Originally published at DigitalSociety.
Downloadable Content is something that has existed in video games for decades. What the younger audience of the video game market does not realize is that this content in yesteryear was all free. Game developers and publishers made an effort to continually improve on their games and offer free updates that included new maps, characters, equipment, or levels. Additionally, many developers in the PC gaming market would offer a set of tools to fans to create their own maps, levels, etc to add to the game. This helped many a young amateur designer or programming actually find work. Id Software and Valve Software were amongst the most notable in this process.
At some point though someone within the industry asked the question, “Why are we giving all of this stuff away for free?” Electronic Arts became one of the founders of a new business model that would continue to supply DLC to gamers but at a cost, and others quickly followed suit. When Bethesda Softworks released a $2 downloadable horse for their popular game Oblivion: The Elder Scrolls it seemed as though consumers sat at the precipice of the slippery slope. But Penny-Arcade’s Jerry “Tycho” Holkins quickly extinguished this idea on the PA blog back in Spring of 2006, saying,
“I reject the idea that we teeter at the apex of some “slippery slope” – the slope you’re referring to already done slipped. It slipped on mobile phones when people bought a vanity cover of the American Flag and a ringtone from Office Space and a strip of lights that twinkles on ring. [Xbox] Marketplace isn’t a slippery slope – it’s the codification of a recognized market tendency. You’d better believe there are [explicative] riding those [explicative] horses along the shore of the Niben right now.”
In the initial stages of this slow march to the DLC norm their was backlash. Mainly this backlash came from the perspective that consumers were going to start getting ripped off. This logical conclusion comes from the thought process that if game publishers and developers previously gave the consumer 100% of the product, they could now provide the customer 80% of the product and sell the remaining 20% to them as DLC in small $5-$15 pops. Taking a game like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 for example, if an individual bought both $15 downloadable map packs that contained 3 new maps in each pack, and they purchased the game new, their total cost would have been $90-$150 depending on whether they purchased a standard or special edition packaging. The argument could be made that five years ago, those 6 maps would have been included with the game for the retail price of $60. In a more obvious comparison, many EA Sports games now charge for features as DLC that were included in the retail packaging of the same game released the previous year.
Basically, because the market excepted the DLC model, whether or not the market is receiving as much content as it did previously can be argued, but is now essentially beside the point. What is now intriguing is the fact that because the gaming market place has become accustomed to paying for DLC as the norm in gaming, the tables have now turned to offering that content back to the consumer for free in a way to goad them into purchasing games new. It is very ironic that what gamers may have been receiving free before the move to DLC is now being offered for free again to entice new game purchases simply because over a five year period the industry has been able to change the mindset of the consumer to believe that what they previously thought was content that was being stripped from the game in order to sell back to them later now has value because the market is willing to pay for it.
That perceived value is being used to attract many to new purchases. In many cases in very positive ways. Some companies like Epic Games who make the popular Gears of War series included free DLC including weapon skins and map packs for free if Gears of War 2 was purchased new. Series designer Cliff Bliszkinski was quoted as saying,
“We want to find ways to positively incentivize first-time buyers to pick up the game new. Penalizing is not the best way to deal with things like that. You attract more flies with honey than with vinegar.”
Part 3 in this series will look at Online Gamings roll in the second hand market war.
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I'm a technology policy consultant and freelance writer. I also know about other stuff too, but this space is tiny. I'm a native of Atlanta, student at Dallas Theological Seminary, graduate of FSU, life long UGA fan, video game lover, Star Wars aficionado, follower of HaShem, and a Conservative-Libertarian.
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