Many video game developers and publishers abuse downloadable content so much, DLC has almost become a dirty word. But BioWare is insisting that all of the backlash over their own DLC practices doesn’t paint an accurate picture of the entire situation—and as they suggest, some fans actually want “day-one” content available at a game’s launch.
Most famously, BioWare was lambasted for withholding critical single-player content from Mass Effect 3 with its “From Ashes” expansion—which included an extra squad member with unique dialogue.
At the Game Developers’ Conference in Europe, BioWare online development direction Fernando Melo explained why day-one DLC is so heavily supported by the developer, citing that it’s a necessary asset to have:
“Contrary to what you might hear on the internet,” said Melo, “fans do want more content. They tend to say, ‘I want it now.’ The problem with day one content and the challenge around it is that the right answer for now is different for every player. There is no single right time, there is no single now. It’s subjective, and it’s unique to every player.”
“In our case, when we look at completion rates for our games, consistently less than half of our players actually finish even once.”
There is a gain of truth to that last statement, as less than half of Mass Effect 3 buyers made it through to the ending. Then again, that might have more to do with the fact that the final stretch of the title wasn’t quite as warmly received as the other two games in the trilogy, with a controversial ending that split the fanbase into angry camps.
“In that case, you’re making it available on their time. They choose when to pick that up. It’s not based on us. It’s not based on some first-party release schedule. It’s there, if they want it they can pick it up day one. If they don’t, they can wait until they’ve finished their game.”
“If you have a consistent culture of how you’re communicating to your fans, that will increase the number of people that are more likely to believe in your explanation. You’re not lying to them, but they will take whatever you’re saying as like, ‘you’re lying to us.’ That will always be there. The only way that that’s going to go away is you fast forward a few more years, where this is just normal. Every game is digital from day one. Every game is an ongoing service, almost like an MMO, where on any given day new content shows up. Maybe that’s part of the base package, and maybe it’s a premium feature.”
But what Melo seems to miss is that fans want as much content for their money as possible. With DLC becoming such as huge part of post-launch profits building, developers like BioWare, EA, and Capcom seem to be actively cutting out large portion of their games that could dramatically increase the time and replay value of $60 investments.
However, things could change. Not only are fans catching on to the trend, but they could eventually hit a point where they stop paying for DLC altogether, especially for top-tier triple-A franchises.
Right now, the problem is multi-fold and extremely complex. Used game sales cut into developers’ revenue so much that downloadable content is arguably still one of the best ways to ensure that people buy their games new on the release date, or pay a small sum of money that isn’t eaten up by places like GameStop or Best Buy.