Busy busy times in the house of Mel, readers, but not so busy that I could not spare a moment to chat with you for a bit about some current events. Well, these events have been bubbling away for quite a while now, but they still represent a current state of affairs. This week I would like to peer into the murky waters of game delays and DLC, as once upon a time the general reactions to both were the opposite of what they are today. This is simply to say that the industry has changed a lot since its early days, as both DLC and game delay announcements have been around for quite a while. So what happened to both of these concepts that makes DLC a prickly topic and delay announcements a sigh of relief?
DLC began its life as game “expansions” on discs and later, as the internet grew more robust, as actual downloadable content. These additions were usually very meaningful to the original game, and often times completely free. The business of gaming has since changed a great deal, and expansion-style DLC has become increasingly rare, as has free additional content. What we are left with today is more akin to microtransations than real content expansion, with DLC usually taking the form of additional in-game items or characters to be unlocked for a premium. Sometimes, as with the recent Mortal Kombat X, these purchases only unlock temporary perks.
This is where I generally draw the line between meaningful (if only cosmetic) and mercenary. Mortal Kombat X lets you purchase “easy fatalities” which only require a couple button presses, compared to the normal more complex and unique button combos, which grant a violent finishing move on an already defeated opponent. For the uninitiated, fatalities essentially act as skill-based taunts on defeated opponents and they take the form of very ’90s inspired gross-out gory finishing moves. The “DLC” lets you perform these without the skill element, however it only grants you the ability to do so a limited number of times before purchasing more expendable tokens is required. While it could have been much worse, it could have impacted the gameplay or involved temporary access to a character or something, the idea of spending five dollars on something like this is almost enough to make me resent its very existence.
And that is only a most recent example, as any astute gamer could recount an instance of scummy DLC practices in a game they otherwise may have enjoyed. As game sales could no longer be counted on to support a development studio’s expanded production costs, publishers have increasingly pressured (and required) developers to implement some kind of supplementary revenue source. It is not all microtransations, admittedly, as DLC can still take the form of additional campaigns or multiplayer modes. But all too often, these additions last on the order of fifteen minutes and cost closer to twenty dollars. And while it might comprise the better part of speculation, DLC as carved-out content from the final product to be sold back to consumers is becoming a cliche.
So the DLC well has been poisoned a bit, to say the least, although it is not all bad. But to say anyone is a “fan of DLC” certainly would seem a bit odd today where before it may have been agreeable. Which brings me to the other half of this article, about game delays and delay announcements. Going back far enough, game delays still happened all the time except they were rarely made public news. In the US in the ’80s and early ’90s, game release dates were not so commonly discussed. A gaming magazine would have something in it about a new game, and one would simply have to wait until the local game or toy store had it in stock. Today, games are scheduled years in advance to the point that they are regularly only given something like “Q2 2015” as a release date, meaning second of 2015.
And as we have seen with the Wii U Legend of Zelda, games invariably still get delayed, the only difference is the public reaction to the announcement. And this time around, the change occurred in the public and not in the industry practice. Game delays, their purpose and outcome, have remained the same, but whereas more people would have been upset by a delay in the past, today game delays are celebrated and the developers thanked. This is thanks to the sad state of many game releases, from middle tier to AAA titles, which were clearly rushed out of the door. Games like the recently embarrassing Assassin’s Creed Unity have required a bevy of post release patches to get the game operating on an acceptable level. The concept of the day-one patch is now more infamous than older scandals of on-disc DLC or day-one DLC, and rightfully so.
Games are being sold to the early buying public for them to beta test the product in time for the release weekend sales, which is an atrocious prospect. Too often a day-one purchase means contenting with instability and bugs that clearly were known but could not be resolved in time for release. Even the illustrious Bloodborne suffered from this, with a bug that kept multiplayer from working for many people. With the Zelda series, the delay was doubly reassuring since that series is sadly no stranger to having cut content in time for release. I can only guess at what Skyward Sword would have been able to include in its barren overworld if it were given more time in development.
That does it for me this week, as usual, Spring-y readers. Shout out some examples of DLC or delays done wrong (or right!) in the comments! And remember we ARE HIRING still. Join us, fill that void in your life.