Game Reviews

Mass Effect 3 and Day-One DLC

So a few of you involved in the gaming community are probably aware of some flack BioWare was (is?) getting for releasing day one DLC for Mass Effect 3. For those who are not familiar with gamer lingo this basically means that there was add-on content available for Mass Effect 3 the moment it was released… for which players had to pay extra.

This annoyed some people. There’s a decent summary over here along with some user comments if you want more exposure to the incident as it happened.

I’ve had a few readers ask me my thoughts on this and given that I’ve finally found a few moments between packing and writing I figured I’d respond.

Overall, while I understand the business rationale behind the decision, I think releasing day 1 DLC content is tacky.

Not evil or malicious or fundamentally wrong. Just tacky.

Business models constantly change and if the business model for AAA titles in the videogames industry requires day 1 DLC for games to make a profit, then so be it. But I wonder why, even if just for etiquette or to show some more respect to the consumer, if the DLC couldn’t have been released a bit later, post-release.

See, part of the original justification for DLC was that it gave players more of what they enjoyed from the game. It was part of the communication, the network building, between a company and the players. When a game releases DLC on the same day as the original game not only does it seem like they are trying to squeeze more money out of consumers it also comes across as a door slamming shut, between gamer and developer.

We’ve made more of what we thought you’d like without waiting to hear your thoughts on the game itself. Enjoy!.

Nothing fundamentally wrong here either. Just different.

Even if the messaging behind the Day-One DLC had been slightly tweaked I think the response would have been muted. For example maybe focus playtesters on Mass Effect 3 indicated this particular DLC content would be well liked and would complement the core game. Anything to hint that this DLC sprung from a desire from the developer to give the players more entertainment. Not (only) to make more money.

And that’s what the root of the issue is. If a developer appears too greedy it pisses players off — no matter their actual intentions or the actual facts, which in this case was that the team had time to build the DLC while waiting for Mass Effect 3 to be approved for distribution.

I think too often developers are blind to how what they do affects players perceptions of them and the industry. They don’t anticipate the reaction. And we are living in a connected world where _reaction_ is everything.

Just involving the players, even if somewhat superficially, into a decision, I think can go a long way towards making them more agreeable to a change in business practice like this. Anything from voting or commenting on new content to be released in DLC, or making the DLC appear to be a race between players and developers (i.e., ‘we guarantee we will have downloadeable content available the moment the first 1 million playthrus of Mass Effect 3 are completed’).

Stuff like that.

Anyways, that’s my thoughts. Back to packing.

UPDATE: Please check out the article by Erik Kain on Forbes for what I think is a very fair assessment of the situation with more details than I’ve provided here.

Former lead designer at BioWare (Dragon Age: Origins, Neverwinter Nights). Creator of Raiders of the Serpent Sea.