The Good, The Bad and The Day One DLC

One of the latest controversies in the game industry is “Day One DLC,” an issue brought to the forefront by what some consider to be the debacle that is Mass Effect 3‘s “From Ashes” DLC. Staff writer Andrew Rainnie and Editor-in-Chief John Scalzo go toe-to-toe on this issue, each explaining why they are against or for Day One DLC. They take many different aspects of the argument into account, including game budgets, used game sales, and the issue of cutting material from the disc in a sleazy attempt to get more new game sales. What’s your opinion on this matter? Be sure to leave a comment and let us know who you agree with, and why.

I have no problem with Day One DLC. And really, why should I?

Sure, its a bit sleazy that companies have decided hiding pieces of the purchase package behind a one-time-use code is a good idea (which ends up shafting offline players in the process), but there’s no bait-and-switch here. Publishers have always been upfront about which games contain Day One DLC (and it’s equally infamous cousin, the Online Pass), as well as their reasoning behind it.

(Side note… any publisher that removes critical parts of a game only to turn around and promote those levels as “Day One DLC” is worthy of all your scorn. But be honest, how often does that happen?)

The latest round of “Day One DLC Bad! Og Smash!” was brought to you by BioWare’s Mass Effect 3. First, gamers complained about the Day One DLC being bundled with Mass Effect 3’s N7 Collector’s Edition, as this rather vital piece of information was included almost as an afterthought in promotional materials. By then, the Collector’s Edition was sold out practically everywhere. But after the game’s release earlier this week, the Internet’s full fury was unleashed on BioWare. How could they slice off an important piece of the game’s story and sell it to us separately? Why do they call it DLC if it’s on the disc? Shenanigans!

But the fact is, “From Ashes” is just a side story to Mass Effect 3’s main quest. I guess opinions are mixed on that point, but it’s not like the DLC contains any crucial information that is necessary to save Earth from the Reapers. And for the record, the “From Ashes” DLC was developed by a separate team within BioWare and isn’t contained on the disc.

As consumers, it’s not our job to worry about a company’s bottom line. But in this case, I think plugging our ears and going “la la la” is just shortsighted. Publishers have repeated time and time again that when used sales cut into their profits, it becomes impossible to justify the outlandish budgets that some games require. Or, more likely, the middle-of-the-road title will get the ax instead. Bundling Day One DLC with all new copies encourages the purchase of said new copies and it fills a publisher’s coffers with the money needed to fund future development. Like the Don says, “It’s not personal, it’s business.”

What gamers should really be worried about is GameStop’s reaction to Day One DLC. Selling a used game without the code now means that GameStop is selling a less-than-complete package and the price they sell the used copy for should reflect that. Awesomely, they’ve actually decided to fight fire with fire. For some games, like WB’s Batman: Arkham City, the retailer has included download codes for the Day One DLC with used copies.

Day One DLC is just what happens when the retail price of your average game hasn’t changed in almost three decades, yet budgets keep rising. Games have always been sold for between $40 and $60 and that doesn’t look like it’ll be changing anytime soon. Again, we as consumers shouldn’t have to worry about a publisher’s finances, but the fact remains, Pong was programmed with the change in Nolan Bushnell’s couch while Mass Effect 3 required millions of dollars. This is the nature of the beast and it’s why I much prefer Day One DLC (or Online Passes or what-have-you) over some of the ideas floated in the rumorsphere:

I don’t want a PS4 or Xbox 720 that locks out used games. Thankfully, such a system isn’t even a realistic option.

I don’t want to have to download all of my games. Thankfully, the bandwidth required for this scenario makes it impossible.

I don’t want to buy my games piecemeal. There have been too many “episodic” games that are forever stuck on Episode 1 (or Episode 2, eh, Valve?).

Finally, remember that for all the nerdrage surrounding it, Day One DLC is still optional. And unless some publisher enacts the piecemeal plan, it’s going to stay that way. So if you truly have a problem with it, vote with your wallet and don’t buy it. Forget the forum posts and the petitions; that’s the only thing a big publisher will surely listen to. But publishers keep producing Day One DLC, so somebody’s buying it. And if somebody’s buying it for a game they already enjoy, I’d bet good money they’re happy with their purchase.

EA and BioWare’s decision to launch Mass Effect 3 with Day One DLC has irked many a potential consumer. Defending their decision, BioWare’s Executive Producer Casey Hudson posted on Twitter, “It takes about 3 months from ‘content complete’ to bug-fix, certify, manufacture, and ship game discs. In that time we work on DLC. DLC has fast [certification] and no [manufacturing], so if a team works very hard, they can get a DLC done in time to enjoy it with your first playthrough on day one.” This statement now seems insincere given that many initial reviews of ME3 have cited an array of game-breaking bugs. But instead of fixing these bugs, the team were busy beavering away at the money-grabbing extra content.

BioWare’s PR machine tried to douse the fires sparked by the From Ashes DLC. Hudson was once again out, greasing the fans with sound bites like “DLC, whether it’s day one or not, is always going to be sugar on top” and “We would never take stuff out of the core game and only have it in DLC.” But he also stated “Even though the character we’re releasing on day one is a Prothean, which is part of a race that’s important to the lore of Mass Effect, his story is still an interesting kind of side thing.”

The key word there is “important.” Hudson seems to be contradicting himself; either the content is not important enough to make it into the main game, or it is. Fans have argued that the Prothean character is fundamental to the lore of the game series they have been following, and do not believe Hudson’s claims. Xiosite, one of the winners of the Space Edition, had this to say on BioWare’s social board “So the Prothean… insanely important if you are a fan of this franchise. No way this should have been DLC, and from the amount of voice acting in it vs. all DLC for the other two games… I feel safe in saying that this is absolutely cut content.”

Whatever the truth, BioWare’s Day One DLC decision has left a bad taste in many gamers’ mouths, who feel they are being strong-armed into purchasing it in order to play a complete game. The backlash has led to gamers flooding MetaCritic with low user scores for the game, and after unacceptable threats to staff, BioWare has been forced to change the code of conduct on their social network.

A similar issue erupted prior to the launch of Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham City. The game’s marketing department used the Catwoman character quite heavily, before it was revealed she could only be unlocked with a VIP Pass, which came with new copies of the game. Kotaku described the content as “substantial” and said “without it, the game would feel incomplete.” But what of those people who do not have their consoles hooked up to the Internet? While in this day and age that is certainly a minority, should they miss out on content they have, in effect, paid for?

Now the DLC for Mass Effect 3 and VIP Pass for Batman: Arkham City are two very different things, but they have one important aspect in common: it was claimed both were implemented in an attempt to curb used game sales. This backfired for Warner Bros Interactive, publisher of Arkham City, when GameStop gave the codes away for free to buyers of the used game. Mass Effect 3’s DLC is marring what should have been the series’ swan song. Epic Games’ Rod Fergusson defended the DLC of Gears of War 3, claiming it was not a con but a tool developers could implement to tackle the used game market. Yet the used game market is thriving, with consumers the only ones caught in the crossfire.

It is growing evidently clear that Day One DLC is being designed to squeeze money from consumers. If it were intended to tackle the used game market, it would be released sometime after launch, so that the majority of first-purchase buyers kept their copy rather than trade it in. Developers and publishers use DLC or online passes to coerce gamers to purchase content that is or should have been on the disc, and that is leaving a dark stain on the industry in the eyes of the people who pay money to play their products. It seems the only company who does understand this is Nintendo. Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo of America, stated, “When we sell a game, we want the consumer to feel that they’ve had a complete experience. We’re unwilling to sell a piece of a game upfront and, if you will, force a consumer to buy more later… I think the consumer wants to get, for their money, a complete experience, and then we have opportunities to provide more on top of that.”

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