Fallout 3 takes DLC back to the physical distribution channel

Fallout 3 takes DLC back to the physical distribution channel

Last week, we pondered What is the point of DLC, and this week, DLC (downloadable content, if you’re wondering) got turned on its head as Bethesda decided to publish their first two parts of DLC for Fallout 3 as a Downloadable Content pack. It’s marked up on Amazon as £14.99 and with a release date of May 29th.

Now there’s several things that are interesting about this. Firstly, the price: at £14.99 it will cost you about £1.40 more than if you’d just bought the DLC via Xbox Live. Most people will be unhappy with that, or at least sarcastic, but having been in the business of publishing (albeit physical magazines), I know that there are lots of factors in play that will affect pricing. 1) What cut does Microsoft take when Bethesda publishes the DLC on Xbox Live versus what amount does Bethesda receive from its distributor for physical products? 2) What additional work was required to master the DVD and test it versus the Xbox Live versions? 3) What is the cost of manufacture and shipping to distributor of the DVDs (although shipping and distribution agreements vary so it may be that Bethesda gets a bigger percentage if it stumps up for physical transportation costs beyond delivery to one point – believe me, this is a minefield and nobody is going to tell you the in-depths of their distribution agreements)? So, to be honest, £14.99 is a good price point for what is effectively an expansion pack, and it could well be that Bethesda is making less from this than from the downloadable version.

Secondly, it’s interesting that Bethesda clearly believes that there is a significant enough audience that will buy extra content, but won’t do it via the Xbox Live interface. They simply don’t want DLC. They want product. This is very off-message for Microsoft, who want the future to be digital, but will be well received by retailers, who really don’t.

Thirdly, what amazing timing. Amazon has just got into the business of selling codes for DLC, and now here they are selling DLC as product. More choice, but more confusion also, surely?

Last, when retail tried to get in on the act with the GTA IV DLC, Lost and The Damned, the number of people who bought it via a store (you bought a card with a PIN on and entered that to get the download on your Xbox 360), it was hardly a success. The cards were outsold by direct purchases of GTA DLC on Xbox Live 6:1 – source MCV.com. While I laud any attempt to innovate, the card system didn’t seem to make a lot of sense – you still download it, but rather than doing so in one step, you go to a shop and buy a card first? With Bethesda’s idea of actually producing a disc, the gamer gets instant gratification. You buy the product, and you have it in your hands. I can’t help but think it will be proportionally more successful as an idea and I bet we will see others follow suit. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see The Lost and the Damned in this format later this year, as Microsoft might like its digital future message, but I bet it likes the idea of making the most of its $50 million investment in GTA IV DLC more.

Would you be more likely to buy DLC in this physical format, or is digital download the future?

UPDATE: The release of Left4Dead DLC has lifted the title back into the Top 40 in the UK, showing that DLC is a way of helping sell more copies of the main game, so I guess we ought to also expect a Fallout 3: Ultimate Edition, with the game and DLC bundled. All these ways of increasing publisher return for games are a good thing for us as it should encourage development and support.

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