Published on February 23rd, 2012 | by Matt

Legendary Submission—DLC, Digital Distribution, What Does it Mean?

Legendary Submissions are articles we get from readers like you! If they’re good, you’ll see them here! This article comes from reader/listener Kurt as he analyzes DLC, Digital Distribution, and the good and bad aspects of both.

Downloadable Content. A concept that seems to have many confused and mistakenly frustrated. Recently, I’ve come across articles that idyllically look to the future of gaming with promises of instant gratification through digital distribution. On demand games have already been on the market and frankly, the concept isn’t new. Steam has been a thriving online service for the PC (and more recently, Mac) platform and is just about to celebrate its 10th birthday. What started out as a service to streamline game patches and connect players together in online matches quickly became the biggest PC gaming service in existence.

Currently, all the current-gen consoles have dabbled with DLC & digital distribution, and I’d say all are largely successful. In all honesty, some of the games I look forward to most are Xbox Live Arcade titles…and let me tell you, the quality of some of these XBLA titles have improved leaps and bounds over the past couple years. It’s hard to ignore, some $15 titles hold my attention longer than full-fledged releases (Trials HD anyone?). Digital distribution has been a great way to bring back retro titles and games from older systems. Nintendo has done well with bringing back classics through their 3DS eShop as well as the Wii marketplace. Microsoft still sells a select few original Xbox titles on Xbox live and even Sony sells PS1 classics like Final Fantasy VII on the Playstation Network.

Dance Central series provides a good example of well executed DLC

Not only that, but many publishers have used downloadable content to extend the life and value of their blockbuster hits. One developer comes to mind that has taken great advantage of this: Harmonix. With the hugely successful Rock Band series and the more recent Dance Central franchise, Harmonix has cleverly found a way to keep their audience hooked. It’s common sense, really. Music is a great way to bring people together in a party atmosphere, and having the same 50 songs on a disc can only entertain your friends for so long… the playlist has got to get bigger if you plan on keeping your guests interested at a party. You wouldn’t want the same playlist blasting in your ears every time you went clubbing, would you? Ok I admit, terrible example-nobody reading this probably goes clubbing, and they DO all play the same songs over and over-but you get my point! But for $2-3 a song you wish was on the disc to begin with, why not?

Of course music and dance games aren’t the only thing that takes advantage of extra content. Every major First-Person shooter on the market is releasing new map-packs so campers can find new spots to improve their K/D ratios. Call of Duty took the idea to a whole new level with their “Elite” service. Essentially gamers can throw money all at once so they can get more premium services along with the extra maps. Extra features including early access, extensive stat tracking, community contests and so on.

In short, DLC can be a great thing. It extends the life of games for a nominal fee, a fee worth paying…in certain situations.

More recently, publishers *cough* EA *cough* have taken the idea of DLC and found ways to frustrate gamers. Many EA sports titles have come with “online passes” which are essentially codes to unlock the multiplayer content for new retail copies of games, effectively making used games less valuable. Some find this unnerving but publishers and developers see these strategies as a way to curb the used game market and earn back more revenue lost from used game sales. It makes sense, and I honestly think gamers complain most because we’ve been trained and conditioned to buy used. We’re in a tough economy, no doubt about it… but PC gamers have no way of sharing games, why should consoles be any different? The internet has caused a shift in how content is consumed.

Others have tried providing key codes that unlock content already on the disc. Gears of War 3 was ousted for practicing this On-Disc DLC tactic. Their reasoning? Essentially, since the game was delayed, part of their development team was already working on the first batch of DLC, and given the extra time to the release date, they had room on the disc to fit a portion of the DLC code at the time of shipment. The guys at EPIC games concluded that not all the game’s code on the disc was paid for and belonged to the gamer. In short, the disc is just a medium or vehicle of delivering the actual intended experience from the developer. Other games have embraced the micro-transaction approach that many “freemium” games use. Gotham City Impostors releases with over 200 items of paid DLC, all of which are merely cosmetic unlockables for your in game avatar; and almost all of them are already unlockable just by playing the game. I could understand these approaches if the game was free, resembling the likes of TF2, but sadly… it’s not.

Gotham City Impostors launches with 200 items of micro-transaction content

I realize I’ve been subtly discussing the ideas of additional content (DLC) and digital distribution. The two seem synonymous by there is an important difference that should be recognized. DLC is great. It’s an additive experience that gives gamers a way to catch a breath of fresh air in an old and stagnant game. Digital distribution however, is simply that: a way for publishers to release their game to the public. I personally believe that the industry is strongly pointing in this direction. We see things like the PS Vita and their memory cards giving discounts for digital copies of games instead of their physical counterpart. Bigger hard drives are going to replace discs altogether and beyond that, streaming games on the cloud, much like we can stream TV shows and movies from Netflix, is what I envision the future to be. The more connected our devices become, the less important physical discs are going to be.

There will always be purists. Enthusiasts who will find joy in using their personal strategy to rip shrink wrap, practically bending the disc in half to retrieve it from its plastic housing for the first time. There is an innate joy in physically holding a game in your hand after waiting patiently and talking to other cohorts in the Midnight release line for the next Halo or Zelda title.

Whether or not you believe what the guy’s at EPIC claim… they do have a point that can’t be ignored. When you play a game, you are not playing something physical. You can hold a disc in your hand, but beyond the jewel casing and even the ones and zeros that make the game, what you hold really represents something bigger. You paid for the blood, sweat and tears that developers have poured a significant amount of effort and time into. You paid for an adventure, a story, a challenge, a frag-fest, a puzzle. You paid for an interactive experience that only video games can truly provide.

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About the Author

Matt started Pixel Legends originally to cover E3 2011. Aside from video games Matt also enjoys books, wasting time on the internet, and being from England. He doesn’t have a British accent.

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