Street  Fighter 4 Screenshot

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.

BioShock 2  Screenshot

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.

Tales of  Vesperia Screenshot

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 Gallaway

Brad Gallaway

Brad Gallaway has been gaming since the days when arcades were everywhere and the Atari 2600 was cutting edge. So, like... A while.

Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.

Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.

Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway
Brad Gallaway

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16 Comments on "The Consumer’s Seven Laws of DLC"

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I read the entire article, but you lost me at “Consumer Exploitation”. Let us assume, for a moment, that you are having a garage sale, and that you want to sell your entire CD collection as one bulk package. You have 150 CDs, and you’re offering the whole package at $150 dollars. You, of course, consider this a pretty good deal. Works for you because you get a nice chunk of cash on the spot, and if someone likes even half the CDs in your collection, they’re getting those for 2 bucks a piece and 75 coasters for free. Now… Read more »

Ransomware – fabulous term. Hopefully it makes its way through gamers right up to the developers – so there’s no misunderstanding about how we feel about it.

I have just one response to games with excessive DLC. I late-adopt them. Still haven’t played Mass Effect 2 or Dragon Age Origins, though I look forward to both. Why? Because games with a ton of DLC don’t just cost a lot, they take a lot of time to play. It’s the time investment. I get into a game like this when I have absolutely nothing else on my plate. Nothing is worse than buying a game new at full price, paying for a bunch of DLC of unknown, unreviewed quality, then letting it all sit on the shelf /… Read more »
The only reason developers/publishers can get away with ‘morally questionable’ behavior when it comes to DLC is that people are willing to pay for DLC on the terms currently offered. There is nothing wrong with that. Obviously, the vast majority of consumers don’t have any problems with the current situation or they wouldn’t be forking out their limited quantities of money for what is arguably over-priced fluff. That a small minority of consumers have a problem with current business models says nothing of the existing model; if it is profitable to cater to that niche of consumers I’m sure some… Read more »

Say what you will about DLC, nothing will change. Ransomware is here to stay. Don’t expect to be able to own your content if you don’t already. All you can do is make wise choices and stand firm on your principles. Vote with your wallet.

We are, however, outnumbered by the millions of bratty assholes with access to their parent’s credit card (or their heartstrings).

The best we can hope for, I guess, is DLC that only breaks one or two of those rules, or an executive who gets it.

Great article, Brad. I agree with all 7 points, some more than others. With any look at the way some publishers/developers cynically try to exploit gamers with DLC, I think it is worth pointing out the developers who do it really well. The developers who appreciate their customers and whose actions with DLC reflect this. For me the best DLC provider, and most honest developer for supporting buyers of their titles, is Criterion Games and their 2007 Burnout Paradise. Even 12 months after launch they were releasing free major content for the original game, implementing things like a day/night cycle,… Read more »

while i agree that the price is utterly ridiculous, i don’t consider myself stupid for wanting to buy the maps.

i mean yes, overly priced, but at the same time i’ve put in an inordinate amount of time into the game, and will continue to do so…despite the price, i’ll get my money’s worth in spades because i thoroughly enjoy the game, and know i will thoroughly enjoy the maps.

it’s too bad that i’m stupid in your eyes though.

“I would love to see someone try to take legal action against 2K for what happened with Bioshock 2. That case would get laughed out of court so fast. While I agree that what they did is wrong on some “moral” level, 2K has every legal right to do that.” Of course it would get laughed out of court, and that’s the point; developers/publishers are able to completely and utterly take the piss and no-one can or will do anything about it. Refusing to buy the stuff means nothing, since it has now been officially proven – with the Modern… Read more »
bethesda says “horse armor” is/was one of their best selling pieces of DLC. People complain about trivial DLC, but many still by it. Even though I think Horse Armor is terrible value, I do think it is a good idea. Because it allows companies to make money off of those customers that will throw money at anything. At the same time, I dont really lose anything by Not buying it. The Fable 2 DLC is a bit harder for me to swallow. That is content I would actually like to play. But its the pricing structure that prevents me from… Read more »
Thanks for taking the time to think through something like this and post it. I agree with all of these and find the notion of ransomware an especially repugnant one absent disclosure of same. An aside to the poster who mentioned EULA and who believes that legal action based on ransomware would be laughed out of court. Don’t laugh too hard; I’m a practicing attorney and I could, without any great difficulty, draft a complaint in tort (for common law and/or statutory fraud) or in contract (for breach of contract, rescission, or breach of the implied covenant of good faith)… Read more »
“The Consumer’s Seven Laws of DLC”? More like “The Philosopher’s Seven A Priori Statements About DLC“… Misunderstand me right here; there are undoubtedly some very good points made in this comprehensive treatise on the moral bankruptcy of the burgeoning DLC market, and I enjoy a robust theoretical discussion as much as the next guy. However, just to overstate the obvious; in that massive FarmVille port commonly referred to as “real life”, publishers and developers are going to continue to do absolutely everything they can possibly get away with, and no amount of careful argumentation or fervent “boycotting” (i.e. buying something… Read more »
Mike (ToH)

I like to call rule #4 the “No Horse Armor” rule.

As for wondering what rule #4 entails, look at many PS2 or Xbox 1 game. Did they offer unlockable costumes, new weapons or movie theater modes for completing tasks or finding secrets?
Why should they even bother selling us something that was considered base standard as a way to reward players?

Trent Fingland

Ransomware is my new favorite word, and should totally be the official title of this practice. If we can’t win mindshare with rational arguments, then let’s do it with scary sounding language. Totally serious btw.

I don’t know how much I like rule 4 though. I think the consideration of new costumes and versus modes depends on the player, and while you might see those things as expected of modern, big budget games, I see them as extras. While the rest of the rules have pretty specific parameters laid out, rule 4 seems pretty slippery.

[quote=Crofto]”Agree? Disagree? Have another idea? Leave a comment and let us know.” Completely agree, especially on number 2. I’m surprised that no-one has taken actual legal action against BioShock 2/2K, since it really is as close to fraud as I can see. In fact, there should be a law that states that you have to allow all content on a disc to be part of purchase. The notion of me even saying that makes me feel disgusted, but such is the way of developers/publishers these days.[/quote] Why should there be a law stating that? The EULA for most video games… Read more »

“Agree? Disagree? Have another idea? Leave a comment and let us know.”

Completely agree, especially on number 2. I’m surprised that no-one has taken actual legal action against BioShock 2/2K, since it really is as close to fraud as I can see.

In fact, there should be a law that states that you have to allow all content on a disc to be part of purchase. The notion of me even saying that makes me feel disgusted, but such is the way of developers/publishers these days.


I have one main rule for games.

“Is it worth the money?”

If deveopers decide to cripple their core game, by holding critical content/features back for DLC, Im not going to buy that game.