From Avatar Clothes to 1-UPs: Why Everything Should Be DLC
Everything has value. Or rather, everything has the potential to hold value (or Utility, if you want the proper term) for someone.
Not every value can be easily translated into currency, however. Putting a monetary value on human life, for instance, is controversial. Luckily, we are not talking about these. We are talking about everything else, from physical goods, like the chair you are sitting on, to virtual ones.
For instance, how much would you pay for an Achievement?
Well, if you see that the value of a given Achievement was higher than its price and you had the means to buy it, you would. Of course, you would. It’s the logical decision. If you think a can of oil is worth $1000 (Perhaps you are visiting from a country where cans of oil are a hot commodity like the spices of old, who knows?), you would buy it until you drive the inflation rate up to the point a can of oil is priced at $1000.01 – and that extra cent would make the difference on making the purchase. That point in which you are indifferent between owning the good and having the same quantity in money is called point of indifference. If the price of the good is below the point of indifference, it makes sense to buy the good. If the price is higher, it is better to sell it. Same goes for DLCs and microtransactions.
Myself, I’m a big fan of microtransactions as long companies are not cheating me. Case in point: when I pay $60 for a narrative about a Renaissance assassin I expect all the chapters to be included, instead of having the publisher hold 2 of the middle chapters hostage for more cash. But if there were a Final Fantasy game that offered me the option to pay to receive a side quest’s reward (let’s say it is a sword) instead of grinding through said side quest, I would give out my credit card number in a heartbeat! So yeah, are you hearing, SquareEnix? Want to get out of the financial mess you are in? Then become like Zynga!
You see when I was in high school, I had time to spare. Now, I don’t – but my desire to finish a game remained unchanged. On the other hand, now I have money. Moneys!!
Answer: you grind through the damn side-quest! Time is cheaper!
Answer: you go to the online store and buy that sword!
Is it fair? Absolutely. After all, people have the right to spend their time and their cash in any way they want it – and time can be translated into cash. The person who grinds in real life for cash to buy a virtual sword and the person who grinds in the game ultimately have the same result: a virtual sword. The only difference is that their value of time is different, as well it should be. We assume that value of time is the result of one’s endeavors, no? Why, saying it is “unfair” is highly unfair then! By eliminating the option to pay directly for the sword, a game would be setting its own value for time in stone, thus negating all the real achievements and merit someone whose time is more valuable might have struggled to attain. This is all because there is an inherent incompatibility between equality and freedom.
What puzzles me is why this freedom isn’t enforced in all of our game purchases. Everything should be DLC! When you buy a new game, how many of you play all their modes? Do you play the Time Trial modes of racing games? Do you venture in the multiplayer of a game you mainly purchased for its single player campaign? Do you use all the weapons? Do you enjoy all the character classes? And yet you are being forced to purchase each one of those.
It doesn’t matter that weapon X has an animation that cost 2 extra programmers/animators to implement or that a time trial mode is basically a by-product of the racing genre and has very little cost. Cost, while it does influence the price tag, has nothing to do with the value a consumer perceives. What the consumer sees is that a certain price tag is associated with a certain number of features. Nothing more.
What cost will influence, however, is whether or not something will be added as an unlockable AND as a microtransactional product or just the second option. There are more variables at play here, like development cycles and whether or not a game runs on servers for everybody or is limited by the available space of the individual disk, but those are still particular to what strategy the publisher would like to follow.
Artistically, there is no reason why one shouldn’t do this. Game modes are rarely integrated among themselves. The multiplayer mode of Bioshock 2, about “Rapture Civil War”, adds nothing to the single player experience, the difference between co-op and single player campaigns in Gears of War never affects the narrative, and even the extra modes of Resident Evil 4 are merely that: extra, behind the scenes sequences that are there more to satisfy our curiosity than to drastically alter the meaning of the game.
For the costumer, there are also plenty of reasons this should be done. Sure, the number of transactions would increase tenfold, but remember that you don’t have to pay 60 bucks for the entire package anymore. You pay 30 for the mode you really use and the difference can be spent on the extras you really want! It could be a world of Horse Armor Packs if you wanted, and it would be glorious!
For the developers and publishers, this would help to indicate where resources should be spent. And before you say “Well, they will spend it all in Horse Armor Packs then”, let me remind you of two things. The first: so what? Who are we to disregard the tastes of somebody else for shiny, useless, virtual trinkets? The second: the more appealing a work is to everybody, the less content it will have as the Highest Common Denominator MUST be lower. In order to include new concepts and ideas, developers should start creating with determined niches in mind. Sure, niches not willing to pay for anything would not be worth developing for, but why should we treat all niches equally anyways?
The more DLCs we develop, the more niches could be attracted for the same game without having to compromise the amount of content of the overall experience, thus sustaining the Highest Common Denominator. If niche A likes vampires and hates mummies, but niche B hates vampires and likes mummies, instead of compromising the main game with NO vampires and NO mummies in order not to leave anybody upset, 2 DLCs could be developed, one just with niche A in mind (featuring vampires) and another with niche B in mind (mummies galore).
Another advantage for both customer and publisher is the reduction of the development cycle, as modes could be released as soon as they got finished. By satiating the gamer’s thirst with earlier modes from that anticipated game, the publisher could already start generating income that would fund the later modes of the same game. The end result would be more custom experiences designed with a clearer idea of who their audiences are.
Microtransactions are not only the future. They are right. Everybody should be given the choice about what to invest in a game, be it a time trial mode or that Elixir you actually never use because it’s so rare. Aren’t we gamers always complaining about choice? So there.