With the advent of online connectivity for consoles, developers and publishers alike have been exploring new opportunities for new creative and financial endeavors. While some people may have initially had doubts about the viability of Downloaded Content (DLC), it's become quite clear that this new business/development model has been wildly successful. Without question, all sides agree that DLC is here to stay. However, proper utilization of DLC is still in its infancy, and has much potential for going astray.
Just because something is technologically possible doesn't mean that it's morally right (or even good business) and as people who participate in and support DLC, the three authors of this article are absolutely in favor of seeing it continue as long as profits don't trump ethics.
The following rules of fair play weren’t created by spoiled gamers lashing out or to serve some imaginary sense of entitlement. This outline is about keeping the games industry in touch with real consumers and common-sense expectations in a new world full of unexplored territory—territory that's extremely ripe for consumer exploitation. Developers and publishers want to succeed and earn a living. Players want to enjoy their creations, yet avoid being taken advantage of. It is our firm belief that these two sides can meet amicably in the middle, and we hope that these seven laws will help spur conscientious thought and discussion on the subject.
—Brad Gallaway, Peter Skerritt, and Michael Tilson
1. All purchased DLC shall stay with the consumer, not the hardware. Additionally, all DLC shall be transferrable to current and successive hardware models of a given platform in the same generation.
When a player spends money on a download, it's unthinkable that they'd have to pay for the same content again if (or when) their hardware is rendered inoperable. For example, players who’ve bought DSiware aren’t able to transfer those purchases to a DSi XL, or even to another DSi should their first unit die out of warranty.
2. Publisher-locked content on a disc that’s not accessible through play (henceforth referred to as Ransomware) shall not be called DLC, and game discs containing Ransomware shall disclose such to the consumer prior to their purchase.
As players saw most recently with BioShock 2, developers have started encoding certain pieces of content on discs, and then locking this content away unless players pay for keys obtained online for an additional fee. Since nothing but a key is being downloaded, such content is not DLC, and advertising it as such is blatantly misleading the consumer.
3. Any DLC requiring additional purchase should not be launched simultaneously with a new game.
If developers have the time and resources to create paid DLC that's released at the same time as the new game, then that effort should have been put towards the game itself. This is especially true in the cases of DLC that adds content which could realistically have been expected to be included with the retail version. Day-one DLC available free with retail purchase or another such offer is acceptable since it does not require additional money from the player.
4. Additional DLC content should be something above and beyond what could reasonably be expected in a full-featured retail game. Story additions, standard features and normal "extras" should not be held back from retail releases for purposes of becoming DLC later.
Prior to the age of online consoles and microtransactions, developers would frequently include all sorts of options and features in order to make their product seem as though it were delivering the best value. These days, it seems that developers are now holding back such additions as a way of generating revenue later. For example, Mass Effect 2 is charging for new costumes and Resident Evil 5 locked away a versus mode, both of which are things that would normally be expected in any current big-budget game.
5. Difficulty of a game shall not be skewed in order to encourage players to purchase DLC.
Although there haven't been any egregious examples of this phenomenon so far, it's not too hard to imagine a situation where enemies are so powerful, or life-ups are so infrequent that players would be tempted to pay for items that make aggressive titles more playable. Additionally, games which provide DLC shortcuts for players to avoid grinding should not have grinding in the first place. For example, Dante’s Inferno offers in-game currency (souls) in exchange for real money as a way of skipping the tedious "redeeming" minigame to earn it, and Tales of Vesperia lets players purchase level-ups outright. Although the idea of shortcuts might seem like a good idea, why should they be desirable in the first place?
6. Owners of DLC should be allowed to create back-up copies of their purchases.
DLC should be treated as an actual commodity, not as a limited-life rental disguised as a "purchase". If players pay real money for a Dragon Age expansion, and they should be able to sell that expansion (along with their disc) at some point in the future like any other used good. Back-ups are also important since it's possible for paid DLC to unexpectedly become unavailable, and people may lose access to their paid content. For example: players who purchased Robotron 2084 for the 360 may have noticed that it's no longer available through the Marketplace. A similar situation occurred with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, and certain download characters are no longer available. If a player’s hard drive fails or a unit catches the RROD, they aren't able to recover the content that they already own.
7. Titles available only via download should offer players a demo prior to purchase. Titles which do not offer a demo should be eligible for a refund.
While Microsoft has done an excellent job of offering a free demo for every title in their Marketplace, both Sony and Nintendo sell a large number of games without any information about them, nor any opportunity for a player to try before they buy. With physical copies, players could rent first, or at least trade or sell unwanted titles to recoup some of their investment. With demo-free DLC titles, consumers have no way to know exactly what they're buying and have has no recourse whatsoever should they take a chance on a game which turns out to not be what they expected.
Agree? Disagree? Have another idea? Leave a comment and let us know.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody's looking, and his favorite game of all time is a toss-up between the first Mass Effect and The Witcher 3. You can catch his written work here at GameCritics and you can hear him weekly on the @SoVideogames Podcast. Follow Brad on Twitter and Instagram at @BradGallaway, or contact him via email:
bradgallaway a t gmail dot com