Ever noticed that the concession stands at movie theaters charge exorbitant prices for popcorn, candy and drinks? While I’m not an expert on the economics of running a movie theater I do know that this is a major source of revenue. So much so that many poorly run theaters could not stay in business if they did not sell a lot of overpriced junk food. So what does this have to do with video games? Well, it might surprise you but DLC very much fits into the same paradigm.
Probably the most obvious examples are things like theme packs, wallpapers and digital avatar accessories. You know…all that stuff that can only be enjoyed outside the game by the purchaser. It should be free, or at the very least come free with the purchase of the game it’s based on. Honestly, I can’t understand why people fork over hard earned cash for theme packs on PSN when a wide variety of totally free high quality themes are available for download off the internet.
Moving on lets look at DLC which at least has some in-game use. Recently (at the time of posting) Rockstar games announced the availability of preorder DLC items for Red Dead Redemption at purchase price of a dollar each. Sounds cheap, right? However, what do you really get here? In all three cases you’re receiving a combination of built in cheats and texture skins. How long did it really take to produce this content? Modifying a couple lines of code probably took a programmer less than an hour. Maybe one of the texture guys spent a day or two re-skinning a horse, making those two gold plated guns look shiny and sticking an eye patch on your player character, but that’s it. Compare that to the hundreds of thousands of man hours sunk in to the main game and your looking at a price difference (assuming you bought RDR new) of well over 400 times the cost in terms of labor. Now, I know there’s more to it than that, but I don’t need to work on the game development team to tell you you’re getting ripped off.
Some of you might think the above paragraph was a bit math intensive for you tastes so I’ll give you an easier example of why DLC is all too often severely overpriced. Take for example Red Faction: Guerrilla (I’m in a “red” mood today). You can pick up this game for $20 through PSN or Xbox Live. Depending on how you play it will take you a little under 20 hours to complete the game. So, basically a dollar an hour, but wait there’s DLC! A prequel to the main game entitled Demons of the Badlands. Now, it will take at most five hours to play thought it so that should be around five bucks, right? Wrong! It’s $10, which is the same price as when it was first released unlike the main game which has been discounted over 60% since its initial release. One can’t help but think the publisher, THQ, is going for a movie matinee business strategy here. And don’t even get me started on map packs. They are the “free unlimited salty popcorn, but the drinks cost and arm and a leg” sales strategy of the video game industry.
I should end this by saying there is some excellent DLC out there, Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare is one example that comes to mind and even the examples I named above aren't as bad as some of the DLC out there. But until gamers learn that nickels and dimes can add up to more than the perceived value marketing types would like you to believe it’s probably best to limit your online purchases to full indie titles. At least then you can feel good about helping out the little guy instead of some hustler in a suit.