Downloadable

There’s a growing trend that is starting to get me a little worried: downloadable content. DLC is both a boon and a bane in my eyes for video games. On one hand DLC can extend the life of a game beyond it’s initial scope usually for a modest price, but it can also alienate a section of the player base if they don’t pick it up (ie. map packs for online games). This alienation isn’t what bugs me though, it’s the feeling that developers are holding back or omitting content that they know they can offer as DLC later down the road.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a design choice running rampant with many developers; nor does it really pertain to every game genre. It just feels like single player narrative games are being stripped down so that content that fleshes out the world can be added later, artificially increasing the price of the game. Moreover we’re starting to see DLC available far closer to the launches of some games which begs the question, “Shouldn’t this content have been included in the price of the game?” Then again, you could make an argument that DLC that comes out months after a game launches runs into the issue of relevance, especially when competing against brand new titles.

So when should DLC be offered? What should the DLC contain to justify it’s existence? These are tough questions and will probably vary on a case by case basis, but how do you justify spending extra money for a game that you’ve already paid for? I can answer this for myself pretty easily: when the value of the DLC outweighs the cost … which is almost never for me.

Now that’s slightly hypocritical coming for me. I play WoW and have been an avid MMO fan since FFXI but the value I get out of WoW greatly outweighs the monthly subscription I pay. But then there is that time when I picked up all of the extra costumes for Street Fighter IV. Ooops! I mean really, I paid for extra costumes?! And they came in multiple packs where if you wanted them all, you had to buy them all.

Outside of the costume purchasing I haven’t purchased DLC for pretty much anything else. Now if I were an avid Halo/FPS fan I’d probably pick up map packs. Those I generally see as being worth their cost, but in Halo’s case, those map packs are made free later on. Spending extra money for an extra “mission” or side-quest isn’t valuable for me. Cosmetic DLC is even worse, but *cough*ahem*cough* sometimes might just a download on my end.

So How do you feel about DLC? What is your measuring stick for determining value vs cost? Have you purchased DLC and then regretted it later on? Or is there DLC on the horizon that you’re itching to buy and download?

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Value

There are many varied opinions on Blizzard’s recently released pet store, some happy, some angry, but mostly indifferent. As for me, I was initially upbeat on the idea until I saw the price point for the pets. $10 is a substantial amount of money for something that is purely for vanity and I cannot justify spending that much on a non-combat pet.

Other online games that feature microtransactions generally price their vanity items a lot lower, so I’m wondering why the $10 price point. One could argue that for those games where microtransactions are their bread-n-butter they have to price low in order to attract impluse purchasing. These games also run on the model of microtransactions for game progression or features and that’s how they pay the bills for service and content updates.

With Blizzard and World of Warcraft we’re not in that situation. We pay a monthly fee for access to the game, services, features and content. We’ve seen “micro”-transactions in the form of character recustomization, server transfers, faction and race changes and those are priced to be cost-prohibitive to prevent abuse and to otherwise instill value on the decisions made by a player when creating their character(s).

Yet these features are priced where they are because there are enough players out there willing to pay for the features offered. This brings us back to the $10 tag on the vanity pets, there will be enough people willing to pay that much for a vanity “look at me!” pet. If the price had been set at $5 I’d probably have splurged for both my wife’s account and my account, but $10 is just too high.

What confuses me the most, however, is the decision to set aside 50% of the proceeds from sales of the Pandaren to the Make-A-Wish Foundation for the remainder of this year. It’s very noble for Blizzard to give money to this charity, but why not send 100% of the proceeds? Obviously the idea is to tug on the hearts of players to feel like they’re doing the right thing and get something out of it for themselves.

I challenge Blizzard to rethink this stance and send 100% of the proceeds to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. It would send a clear message to everyone that their pet store isn’t merely a money grab. I would fully stand behind the pet store if they donated all proceeds (from mini KT as well) to charity, but as it currently stands I am very weary over the store.

We’re slowly inching towards a slippery slope where Blizzard might offer features and/or mechanics as a microtransaction. Before I get blasted for suggesting that microtransactions may become prevalent, you have to realize that Blizzard has 180’d on a lot of things that they said they would never do. It isn’t completely crazy to think that at some point in the future content may be dangled in front of us for a fee. You have to understand who is at the helm of Activision-Blizzard and the things that he brings to the table.

“We have a real culture of thrift. The goal that I had in bringing a lot of the packaged goods folks into Activision about 10 years ago was to take all the fun out of making video games.” That is a direct quote from CEO Bobby Kotick, aka Darth Kotex according to @MrGrimme.Unfortunately it is out of context so I’ll copy the full quote:

“I don’t think it is specific to video games. I think that if you look at how much volatility there is in the economy and, dependent upon your view about macroeconomic picture and I think we have a real culture of thrift. And I think the goal that I had in bringing a lot of the packaged goods folks that we brought in to Activision 10 years ago was to take all the fun out of making video games.”

“I think we definitely have been able to instill the culture, the skepticism and pessimism and fear that you should have in an economy like we are in today. And so, while generally people talk about the recession, we are pretty good at keeping people focused on the deep depression.”

On one hand you have to hand it to him, Activision has definitely succeeded in a volatile market that we are in today. He has been able to acquire wildly successful IPs that have kept the rest of Activision afloat. Had it not been for Call of Duty, Guitar Hero, and Blizzard’s IPs Activision would be a sinking ship. The culture he has developed has probably been a motivating factor in some of Blizzard’s decisions, and I am worried that we’ll continue to see more pressure on Blizzard to generate extra revenue to justify Kotick’s culture of fear.

We do live in a free market afterall and our vote of support or disapproval comes with our wallets. Currently there are no guns pointed at our heads forcing us to spend money on vanity pets that we don’t need and have no impact on the game. Hopefully the day of fees for content will never come to fruition, and I trust Morhaime to protect Blizzard’s values and beliefs. Yet I am worried that one day Morhaime will step down and with that the company that I love will be destroyed by Darth Kotex.