On On-Disc DLC

Spurred into action by @Carin_McLeod, who I want to stress, I think is quite a lovely person and this isn’t any effort to INTERNET FITE or anything. There’s just no good way to make this coherent point in a tweet exchange.

On-disc DLC is a byproduct of our current system of developing games. You have a host of things that need to be done to a game to get it out the door, and not all of those things are what we think of as making the game. There’s stuff like QA and feedback testing and finalising documentation and accessability and advertising. Rather than making the game bits up until the day of the game’s release, the production of what goes on the discs of a game can end sometimes as much as three months in advance of the game’s shipping.

Now, what do you do with the people who make art assets and game bits and content who have been working on it for all that time? You can fire them or let them move on to other projects, but what if the game still needs more work when it comes back from those other departments? Then you’d have to rehire them and recontract them and that’s a huge pain in the ass. Plus, they’ve been working on the game for so long they’re probably pretty good at it. They also don’t get paid if you let them go, and these people tend to like being paid, and usually, aren’t being paid particularly well.

This means that there is, effectively, about three months of game production being made by people who are familiar and comfortable and happy with a game system that won’t fit into the game that goes onto the shelves without further extending release date by a few months. What happens then is this work gets turned into DLC. Since it’s produced before the product ships, developers can whack it – with all its art assets and the like – straight on the disc, and do the other stuff like QA/Accessability, afterwards. If it passes all those tests, then the DLC can be unlocked later, usually with minimal patching. And by minimal patching, I usually mean maybe 10-15% of the data has to be altered/added to.

“Well,” the argument then runs, “Why can’t they give it to us for free?” Sure, they could do that. They could do that with the rest of the game, too, but they don’t, and you seem relatively okay with paying for the game in the first place. The DLC is extra; it’s bonus; the only thing about it that’s different to if they hadn’t put it on the disc would be you had to download more stuff.

Essentially, on-disc DLC is giving you a minor convenience (reduced download) and people are treating it like it’s an actual moral attack (withholding content). You can view it that way, but I feel it’s unreasonable to do so, and doing so builds resentment towards people who honestly aren’t doing anything all that wrong when you look at how the system’s structured. If you want to argue the system shouldn’t be structured that way at all, then okay, that’s fine too, but changing that structure isn’t really in the wheelhouse of anyone right now.

By the way, notice how on-disc DLC doesn’t usually show up on games that are total trainwrecks of development.

Yeah, Wet, I’m looking at you.

3 comments

  1. camoceltic

    My only problem with this is that, if you buy a physical disc, you do it with the assumption that everything on the disc will be unlocked from the start. I don’t buy physical discs often, but when I do, I expect the $60 (assuming new console game) I pay just to get the disc is enough to give me access to everything on the disc.

    The closest analogy I can think of right now is like you’ve bought a book. Tucked inside is a little booklet, somehow tied shut so that you can’t get access to it. For $X, they’ll untie the book for you. Sure, the booklet isn’t required for you to enjoy the book and it’s a nice little extra, but it will feel insulting that they packaged the book with a small accompanying one that you can’t open. If they bothered giving you access to holding the book, why can’t you open it to read and enjoy it?

    mumblegrumble Back in my day, DLC was sold as boxed expansions and they acted like whole other games and cost just $20. Nowadays, you’d be lucky to get a couple multiplayer maps or some gun unlocks.

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