Well, the answer is usually a lot further back than you might think. Nearly all games these days are released with the assumption that they will be further embellished by add-on packs, downloadable content or DLC, and all the other various types of purchasable things you can buy to extend your games these days Now, the more positive people amongst us would argue
“What’s there to complain about? We’re not only getting the game but also the ability to be able to increase the reach and enjoyment of the game by adding in all these additional storylines, weapons, characters, etc.”
It’s a good point I can’t deny it. Although, many years ago when the internet was nothing more than the mad feverish dream of a relatively unknown scientist, when you released a game if it was severely lacking in any way it meant, at worst case, major recalls of the product or at best having to stick with the fact you’ve released what is considered to be a sub-par game and sucking up any impact that may have.
The internet is here however, and I think that a lot of games company’s are now using it as part of a lazier approach to game production.
For example, why should a company spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on full intensive beta testing when you can throw a product into general release at 90-95% tested. When the game is bought, the general public will practically be paying to perform the testing for you. A few complaints later, you know exactly what needs to be fixed, and can throw a patch out over the net to fix the issues. Definitely, much cheaper.
OK, that is probably quite a cynical approach, but can you think of many company’s who would pay hundreds of thousands of pounds for something which can be done for a fraction of the price, and all you need to do in return is sell something not quite as perfect as you’d like, and soak up a few customer complaints. Plus, because video game being released with issues is so prevalent these days, all the companies can now hide behind each other. With, what seems like, everyone doing this now, no one stands out when they do the same, so there’s no stigma attached to doing it anymore.
A similar approach can almost be assumed for the additional content that is thrown out just weeks or sometimes days after a big game release. The major difference being, that this is an addition to a game, rather than fixing something.
So, if you were in charge f game development and you had two choices, lets call them A and B, which would seem to be the best course of action for you to take.
- A.) You spend the time and necessary money to perfectly create the game you want. Every quest is included, every character, weapon, costume, map everything you’d love to be in there is in there. It goes on the shelves, and with a smug sense of self-satisfaction the company sells each one for £40. You hear feedback on the forums regarding how customers want more characters and storylines, but as far as your concerned the game is finished and nothing further needs to be added.
- B.) You create a nice game, it has enough to keep the customers happy. A good set of quests, enjoyable characters, nice costumes and a nice storyline that ends in a cliff-hanger. Then pop your game on the shelf for £30. The game’s good and it gets a nice following, however the customers are wanting more, so you get back to developing and start offering your customers more of what they want, extra characters, some new weapons and a load of extra maps. You even throw at a whole new chapter in the storyline, that continues the story, so you find out what happened after the cliff hanger. These things don’t come free however, so nominal fees start being charged for these extras, a fiver for a new character, a tenner for the end of the story, 3 quid each for a few new sets of armour. OK, the customer may have just paid around £60 for the game without even realising it.
It’s pretty easy to see why a company would do it, there does certainly seem to be advantages to following the option B route. B not only benefits the company from a financial perspective, but the customers could also be seen to benefit. As the game grows in popularity, you can directly start changing or adding to the game, in order to fulfil the desires of your players.
Some games, have little choice in performing Option B due to size constraints. Sims 3 for example, well any of the Sims games in fact. They’re essentially about life, so it’s pretty inconceivable to imagine how you could create a game that encompasses the number of different facets of life without breaking them into smaller chunks. Other game types such as MMO’s also follow this approach, due to one of the major selling points of any MMO is that the land changes and there’s a constant stream of new things to do.
I’m not against downloadable content in principle. Far from it, the few that I have purchased in the past have been welcome additions to the game’s I downloaded them for. My gripe is down the cost of them. If not the cost of the actual content, but what you get for it, or the sheer number you are given the option to buy. It’s hard to look at this in any other way as a money spinner for the company’s. When the volume of DLC is so frequent that you’re being charged £5 just for some new armour (Which in context is a 6th of the game price), cost had to have been the primary pushing point.
This is just one game, so if you have several games on the go at once, and these days they can all be so addictive, that the call of DLC is too strong to ignore, this can start to add up to some serious cash. How much of that cash which goes back into games development is unknown, but I think a lot of people would like to believe that they’ll be getting a little more out of it than just a new bit of code added into their game, in the long run.
Gaming is now a huge industry, and the costs have increased accordingly. My first game for the spectrum cost me £4, it took me 25 minutes to load it and the game used 8 colours. By relation, the additional costs these days should be worth it, considering the quality of the graphics and storytelling. But if you take the initial game price of £30, the possible subscription fees £10, downloadable content £5-£15and add-on packs / sequels probably at £20 a pop.
Can anyone honestly say that what we’re playing these days is actually worth all that money…? For one game??