Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
 
DLC is like Free2Play

Azuriel hates Bioware for the pricing of their Mass Effect DLC. He calculates that there are $64 of DLC for a game that costs $14.99, and asks Bioware "to get their shit together". I'm afraid they already did that. The pricing isn't an accident, it is very deliberate. It follows exactly the same sales strategy as every Free2Play game: Offer the basic product for cheap/free, get people hooked, and then make them pay through the nose for all the bells and whistles.

The Free2Play business model requires an always-on, or at least frequently on, online mode to enable frequent payment of the customer to the game company. Preferably, especially on the PC, the game company also wants some of the virtual currency data to be server side, so that the customer can't just use a hex editor to hack himself the currency he is supposed to pay for. A game with DLCs instead of an item shop simplifies all that. You only need to be online to buy and install the DLC. The game company doesn't even need a payment system, they can sell the DLC via Steam and be done with it.

Most players don't finish games. But if a customer usually doesn't finish his games, he might be reluctant to pay $50+ for it. Thus the game company sells the basic game to more people by having Steam sales and the like. But other players play the heck out of their games. So the devs would very much like to transform that enthusiasm into money. DLCs target the most enthusiastic players. You won't buy the DLC if you didn't finish the game in the first place. But if you are already considering your third play-through, you would very much like to have some new content. So game companies can easily charge you for being a fan. Just like they can charge the player of a Free2Play game for additional stuff.

In the end, DLC is just another variation of variable pricing, and variable pricing achieves the best return for a sale. And ultimately there is a certain fairness to the system: Those who play a game the most end up paying the most.

Comments:
That's no reason for a company not to offer price reductions or sales on DLC or other add-ons, though. Just because the target market for those is made up of more committed players or "fans" doesn't mean its a unified block that doesn't react to differing price points.

I think Azuriel's point is valid. He's not suggesting they give the DLC away. He's just observing that by not including it in any of the sales they are missing out on income they could have had. The principle of reducing prices to attract extra sales would seem to apply equally to add-ons as it does to core product. The argument would be that they have already soaked up most of the available full-price sales by now from the truly committed or price-insensitive part of their customer base and now it's appropriate to lure in the next level down.
 
Companies do offer price drops on their DLC. Bioware themselves dropped the price of all dragon age and I think mass effect dlc in the past summer sale.
 
The only difference is that games do not - or at least should not - contain artificial barriers that are resolved by purchasing DLC. If they have that, it's indeed the same as the pernicious style that is common in FtP games.

 
The only difference is that games do not - or at least should not - contain artificial barriers that are resolved by purchasing DLC.

Free2Play games usually let you choose between a long grind and getting somewhere immediately by spending money. A DLC is much harsher, you don't get the choice of getting it by any other means than paying. So a DLC is ALWAYS an artificial barrier to content that is resolved by purchasing.
 
As Bhagpuss mentions, my problem is not the existence of DLC per se, but rather there not being any sort of sales for them years after release. I get that DLC is effective at price discrimination and eroding consumer surplus (your "fair" cost of enjoying a game), but how long exactly will we have to wait for an Ultimate collection that includes all the DLC? This is exclusively a Bioware problem, as EA's other games have their DLC go on sale at the same time as the primary game.

But hey, if they don't want my money, that's fine.

Bioware themselves dropped the price of all dragon age and I think mass effect dlc in the past summer sale.

From what I recall, those price drops were solely for console versions of Mass Effect DLC.
 
There can't be that many gamers who remember cartridges and floppies, so I don't understand the resistance to variable pricing.

My understanding for at least one version of Windows, everyone got the same code on their computer. You paid extra, you got unlocks and more features (home, personal, professional). Minor upgrades for some not minor costs. (Just spent more than a games worth of $ to get Professional version of Windows 8.1 which is required since I have 32 GB.)

But if there is on-disc or ready-at-launch DLC, some of the gamers go ballistic.

As a mainly MMO player, I see the difference between DLC and expansion is just the DLC is smaller and sometimes cheaper.

Life is too short to develop software for lawyers. While making software for people who game is OK (see iPad & iPhone), making software for "gamers" seems to me like a low profit high hassle endeavour.

It's one more benefit if software-as-service/subscriptions gets around a lot of these issues.
 
"Free2Play games usually let you choose between a long grind and getting somewhere immediately by spending money. A DLC is much harsher, you don't get the choice of getting it by any other means than paying. So a DLC is ALWAYS an artificial barrier to content that is resolved by purchasing."

One barrier is artificial and contaminates the entire game, because the game has to be balanced to create unenjoyable play.

The other (ideally at least) operates as an expansion of an already complete game. But if you don't get the DLC there is nothing *missing* from your experience.

Imagine two restaurants. One offers you a taste of the menu, but won't let to sit down unless you are prepared to pay for a meal. The other puts poison in the food and sells antidote by the bottle that makes it not taste so bad. That's the bad sort of FtP.
 
We can play the bad analogue game all day long: Imagine having paid to see the Mona Lisa. On arriving at the painting you find that the smile is covered by a veil, seeing behind which is a DLC that costs extra.

I think seeing a DLC as an expansion of an already complete game is somewhat too idealistic, especially with day one DLCs. Rather somebody made a complete game, and then cut it down to a basic version, selling the removed parts as extras. Just as there is good and bad Free2Play design, there is good and bad DLC design.
 
@Azuriel I don't know you could be right. I do know dragon age dlc for sure was in the steam sale...Mass effect I think it was but not 100% on that.
 
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