Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Paying for games twice

One trend I noticed in the second half of this year is game companies trying to sell season passes to players. A season pass means the player pays in advance for a bundle of downloadable content (DLC), basically a paid-for version of content patches for single-player games. And such a season pass isn't cheap, those for Borderlands 2 and Assassin's Creed 3 cost 30 Euro each, the Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 season pass even costs 50 Euro on Steam.

The thing that bothers me is that to price a season pass the game company basically needs to have the DLC already produced when the game is released. There have been cases where a so-called "DLC" wasn't actually downloadable content but was in fact already burned onto the DVD on which the game was delivered. What happens is that players end up paying full price for half a game, and are then asked to pay full price a second time for the other half of the game.

Game companies like DLC because it acts as a copy protection: Even if you can sell the game used, the DLC is legally treated as an account-bound service which isn't resellable. And I would be happy with the principle if a game company would sell me a game with limited content for a much reduced price, and I could then decide later whether I wanted to pay full price for a full game. But paying full price twice to get all the content that has already been planned and produced from the start sounds like a ripoff to me.

I assume that almost any PC software you buy these days is not ready. You buy a new game or Microsoft O/S at midnight, you take it home put the DVD in and after installing, you patch it. You have to get physical DVDs cut a couple of months before First retail ship and what large software company, constantly fighting software schedules, is going to waste two months? I.e., the "game you bought" at the store is not what you want to play, it is a license to a stream of code. Whether the game company wants to sell it as $80 or 40+40 or 50+10+10+10 is just a marketing decision.

I am not a console gamer, so this is just puzzling to me. Why is the initial purchase felt by many to be "full price?" It could just as easily be thought of as half up front and half over the year with a discount for the annual pass. If I play X and I will spend $50 up front and $25 over the next year, then $50 is not "full price" it is merely initial price. Season passes seem like a nice way to remove the worry about how much the DLC stream will cost over the next year. If the publisher plans to get $100 from gamers over the span of the game, then why isn't $50 up front "limited content at a reduced price?"

I don't understand why people are upset when all the DLC is on the original disk. Not that their opinion is incorrect, just far from my world view. Games frequently come with regular, premium, collectors edition, and various ways to do "price discrimination" [ q.v. where the company tries to charge customers as close to what they would pay. E.g., there may be 18 different prices paid by airline customers on the same flight. ] How is buying DLC different than buying stuff from the cash shop - people willing to spend more are charged more and given more. Does anyone think or care that the items appearing in the cash shop the first 10 weeks may have all been coded prior to launch?

My guess is just about every game company that does DLC does their business analysis of the game assuming the lifetime income which obviously includes DLC. Two-four years before the game ships, when the business plan is being approved, there are spreadsheet cells for DLC. But due to the resistance of gamers, the game company needs to make it seem like DLC is all produced by organic, free-range programmers working after first-customer-ship.

You buy an copy of Microsoft Windows and it has all the code on it. Which of the idk half-dozen versions you pay for determines what features are unlocked. And that was regarded as a good thing so you did not have to worry about different versions of install disks. Gamers prefer to be forced to get a second install rather than having all their DLC on the same initial disk?

That sounds alot like the F2P business model to me.

The suggestion to lower the default box price is one step away from making the game free and making you pay to unlock things as you play . Which is not necessarily a bad model, the barrier to entry is suddenly zero.

If we look at SOE's latest, Planetside 2. This is effectively similar to Battlefield , except the box is free. Guess what? Now you still get people that moans about having to pay for weapons...

> paying full price twice to get all
> the content that has already been
> planned and produced from the start
> sounds like a ripoff to me

I don't agree. You DO get the full game. Borderlands2 was shipped without any missing piece. It doesn't feel like it is missing something.

You just pay more if you want more of the same game. It's an option, and it adds more. It's not a missing piece that you already paid.

I don't know the other games but Borderlands2 is cool and absolutely complete.
Full support for Hagu !

From you Tobold, I find strange that you feel cheated : you were one of the first to understand that the price of gaming is not linked to the cost of it.

We should fully understand that price is not linked to cost, but to how much people value something. Why is there Day0 DLC ? Because people are ready to pay for it ! And that's cool ! They pay for my game ! Sometimes it is the opposite : I buy a game and dont play it.
It's basic economic theory: price elasticity of demand.

At $100, almost no one will buy a game, mostly, because we are conditioned that games cost in a certain price range.

At $20, almost everyone who wants to play the game will probably buy it. For example, Torchlight II is $20 and I could buy it easily, I just don't want to look at another action RPG for some time now (after D3).

So most games nowadays are priced at the point where they will get the widest possible distribution.

DLCs (CEs or premium weapons or hats) are a natural way to cater to the portion of the audience that really cares about the game and is willing to spend double what the entry-level player has spent.
My example of this would be Forza Motorsport.

You could pre-order giving you an extra car.

You could buy the VIP version giving you a number of extra accessible cars as DLC, a rather nice booklet and some gifted cars throughout the first year, plus the pre-order car for free after 6 months.

And then there are also the monthly DLC packs, whichh you can buy one by one or as a season pass.

The standard edition with no DLC whatsoever is still a complete game though. It has fewer different cars in it, yes. I think the game on its own is worth the cost. Some of the car packs were worth their cost too, if they had a car I really liked. The ones that didn't, I simply didn't get. So at least for this game (one of the few for which I ever bought DLC), I think it works.

My brother got a second hand copy of it though, has none of the DLC and he loves the game as well.

As I said it was a complete game as released, the DLC really are extra's.

Same thing for Fallout 3 (although having 10 extra levels with one DLC was a bit of a cheap shot) and WWE 12.
You're not paying twice for the full game. You're paying once for the full game, and paying again for additional content. When additional content came in the form of boxed expansion packs, no one complained that we had to pay twice to get the full game.

They don't need to have all their DLC already made to sell season passes. They have them planned and budgeted but they make them mostly one at a time.

I'm not saying it's never been abused, but to me if a piece of content has been planned and budgeted separately from the main game, it's justified to sell it separately.
And if it's been developed in parallel with the main game and it's ready at the same time, why not put it on the disc (if there's room) to cut the download size ?
You don't own anything on the disc anyway, just a licence to run a specific piece of software. (yes that sucks but that's the way it is)
I don't have a problem with it as long as the base game is fully playable without the "season pass" content. You can make a value judgement of the base game on it's stand alone merit and then make a separate decision about the additional content.

I do find the name "season pass" a little worrying though because it makes it sound like a recurring subscription fee. I am not ready to pay a recurring fee to play single player games. Even if they they start restricting bug fix patches to season pass holders then I will protest.
This style is what the market bears.
This style is what the market bears.
DLC is nothing new, as games were releasing expansion packs and add-on content way back in the 90's. What's new is the way publishers parse out content into smaller and smaller packages while still trying to find a sweet price point.

I actually prefer "season pass" features as it means the publisher is giving me a heads up that their game doesn't cost $60 for the full package, it costs $60 for the base game + X extra for the rest. If I plan to invest in a game to get all the content, I like to consider this in advance. I've passed on games like Darksiders II and Borderlands 2 because I know that even if I get into them, it will be far enough down the road that by then they'll have $20 "GOTY" editions with all content included, I reserve my dollars for those games I plan to invest more immediate time into, and for which extra maps/scenarios and such will be worth my time (Mass Effect 3, Black Ops 2 and Max Payne 3 are three I did decide to invest in, for example).

The one type of DLC I dislike is the sort which really does feel like a missing chunk of the game. Bioware is bad about this...I can't imagine playing Mass Effect 2 without all the DLC, for example (and not having any of that must have made for a very short ME3 experience for some people). But I am Bioware's bitch so that's not a battle I can fight, at least against them.
The thing that bothers me is that to price a season pass the game company basically needs to have the DLC already produced when the game is released.

This isn't true. They might need to have thought ahead ("We will release 4 DLCs packs in the next year"), but they were going to plan that anyway.

I actually am really happy for the Season Pass "innovation." For a while there, Day 0 DLC was looking like the norm. With a Season Pass, the company can actually get those same dollars without being incentivized to cut things from the base game to sell back to the players; in other words, get paid today for content they have actual time to create later. Any paid DLC is a negative for the consumer, but Season Passes definitely seem like the least worst option available.
Is it more or has Tobold become a lot more trollish recently? He must of sold his blog for billions of dollars. :D

"The thing that bothers me is that to price a season pass the game company basically needs to have the DLC already produced when the game is released."
Business that only calculate a selling price when they have completed production are in huge trouble. The basics is to estimate project cost before you start it. Good business is to price at the level the customer supports and ensure that costs are below that level.

The publishers normally hold options for DLC so between them and the developer they have fairly good idea of how what content may be produced so they plan accordingly. It lets them build compatability for the new features into the base product. Besides, I cannot imagine any publisher delaying release because the DLC due 3 months later has not been completed at launch.
If you see how long it takes to develop good content for a triple A game, then we are left with only two possibilities: Either the DLC content is already pre-developed to a large extent on game release, or you're overpaying for the DLC because it is produced only after the game released and is thus rushed.

And the best is that the game company doesn't even NEED to produce good DLC content, as they already have your 50 bucks for the season pass. You end up paying $100 for a game that should have cost $50 or less.
What does "should" mean, in the context of "a game should cost $50 or less"?

I know we do often ascribe 'moral' prices to items rather than go strictly by the supply-demand curve. But it seems to me that any argument defining the correct price for a game in such detail must be a bit hazy.

the reason they sell it is because the customers, and to some extent the legal environment that was demanded by many of those same customers, make it profitable. FtP has shown the way for all games to monetise from recurring sales. And if it also deters aftersales, so much the better!
I'd agree with you IF the game was released as incomplete. But in your specific example (Borderlands 2) that was not the case.

You pay the usual price of 49$ for a finished, completed and fun game. That's all.

THEN, if you want to add more content (I don't say GOOD content, just "more" stuff to see), you pay additional money and grab a DLC.

Some games do NOT offer DLC's at all and I would be more than happy to cash out few bucks to have more stuff. Because they're so good that when I finish them... I can't do anything else (apart from replaying the same content).

So IF the released game is complete, well done and fun... DLC's are just optional.

Isnt this just another form, albeit renamed(ala DLC), of the same BS psychology that is used to drive the F2P model? I cant help but agree with Tobold in his assessment that you are paying for a game twice if all you are doing is paying for content that adds only to the existing game content, and thusly, to the same core gaming experience.

Single player games, and I'll use First Person Shooters here as the example, provide for a fairly linear gaming experience. Why on earth would I want to pay $50.00 for the original game as released, only to pay MORE money later for content that doesnt really change the core gaming experience? Back when Quake2 came out, it was soon followed by quite a few "expansions" that did way more than offer simple, additional content. You basically got an entire new game with a completely new storyline, new bosses and maps. The only thing you might be considered having paid twice for was the engine tech, but even then the expansion developer paid a nice royalty to ID Software for rights to use the engine. I gladly paid for these expansions because I got a completely NEW GAME experience for my money.

Back when I played racing sims, every once in a while there would be new cars, maps or vehicle upgrades that the developers would release for free just to prolong the longevity of the games lifespan, thereby extending the shelf life and sales of the original game, which you needed in order for the free content to work. It was a Win-Win situation for both the gamers of these games, as well as the developers and publishers as the new, free content spurred on additional sales which increased revenue across the board.

IMHO,Gamers are being conditioned to pay for content that doesnt do much in the way of changing the core gaming experience, whether it be the F2P model, or the DLC model that Tobold posts about here.
"Either the DLC content is already pre-developed to a large extent on game release, or you're overpaying for the DLC because it is produced only after the game released and is thus rushed"

Your growing use of false dichotomy is slightly alarming.

They plan ahead. The most sensible way of producing post-launch DLC is to produce some of the heavy content (like art assets) during an earlier phase when it fits with their work on launch material then complete the project after releasing the main product.

"...the game company doesn't even NEED to produce good DLC content, as they already have your 50 bucks for the season pass."

The same applies to buying anything before you have tested it and all organisations that provide free customer service after they have your money. Bad DLC risks all subsequent custom. If I love UberGame Xtreme, I'll probably more of the same but bad season 1 DLC means I won't buy season 2 or UberGame Xtreme 2. Good DLC makes me more likely to get stuff from them in future.
Is it more or has Tobold become a lot more trollish recently? He must of sold his blog for billions of dollars.
Your growing use of false dichotomy is slightly alarming.

Your growing use of personal attacks instead of arguments is slightly alarming and risks getting future comments of that type getting deleted.

Back to the issue:

Look at a game in the pre-DLC days. Let's say it had 50 hours of content for $50, or $1 per hour of content.

Today the same game would be released with just 30 hours of content for $50. And a "season pass" for another $50 buys you the next 4 DLCs, with 5 hours of content each. In the end you paid twice the money for the same amount of content.

How is that a good deal for the customer?
Or today's game has 50 hours of content for $50 then 20 hours of DLC for $50. How is that a bad deal for the customer?

Removing content from the core game to sell as DLC would be bad. Having DLC that provides extra stuff that would not be released in a DLC-free world offers more choice and opportunity of extended employment for gamers.

My contention is that just because you can not tell if it is deferred from release or extra content does not mean it has to be the prior and therefore bad, especially when the game can have 50+ play hours from the vanilla release.
But because you cannot tell, you should assume that it is the prior.

Game companies are for profit enterprises. They very rarely do things "just to be nice". The company is going to do what is more profitable. Which means the prior, unless there is some sort of consumer backlash.

If you ask a game company whether they would prefer to sell you something at 50$ or 70$, assuming they sell the same number of copies, they're always going to do 70. With your example, you're asking them 50 hours of content at 50$ +20 hours of content at 50$, or 50 hours of content at 50$ and 50$

With DLC, unless a company seriously abuses it, they get to sell the game as a 50$ game, and they get bonus 20$ on some.

Companies are essentially sociopaths. I'm not going to say what they do is right or wrong. But they are going to behave a certain way. And if you have to rely on trusting them, you're likely going to get exploited at some point.
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