This is my response to Michael Abbott's post regarding DLC. As you're almost certainly aware, Michael is responsible for the superb Brainy Gamer blog and podcast. He's the kindest person I've ever met and is, without a doubt, the coolest thing in Indiana. And yes, that's counting Gen Con.
You may not remember the exact date, Michael, but you do remember the event. On April 3rd, 2006, the DLC genie was let out of the bottle. Owners of Bethesda's The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion could spend the equivalent of 2.50 USD to purchase armour for the game's horses. Many felt the cost, while low, was still unfair given the rather minor impact the purchase would have in the game. There was a significant backlash to the point that "horse armour" is still idiomatically used to describe overpriced downloadable content.
Since then, there's been a lot of discussion, experimentation and contention about DLC and its place in the development and business models of games.
Now, I'm in all favour of downloadable content for games, and of course entire games themselves. My ability to pay my rent depends on this, actually. But I must confess that the I find the trend toward more use of DLC to unlock existing game content a bit disconcerting. Early today, you remarked that Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 features DLC that can unlock all the courses in the game for $2.25 and max your golfer's stats for $3.75 (and quite amusingly, your comment is the second Google hit for "tiger woods 10 unlock dlc"). This breed of DLC isn't new; I believe it's been a feature in Tiger for at least the last couple of iterations. Criterion offers a Time Savers pack for Burnout: Paradise that unlocks all the game's cars for $5, and so forth.
Before I dive too deeply into this, I'll note that I feel looking at this through the lens of Mitch Krpata's New Taxonomy of Gamers is helpful. In the case of unlock DLC, it's all about the difference between skill players and tourists. And as is often the case in the real world, the tourists end up getting a bit fleeced.
Unlock DLC holds little appeal for skill players, as you noted. Tourists, on the hand other, "just want to play." Repeating content time and again until certain milestones are reached seems like a chore for them, not a source of enjoyment. They just want to engage with the content they find most interesting. It feels strange to me then that this style of play comes with an additional price tag. It feels as if the legacy of unlockable content in games is being used to justify taking advantage of the tourist's desire to "just play."
Digital content locks in games are completely trivial to create. Asking for money to remove them instantly is charging because some tourists are willing to pay, rather than charging to recoup the cost of creating those locks. Even the despised horse armour required the time of some artists, designers and programmers to create. With unlock DLC, only abstract locks are being removed. It seems exploitative to ask these players to pay more, simply because their style of play differs from that of "traditional" players.
One of the biggest challenges our industry has is making games accessible to new audiences without dumbing them down or killing the spirit of games that so many of us have grown to love. I don't think it's appropriate asking newer gamers, who are more likely to be tourists, to pay more just so they can enjoy the game in their preferred style of play. It feels like unlock DLC is taking advantage of newer gamers simply because, well, they don't know any better.
Or, more simply, just because EA can doesn't mean they should. I would much rather see the Rock Band model of unlocking content adopted in lieu of unlock DLC. All the game's content is available in a "free play" mode that deactivates achievements (or their equivalent) and restricts online play to others in the same mode. A "career" mode allows content to be unlocked with the usual MO. It seems like this would facilitate the tourist style of play well without asking them to pony up for the privilege.
Your observations on value are keen, but I think making achievements the sole domain of "career mode" still provides enough enticement for the skill player while demonstrating the tourist there's something incomplete in the "free play" mode.
The truth is Michael, I'm not necessarily opposed to unlock DLC as it currently exists. I certainly don't plan on ever purchasing any, but it's entirely possible that 6 USD is a fair price for all courses and a maxed golfer in Tiger 10. What I really worry about is how easy it is to slide down this slippery slope. Knowing many tourists will pay for this unlock DLC, can the temptation be resisted to push those unlockables just a little bit further out? How easy it is to make just a little more content locked, facilitating multiple unlock DLC offerings. It sounds a little cynical, but at the same time, I worry it's not that far fetched at all.
To be clear, I am not advocating the Angry Internet Man response to "boycott" games that feature this kind of DLC or anything similarly absurd. But I can't shake the feeling that unlock DLC is exploiting a certain segment of the audience by erecting artificial barriers and then asking for a fee so those barriers can be removed. If we want to see more people playing games, and playing games more interesting that match-three Flash games, it seems antithetical to charge many of them extra just because they haven't been to the theatre before.
As always, I appreciate your thoughts on this issue and it's always fascinating to hear what you and others have to say on this matter.