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!!

So before:

  • How much I believed the sword was worth: $3.00
  • Time wasted on side-quest: 2 hours (assuming my value/hour was $0.10, this option costs $0.20)

Answer: you grind through the damn side-quest! Time is cheaper!


  • How much I believe the sword is worth: $3.00 (It could be more. Value determination depends on context so, if my context has changed, e.g. that sword is able to help me avoid more hours of grinding, its value would raise accordingly)
  • Time wasted on side-quest: 2 hours (assuming my value/hour is now $5.00, this option costs $10)

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.


  1. B.M.

    As a completionist, so much of this bothers me. DLC makes me so upset, always. I hate feeling like I’m missing out on anything in a game, even though I know most of it isn’t anything I want. Just feeling like I’m missing out eats away at me and makes me enjoy the parts of a game I do have less. I see how what you have described would work quite well for some, but I know it would be intolerable to many others. For that reason, I hope it never comes to pass. (Because I’m selfish)

    • Fernando Cordeiro

      But what will change from the situation you have right now from the situation I propose?

      If we assume only a game dismemberment will occur, then the only difference is that instead of a game asking for 60 bucks or bust once, that game will ask you more times for varying amounts of money. You will still feel bad for missing out regardless, but will have more chances to make better decisions. That could mean that some game packages will become more expensive, yes – which is bad for someone like you who would never consider not buying any extras for missing out anxiety. But this will also mean some game packages would be cheaper too, why not?

      Your problem, however, will have more to do with what the link from our friend Harbour Master kindly supplied: incomplete checklists. Still, if you might consider them to be like shock therapy for your completionist anxiety, things should work out in the end.

      • rochondil

        Old post, but what-the-heck. The idea of fragmentation of a game to suit various “gamer” niches could work on some levels, but would in my experience as a developer fail on others. The problem comes with profit realization. As a student of economics, you should be familiar with a market failing to stay in equilibrium due to exogenous intervention. The gaming market is no different. The price of a game has over the past few years proven to be inflexible. A game has for over 20 years now been priced at 60$ even though real value has long since increased. That is why production of games these days is hardly as profitable as it was 10 years ago. I am not saying games is less profitable these days, but rather that the increase in market size along with flexible game prices would have seen a much higher increase in real market capitalization than it actually does. 
        From a gamer point-of-view this means less innovation in a market that could have been years ahead had it been more efficient in achieving market equilibrium. Games are a commodity which we are spending time on, much like reading a book, more so than watching a movie. But the prices of books and the prices of games are very different. A game is much more expensive to produce and as such is a higher priced commodity. The problem here is that the market games aim at then would be richer markets, i.e. people with more money to spend. Fragmentation of such a market is not profitable since it would mean less revenue for developers due to the richer market only spending money on the part they want of a game. Instead what developers try is to sell full value and added value of a product, which is what we are seeing today. Buy the game at full price, but get only the core of the game, buy more addons for “extras”. Another way to look at this is that developers try to increase the value of games by stripping the full game down to what is acceptable and selling the rest as addons, but still charging full price for the game. In your ideal a game would be split into say three modules where the price would also be split equally. Such a scenario is unlikely since it is already unrealistic if you watch how pricing strategies work now. With fragmentation what we will end up with is higher price ceilings because the market equilibrium is in fact on a higher price level than what the market has been at for the past few years. But why isn’t the market at an equilibrium as it should be? As I mentioned earlier the game market is influenced by exogenous factors which has to be accounted for. Some of these factors do blur the line between being endogenous and exogenous. One is the economic situation of consumers, we are willing to spend a lot of money on games, but not if we can get the games cheap (pirating). Market size and players. There is an unbalanced amount of actors in the game market trying to cater to a small audience. Plus there is still a bias towards games in the society, which hampers the market reputation, and prevents audience growth.

  2. Okay! I’ll bite!

    Choice is over-rated; I don’t want to think about settings half the time, let alone constructing bits of the game I want. It’s why linear games do so well, because the player doesn’t have to think half the time. This is, in part, due to Barry Schwarz’s “Paradox of Choice”.

    The issue of grind vs money has two problems. One, it presumes that something as tedious as grind really should be in a game. It feels like there’s a switcheroo going on: build in grind deliberately so we can charge you to skip it. Two, it falls into the category of unbalancing players based on spending power: poor players that have to level up the hard way are, statistically speaking, going to be worse off than richer players even though they bought the “same game”.

    Also, by unbundling everything into “really popular” and “who gives a shit” DLC suggests niche experimental parts of any AAA titles will be even less likely to survive to production, because it’s well known they won’t attract the millions.

    What worries me the most is that games are turning into a free-to-play bait-and-switch game. Come in, come in and see the shinies! Then charge them once they’re through the door. Adam Saltsman wrote his views on this recently.

    • Fernando Cordeiro

      I disagree that choice is overrated, and propose instead that choice is badly implemented…but that’s beside the point.

      What isn’t beside the point is that you took an example and transformed it into the thesis. The issue is not grind vs. money, but that, in the case of sidequests, it is impossible to please everybody. You could say that sidequests should be “their own reward” or “engaging by themselves”, but achieving that for everybody is impossible. You can’t possibly please everybody. Your tedious grindfest might be someone else’s pleasure. Or somebody could not stand a given sidequest based on moral value alone!

      A common example here at Nightmare Mode are the Riddler trophies (which I don’t consider them grindfests so we don’t have to rely on that example again): Ramunas and Tom Auxier absolutely hate them. For them, the game would be much better without it. I absolutely love them. I find them engaging, Ramu finds them trite and pointless. If the Riddler trophies had an amazing reward at the end (it doesn’t, sadly) it would be interesting for Ramu and Tom have the option to skip that sidequest if they wanted.

      If the design is endemic on itself, then the problem is not the DLC but having a crappy game! Why are you buying such crappy game, sir? Ideally, the game wouldn’t even sell, least to say sell DLCs.

      The bottomline: I don’t see a positive relation between the increase of DLC and the increase of bad sidequest design. The reasons for a bad sidequest design are independent to people choosing to pay for the reward, for that only shows how people value the reward itself, not the sidequest. If ALL the sidequests are bad and you really value those, then don’t buy the game.

      As for your point about “unbalancing players”, I interpret it as the “fair argument”. As I have already argued in the article, I don’t see an issue with unbalancing players. What I have problem with is when the game sets the same value for time for everyone.

      Finally, I don’t fully understood your argument that experimental parts of an AAA titles will be “well known” not to attract millions. Who says it won’t? Perhaps it will, why not? One could consider Portal an experimental part of Half-Live (as it is set in the same universe) that could and was sold separately from the Orange Box and was highly successful. Likewise, I could argue experimental parts are exactly that: experimental. They are there to test an idea in the wild. They don’t need to turn millions. You can leave that the sequel after the experimental part managed to establish a name for itself and, hopefully, a cult following. What the experimental part needs to do is merely to turn a profit, doesn’t have to be millions. And assuming smaller costs to develop something experimental, I find it a less risky way to profit than the AAA title itself.

      All in all, I’m glad someone took a bite, by the way. Thanks.

      • FC: I disagree that choice is overrated, and propose instead that choice is badly implemented…but that’s beside the point.

        I just wanted to tackle your guiding principle that “more choice is good”. I wouldn’t make a point about this normally (it can sound awfully anally-retentive) but you’re using it to take us places I don’t want to go.

        There’s a lot out there on the West’s fascination with more and more choice actually being one of our most damaging delusions. Approaching every single decision in your life as a plethora of options already has negative effects on our sense of control: home insurance, which brand of bread, phone call payment plan, your car, medical insurance, pension, PC hardware selection, where to go on holiday for the best deal… The value of time required to properly research anything means you invariably buy non-optimally. And because you know that, it makes you unhappier.

        FC: What isn’t beside the point is that you took an example and transformed it into the thesis.

        Wellll… I was just rebutting one of your examples. Maybe I should’ve been more punchy.

        FC: The bottomline: I don’t see a positive relation between the increase of DLC and the increase of bad sidequest design.

        There is something going on though – and your article highlighted a negative example.

        You’ve discussed how you would like things to be and I’m extrapolating where this rabbit hole ends up. Pricing every component turns a game into a marketplace.

        Less popular stuff will price low and eventually disappear off the radar – that doesn’t mean there wasn’t an audience for it, but that audience won’t be served any more as they don’t make enough money. Zynga constantly recalibrate their games based on customer activity to maximise profit.

        More popular stuff will be sold at a premium and levels taken out of Assassin’s Creed or DX:HR to be sold separately is the thin edge of the wedge. The obvious end game here is every level as commodity and the product hollowed out to become a shell to fill with priced content.

        Selling “quest completion” will encourage developers to create attractive goals but less attractive quests; the profit motive will make it difficult to resist this siren call. This is effectively happening already in the app and social network spaces.

        In certain quarters, gamers will no doubt resist such changes and I don’t think all of my cynical doom and gloom will come to pass. But there’s a large population of app/social network gamers that are already accepting of this new approach. The millions made by Angry Birds and Farmville is the proof.

        I’ve been following Games Brief for a long time and it’s an excellent site to go visit if you want to understand some of the cash-thinking going on in the F2P/IAP space, which it avidly promotes. I certainly think this approach works in certain games, but I also fear it will spread across the entire gaming spectrum to destroy the wonderful choices we already have.

        • Fernando Cordeiro

          Nope. I’m never unhappier in having the opportunity to express my free-will in form of decision. What leaves me unhappy is that instead of being able to get 2 games I want, I can only get one of the filled with stuff I don’t care about.

          And yes, the idea is to turn a game into a marketplace. The thing is that your arguments have 2 false assumptions. One is that it assumes each and every game needs to get millions in revenue in order to make sense developing. Two, it assumes gamers don’t have the agency to avoid buying unfinished works if they so choose.
          Both assumptions derive from not taking niche strategies into account.

          It is false to say less popular stuff will simple disappear or even that they will cost less. As the Long Tail strategy proposes, and one that did a great amount of good to Netflix and Amazon’s businesses, one can get significant profit out of selling small volumes of niche products to many niche segments rather than selling large volumes of a reduced number of popular products.

          There are segments and segments. The segment willing to buy Farmville stuff may not be the same segment that wants to buy the newest Gears of War. The idea that if one segment is large enough it will dominate all others is far-fetched and way to commonly used in the history of our industry. Facts disproof this idea time and time again for the variety of game styles has never been greater.

          This doesn’t mean the end game, being able to buy EXACTLY what you, want is bad. If you feel a publisher is trying to cheat on you, like the AC example, you don’t buy the game. Buying it shows that your value a finished and an unfinished work still higher than the current price tag. If you fell a game is too filled with unattractive quests, you don’t buy them. Or only buy the game but don’t buy the DLC sidequests.

          • I’m kinda done on the choice point now. But the rest of this is colliding with too many topics to take on at the same time. (Although I have been planning to take them on for a couple of months now with proper clever writings…)

            Here’s the main one, the only one really, where everything else comes from.

            Individually we think of ourselves as smart people who can’t be suckered, but statistics tell a different story. The Zynga example was not about a type of customer but how consumers can be gamed out of cash for a free product and none of us are immune to this.

            Zynga continue to increase Farmville revenue with daily re-calibration of the formula, teasing more and more “consented” cash out of its player base.

            The advance of DRM barely dented sales – so much for boycotts – and now DRM is a fact of life on the PC in AAA titles. And so many boycotts have been and gone and achieved naught. Aside from shitty gameplay, there’s precious little that seem to bother the gaming consumer to the point where they just won’t play. Got two levels of Assassin’s Creed removed? Did that even remotely change the sales? Did that even remotely change the sales of the sequels? And DLC gets more daring by the day. People bitch and moan, but the products still fly off the digital shelves.

            The optimal consumer is the myth of the laissez-faire market theory, as is the efficient business. These things do not exist.

            Nutshell: Once you hand over the keys for slicing and dicing game content, it’ll go as far as publishers can take it. Which, typically, is out of sight.

            (Aside: I’ve been fed up with the stitching together of single-player and multiplayer for TEN YEARS. This has never seemed to be a natural development pairing to me as the two sides have totally different design focus. I think post-DOOM, single player has funded much multiplayer development. Breaking this link would likely completely change multiplayer development. I couldn’t tell you if that was a bad thing or a good thing.)

    • Fernando Cordeiro

      I would very much like to see these statistics. The only example I recall from people being suckered into giving Zynga money was their whole Japan Aid donation fiasco.

      But other than that, people game their money willingly. They were not “gamed out of cash”. They were simply met with a monetary transaction and they have seen value in acquiring Zynga’s virtual goods.
      Whether or not you see value in what Zynga offers is irrelevant. Their market certainly did. They are not being “tricked” out of cash. And it’s not like Zynga can increase this market indefinitely. In fact, their number of daily active users is already peaking.

      If a minority bitch and moan about some kind of product but the majority still buys that product (and it must be so, otherwise, the only other explanation for the situation you have presented is that we are all hypocrites), who the minority thinks it is by trying to enforce their own values upon the majority? That’s the main argument at play here.

      Meanwhile, the new system would enforce mode and game to be developed specifically for that niche – and if that niche is truly not keen to DRM and Ubisoft’s shenanigans, then the games won’t sell.

  3. Dave

    I wholeheartedly support the seperation of SP and MP modes. Sell the base single player game for $30-$40 and make the MP modes DLC. I don’t play online, why should I be forced to subsidize modes and servers that I’ll never use and pay the same price as someone who sits online 24/7?

    Hell, it would cut down on used sales of online heavy games too.

  4. This is the most disagreeable idea I’ve come across for gaming in a long time.

  5. Andrew McDonald

    There are two major dangers to this.

    A) It means that there may be content out of there I would love but will never play because I don’t want to risk the extra money.

    B) This will inevitably end up with games costing more and more. Sure, it might start with the main game costing $20, the multiplayer costing $20, and the extras costing $20, but that won’t last. It will eventually become $35, $25, and $70.

    Companies are already trying to make you spend $80 to get the full game, so what makes you think that splitting it up even more will end with better value for the customer?

    • Fernando Cordeiro

      For A: It’s the same situation you live now. But instead of not risking $60, you are not risking $1.
      For B: YES! Some games WILL cost more – as they should. Right now, you subsidize every single mode you don’t take advantage from. You pay for servers you don’t use and pay for features you can’t see the advantage of, so that that guy who plays all the modes and all the features 100% can pay less. A DLC only scenario is the ideal choice: you only pay for what you plan on using. Having the main game cost only $35 is still a big improvement of all of them costing $60.

  6. Steve

    It’s a beautiful utopian idea, but the only folks who have the power to make it happen would ultimately corrupt it into what many people fear: higher prices for less content, games split into many pieces on a nearly arbitrary basis.

    My cynicism refuses to let me believe that large companies could actually handle this in an appropriate manner- there’s always the drive for more profit. Maybe it actually is a good idea- but there’s so many ways for it to go wrong, and it’s much harder to stop a bad idea once it’s out there and being used.

    This leads me to the conclusion that once you discard the notion of a game as one whole, and instead treat it as a sum of its separate parts, there’s no longer any reason for the current price ceilings. Unless the market vigorously opposes each such attempt, prices will rise until they reach a new ceiling.

    I certainly hope I am wrong, and the initial low prices will stay that way, but I can’t allow such an idea a chance to take hold.

    • Fernando Cordeiro

      Yes, the price ceiling would definitely change, both upwards and downwards. And while there is always the drive for profit, that alone doesn’t cause disaster – especially in a marketplace as segmented as gaming is. But the biggest change, however, the one that is guaranteed to take place, is that games will be priced much closer to their actual worth, rather than some 60$ price tag that is only defined as a function of its market, which is pure commoditization.

  7. Interesting. Not sure where I fall on this scale. A recent example of this working well/badly was with Crimson Alliance. Crimson Alliance is a dungeon crawler with three Character Classes. The full game with a level-cap is free, the elvel-cap does not make it impossible to beat the game but it does make it a lot harder. To buy the game with just one class of your choice is 800 MSP (about 10 dollars cdn) and all three classes is 1200 MSP (about 15 dollars cdn). I am am only going to play this once or twice but have buddies who will play this couch Co-Op so I paid the full whack. Anotehr friend also bought a copy but had no interest in all the characters so paid less.

    On the downside this game also allows you to buy a large quantity of gold, enough to buy all the best armour and weapons, for a dollar. This cheapens the experience for me and would make me avoid playing the game with people who took this route (much like I avoided playing KUF: Circle of Doom with people who had found exploits for creating crazily levelled weapons and ways to duplicate them).

    Certainly some people would not think this second example is a bad thing and that is why it exists I suppose.

    I talked about Process and Result on Arcadian Rhyhthms, the DLC method ties more and more into the idea of people being obsessed with the cut scenes than the process that took them to that point (Namco Bandai already allow you to buy all the cutscenes for their RPGs, as long as you also have the game).

    My concern with the DLC method is that if things are built in this fractured manner, how would this affect the overall vision in the game? I can’t see this being limited to separating SP from MP and instead the developers would cut this all up into piecemeal portions. It can work for companies like Tell Tale (or in my case not work at all as I only have an interest in buying the complete seasons).

    If it can be done, and done sensibly then I would support it as there are many features in full games that I do not ever use, and games that I obsess over that I want more of.

  8. Pingback: A Game For Your Every Desire: The Rise of Long Tale | Nightmare Mode

  9. Pingback: Sleeping Dogs’ New Add-Ons Are The Wrong Sort Of Downloadable Content [Opinion] | Tux Doc

  10. Pingback: Sleeping Dogs’ New Add-Ons Are The Wrong Sort Of Downloadable Content | Kotaku Australia