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DLC: Just Another Way to Milk Gamers?
By Kenny Yeo - on 28 May 2012, 8:04am

One of the first and most insidious uses of DLCl was by Bethesda, who charged 200 Microsoft Points (US$2.50) for in-game horse armor, which were purely cosmetic.

Downloadable content, or more commonly known simply as DLC, became prevalent thanks to seventh generation video game consoles (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii) and faster than ever Internet connection.

In theory, DLC is a godsend for both developers and gamers. It lets developers release new material easily and at lower costs; it also enables gamers to easily gain access to new content. Unfortunately, like so many things in life, things don’t work out as planned.

Today, there’s an uncomfortable sense that instead of using DLC to enrich games, developers are using it as an opportunity to wring more cash out from gamers and garner more profits.

One of the most famous incidents was the Horse Armor DLC for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The update provided specialized armor for horses in the game, which were purely cosmetic. And for that, the game’s developer Bethedsa charged 200 Microsoft Points, the equivalent of around US$2.50.

In March this year, the Call of Duty community was rocked when Robert Bowling, for so long the public face of what is arguably the best-selling FPS franchise, suddenly resigned. Although he never public revealed the reasons as to why he chose to leave, it was widely believed by the community that it was because of disagreements with the Activision management regarding Call of Duty’s DLC strategy. Allegedly, he wanted throwback maps (maps from old Call of Duty games refreshed and updated for Modern Warfare 3) to be free, while Activision wanted to charge gamers for them.

Turn10 admits that Porsche should have been in the game in the first place, but now charges US$20 for them? What the...

A more recent incident regarding use of DLC is Turn10, the developers of the popular Forza Motorsport series. Turn10 is one of the biggest users of DLC, since the launch of Forza Motorsport 4 in October last year, they have released no less than eight DLCs which added new cars to the game.

However, Turn10’s latest DLC is also one of the most controversial. Previously, Porsche was blocked from Forza Motorsport 4 because of a licensing disagreement with EA who owns exclusive rights for Porsches to be featured in games. However, the latest Porsche car pack reverses that by offering 30 Porsche cars to the game. The cost? 1600 Microsoft Points, roughly US$20.

A little background reading is necessary to understand the implication of this car pack and for that you’d need to read up Turn10’s official comment on the issue. The gist is that while Porsche was featured in previous Forza Motorsport games, it will be omitted from Forza Motorsport 4 because of licensing issues. Perhaps more crucially, the official comment from Turn10 seems to suggest that they are genuinely sorry about the events that transpired.

So why are they now charging US$20 for cars that, by their own admission, should have been in the game in the first place?

I’m not privy to the details of how Turn10 managed to get EA or Porsche to sublicense the cars to them, but I expect that at some point, Turn10 would have dangled the Ferrari carrot in front of EA - Turn10 owns the rights to all Ferrari cars on the Xbox and PC platform. I also completely understand that Turn10 is running a business. But US$20? A third of the cost of a brand new Forza Motorsport 4 game? That seems a bit excessive.

Or maybe I’m just naive to think that they are genuinely sorry in the first place. And also naive to think that developers will use the DLC model to enrich games instead of squeezing gamers out of their money.

Kenny Yeo

Kenny Yeo / Associate Editor

Specifications are not everything. It's what you do with what you have that matters.