On Additional Content

In The Gaming Community, Video Games on April 12, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Having finally vanquished the final boss, triumphed over the last puzzle or accomplished the ultimate task in your latest game of choice, you are disappointed in only one area: that it ended.  A brief sojourn, utilizing eco-friendly green transportation, to your favored vendor of all materials gaming allows you to purchase: more game.  Cash relinquished and disc in hand, you return home and your adventures continue.

Did you just purchase a sequel, DLC or expansion?  Perhaps a new game described as a spiritual successor to the one you’ve just completed; maybe the DLC offers enough content to be a bargain expansion pack; perchance the expansion is a radical offering that does not even require the original content to play.  More darkly and ever cynically, you might have wasted your money:  the DLC offers but a modicum of new content, the sequel is just new levels or the expansion scarcely approaches the offering of the main game.  Whatever the case may be, you’ve been inducted into the latest brand of nomenclature based fiscal dissatisfaction — that is, if you haven’t already.

Gamers are obsessed with this, completely fixated on ensuring that what they’ve purchased is what it “should” be; this is compounded by an assumption of standardized pricing for gaming content: new games are sixty dollars, so additional content available at fractional costs should grant a proportionately and appropriately fractional level of content.  If it contains a small amount of content, it’s DLC; slightly larger, an expansion; larger still, a sequel.  Short expansions may be criticized as being a glorified DLC; samey –sequels might be pegged as a “full priced” expansion.  But then, the accepted content-to-price ratios vary between each of these classes…

As current, sixty dollars should grant you thirty-plus hours of progression-based story driven RPG content; five to fifteen hours of single-player action in first or third person shooter/action/adventure games (watch this value drop if there’s no multiplayer); and deep enough, with enough to do, to be sufficiently addictive and fun for sandbox or puzzle games.  Already we see the difficulty in fully grasping these values and assigning a definitive judgment against these products: value is dependent upon genre, but is it really fair to hold some games to a higher standard than others for that sake?  Using a more limited comparison, we might limit ourselves strictly to comparing add-on content to the game for which it’s released.  A ten dollar DLC, priced at one-sixth of the full game, should then provide a like amount of content compared to the full game, right?

A major, glossed over consideration is that, while we tend to value games primarily upon time played — games encourage this by tracking this statistic — there’s much more to this content, and its value, than how long it takes to complete.  Imagine if Rockstar lowered the movement speeds in Grand Theft Auto, then it would be a longer game, right?  Now imagine they released a DLC that increased the movement speeds, thus making the game “shorter.”  Does not the value lose its attachment to time, under these circumstances and considerations?

Halo received some criticism over whether its map packs were worth the money, offering three maps for ten dollars, providing nowhere near equivalent value, where the main game offered a full single player experience as well as a dozen multiplayer maps.  What justifies this?  Well, designers at Bungie would no doubt assert that the multiplayer experience is valued more highly than the single player to those they would consider the market for these map packs; after all, a rabid Halo fan will likely extend their Halo experience by many times the number of hours one might play the single player experience.  Additionally, these maps bring production assets and materials that contain value on a separate tract from simple time investment.  At the very least, these new maps are made with data collected from thousands of hours of playtime, literally sculpting new maps out of the favored strategies and predilections of previous matches.  Lastly, these maps are designed to extend the entirety of the Halo multiplayer experience, injecting something new and fresh into map rotations that may have grown familiar to the fans.  With this in mind, evaluating DLC content becomes abstract, much more than a formula of time expended.

Expansions suffer from similar judgments.  Ideally, expansions should grant an extension of the original game but not overtake it in terms of content.  A fast rule that is by no means backed by any policy is that expansions tend to contain anywhere from one-third to one-half of the content of the original, while costing anywhere from half to four-fifths as much (these distinctions may be slightly muddled by the introduction of stand-alone expansions, games that could technically be defined as sequels but whose lesser offerings and lower prices are excused in its naming convention). Each Morrowind or Oblivion expansion adds a land mass sized at approximately one-third of the main game, or provides a like proportion of questing and exploration, priced at thirty dollars per.  Strategy games like Dawn of War and Supreme Commander offer new, shorter campaigns, factions and units and are generally considered great value by all, despite costing forty dollars to the new game’s fify; compare them to prior games like Starcraft, whose expansion offered “just” six new units and a new campaign, but was highly valued by fans who praised the consistent quality across its products.  Here, we’re much more accepting of a less than one-to-one ratio.

Comparing the standards of DLCs to expansions, we can see gamers attach a higher value to DLC than an expansion; we’re willing to accept a much lower ratio of dollar-to-gaming-value if it’s called an expansion, whereas DLCs are easily criticized for not offering more than a one-to-one relationship.

Sequels have it harder.  Bioshock 2, while receiving favorable marks, has been slammed for being a full-priced expansion, offering very, very little as far as “new” content.  Identical game play, equivalent weapons, same plasmids, tonics and enemies; why wasn’t this an expansion or DLC?  In this particular instance, Bioshock 2 reused very little of its predecessor’s assets, as not only did its engine change (it’s now on the latest iteration of the Unreal Engine), but so did the art direction, requiring the models be remade, retextured and reanimated.  Every aspect of the game was revised, from plasmid behavior to weapon and ammo types, usage and upgrades.  And, of course, you’re exploring entirely new areas of Rapture after a full ten years of decay and flooding, likely presenting a considerable challenge to the art department — and it shows, with levels altogether more beautiful than the original.  Oh, and multiplayer was added too.  While I would not have minded paying an expansion pack price for this game, I would have definitely considered it a bargain.  Would it help to consider it a full priced standalone expansion?

In the future, if you take the full scope of what’s being presented, how it’s built and what it actually grants into consideration, maybe you’ll feel less ripped off and maybe just a bit happier with your purchase.  After all, what kind of price tag can you truly place on not shelving your favorite game for a little while longer?


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