dying from Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto (sensationalist TV journalism aside)? Of course it makes sense that the giants of the console industry want to emulate that dedication.

So for me, it makes sense to see where gaming is heading, but from my perspective, I don’t think it’s going to work all the time. Sure, perhaps in MMOs like Destiny you can work on a games as a service model, but for a game like Need For Speed, for a series like Assassin’s Creed, where single-player is a game/series’ focus, it just doesn’t make sense. EA tried with their always-online connection with NFS and it failed. It doesn’t work.

On the flip-side of what I’ve said though, I can see how companies like Microsoft and Electric Arts are trying to push the ‘Games With Gold’ and ‘EA Vault’ services, but like me, I’m sure there are people out there who would rather fork out $70 for a game and truly own it. The games as a service model might work for some gamers, for some games, but not everything. In my opinion, I don’t think there’s too much of a concern yet, but it’ll be interesting how it plays out. Again, key word there ‘yet’.

Tune in next time for the next instalment of Game On or Game Over. If you have any ideas for our next article, feel free to contact Andy or Nicholas on Twitter.