If you are in the world of video games there are a couple terms you come across pretty frequently: downloadable content (DLC), pre-orders, pre-purchase, bonus content, monetization. Today, it seems as though if you don't pre-order or pre-purchase a game you are guaranteed to be missing out on something – whether it's DLC or bonus content, both physical and digital.
In the past, prior to digital distribution (downloading games directly to your preferred console) pre-ordering or pre-purchasing a game existed to secure a physical copy of a game from a retailer before the game sold out. The existence of pre-ordering and pre-purchasing removes the fear of a game being sold out (for the most part); but, as the number of games that require online connectivity go up – so do the number of people digitally downloading games. It is rare for a game to be sold out at a store.
DLC is less defined in its transition from past to present. Twenty years ago, DLC meant an expansion pack for a game. When the expansion for Total Annihilation, Core Contingency, released, it continued the story after the Arm campaign ended. It brought 25 new missions, 75 new units and the Total Annihilation editor, which allows players to create maps and missions. While expansions like this still exist they are few and far between, mostly reserved for MMO's (World of Warcraft, Guild Wars) and RTS games (Civilization). Today DLC is treated in a different manner. At times it progresses the story along, probably because the game didn't release with a complete story (I'm looking at you Destiny). Or it's a simple cash grab or an implementation of monetizing features.
To put it simply, this is the road DLC is going down:
What does any of this have to do with the video game industry killing itself? Well, they all tie in one way or the other.
Now before we get into how they break the industry, there is a silver lining. Buying games, new games specifically — be it through pre-order or not — means money for publishers and developers. They make no profit off used game pruchases; that typically goes to the retailer, like GameStop. Knowing this, you can understand the push for pre-purchases.
On the note of publishers, while they help fund the video game's development they can also add an unnecessary pressure. They can limit the developer by setting release dates to reach a quota by the end of the financial quarter. It can lead to developers not having enough time, resulting in cut content or even the release of buggy content. Assassin's Creed: Unity and Halo: The Master Chief Collection are just a recent example of this. These games released with a ton of issues, but they had enough people that pre-ordered/pre-purchased that the game issues were rectified (pending on Halo: MCC) and free content was awarded to consumers.
Perhaps the problems with the games stemmed from being a game created for new systems, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Far Cry 4 was built on the PC then ported to consoles, a traditional way of development, and Assassin's Creed: Rogue hit the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
Bonus items associated with pre-orders and pre-purchase have the capacity to strong-arm consumers into purchasing games that are sub-par. Bonus items take time to develop, regardless of the fact that each retailer pays for the development of their retailer specific item. Instead of focusing on their task at hand, they are creating, modeling, coding and testing these exclusive items.
Bonus content being created in tandem with the game brings us to the often overpriced DLC. How many times have you seen a game with the slogan "Pre-order now and get day one DLC" written next to it? DLC that is revealed and shown off prior to the games release is not necessary. Why is the content not added in a day one patch for free or why not implement it in the game as you develop it? Not all games have DLC that aren't worth the cost; Mario Kart 8 brought 12 new tracks in DLC – that is half of the amount of maps the game launched with (an example of unnecessary DLC is horse armor in the single-player game Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion). Some games, Assassin's Creed: Unity, require DLC to unlock specific items from the main game. These are items that were already placed in the game at release.
DLC can be a good thing, if it's priced right and offers a substantial amount of content.
Microtransactions are a whole other game all together — the cash grab of the century. It almost feels as though we once had games with enough content to see us through a couple playthroughs, but now items are disappearing and being sold to you one by one. This implementation of buying items with cash in a game can cause friction within gaming communities, multiplayer gaming communities in particular. Pay to win is an on-going issue in multiplayer games. A new form of DLC is physical DLC, Nintendo's Amiibos. The Amiibos work in a number of games, but you have to buy them one at a time and more often than not, they are in limited supply.
There have been cries from gamers to gamers to stop participating in pre-orders and pre-purchasing games. There have been ideas of boycotting developers, many of which don't pan out.
All of these cash grabs in the video game industry can cause the industry's bubble to burst (or maybe it's all a response to the bubble having burst), but if there's one thing I can say for sure… It's getting old.