How Well Are Developers Adapting to DLC?

How Well Are Developers Adapting to DLC?

The future often seems uncertain, frightening, difficult to adapt to. And sometimes, it throws us a bone and offers something that really does appear to benefit everyone. Downloadable game content (DLC), for instance, is a huge boon to developers and gamers alike. Gamers have access to cheap, often innovative games that developers wouldn’t be able to experiment with at regular retail; indie studios can distribute games with minimal cost; and big studios can make quick coin by selling add-on content to retail titles.

In fact, Electronic Arts (EA) recently boasted about the huge success of its downloadable content. Electronic Arts CFO Eric Brown spoke at UBS’s 38th Annual Media and Communications Conference, where he revealed that EA expects 20 percent of its revenue for this fiscal year to come from downloads. That includes full-sized games and additional content.

So EA is adapting nicely to the industry’s changing trends, but EA is a huge entity that could probably adapt to the ashen landscape following a nuclear war. How are other game companies doing with DLC? Are they using it to their advantage? Are they flubbing the process entirely?

For the most part, DLC is proving beneficial for all developers. There is occasional hesitance from some companies to really let loose, however. Generally, that hesitance comes from Japanese developers, whereas Western developers are a little quicker to adopt the potential offered by the digital world.

Telltale Games and Team17, for example, now exclusively develop downloadable games. Telltale in particular has become comfortable with digital distribution: Its episodic release schedule brings in decent money, but also puts the consumer in control of how much content they want to spend money on. If he or she doesn’t enjoy the first episode of a game, there’s no reason to buy the next. Definitely preferable to buying a title for full price at retail and falling out of love within ten minutes with no real way to get a full refund (not without a hassle, anyway).

Though Japan has been a little slower to adopt DLC, some companies have sensed its potential from day one. Namco-Bandai, for instance, produced two huge winners with Pac-Man Championship Edition and Pac-Man Championship Edition DX. Both games still stand as examples of how to do DLC right: Offer up tradition with a cool modern spin. Capcom has likewise utilized DLC with admirable cleverness by catering to its retro-loving fanbase with Mega Man 9, Mega Man 10, and Bionic Commando Rearmed for Xbox Live/PSN and WiiWare, and Dark Void Zero for the Nintendo DSiWare service.

Some of Japan’s giants have been a little more hesitant to jump aboard the DLC bandwagon, however. Nintendo probably garners the most criticism. Its Virtual Console service was revolutionary for its time, and WiiWare has a lot of potential, but both are sadly under-serviced. Online play is also, in a word, pathetic thanks to lag and the tedious need for “Friend Codes” that make it difficult to just jump in and play in the stress-free manner offered by most Xbox 360 games (“stress-free,” provided you shut off your audio).

Square-Enix can also afford to step up its game, so to speak, as far as DLC is concerned. Downloadable content was supposed to be in the works for Final Fantasy XIII, but nothing is set to materialize soon, if ever. The PlayStation Network features some of Square’s retro classics, including Final Fantasy VII, VIII, and IX, but Final Fantasy titles from the SNES era have been slow to appear on Virtual Console. Final Fantasy II (which was IV in Japan) only became available very recently, and the beloved Final Fantasy III (VI in Japan) has yet to make an appearance. In the same vein, none of the Dragon Warrior/Dragon Quest games have touched the PlayStation Network or Virtual Console.

Square-Enix’s sparse presence in the world of DLC may well indicate a reluctance to adhere to new technology. On the other hand, it can also be attributed to finances: Square-Enix often re-releases Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy games at retail, where they do very well. Why give people a game for $10 when they’ll easily pay $50 for it? Though to be fair, the Nintendo DS Dragon Quest remakes are worth every cent.

Over the past half-decade, console game developers began to see the benefit of DLC, and the adoption rate has snowballed since. A handful of developers are still standing on the shoreline and testing the water before plunging in, but within a couple of years, they’ll be utilizing DLC to its full potential.

Yes, even Nintendo.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

1 Comments

  1. The writing in this article is atrocious. Most of this article talks about digital distribution, not DLC. The two are completely different entities. To educate Nadia (and her imperiled readers), I will disambiguate them here.

    Digital distribution is the online purchase and download of an entire game. All of Nadia’s examples (“why give for 10 when can sell for 50”; “Pac-Man…”; the Capcom games; the Virtual Console) are all digital distribution.

    DLC, “downloadable content”, on the other hand, are add-ons that can be purchased for games through a digital distribution system. Whether the game was purchased digitally or in retail — there’s often DLC for both. DLC is often things such as:
    * additional maps or levels for a game;
    * extra characters, quests or items;
    * an expanded soundtrack;
    * or even a full-blown new game using the same engine and resources (eg, Grand Theft Auto 4 The Lost and Damned).

    For an in-depth example, consider Castlevania HD (Harmony of Despair). The game (an XBox Live Arcade game) is only available through digital distribution. It also has various downloadable content (“DLC”) enhancements available: an extra level, two music packs, and four extra characters. The base game is available for $15, but there is $21 of DLC for the game. This brings the total cost of ownership, to have the entire game, up to $36 — pretty much the price of a retail game.

    Dragon Age: Origins is a [retail] game notorious for its excessive use of DLC. A list is here: http://preview.tinyurl.com/3yfuqq2

    To answer Nadia’s question at the beginning of the article: developers have all (Japanese and Western) adopted DLC very well. They’re all anxious to be able to sell the same net amount to a customer for a higher price.

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