You’re releasing a game and boy a lot of people sure are looking forward to it. That’s great, that’s really, really great. But wait, what’s this? A dlc plan? Well, buddy, you better make sure it’s in tip top condition because you wouldn’t want to make buying your game and giving you money an unpleasurable, cynical minded process for your loving fans who got you here in the first place would you? WOULD YOU?
I’m sick of it. Completely. I’m not against DLC – no – but I am against how it’s being used at the minute. It’s depressing, ugly, and it has to stop: here’s my set of rules on how to fix it.
You want to give a bonus to people willing to buy your game in advance? Fine, you can do that but it has to be something that has no bearing on the story or experience of your game. So…
Quests - because if it’s good enough then it should be available to everyone as part of the game they’re paying for. I shouldn’t get less content because I bought your game a week later than someone else. Also, each quest forms part of the canon story of your universe so if it’s not available to everyone then it can’t be important or particularly good, so what you’re offering is either: shit content for people willing to put up early, or a missing chunk of goodness and importance for people who either couldn’t or didn’t want to buy your game for one of the hundreds of reasons to not pay for something before you can try it.
Equipment - because it’s either overpowered, doesn’t fit the canon, or is a waste of space. See above.
Characters/Companions - see quests. A special mention goes to the Mass Effect 3 launch DLC here which has someone pretty damn significant tied up as launch DLC.
Map packs - map packs are bad enough for player segregation, but doing it before the game has even been released is shocking. Map packs are there to extend a game after it’s been out a while – I don’t mind dropping £10 on Back To Karkand 6 months after Battlefield 3 is released if time and effort has gone into it, but making people pay for it 1 month after release so they can play with their friends who got it for free is shitty, especially when instead of finding ways to milk cash the developers should be fixing their game. Free for everyone, or free for no one and make sure people are getting their moneys worth.
Soundtracks, maps, artbooks, comics, xp boosts, beta access. - These things don’t change the game, they’re just a bonus, a nice thank you – people don’t feel punished for not buying the pre-order but there’s incentive for people to buy it. Look at Kickstarter projects, or the World Of Mass Development thing for inspiration.
Retailer exclusive DLC
No no no. Don’t do it. Ever. I don’t care what money they’re giving you – you’re taking a huge dump on your customers. If I’m buying – say – a collectors edition of your game on pre-order then I get everything on release. Ok? I get everything. I don’t miss out on content – no matter how trivial – because I bought it from Amazon and not Play.
Your game is out and everyone is happy. Yay. What do you release now?
Equipment for multiplayer games that isn’t cosmetic - Don’t split your game into the haves and the have nots. Follow Valves example.
Quests that bridge a gap between game 1 and game 2 - if it’s essential story, it’s part of your main game. Like in traditional expansions, DLC content can all be canon and important, but if you need to buy it to understand what’s going on in your next game then no. People have a right to buy a trilogy at face value and follow it through from start to end without hidden costs.
Releasing on day 1 or very close to day 1 - because people feel cheated. Why? Because you have cheated them by selling them a product that’s immediately outdated. It’s a crappy practice that doesn’t make anyone feel nice. Also, your thing of ”it kept people in jobs because they could work on it after we submitted for certification” – maybe get them doing further testing and get your first big patch ready because, hell, it’s not as if everything’s being released as perfect at the minute is it?
Putting dialogue or options in your game for things I haven’t bought - Fuck off if you do this. Don’t break a dialogue to tell me I need to purchase content or download something or visit a website. Don’t tell me that this race circuit is available from the store for £4.99. I don’t want to be nagged about buying stuff when I’m trying to play your game ok?
Anything else - if you want to do horse armour for a singleplayer game, or some sidequest that deepens the lore (or not) fine. If you want to charge £80 for a cosmetic monacle, or an addon so your virtual sim can go and work in a factory, or literally anything else, fine. Go ahead. I don’t care – people can vote with their wallets. As long as it’s extra, good content that doesn’t break any of the other rules and isn’t something that you promised to include or obviously should have been included in the main game, go for it.
Congratulations, you have not made your customers feel like they’ve been fucked over. But you can do better than that.
Release a GOTY edition - when you’ve been done a while, release it and include everything. All the DLC, all the expansions, everything. And make it cheapish, and also release a complete DLC pack that people with just the game can buy for cheapish too.
Make it easy to buy your DLC - Don’t use GFWL, don’t use any virtual currency – let me go somewhere obvious, buy it with a debit card or paypal, then have it tie to my account and have it automatically download.
And that’s it. Everyone is happy and paying for a stream of good content from your easy to use website and/or steam. It wasn’t hard was it? The message to take away is to stop making customers feel like they’ve been dicked over. Games are meant to be fun experiences and not lengthy purchasing decisions, and call me old fashioned, but I really liked when we could just buy a game and not have to worry about how much game we bought.