Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Downloadable Cashcow

A grand day in early 1999 – Tales of the Sword Coast was released, the addon to Bioware’s hit RPG Baldur’s Gate. Obviously I got it as fast I could, installed it and added 20-30 hours of game play to the already fantastic Baldur’s Gate. That was the common way back then to milk your customers for more money for an old game. Er, I mean to provide your fans with an extended and enhanced game experience. Today, things work differently – at least in part. Sure there are still expansion packs, be it Wrath of the Lich King or Shivering Isles, but broadband internet has enabled game companies to provide additions to their game in the form of downloads.
It’s common for game companies to provide fixes for their games through downloads, and sometimes they are so kind to actually add some new content as well. The more common form of dowloadable content is paid for, however. Just how much downloadable bang do you get for your buck?

I said above that Tales of the Sword Coast added twenty to thirty hours of play time to Baldur’s Gate. That is actual added content, complete with story and NPCs and all. New items, spells, and experience levels are obvious by-products. The infamous Diablo:Hellfire still gave players fifty percent additional content over the original game plus a new class (or three, depending on how you count) as well as lots of new items and spells. Expansion packs like these rarely cost the same as a full price game (they have less content and no new engine or anything after all) and provided a decent amount of additional game play for fans of the original game. The reason I’m writing this post is that today’s downloadable content doesn’t seem to match up to those expansions at all.

The first time I realized what a joke DLC can be was in Elder Scroll IV: Oblivion. The guys at Bethesda offered a pack of armour for your horse for sale as DLC. A mostly cosmetic change to a single player game that I am supposed to pay real money for? Alas, players bought it (don’t ask me why) and DLC has been downhill since. The biggest difference between horse armour and a real expansion (aside from scope and stupidity) is that horse armour doesn’t actually add any content to the game. Instead of giving you more to do in the game, horse armour DLC just (arguably) improves the existing game play or makes it easier.

Dragon Age: Origins brings us the same kind of horse shit armour. There are two packs of downloadable content available right now, plus some smaller bonus items. The Stone Prisoner adds a new unique character, items for that character, and about half an hour of added game play. A promotion code for this DLC is included in all new copies of the game, I assume in order to prevent people from buying the game on the secondary market. If you don’t have that code, however, the pack costs $15. While the production values are high, the amount of actual game play you get out of those fifteen bucks is ridiculous. The price of gaming is often favourably compared to going to the movies by calculating the cost per hour of entertainment. Well, The Stone Prisoner is incredibly expensive at $30 per hour. Sure, you also get a kick-ass character to join you in the game – but how is that relevant in a single player game?

I don’t own the other DLC pack, Warden’s Keep, but from what I’ve read it provides about as much additional play time as The Stone Prisoner while costing “only” $7. Warden’s Keep doesn’t include a new character, however, or anything else of interest. Except for a chest to store your party’s items in – which legitimately should have been in the main game to begin with. We used to get things like these in patches or as minor features in an expansion pack – not as expensive DLC.

Expanding the game experience is a legitimate form of business, and I’m fine with it in general. If you liked a game, why not pay some more so you can enjoy even more of it? Makes absolute sense. That means, however, that I want to expand my experience after finishing the main game and that I want to expand it by a decent amount. Sure, buying Warden’s Keep now would add half an hour to my next play-through and give me the very useful chest, but I don’t know if I even want to play through the same story again. In the grand picture of the game, whether or not you have the DLC makes no difference to the length of the game or the story whatsoever – it only makes you more powerful and allows you to slack more with inventory management.

Bioware, I’d be really interested in buying more content for Dragon Age: Origins (and I don’t want to wait for Dragon Age: The Blight Strikes Back) but it has to be actual content. Give me something to do, stuff to kill and jokes to laugh about instead of a Sword of Massive Slaying +2. $15 should buy me about 10 hours of game play, not thirty minutes.

Also, in-game NPCs telling me to go buy premium content? Go to hell.