Downloadable Content isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s been a prominent feature in dozens of critically acclaimed titles and big budget series for years now. Love it or leave it, it’s here to stay.
Those who love DLC will bring up the fact that it lets one play new parts of fantastic titles without the purchase of a whole new game, while others feel that it just incentivises developers to leave out aspects they had originally planned to include in order to make a quick buck. One can’t scroll too far down in a DLC conversation before they see the infamous “Mona Lisa comparison”.
Yep. That one.
Look, someone even made a newer one.
It’s easy to see why a large number of people find DLC to be an unattractive trend in the gaming world. After all, they’re only giving us a chunk of the painting. And now we have to pay for the face?! That’s the best part. Those monsters.
While this set up can be the case with many games, there are plenty of developers who simply can’t fit all they wanted into a title at launch or want to add to the world they’ve built after the game’s initial success. It’s kind of a toss up as to which developers are doing it right. Nintendo, way late to the DLC party (big surprise there), has begun to make DLC a common focus in many of their newer titles. Not only that, it seems they’re actually executing it pretty well. Working on and releasing exciting new content long after the initial release.
The Current State
Then you have amiibo, Nintendo’s newest foray into the world of DLC. Each fitted with a near field communication (NFC) chip in their base to unlock content in various Nintendo games.This content is usually something like an extra costume, bonus game mode or special weapon. It’s not anything that’s significant to the gameplay or overall experience of the game. Even the newest Star Fox title for Wii U won’t have any substantial content unlocked by existing or upcoming amiibo.
People see these small bonuses, spread throughout multiple titles, and they cry foul. They don’t think they are getting enough bang for their buck. Especially considering how hard some of the amiibo figures are to find. But do we as gamers want our games to be reliant on DLC, physical or otherwise? Are amiibo taking the right path unlocking minimal content, but still costing the same amount as other figures? Surely there is a better way to give players what they want in this regard.
Long before amiibo, there were Skylanders, NFC figures that came with a “portal” players could use to unlock characters in the titular game. The starter pack came with three different figures, each representing a different element within the title. Elements are key in unlocking various different aspects of the different games, so you would want to have at least one of each. The series was a hit and went on to spawn yearly iterations such as Skylanders Giants, Skylanders SwapForce, and the newly announced Skylanders Supercharged. Each with a new spin to keep gameplay fresh and toys flying off the shelves.
You won’t get very far into any one Skylanders game without purchasing more than the initial starter pack, which itself will set you back roughly $75 at launch. In fact if you wanted to get through all of the most recent Skylanders title, Trap Team, you would need the starter pack, seven individual trap monsters, and six traps. At MSRP this would run you around $225 dollars. Quite a bit more than the average console title, which usually goes for around sixty bones.
The other notable example is the highly successful Disney Infinity series. With its many intellectual properties in tow, Disney has been able to bring dozens upon dozens of well known characters to their games, ranging from classic animated blockbusters to recent Marvel franchises. All figures in the Disney Infinity universe, at least at the moment, work inside the user crafted Toy Box. Meaning you can select any one figure from the enormous cast and play as them in any world you might create or download from the vast library Disney and others have provided.
The real cash-in comes from Disney selling “playsets”, worlds based around specific properties such as Pirate of the Caribbean, Spider-Man and Toy Story. To play in these worlds, which are simply locked on the disc, you must have certain figures. As much as it may pain you, you cannot take Thor into the world of Monsters Inc or Aladdin into into downtown New York to fight frost giants. Once you purchase a playset, which always comes with a figure or two, you can complete and collect the vast majority of what that world has to offer. But with multiple playsets you’re still looking at a few hundred dollars to unlock all of the main content found in the game. And that doesn’t even factor in the *shudder* blind bags that hold Disney Infinity power discs. You’re looking at a huge commitment if you want to keep up.
That is... unless you buy the PC version. After the initial console release of Disney Infinity 2.0 in September the media giant stealthily released their PC and mobile versions. These iterations were strangely incompatible with the actual Infinity figures or playsets themselves. Instead they featured a shop where players could purchase all that Disney Infinity had to offer in a strictly digital manner. The price of each character’s content was cut in half, while play sets fell by ten dollars a pop. One could purchase all three super hero playsets, with a total of six figures, for the same price as the physical starter pack. In fact you can even buy entire sets of characters for deeply discounted prices. Every physical superhero figure - $273 MSRP. Every superhero figure’s content in PC version - $80. An insanely better deal.
Skylanders, Disney Infinity and amiibo all work a bit differently than you average DLC as they tend to work across a spectrum of games in a series. Figures can be activated in new titles and unlock similar content, to a certain extent. Amiibo are the best example of this, as they work across various series and not just games. This is why it’s easy to think of physical DLC as paint brushes and not individual parts of a painting. The vast majority of the painting (game) is already there, but you can finish off the last little bits with the various brushes. Not only this, the brushes work on various pieces of artwork, making them seem more useful in the grand scheme of things.
As you may have gathered physical DLC has the allure of being, well, physical. You can touch it. Display it. Play with it if you’re young or young at heart. To be fair, many people only purchase many of the figures as collector’s items. They look spectacular! Well, most of them do. It’s easy to see why folks want to put them on display and have made them a major focus in the world of game collecting. It’s worth the price tag because of what it represents to the person who bought it. I doubt we’ll see any kind of major price drop when it comes to physical DLC in the future, and that’s because they’re doing a darn good job of selling at their current price.
Obviously millions and millions of gamers have no issue ponying up the dough to buy these figures. With that being said, it is my belief that every single aspect of physical DLC needs to be made available at a lower price as normal digital DLC. Developers need to take a leaf from Disney’s book. Even Disney needs to follow their own line of reasoning in regards to their PC pricing and accessibility when it comes to their console titles. Handling physical DLC may be half the fun, but the actual gameplay advantages are something that many players want access to without having to dish out stacks of cash.
Look at a character pack for the upcoming LEGO Dimensions game. How much would you think this should cost?
Considering LEGO are usually pretty pricey and the average minifigure goes for $3.99, I would wager something like this costing $15 to $20. Even $20 seems like a lot for only 94 bricks and one new level of content. And yet... this pack is going to set you back a solid $30 before taxes when it hit this coming fall. Quite the commitment, especially after dropping $100 on the Dimensions starter pack. To LEGO’s credit they are the first company to provide a form of physical DLC (at least as far as I can tell) that can easily be transitioned into an existing and completely articulable collection. Still, it’d be nice to pay half or a third of the level pack price to simply get my McFly on without springing for the actual set.
In the End
It may take some of the draw away from figures themselves, but selling physical DLC content in-game for a lower price while still giving consumers the option of a toy counterpart would satisfy almost everyone. Collectors could collect, kids could play with toys, and gamers who want content (especially tied to hard-to-find figures) will get to play parts of the games they may have missed otherwise.
It’s a “best of both worlds” scenario that I certainly hope will catch on, but may not provide enough incentive for developers in the grand scheme of things. Here’s hoping that someday they’ll give their customers a choice. Until then I guess we’ll have to keep hunting and convincing ourselves that it’s all worth it in the end.
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Follow the author of this post on Twitter @SuperBentendo. When he’s not waiting in line to preorder amiibo, GBD likes to spend time playing Donkey Kong Country and petting his dog.