Once a month for the last few years I’ve turned Microsoft Rewards points into credit to purchase digital goods from the Windows Store. Music, movies and television shows, I’ve used those points to fund it all. In fact, I’ve now got an impressive movie collection that includes the entire Harry Potter, Avengers and 007 movies that feature Daniel Craig. I rarely get the opportunity to finance video game DLC with the Microsoft Points that I save. It’s gotten too expensive.
In the last five years downloadable content has become an uncontrollable kraken. What once was a quick and straight forward way to get some added value out of a game you’ve already purchased has been twisted and morphed into something gamers of five years ago wouldn’t recognize after stepping out of a time machine.
Prices have gone through the roof.
Prices have gone through the roof. A story related add-on could cost you $15 to $20 easily. If that wasn’t enough, Season Passes are the norm these days. They started out as an easy way to get your hands on all the many pieces of downloadable content games get after their release. They’re now $25. Lately they’ve been $40. New twists – like ultimate editions and early access schemes have turned the game DLC ecosystem on its ear. You even get game DLC when you buy a title now – as long as you’re willing to do it before the reviews arrive on launch day.
I by no means am judging shoppers that do purchase video game DLC. I buy game DLC semi regularly. A recent dust up with Microsoft got me wondering about why this stuff is so important to us and why we continue to fork out hard earned cash for this stuff though.
I didn’t want to rely on my own views though, so I asked around about the schemes, the prices and the fees.
John Laster has been around Xbox and gaming for longer than I’ve known that I like games. A Microsoft Xbox MVP and all around gaming fanatic, he runs the XBLA Fans website and Twitch stream. When I put out the call for people willing to talk to me about game DLC, he was the first to step up.
“Depends on the game and my time situation.” He told me in a message over Twitter. Microsoft kicked started a revolution in gaming when it debuted Achievements with the Xbox 360. The digital artwork and Gamerscore adds up over time, giving players a feeling of accomplishment that wasn’t possible until they came along. Sony adopted a similar idea for Trophies. John says that Achievements factor into his desire for DLC. He told me that “if it [the game DLC] has Achievements and [he] really enjoyed the game,” he’s inclined to buy downloadable content.
I can understand the sentiment. I’ve dumped around 160 hours into Batman Arkham Knight. Part of the allure was dawning the cape and throwing battarings for longer than I otherwise would have. Also, those Achievements were staring me in the face.
Achievements: The Ultimate Weapon
Ironically, I didn’t buy every piece of downloadable content for Batman Arkham Knight. Instead, I purchased a copy of the game that included a Season Pass. That Season Pass and the base game cost me a whopping $89.99. It was regularly $99.99, but the Xbox Store had it at a slight discount for a few days. John references the game in response to my questions on his game DLC purchasing habits without being prompted.
“Batman Arkham Knight is probably one of the few season passes I’ve bought,” he tells me. It’s the same for me. There was a lot to like about the Batman Arkham Knight game DLC. There were also, very clearly some filler that should have never seen the light of day. I’m looking at you Harley Quinn DLC.
I gave away my digital copy of Forza Horizon 3 Ultimate Edition to a lucky viewer when I launched The en on YouTube on Halloween night. That was before Microsoft released the new vehicles for those that purchased the Car Pass. It was also before we found out that those who’d pay for Forza Horizon 3 Ultimate Edition would have to pay yet more money for an expansion to the game. Xbox Wire revealed the $35.99 Expansion Pass. Microsoft’s best customers – those that paid it extra money so that they could get early access to the game – only have to pay $25.99. They have to buy it before the end of the year. I don’t own the game, and even I was outraged by that.
Apparently, not many other people are. I’ve not heard a complaint about the added cost at all. I haven’t seen one-person talk about Microsoft charging more than half of what the base game cost people.
Expansion passes not included in what should be an ultimate version of the game are one thing. Setting you up for digital cards that you’ll feel compelled to pay for over and over is a new level. The grand master of this tactic is a name you’re probably familiar with: Madden.
Mike is a Twitter follower of mine. He says that he’s spent a whopping $250 on Madden Ultimate Team.
“I got hooked. In addition to wanting a better team (the cards were players in your Ultimate Team) I also got pulled by the collection aspect. You get bonuses for certain collections of cards. I’d spend five dollars here ten dollars there to be honest $250 is a conservative estimate.”
Mike thinks that he might have spent over $500. I asked him if it’s something that bothers him and makes him more careful about the way he plays games.
“No I feel I enjoyed myself playing. I did something similar back when I played Magic The Gathering. The only thing that irritates me is that the cards don’t carry over between seasons. So I won’t do it again.”
Listen, I can’t judge the man. I’ve spent $60 in ships for Star Trek Online. It’s a free-to-play game that allows you to stack up in-game currency and purchase them without spending any money. I needed to have the Enterprise F starship right away though.
Sometimes when we’re busying complaining about how much something costs, we forget to look for cause and effect. It’s very clear to me that video game publishers are using passes and game DLC to surreptitiously hike the cost of games without the vast majority of gamers taking notice.
The numbers themselves tell the story.
As we’ve demanded more from games and the companies that make them, costs have gone up. There are community managers to pay and user research teams to finance. I couldn’t get anyone from a major publisher to talk to me about costs, but they didn’t have to. The numbers themselves tell the story.
Today, a new game is $59.99. They cost the same amount for the Xbox and PlayStation 2 when they were the consoles to have. The PS2 launched in 2000, when I was still in middle school and DL Hugely was still allowed on ABC.
According to Know Your Budget, Halo 3 cost $60 million to make and market back in 2007. Microsoft doesn’t still share development cost numbers, but Xbox head Phil Spencer acknowledged that the company spent a lot more than $60 million on 2012’s Halo 4. When Polygon asked him if the latter cost more than Halo 3 he replied “Absolutely. Nothing’s even close.” Rockstar Studios spent $265 million on creating Grand Theft Auto V.
Both of these games had big payoffs eventually. GTA 5 has over 70 million copies sold. Microsoft made back $170 million of the money it spent on Halo 3 back within the first week.
Having to fork out all of this money has made developers choosy about what they greenlight. It’s also made them want to stick to those franchises a lot more. Why spend money on an unproven game when you can eek out more from your investment in a title you know millions are going to buy?
I really do wonder when we’ll reach the point of no return. How much is too much for game DLC? We all respect game publishers. We want them to continue practicing their craft. We know that games for our Xboxes aren’t free.
Do we force them to keep it reasonable by boycotting the content? Do we monitor our spending and stay vigilant when we’re encouraged to pay for in-game items? Mike sees game DLC as a way to give something extra to his favorite developers.
“If I play enough and enjoy it, I’ll spend between $20 to $50 on in-game currency just to tip my hat to the developer,” he told me.
I’m betting that at some point we have to accept that game prices are artificially low and need to go up. That’s my personal theory anyway.
All I know for sure is my girlfriend, who hates game DLC because “it should be included in the game,” just gave me the side-eye for buying Watch Dogs 2 Gold Edition for $99.99.
She tells me I should feel guilty. I haven’t decided to reveal to her that I really don’t.