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Developers Can End the DLC War

With gamers in all walks of life in disagreement over DLC, developers need to be more transparent in the value that it brings and treat all players equally.
The Underlying and Ongoing Controversy of DLC

If you want to set the Internet on fire, simply pop into a gamer forum and state your opinion on DLC, or downloadable content. It really doesn't matter if you address it in a general context or focus on a single title that employs what you feel is "unfair"; someone will disagree with you. With strong stances on either side of the coin on what's fair and what's not, the question is, what can developers do to make people "feel better" about DLC? One word: transparency.

Since DLC's quality and value are subjective at best (when people aren't outright punching each other out over it), it can be taken as a warning sign that developers need to clearly state what value their DLC provides and how much it will cost. In the mobile gaming realm, transparency is severely lacking, with purchase options made available with little context as to why and sometimes outright stopping gameplay until the user makes a choice.

The tiniest X in existence.

When DLC Isn't So Good...

In regards to console/handheld gaming, DLC is not always clearly communicated when a game hits the eShop. One recent example I experienced is Mighty Gunvolt, released August 29, 2014. When I first came across this title, I noticed that it was on special for only $2.49. Reading the description, I bought the game on the premise that I was getting a "full" game. It wasn't until after I downloaded it that I discovered that it was first available as a free download for those who purchased Azure Striker Gunvolt from the eShop and that it only had 5 levels, with the rest available as DLC.

Mighty Gunvolt? I love you, man, but...

In the end, I walked away feeling somewhat cheated, even though I truly enjoyed the game. Yeah, I could have replayed the game as another character, but the differences are so mild that it's hardly noticed. The characters offer different attacks, but the enemies continue to show up in the same places and boss fights lose their luster after you learn their attack patterns. In short, I felt that the game was artificially short (one could argue that the price matched the content) and that the rest of the content was hidden behind paywalls that didn't necessarily belong there. Others on Metacritic tend to echo this sentiment, as well.

What made this even more jarring is that it was not stated on the eShop page that the game had DLC and didn't provide a clear enough description of what people would be buying if they hit "Download". Had I known that I was only going to receive 5 static levels to play, I may have reconsidered my choice to buy it. As a gamer, I felt cheated; as a buyer, I felt misinformed. Bottom line: I feel that Mighty Gunvolt is a great game that would benefit from providing all of its content on download (which I would gladly pay $9.99 for), or offering the content as unlockables gained through in-game achievements.

DLC Can Be Good

Granted, not all DLC can feel or appear "janky" or criminal. For example, New Super Luigi U was offered as downloadable content on New Super Mario Bros. U. For anyone who's played New Super Luigi U, they quickly realized that it was not a gimmick, but almost a whole game within itself...without Mario! The eShop price point is currently $19.99, and offers: 1) greater difficulty, 2) Luigi's unique jumping mechanics, and 3) 82 new courses. For $19.99, this would be considered a great bargain, but was not a requirement to enjoy the original New Super Mario Bros. U to its full extent and gave players the option to experience the core game in a new, exciting way.

If you haven't checked this out, it's totally worth it!

So what makes DLC "good"? I would personally say that anything that: 1) adds a comparable value for what's being charged, and/or 2) offers an extension of the full, core game. I, and others, feel that games like Mighty Gunvolt failed in this aspect because the game felt too short (even if the content matched the price), but that doesn't mean that we wouldn't buy the full game at a higher price point with the option of buying DLC post-release as it rolls out.

Prosperity and Success for All

Another gripe for disenfranchised gamers who may not be able to necessarily afford all of the DLC offered in-game is that they cannot grind fast enough for resources to compete with paying players. World of Tanks offers players the ability to purchase premium tanks that gives them a distinct advantage over "free" players. For example,  the TOGII are literal "tanks" in that they can take an insane amount of damage and in a 1v1 situation, a Tier 6 "heavy" would eventually be worn down by a Tier 6 TOGII in a battle of sheer attrition. The skill level of the "free" player almost doesn't matter when going against a TOGII.


So Strong!

Another advantage available to premium players is "gold rounds", which have 25% better armor-penetrating capabilities than those available to "free" players. This may leave a sour taste in the mouth of "free" players who have to virtually grind for hours to earn enough in-game currency, but for "premium" players who may not have the time to invest in obtaining in-game buffs naturally, it's a fast way to improve their capabilities with real-world money.

One game that has attempted to bridge this gap in a fairer manner is ArcheAge. Patron, or premium, players do obtain labor points at a faster rate of 10 labor points per 5 minutes, with a 5,000 point cap than free players, who obtain 5 labor points per 5 minutes with a 2,000 point cap. Labor points are required to do anything in-game that is considered "crafting", whether it's building a house, gathering a harvest or planting trees.

Sounds fair to me.

But what makes ArcheAge so awesome is that patron players can still receive certain advantages, such as owning a plot of land and earning more labor points faster than free players, but free players can still enjoy the game and not feel like their being punished for not paying. Treating free players fairly and still giving them value is an important aspect of creating brand loyalty, as well as encouraging free players to "ante up".

Developers Can Help Bring Cohesiveness

So how can developers help? Simply communicating the purpose and value behind their DLC is a good starting point. As a buyer in almost any other realm of life, gamers want to know what they're buying into if they choose to do so. By simply writing a detailed description of the DLC's content, setting a fair price (it's market value determined by comparable products), and adding it in a manner that extends the experience of the game post-release would do wonders for an industry divided.

To help drive this point home and entertain at the same time, I've written a haiku that would serve well to be posted above every developer's workstation:

Devs, Listen, Take Heart 

Transparency is Crucial

Good Content Sharing

Whether their platform is Steam Greenlight, Twitter or Facebook, developers have an almost endless number of platforms where they can engage and inform their customers. Just like in the all other facets of consumer goods, people like to know what they're buying before they jump in and above all, not feel forced to do so. In short, developers would do well to be aware of their's and others' emotions so that they can interact effectively and clearly with their customers to help reduce confusion and boost their brand's image.

During this entire last week, I've learned just how divided the gamer base is in regards to DLC. I've had multiple discussions with other gamers in all walks of life, and the only conclusion I can draw at this time is that this derision can be effectively fixed at the source. Instead of fighting among each other, developers can do much to bring us all together by practicing transparency.

Published May. 15th 2015
  • Jay Yuh
    Featured Contributor
    I think a perfect way for any game developers to solve this issue is to go with Jagex's methodology.

    Back when I played Runescape 2 (2003 til 2006) they had a really huge F2P area. I enjoyed about a year of it until I convinced my parents to pay a 5 dollar a month membership subscription.

    What was really great about Runescape 2 during this time is that the free servers and the member servers were split. Members only servers were for members only. About 40% of the entire game including most of the wilderness was available to free players.

    The only downside to not being a member is that you could not skill up in the member's skills (Thieving, Construction, Runecrafting, Agility etc...), be able to do mini-games, and wear member's only gear - which at the time was Barrows Gear, Dragon Armor/Weaponry and the Abyssal Whip. Which that gear at the time was very difficult to get. F2P users could wear up to Rune armor, which was the 2nd/3rd best tier of equipment in the game at that time.

    You also didn't have access to 60% of the rest of the content and Runescape world if you were not a member.

    During that time though, F2P was still very fun and took HOURS to complete every single task. You could still skill up in 70% of the available skills. (Strength, Attack, Defense, Prayer, Mining, Smelting, Health Points.....etc.) It did not matter if you were a member or not. Membership meant more content, quests and a couple extra skills you get to level up.

    Say if you had a membership subscription and decided to go visit a friend on a F2P server. Well first off you had to be in a F2P zone when you logged out of a P2P server. Secondly, your dragon armor/weaponry, barrows gear and other membership perks were programmed to not work on F2P servers. You couldn't even trade member's items to free to play users. You could not fight them with member's gear, you had to use Rune plate gear or anything that was a non-member item.

    This is what made Runescape great. Subscribing members did not get god-like and unfair powers over free to play members. They literally just got more content to play, THAT WAS IT.

    There was no bullcrap xp bonus if you decided to subscribe to the game. There was only double xp weekends. There was no DLC. If something new came out, the five dollar a month subscribers would get new content with no additional charge on-top of their current subscription. This method kept a lot of the players to keep playing and kept parents from worrying about buying the next Call of Duty that came out every Fall (Call of Duty wasn't really famous yet then).

    THAT is how game companies need to solve this issue of the DLC war.... and stop releasing a new COD game every year and DLC packs that are way overpriced.
  • GamingGuru
    Contributor
    I never got the chance to play Runescape 2, but that sounds totally fair to me! Some of the loudest arguments in favor of DLC state that new releases "simply won't exist" without it, but I don't necessarily feel that that's true.

    I did go through a WoW phase awhile back where I paid the requisite $15/mo subscription, but I didn't get the chance to dig around enough to determine if there were any other DLC options. At the time, I thought it was a fair price, but I grew frustrated at the amount of time it took to level up, as well as getting beat down by high-skill players in a forced PvP. :-/

    But I really enjoy that P2P players who want to interact on a F2P server would have to "get on their level" and not be able to take their paid buffs with them onto the free server. Definitely makes it more enjoyable for all!

    Thanks for reading and letting me know about Runescape 2!

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