Thursday, February 12, 2009

Through The Tubes

The good side of downloadable content...

In the recent months downloadable content has become a much more popular thing for developers to use to extend the life of their games. In the first couple of years of this generation the balance of content was nice with some games receiving new content and others not, with developers instead choosing to focus on their next game. In recent months however, downloadable content has become more prolific across most games and as a result I am starting to feel a bit exhausted from it all.

Some of that exhaustion comes from the fact that the games receiving the content are the very same games I felt pressured to play, leading me to feel continually overwhelmed with it all and desiring a much slower pace with which to play everything. The rest of it comes from the fact that, well, the content is coming rather soon after the games' releases and despite loving the games, I would like the chance to play something else as well.

This means that I have mixed thoughts about downloadable content now and I am a little worried with where the concept will head in the future. I have always appreciated the idea of having incentive to return to games thanks to new content and I still do, but I feel that if more and more content gets released to keep players playing, the more it will inspire developers to take advantage of the idea. There have already been examples of developers adding quick and easy content to games to make a few extra dollars, with Oblivion's infamous horse armor coming to mind as well as unlocking content in a game like Need for Speed: Carbon - content that can be unlocked in the game if a player actually played it in the first place. Hearing about this stuff annoys me but it goes even further than that. Now I am one of the first to admit that I am an Achievement (and now Trophy) whore, with my reason for chasing them being the fact that I am a completionist. Already there are examples out there of developers adding Achievements/Trophies to their downloadable content to try and gain a few more sales. While I like the idea of having new in-game accomplishments to go after, the more it happens the more I can see developers putting together a lazy list of things to achieve or obtain with easy scores just so the people out there who like increasing their Gamerscores can get a few extra points. It's a win-win situation for both the people who enjoy boosting their scores and the developers who make money out of the idea. Even I am guilty of it, playing games like Dash of Destruction (although granted it was free) from the Xbox Live Arcade to quickly increase my score despite claiming to obtain Achievements because of my desire to complete everything. Basically, my fear is that if downloadable content continues to become more popular then we will see consumers be taken advantage of.

... and the bad.

It also excites me, bringing the other side of my mixed thoughts to mind and indeed this blog post. As I mentioned above, I appreciate the idea of having new incentives to return to an old game and play it some more. Games like Burnout Paradise and Grand Theft Auto IV -- both with upcoming content -- are providing decent reasons to play these games again and I look forward to racing around Big Surf Island and getting a new, biker's perspective on Liberty City. I also look forward to playing Operation Anchorage in Fallout 3, having new Time Trial events in Mirror's Edge and visiting Knothole Island in Fable II. No doubt when I finally get around to playing a game like the new Prince of Persia, I will also be interested in playing its upcoming DLC once I am finished with the main game.

This is all well and good, but we are also lucky so far that the content -- both released or upcoming -- has remained decent enough to justify a purchase. How long will the consistent quality (that is of course, subjective) of downloadable content last? More importantly, is the concept something that can evolve and really do some interesting things for the medium as a whole? Can episodic content change and evolve because regular downloadable content might? It's an interesting subject to ponder and good or bad, I look forward to seeing where we go next.


Daniel Primed said...

I think that the future of downloadable content seems quite bright. The more developers begin to practice and understand the medium, the greater it will move in favour of consumers.

The incredible sales seen on Steam are a good example of that. Contrast this to the horse armor in Oblivion which will likely be toyed around with and eventually ironed out. In fact I believe Todd Howard recently commented on the inflated price of that particular item. Valve are clearly dicovered a great method of providing value to the consumers and hence Steam is a success. I'm not so sure about Oblivion or Protoman (Megaman 9).

Whatever the case, there are markets for both.

I think the kinks will be worked out the more the grounds are tested and it'll be the Steams and Burnouts that will see the greatest success.

Steven O'Dell said...

@Daniel Primed - Which is exactly as it should be. Quality support and content deserves to be rewarded with our dollars and also as the example of how to do extra content in games and do them right.

It might not sound like it in the post but for the most part I share your opinion that the future is looking bright. I mean, the content so far has been pretty damn consistent and that looks set to continue for at least this year. I just can't help but feel a little cautious at the same time, that's all. Thanks again for stopping by and commenting, it's appreciated. :)