Last week we focused on the social aspect of online multiplayer. This week our focus is centered on the state of downloadable content (DLC). Will a subscription based model appear in the future or will we still get map packs and extra content ever couple of months after a game is released? Read on to see what The Cursed had to say.
I think they are at least on the right track with fighting map fatigue with new maps and DLC. Hopefully they’ll also start including a larger majority of gametypes to choose from. The likes of Activision with the COD series (starting with COD 4) is at least addressing this with essentially a yearly release of the same game, with campaign and multiplayer updates. To be honest, I’d like to believe that revolutionizing a a genre with every game release is something that I want, but perfecting gameplay and polishing that over time with (semi frequent) major releases is what seems to truly draw me in. Map packs in between those releases works as a band aide to temporarily slow the hemorrhaging. You can think of this idea in terms of an operating system where every couple of years you get a major upgrade, but in the meantime minor upgrades are being released to keep it fresh.
I have yet to encounter a situation where I’ve played enough of a game to get tired of the maps. Even when I have, the map packs have been good to me to this point. However, I see a future where subscriptions to major games will be necessary. Having played a few subscription based MMO’s this doesn’t bother me, if they support the games well. I think this model would allow for a lot more consistent releases of new maps, new game modes, and balance updates. It gives the developer incentive to stay involved in the community and improve their game, and gives us a reason to keep playing and finding new things to enjoy. What does bother me is the addition of “new maps” that are really just modified versions of existing maps, or DLC that is just unlocked by a code since it was already on the disc. I want to know my money and game experience has somehow dictated the additions and improvements they add to the game, rather than feel like I’m getting an episodic release of a a multiplayer release that should have never been split up in the first place.
Coming from a relatively poor family background, subscription based games bug me more than anything else.
I actually never played WoW almost entirely because I was not willing to pay monthly for something like that. Luckily this hasn’t made its way into mainstream console gaming yet and I can still get a game with multiplayer for roughly $60 (factor in the cost of Xbox Live over the span of 6-12 months and it’s actually comes in around $65 – not an issue with PSN). One model that I have really enjoyed quite a bit is the free-to-play model where the games are given away for free, or for a nominal fee ($5-10) and there is full access to that game’s basic content. From there, the option is to pay the extra $5-10 for additional content (not necessarily DLC the way we know it now) over time, but this content is not required in order to experience the game. Financially, for AAA companies, they hate that idea, but if they could play it right then they could end up milking a lot more than the $60 out of me and they can get their games to market faster and continue work post-launch.
I’m with Dustin on the fact that I can’t stand subscription based games. Devoting yourself to one game so much that if you stop playing you get left behind just doesn’t seem like an appealing model to me. I do see Justin’s point that maybe subscriptions give developers that incentive to keep going because they know they’re getting money out of it, but at the same time I think that gives the developers the option to be lazy and put a bunch of crap out because they know they’re getting money for it. If you’re pushing a good add-on you shouldn’t worry about people not buying it. I understand the subscription for a game like WoW because it all exists on their servers which they have to constantly monitor and maintain. It’s like running the xbox live service and there are just expenses for that. But i don’t see a need to move many games past mmorpgs to that type of a model. There’s no reason my fps can’t exist on 1 disk with a download campaign/multiplayer add-on here and there to keep me playing. Now if a company has plans that they will be releasing map packs or campaign updates every 3 months, or whatever it might be and you can subscribe to games updates to get the packs at discounted rate, but still have the option of buying certain ones individually if you want might be a nice compromise between the 2 worlds. I’ll just never be a supporter of the “as long as you want to play this game you have to pay us monthly” model.
You’re right Coop, the all-or-nothing model for subscriptions for these games won’t work. It will have to roll out in some way that either gives you the maps early or at a discounted price compared to non-subscribers. Think of it as Xbox Live Gold vs Silver in that you get the core game without the frills when you don’t have the Gold account. Comparing it to MMO’s is the wrong way to go though, I’m talking about Call of Duty, Madden, Halo, or even Rock Band. God knows that even though I’m one of the exceptions with how much Rock Band DLC I’ve bought over the years, I’ve pretty much been paying $10/month for that game since it came out. Give me a $5 subscription with access to all the songs while my subscription is active or discounts, and I’d gladly shell that out instead of buying endless DLC. That’s the next logical step for map packs – more maps, more modes, more often, but the devs need incentive to do it.
What are the subscription alternatives though, because I have a feeling more people will balk like Dustin and Coop than will bite. Plus, the ones that do initially bite on the subscriptions are going to be the ultra-competitive douchebags we all feared from part one of our dicussion.
Justin, you are a freak with Rock Band, but you’re definitely not the only one so a subscription model for any of the music related games totally makes sense. Map packs could be tricky though because they’re not expensive to begin with and never seem to be frequent enough to warrant a monthly fee that makes sense. I really think the step companies need to grab onto more is taking advantage of the DLC to extend stories like Borderlands and Bioshock 2 has. Borderlands nailed it I think with creating a totally achievable level cap, and then releasing multiple updates that raised that making you want to play it more just to max out your character. I’m totally down with paying $10 for another few hours of a single player or co-op campaign play. It seems like most of the DLC focuses on multi-player adding new modes and maps, but if you’re like me where you really only like playing multi-player with your friends you’d benefit more from a $10 campaign expansion. One other crazy idea could be taking the Groupon route. Concept an add-on and throw it out to the public to pre-order at a discounted rate. If enough people latch on, the deal goes through, you develop it, and the gamer gets charged when it releases. Maybe its even automatically pushed to your console when you log into live. If it flops no one pays anything and the developer is just out creative time.
That Groupon idea that Coop had is an interesting one to be sure. I just don’t know if any developer would be ballsy enough to take the risk and/or make it work. Subscription models scare the hell out of me, because I’m bad at canceling stuff like that. I’m sure that’s why Gamefly still exists. If any one thing could keep me playing multiplayer, it’s whether or not my friends are still playing. No one can predict or dream a scenario to make the game playable to all parties. I didn’t play with a lot of friends when I bought Call of Duty 4, but in Modern Warfare 2, it’s all I did. We all had a lot of fun, but life and map fatigue got in the way and our numbers kept dropping until it was hard to find one friend to play with, let alone a squad full.
Even though I think subscription models are scary, I could buy in for the right price. And that right price seems to be about $5 a month for me. However, the real issue here is whether or not the game released with the subscription model is coming out at $60 or cheaper. I know I’m not alone when I say that I would be less willing to shell out money continuously if the game originally costs $60 bucks. But then again, studios might not want to publish their game at a lower price because the subscription market is unpredictable. We are in for an interesting future when it comes to multiplayer videogames. I just hope that I’m not priced out of enjoying an otherwise great game.
I think we are learning that there isn’t one solution. It will be dependent on the type of game and type of developer, but I gotta say the idea of crowdsourcing DLC ideas and getting Groupon-like commitments from fans is something I’d get behind if one of my favorite developers was involved. Nothing quite like feeling a part of a game you care about.
Single player/story DLC is a different beast that I’m sure we’ll talk about down the road, except I haven’t seen much in the way of expanding co-op experiences or even just adding them after the fact. I think we all find small group or 2 player online co-op experiences much more enjoyable than playing arena like deathmatches with strangers. If they could integrate rankings into co-op the way it is in the other online modes, you may find a way to get people hooked to another part of the game that requires an online connection. I think Halo: Reach has been good in providing daily challenges that encourage such things, but I’d like to see it more focused where I have a co-op rank vs solo rank vs multiplayer rank. Then, I could focus on what I care about rather than have my overall score get confused with people I don’t care about playing against.
Having first hand experience with MMORPGs (FFXI) I would have to say that subscription based games are the biggest waste of everyone’s time and money. 13 bucks a month to a high school/ college student is a lot of money to spend on a game, especially if you buy the game for the starting price of 50 bucks and pay 30 bucks once or twice a year for expansions, not to mention extra fees for multiple accounts. Then to justify your purchase, you end up playing 8+ hrs a day. These games are designed to suck you in and force you to schedule your meals around when your guild or party is going to do a mission.
Now if multiplayer fps started doing this, I would not participate. Maps get old, but that prob means you are playing too much. The nice thing about Halo and COD is when maps get old, I can play the campaign. I don’t get terribly excited when a 10-15 dollar pack of 3 maps comes out. I am usually forced into buying them because not having them excludes me from playing with friends. A $60 game plus a 10 dollar subscription to access all maps for a year would be worth it. Games are getting way too expensive now. When you start to go back and add up the DLC costs, its kinda scary. I think I’ve spent over 100 for halo 3 and its DLC (actually more cause I got the legendary edition). I can name 4 games this year I bought expansions to and played only a few times. I really think it should all just come with the game. I have DLC sitting on my drive now belonging to games I prob won’t ever own or rent again.
I am not a fan of subscription based models, but if they do become the norm I hope the encroachment of big business doesn’t exploit the model as opposed to embrace it. I can somewhat understand why WoW cost the amount it does, but am not quite sure where an FPS like Modern Warfare 2 would work in terms of validating cost.
My concern is that the subscription model will go the way of most DLC in that it offers up a product that doesn’t expand or enhance an experience, only forces players to pay for something in order to keep up with others. Modern Warfare 2 released some of the most overpriced DLC and I can only imagine what their subscription rate would be.
I am a fan of playing multiple games and have yet to run into a title that I feel comfortable with paying for montly. Fallout 3 was the last game I purchased DLC for, and even then I wasn’t blown away. Games are like movies and they have a birth and death in the minds of those that play them. There’s a reason that most movies don’t transistion well to other mediums, such as television series and when they do they are usually only favored by hardcore fans.
We’re getting ahead of ourselves because I don’t think we’ve seen the type of content we should expect from a subscription based model. Trying to compare CoD to WoW is impossible, it just wouldn’t make sense. Ethan is right, too, in that a majority of the DLC that is out there isn’t the type you’d want to subscribe to. There are a few standouts like Broken Steel for Fallout 3, General Knoxx for Borderlands, and Shadow Broker for Mass Effect 2, come to mind. If quality add-ons like that were laid out ahead of time in an episodic format similar to what is being offered in TellTale’s adventure games, I could buy a discounted season pass for sure. It’s the uncertainty of what you are getting for your subscriptions that has us grasping at straws for the moment. I am trying to fight the gut reaction of thinking it’s a terrible idea for every type of game. It will work for some games, and it won’t for others. And we are sure as hell going to dissect the first one’s to death until they get it right and earn our money.
The part that bugs me with that is how the marketers will end up controlling it. As soon as they find this amazing game that works perfectly for an episodic adventure and that you would be so sucked in by the story that in order to get any satisfactory closure you must buy the next installment. It would likely make for a great and fun game, but would alienate anyone who can’t afford, or just isn’t willing to pay for the next installment of a game that otherwise would provide closure at the end. We buy and play games to accomplish something, (MMORPG’s excluded to a certain extent), we don’t buy them in order to get to the next installment in the series just so we can go buy that one.
What happens if every other episode is good? Ideally the game will remain the same and continue the storyline it set out to accomplish in the first part but as we’ve seen with Borderlands and Fallout 3 DLC, they aren’t always winners.
Game companies could shy away from the episode format because if only the first one is good, they’ll be losing out on profits they would have received if they sold it as a complete package.
Haha, how did I end up being the only optimistic one? When I know they always screw it up, too.
Like Justin said, he’s the only optimistic one but knows that this turn of events might end in tears for gamers all around the world. We can’t trust those ‘evil’ game companies and the decisions they make, so we assume that those decisions will be detrimental to our experiences as gamers. Again, like most of the things we discuss, we have to take a wait and see approach. Just know that something of this nature is going to happen whether we like it or not.
Giant Bomb (images)