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Three Moves Ahead Episode 38 – Expansions and DLC

November 10th, 2009 by Troy Goodfellow · 7 Comments · Industry, Podcast, Three Moves Ahead


This week’s show begins with a business chat as we talk about the changing revenue models in all gaming as downloadable content begins to supplant or supplement the traditional retail expansion pack. Be sure to stay tuned for Bruce’s Nietzsche moment in which he declares that gameplay is dead.

The last half of the show is spent celebrating expansions that were good, denigrating those that were bad and mourning those that never happened. Lots of Big Huge love – kind of standard operating procedure.

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7 Comments so far ↓

  • Ian Bowes (spelk)

    I’m not against DLC, mainly because it serves several purposes; a) it maintains the games visibility after launch, subsequently lengthening the time the game is in the gaming public’s consciousness, b) it enables fans of the game to pursue even more content in the gaming world of their choice, and c) it funds additional development time on a game already on the shelves, so the game has an “afterlife”.

    I think certain games nowadays evolve after launch, often with DLC and expansions taking them in directions they weren’t originally intended, but also as seen with some indie titles (I’m looking directly at AI Wars: Fleet Command here, see last weeks podcast) they organically grow as a direct result of the fans of the game who are playing the game! So, we’re peering into the future of games that are released, but that’s just the birth, then a game has to mature from first play into childhood, unsteadily through the awkward teenage years and finally into mature and seasoned adulthood. Games are starting to develop a lifespan that exceeds what was previously available, games can be played for years now, if they maintain awareness, drip feeding their fans extras on a regular basis, and perhaps moulding the experience into a much more longer term one.

    To look at Dragon Age, and its controversial Warden’s Keep DLC, available from release, and niggling so as a tacked on quest that makes its presence known quite brutally in you face – I think it was poorly delivered, because the boost you gain was obviously a crafted marketing ruse. Its so blatantly “there” at launch, that it comes across in a negative way. If they’d left it until a few weeks after launch, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. I think DLC that rolls out immediately is always going to be looked down upon because people shell out for the boxed product want all that they can get at that point in time, not have it broken into several pieces and thinly disguised as gamer choice.

    However, especially in RPG games, people are willing to pay that extra, for more content from the start – hence we get collectors editions, ultimate editions etc. This all seems to me to be the same thing, they want to eek out more money from their initial player purchasing power, and if they can sass it up a bit with a plastic toy, some artwork, or some extra in-game items they will.

    I think Bioware missed a big earner in terms of the Uncharted Worlds mechanism in Mass Effect, the game was ripe for some extra content to be regularly fed out to the players, and as long as they could come up with different exploration missions, you could have keep that churning for a good year or two afterwards. As it was, they released Bring Down the Sky, which was a welcome piece of new content, but which was bite-size and didn’t fully realise the potential of the games inherent exploration of space mechanic. IMHO attaching a monthly Star Trek like episode to a different planet in the Uncharted Worlds realm would have raked it in, and fans would have been salivating for the next one. Then almost at the end of the shelf life of Mass Effect they release some half arsed combat simulation, with leaderboards, which really doesn’t fit into the Universe all that well, and for me signified the death of any hope of more Mass Effect content, until Mass Effect 2 starts rolling.

    So with Dragon Age I think they’ve jumped the gun a bit, they’ve made available Warden’s Keep (which to be fair, has quest based content attached to it, as well as the unlimited inventory feature) too soon, upon release, and thus we have player wide suspicion this is a milk the fans job. However, I hope Dragon Age runs and runs for a while, because theres certainly a lot of content in the game, and a lot of re-playability with the various characters and party combinations. Having new quests delivered to the world, for a small fee, would still reward fans of the game and maintain a playing base.

    Some of Bioware’s titles have a whole media entourage churning out world enhancing content, such as novels, comics, and even smaller game bites such as Mass Effect Galaxy for the iPhone, or the Dragon Age Journeys free to play flash game. Filling out a Universe with meta game content also makes sure the fans will invest their time and effort into the Intellectual Property, so you have a willing userbase of purchasers for additional content. So in a way, its all about the same thing, getting people to pay for more of the game than just the initial released boxed product. For me, I’d rather delve into a fully realised world such as the Mass Effect Universe, or the Dragon Age Realm and pay for extra content to add to the games longevity, because I’d rather give more of my allotted gaming money to a developer who is creating something with longevity that I totally enjoy than to squander it on several developers who make one off games with little re-playability or meta-gaming potential. To some extent I would say Dragon Age with DLC (and expansions etc) is a single player game using almost Massive Multiplayer Online game techniques to provide a longer lifespan and a regular paying fanbase.

  • Michael A.

    +1 to pretty much everything spelk says.

    With regards to Dragon Age (and the same goes for Mass Effect, incidentally), I think the DLC concept holds up better for open-ended game worlds, though (e.g., Bethesda’s style of games). The idea of going back to a savegame when I’ve already completed the main story with that character or starting up a new character just to experience 2 hours extra of gameplay (and 50 hrs I’ve already experienced) holds little attraction.

    As for the Dragon Age backlash, I suspect part of the problem is that the whole inventory management thing was a stupid decision (there is really no good reason why it couldn’t have been in your camp), and the extra content added by the DLC seems thin. For a $50 game with 50 hours of gameplay, a $7 DLC that adds 1 hour of gameplay (and whose storyline is … to put it mildly… poor) doesn’t seem like very good value for money.

    I think DLC in general is an excellent thing; but as with games we’re obviously going to see as many misses as there are hits.

  • Punning Pundit

    What’s hurting EA in this, I think, is the suspicion that they ripped part of the code out of the game in order to sell it back to us.

    Missing from this discussion is how much this seems to be an anti-piracy measure. A pirate who wants to get the full game experience has to hook their game up to EA’s servers and ask for the bonus content– and could possibly send EA money for the DLC.

    Granted, there will probably be pirate DLC servers out there at some point :(

  • Gormongous

    Punning Pundit: There already are, and once again a supposed anti-piracy measure seems to have alienated more customers than it was meant to engender.

    It really was a breath of fresh air to hear Feargus Urquhart in an interview say that attempting to prevent piracy ensures nothing but hard feelings among the people who are supposed to be your fans. Not that the Stardock model has proved wildly successful, after the Demigod fiasco, but these days it seems like the industry is having to choose between bad and worse.

  • mutait

    Good panel, guys. The thing that scares me most about that Dragon Age camp shill business that it reminded me how vulnerable I am to such sleazy tactics. (I grumbled a lot but bought the extra content soon after he made his pitch). But I think that EA is only beginning to realize the potential of such revenue boosters. Here’s a little idea for them for Dragon Age 2 — in game extortion. Here’s how it works. Some time around the 3/4 point in the campaign a guy in sunglasses and a tight suit appears and compliments the player on his PC, his party, and all his pretty little saved games, then adds that it would be a awful awful shame if something were to happen to all of them.

  • Erez

    Regarding Odium, here’s an old (Bruce) Geryk analysis that expands a bit about what’s good in the game (and what’s bad about Shadow Watch): http://www.quartertothree.com/features/odium_sw/odium_sw_1.shtml

    And from mobygames.com, http://www.mobygames.com/game/dium and the “Gorky series” http://www.mobygames.com/game-group/gorky-series

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