Jan 29, 2009

Exclusive Downloadable Content – Friend or Foe?

Guest Post: Josh McPherson

January 27, 2008 Bethesda released some the “Liberation of Anchorage” expansion for the critically acclaimed title Fallout 3 for the PC and Xbox 360 exclusively. As someone who absolutely loved this game, I was left feeling like I was being left out in the cold after hearing the news from Todd Howard, game producer, which stated there were “no plans” for the PS3 to receive this expansion pack.

This got me thinking about the industry and the trends that appear to be forming. Games cost far too much to make them exclusive to just one console (save for first party titles like Resistance or Halo) so where do the console manufacturers go now? The answer appears to be simple. Exclusive downloadable content. Sometimes the exclusive is timed and now with the gaming industry in cost savings mode the cost of development kits may become a factor in the development for DLC content and expansions fully exclusive to one console. The PS3 Developer kit is quoted around $10,250, comparing that to the Wii's developer kit at $1,700, and the lowball quote of $100 from Microsoft for the PC and Xbox 360 developers kit. Likely the higher development costs combined with the new trend in cost savings and layoffs, will drive developers to these lower priced kits as they begin seeking any kind of edge over the competition.

Bethesda isn’t the only company partaking in this new trend. RockStar and even EA have gotten into the mix with Grand Theft Auto and Mirrors Edge. February 17, 2009 RockStar will be releasing the Lost and the Damned expansion exclusively for the Xbox and EA brings us a time trial map for Mirrors Edge in a “Timed Exclusive” form on the PS3.

Part of the reason for releasing DLC, in a lot of cases, is to expand the storyline and keep the game fresh on the minds of gamers and in the gaming news circles long after the release. Of course there’s always the wonderful side effect of generating more money (Rock Band and Guitar Hero have that market cornered right now).

This clearly has a lot of people feeling agitated and unloved. Do the game publishers really have so much money that they can pick and choose who will get to continue to expand and enjoy the games they love or did Microsoft really pay out so much money just to pigeonhole gamers into buying their Xbox 360 console? Do the millions of potential DLC buyers not count in the grant scheme of things?

There have been a few cases where the DLC was only made available to owners of different consoles in the form of a re-release “Game of the Year” edition with the content already included. What about the people who own the original release because they thought your product was that good they had to have it right away? Do you really want to buy another copy of the game?I’m not so sure that I like the way things are going. Not everyone has the ability or the money (especially these days) to own more than 1 console. Is it really necessary to have exclusive downloadable content in the age of fewer exclusive titles? If so, then why not make it a “Timed Exclusive” for a period of a few weeks (ala Resident Evil 5 Demo, Rock Band 2 release)? I feel this new trend is hurting the people who make the difference… The gamers.

What do the rest of you think?


Anonymous said...

This post basically sums up what I've been thinking. I think it's ridiculous. I'm not going to buy a 360 just because Microsoft wants to play dirty. I'm confident that it won't be like this forever, and that PS3 gamers will eventually be the favored ones.

Anonymous said...

Fallout's exclusive DLC isn't going to make me go out and buy a 360 and buy another copy of the game so what's the point? All this does is make me bitter towards Bethesda and Microsoft.

Clinton said...

Because we the game-buying public aren't privy to the details of these exclusivity deals it can be difficult to understand why a third-party developer would want to limit the potential audience for their products, DLC or otherwise. In the case of Fallout 3, you have to think the financial incentive is there along with a possible desire to forge a stronger relationship with Microsoft for other long-term deals. Fan service and public opinion counts for something when it comes to the games business but at the end it's the dollars and cents that win out.

If the 360 DLC packs sell decently, I can't imagine a scenario where Bethesda wouldn't release them for PS3 owners too, time-exclusive style.

Paul Hunter said...

Clinton, you raise some excellent points there. When it comes to exclusivity deals I believe it comes down to the economics of each option, and developers are in the tough position of trying to select the choice that's right for their business. There must be many factors that go into their decision-making process such as the financial incentives console manufacturers offer developers for exclusive DLC, the closer relationship that forms with these agreements, and the overhead cost they would incur. Obviously focusing on one console presents it's unique advantages. While the new battleground is exclusive DLC, I am very happy that most games these days are going multi-platform. I would much prefer this scenario than the 16-bit days where a large portion of each console's library remained exclusive forever. I guess what I'm really saying here is that exclusive DLC may not be as bad when you put things into perspective and think about the alternatives. Truthfully, I'm just thankful that both Xbox 360 owners and PS3 owners have the opportunity to play Fallout 3.

Steve said...

I feel that the people who keep this industry going (the gamers) are being treated unfairly. Some game executives have said that the downloadable content helps to extent the life of their games. Well apparently they only want this for owners of one system. They also say this extra content keeps gamers from selling or trading in their copy of the game, because game companies are not happy with used game sales. If you make the downloadable content exclusive to one system then the owners who are left out in the cold will definitely be more inclined to get rid of their copy of the game.

I realize that their is probably a huge amount of money laid down to get these exclusives, but this short term gain may hurt companies in the long run. Gamers who are left out of the extra content will feel unfairly treated and these feelings will stay with them on future title releases. Rockstar, Bethesda,and Eidos are companies that PS3 owners may think twice about buying from in the future since they feel these companies turned their backs on them. So while the money is good right now, future sales may see an impact from these decisions.

The gaming industry has to remember to treat the people who keep this industry going fairly. And if Sony and Microsoft really wanted to see which system was truly better then they would release this extra content on both systems and let the players decide.

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