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.


  • Brent Knowles

    I’m not familiar with the Gears of War situation but if what the article alleges is true, then yeah, I think its fundamentally wrong.

    If you had time to build it and polish it to a commercially acceptable level and it is on the disc… you should not be charging players an additional fee to unlock it. I can accept the situation if the content isn’t quite ready and needs some polishing ¬†(so there’s a patch to download that completes some existing content on the disc). But to intentionally go about partitioning the content on the disc and charging users multiple fees to unlock it all? Ick.

    Worse though is that I’m¬†imagining¬†many people *did* purchase this stuff. And that only encourages other publishers/developers to do the same. Perhaps even forces other developers to do the same to remain profitable.

  • Jason Litzau

    I agree, don’t think EA is at fault for the specifics of the story. Maybe the day one DLC, or the marketing aspects, but this is clearly a creative issue.

    This is something Casey Hudson chose, because he wanted the endings to be controversial, at the expense of satisfaction and enjoyment. He put his own vanity ahead of player enjoyment.

    This would have never happened on your watch Mr. Knowles. I understand why you left though.

  • Brent Knowles

    Jason, thanks for the comment and the kind words.
    I honestly don’t know Casey that well. I never worked with him on a project but I associated with many who did. And they had lots of positive things to say about him.

    Many, many people *did* enjoy the ending as it was and the team made the ending they thought made sense for their game. *Maybe* there were cuts or other factors that unexpectedly messed up the ending. I don’t know.

    But I really don’t think the team went out of their way to intentional remove satisfaction and enjoyment. At worst I think the ending might have been a miscalculation, especially in regards to the expectations of a portion of the audience.

    Anyways, thanks again and have a great weekend!


  • Jason Litzau

    You’re quite welcome. People like yourself, strove to move the RPG genre forward, and connect to it’s source material (pen and paper RPGs) in substantial ways. you remember what the RP in RPG stands for.

    I disagree however, that they didn’t do it to make people angry.

    Actually I believe they did remove many things, to make people upset. I’ve pieced together many comments of Casey’s, and it really seems like he wanted to make many players upset, to make the ending “polarizing”. He wanted to make the series “impossible to forget” and did so, by purposefully making everything ambiguous, simply to make people upset and debate the ending. He wanted it to be controversial.

    He removed the final boss, as it was “too video gamey”, and removed the conversation at the end, in which Shepard questions the catalyst, and receives the answers they had promised in interviews. Not to mention the plot holes and discrepancies.

    Even one of the writers ranted on Penny Arcade’s forums, about how Casey and Mac Walters, refused to collaborate with the writing staff, about the ending.¬† (which has been removed, with Casey himself doing damage control by saying it was fake, despite being posted on the writer’s account)

  • jim

    Mr. Knowles,

    I’m not sure if this has been discussed in the 100-ish comments below, but why is there such an outcry over Day 1 DLC all of a sudden ? Correct me if I’m wrong but Dragon Age: Origins had 2 DLC on day 1 (Shale and Warden’s keep). These were specifically cut from the game and sold as DLCs, were they ?¬†Dragon age 2 also had 2 DLC on day 1 (what’s-his-name-archer-guy and a store vendor to buy stuff). so it’s been done before and I fail to see why this time it’s such a ”controversy” ?

  • Brent Knowles

    I’m not sure, to be honest. Most of the comments here are actually in regards to the ending of ME3… not a lot of discussion about DLC (other than my original blog post).
    I personally don’t like day 1 DLC but I think most people were annoyed at ME3’s DLC because they had been told it was *not* cut from the original game but was brand new content. And then some people found that portions of it were actually on the disc. ¬†Or something to that effect.

  • Caramoye

    That and the fac that dlc before had always been free if you bought the new game. For ME3, we bough the game and immediately had to spend 10 more dollars to get a critical character. (That is, Shale was free if you bought the game new. As was Sebastian in DA2. Now they are saying you have to spend $80 on the Collector’s edition to have our day 1 DLC come with your game.)

  • jim

    I see. Thank you for clearing this up. Also a big thanks to Mr. Knowles for being extremely down-to-earth despite his legendary status as a game designer

  • Jed Tylman

    Annoyed or indifferent , we can be sure DLC will continue for some time. If they can make more money by milking the cow more than once, bet your @$$ they will keep doing it.

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