Tuesday, March 20, 2012

DLC Series Part Three: Day-What DLC?


This is the last article discussing downloadable content, and hopefully the last time I’ll ever have to write it. Most likely as more ridiculous DLC distribution methods come out, I’ll have more stuff to write. Regardless, today I want to take a look at day-one DLC. I thinks it’s become a hot topic especially when you take a look the recently released Mass Effect 3’s From Ashes.

Day-one DLC is hard to analyze and describe. Unless you have prior knowledge of how games are developed, it’s a little tough to grasp how day-one DLC works. While I know that From Ashes is not how all day-one DLC works, I will use this as my focus to analyze the ethics and controversy regarding this topic. I will also add in my own preferences as a consumer and the perspective of why developers/publishers use day-one DLC.

            Day-one DLC is something that was uncommon a few years ago. In fact, it’s only recently that the idea has gotten a lot of attention. Developers work on a game for a long period of time, normally two years or so. During this time they try to get everything that they can into the game. However, the process has changed where DLC is built concurrently with the main game. This means that the additional content can be ready as early as the launch of the game.

            This raises an important question. Should everything that’s developed and completed before the game goes to print be included in the product? Perhaps I should elaborate more in lieu of locked content on the disc. Should players receive everything that is burned on the disc in addition to whatever content was finished during the development of the main game? I think these questions cause a bit of a ruckus.

            Entitlement has become sort of an odd word as of late. When gamers hear it, the world just explodes for some reason. The argument boils down to: are we entitled to everything [insert DLC controversy here]? Some gamers believe that they are while others believe that they should just accept whatever the publishers give us. Personally I believe that entitlement is an odd way of looking at things.

People think that everything developed before the game’s launch should be ours instead of DLC because that’s how it was done in the past. Those who have this notion in mind are living in the past. As games become a bigger industry, money matters more and it will turn more business-like. On the other side, gamers who accept that ideas like day-one DLC is the future support the interests of businessman, whether it be intentional or not. I’m not on either side. I think that if developers want to develop extra content while working on the main game then that’s fine. As long as they don’t take out what they originally intended in the main game, that’s awesome since it allows me to extend my joy of playing the game.

However, I believe gamers that accept the notion of day-one DLC should think a bit more. If they’re so readily to accept any business practice that depletes are spending money for the developer’s/publisher’s benefit, then it screws them over. Gamers should be more open minded. Questioning isn’t bad. In fact it’s way of showing love for the industry. You can spend your money intelligently and support developers while at the same time enjoying the time you have with games yourself. It’s a wonderful system that I think gamers should do more.

So with the issue of entitlement addressed, it brings up another question: is day-one DLC innately bad? No. If there is additional content at launch day that can enhance my experience then it’s cool. It means I don’t have to wait for the content to come out later if I’m done with the game. This doesn’t mean I finish games in one day of course. The issue comes then, can day-one DLC be bad? Most definitely. This is my personal opinion, and there are gamers that agree with me so I’m not alone on this. Day-one DLC is bad if it is removed from the main game in order to earn more money. Take for example Assassin’s Creed. The game had no DLC. Imagine if during the development process they decided to remove a memory segment altogether to release it as day-one DLC.

The issue is then, were the majority of day-one DLC previously in the main game? This is what is hard to determine since gamers can’t be present in the development process of games that have day-one content. Having said that, it’s undeniable that this could happen in the future or is happening now! Personally, if a portion of the game is removed and sold to me in that manner then I would be highly offended. In fact, I would question if it were an ethical business practice.

Like I said earlier, there is no way of knowing if developers are doing this to get more money out of gamers. Now, in respect to Mass Effect 3, many gamers felt that From Ashes was removed from the main game and sold as DLC for a bigger profit. Bioware’s Casey Hudson tweeted “[Mass Effect 3] content creators completed the game in January & moved onto ‘From Ashes’” implying that development of the DLC was not done at the same time of the main game.

Before I go on further I should explain what is actually in From Ashes. The $10 DLC included a squadmade Javik and a few missions on Eden Prime. The actual missions are fairly short and can be completed in an hour or so. However, the length is not actually the key point. SPOILER OF DLC BEGINS HERE! Javik is actually a Prothean who serves an important role in the world of Mass Effect. Because of his importance and how he works in the main game, many believe that he was cut. SPOILER ENDS HERE! Now, if you didn’t read the spoiler I want you to take this out of it. The DLC plays an important story role for Mass Effect 3. If it’s so important then why is it DLC? That’s the question that everyone is asking. Unfortunately I don’t have the answer to that question and only Bioware knows.

*The following is an aside and not part of the actual article*
Now perhaps we should take a different take on day-one DLC. What if Bioware actually had From Ashes ready on day one but released it a week or two later? This would give the impression that the content wasn’t ready at launch and would create an illusion of not money pinching. Honestly, I would be fine with this and if companies want to really take money from gamers without causing a problem, this would’ve been the best way.
*Aside ends here*

Moving on, if the development of From Ashes was done after the game had gone gold, meaning it was being printed, then what is the deal with this unlock I’m hearing about? Perhaps one of the boldest, if not most stupid thing, a company can do is brazenly lie to its customers. A portion of From Ashes is actually on the disc of Mass Effect 3. “Wait, what? How can this be? I thought From Ashes was developed after the game went gold. Huh?” My thoughts exactly. Not only did Bioware lie about the development of DLC but they could’ve compromised how they develop games as a whole. Who knows if Bioware actually removed content from the game then to sell it as DLC. No one does and that’s the scary thing. Gamers will have to live with the fact that developers can pull these kinds of stunts and get away with it.

Bioware’s tried to excuse themselves by saying “in order to seamlessly integrate Javik to the core campaign, certain framework elements and character models needed to be put on the disc.” If this was the case then why not just say that instead of just lying? Were they thinking that we would never find out? This is the problem. Because we don’t know developers think they can get away with it.

It’s not just Bioware either though. There is the possibility that other games that have day-one DLC might be doing the same exact same thing. Now it comes back full circle. Is this kind of practice okay? Most definitely not. I understand why developers do this. Making games and selling them is a business. They are trying to make money in the most efficient profitable way possible. However, what this means is that you’re possibly sacrificing the quality of your game, the loyalty of your customers, and the ethics of your practice. I believe these are important attributes that make a successful developer and as a result, I’m disheartened when I see companies like Bioware utilizing cheap tactics such as From Ashes.

Day-one DLC is a mixed bag and a lot of people who are knowledgeable about the controversy around From Ashes might feel a bit burned. I sure am. Still, the people who do feel this way should take a moment to sit down and think. What does DLC mean to me as a gamer and more importantly, what does day-one DLC mean? Should I question how it works or sit idly as developers pinch more money from me? Often times, people just buy a product without thinking. I’m guilty of this too. However, as an avid gamer and a lover of the industry, I’d hate for something like From Ashes to happen again. Do I want day-one DLC? Of course, and you should too, as long as it’s done right. 

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