Is it right to pay for a game mode?

Is it right to pay for a game mode?

So today saw the release of the Versus Mode DLC for Resident Evil 5. I don’t think there has been such controversy on downloadable content since Bethesda charged for Horse Armour. It made me wonder exactly what the point was of DLC. Firstly, I don’t think it helps that we refer to it in such a broad way. Downloadable content could mean anything at all. Our magazines for the consoles are all free DLC in that case!

DLC #1: Game patches
This is the original DLC, for PC mainly. With this generation of consoles it has become possible for publishers to patch console games too, and we’ve seen plenty of “Day 1” patches. This raises the question of whether the games should have passed QA at all and gone to manufacture, and whether DLC allows them to release a game before it is finished, knowing they can patch it. Personally, I don’t think that’s the case. Patching saves us from the “what’s on the disc is final” problem which affected a couple of original Xbox games and spoiled them when you unearthed a bug. That said, the day we have to start paying for game patches is the day we start the revolution.

DLC #2: Extra missions
Games like Fable 2 and Fallout 3 have expanded on the single player games by giving you additional quests to carry out. Bioware was reported today (did you miss this? You really should subscribe to our Twitter feed) as saying that Dragon Age: Origins would be supported with two years worth of well constructed DLC. For RPG fans, this type of DLC gives you more of what you like, so what’s to complain about? Well, this type of DLC struggles to integrate with the original game – there’s no way the developer can know if a gamer is going to do the DLC halfway through the game, or whether the game will be completed and so the level of the character is unknown, so where do you pitch it? This can leave the DLC as feeling completely isolated from the main game and tacked on. As the argument that disproves the rule you have GTA: The Lost and the Damned which raised the bar so high (and charged for it) as to what single player DLC could be.

DLC #3: Multiplayer extras
Ah, the map pack. Call of Duty: World at War just stole the crown only recently won by GTA: The Lost and the Damned for fastest downloaded DLC (although to be fair it had multiple platforms to do it with). A million downloads in a millisecond (or something like that). The point is that clearly new maps are popular, witness Halo 3, and we’re willing to pay for them. But when they come out close after release, you do start to wonder why they weren’t part of the original game. This gets even murkier when it’s not maps but a gameplay mode offered for download.

Each of these types of DLC offers something to gamers, and we’re clearly happy to pay for it. Publishers agrue that DLC expands the lifetime and value of a game to the gamer, and while that’s absolutely true, it’s also more true that it offers a way to increase revenue from a game (which is no bad thing for gamers, because surprisingly few games are actually profitable for publishers, so if DLC helps to make publishers a profit, we get more games), and it disincentivises gamers from trading in, because they might miss out on DLC. Again, that helps make games more profitable for publishers who make absolutely nothing from the sale of a second hand game.

DLC is a new mechanism for consoles, but the successes this year show that it can only get bigger. The trick will be for publishers to think about DLC while they are planning the games, rather than after release, so that it will be as well integrated as possible, but not to hold back content or features just for the sake of it. If we’re honest, there have been several occasions where the latter very much looks the case. The situation is made all the harder for publishers by the fact that, apparently, the best time to get DLC out for a game is within the first 30 days, so it will have had to enter development before the game is finished.

The question, dear reader, from all of this, is who is DLC for? Is it for the gamer or the publisher? What will you pay for, and what sticks in your craw? We are, as always until the plastic surgery, all ears.