Editorial / Have EA changed DLC forever?

In Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 EA have made it entirely possible for players to earn all of the downloadable courses through an in-game system of coins, saving them anywhere up to £27.20. So does this mean that players will no longer have to shell out for paid DLC, or is this an otherwise broken system? In this article I’ll be looking at how EA and other publishers may implement this system in the future, and what that means for the industry overall.

Warning: this article contains basic mathematics!

New swinging mechanics aren’t the only new addition to Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13.

Each course in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 has a list of objectives such as successfully paring the round, successfully sinking a 10ft putt or completing the round in 42 putts or less. Completing the entire list earns the player bronze, silver and eventually gold mastery in that course. If a player can earn gold mastery in a DLC course that player is then entitled to download that course entirely free of charge.

However, in order to play the downloadable courses the player must use the in-game currency, coins, to purchase individual rounds of the course. As coins are earned across all game modes and courses, the more rounds you play and the better you perform, the more coins you receive. The problem is that the lowest pack you can purchase is 4,000 coins, and a complete round of 18 holes takes about half an hour and earns around 600 coins. Therefore one 4,000 pack will take the average player seven rounds, or three and a half hours to earn. As some objectives require you to get 100 pars or better, that means you have to buy at least six rounds at 4,000 coins each. That’s 24,000 coins, which equate to 42 rounds, or 21 hours of work for one course, and that’s if you’re a competent player!

When the additional courses came to the Xbox Live Marketplace, players could buy all eleven for 3200 points, in packs of five and six for 1600 and 1920 points respectively, or individually for 400 points each. That equates to £27.20 for all eleven, £13.60 for the pack of five and £15.72 for the pack of six. If you bought the game at launch for £40 then you’re paying an additional 68% for the additional courses not included on the disc. On the PlayStation Network there is currently no way to directly purchase the courses themselves; only bundles of coins can be purchased. Using the same math as above, it costs 24,000 coins to unlock one course, which is 264,000 coins for all eleven, not including the ridiculous 462 rounds and 231 hours (9.6 days!) that it would take to unlock all the courses. A bundle of 280,000 coins costs £47.99 on the PlayStation Store, a whopping 120% of the retail disc! Regardless of my views on launch day downloadable content, EA should be offering both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 the same purchasing options. At present, PlayStation 3 users are being asked to pay an additional £20.80 over Xbox 360 users and penalised even further by having to unlock the content in game.

Some of the requirements for Bronze Mastery in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13.

Whilst I generally don’t find launch day DLC to be detrimental to the industry I have to admit I was unhappy with how Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters handled downloadable courses. When I was confronted with the option of either skipping events or purchasing additional courses I took one look at the prices and haven’t been back to the career mode since. I’m a firm believer of DLC as long as it comes at a reasonable price and supplements the original content without punishing those who choose not to purchase it. When EA started building DLC into their main career modes it truly worried me as I thought other publishers would follow suit. Whilst you could argue Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 breaks the mold with its innovative new methods of obtaining paid DLC for free, I would say that only gamers who play one or two titles consistently across the year would benefit from this model, as the steep cost/reward ratio EA have established does not lend itself well to gamers who play the majority of a year’s titles. It’s been roughly 5 years since the PS3 launched in the UK, and since then I have bought 104 games excluding digital purchases. There is no way I could ever afford to invest the same amount of time that EA expect Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 players, (9.6 days), into over 20 titles a year whilst holding down a full time job.

If other publishers choose to adopt a similar mechanic they must be careful not to put players who do not either earn, or purchase additional content. Any content that is multiplayer centric and puts players at a distinct advantage over others risks both a disgruntled regular player base leaving and the gameplay elements becoming unbalanced and broken. Below are a number of ways that I believe genres could implement similar models in a way that rewards players who invest in a particular title, without punishing those who don’t.

Dynamically updated squads could make your favorite team unpredictable.

Sports titles such as FIFA could adapt the experience system found in FIFA 12 to reward long time players with dynamic updated squads. If players are on a hot streak in real life then future FIFA titles could represent this with constantly updating stats. This could also apply to the January transfer window, allowing players to use the squads from the start of the season, or the updated January squad in both online and offline play. Additional customisation options such as newly released boots and classic teams and players could act as potential unlocks for dedicated fans.

Hopefully Activision wont make weapons DLC in Call of Duty 9.

Shooters such as Call of Duty and Battlefield are much trickier to adapt. Granting players with additional weapons, kill streaks or health for multiplayer places players who do not buy or earn these bonuses at a disadvantage. Because players that are most likely to have these bonuses unlocked will already be significantly better than those that have not, the bonuses are adding to the problems new players face when jumping into a new multiplayer experience. Aside from unlocking multiplayer skins for avatars and weapons that show superiority, perhaps the only significant unlockable content would be additional co-op missions which have already been included in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 DLC packs.

Action/Adventure titles such as Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception could also implement unique weapons or grenade and ammo packs for both single- and multiplayer elements but face the same imbalance options as the shooters discussed above. Perhaps instead of unlocking all new content, these games could offer discounts for traditional DLC packs to players who log a significant number of hours in their multiplayer suites. In racing titles such as Need for Speed, companies could make it possible for dedicated players to earn additional vehicles and modification options such as decals and body kits outside of the traditional systems and DLC packs already available. As vehicles in racing games are generally put into classes, additional vehicles wouldn’t actually break the game as long as they aren’t significantly better than their class counterparts.

Music and Rhythm games… How are the mighty fallen?

Unfortunately for fans of the Rhythm/Music genre, very few titles are currently in development and additional content for Guitar Hero and Rock Band is beginning to dry up. Unfortunately for me, it’s probably titles such as these that best suit EA’s new DLC model. Adopting a similar coin or token system, players could use these points to purchase additional songs and avatar customisation options. The more songs you play, and the higher score or leader board position you obtain, the more points you would earn; with point multipliers for playing with others, (promoting group play), whether it be online or otherwise. Not only does this reward players for getting better at new skills, but it also helps soften the blow for having to shell out on expensive peripherals, only to spend more money on additional songs.

Would a chance to see the 2012 Euros first hand keep you playing FIFA?

Companies could use this new DLC model to reward players with real world items. The upcoming EUFA EURO 2012 expansion for FIFA 12 offers a unique opportunity to reward tickets to its real life counterpart. Players could be entered into a lottery for tickets simply by downloading and playing the content, with chances of winning scaling with how many games you play. Online tournaments could provide guaranteed tickets for the very best of players, rewarding skill with tangible, desirable rewards. This model could be applied to other games such as winning tickets to the Masters in Tiger Woods PGA 13, the Super Bowl through Madden 13, or even winning concert tickets in Rock Band. These much coveted items could encourage players to continue playing a title far beyond when they would have usually stopped playing, or may even sway players from one franchise to another. With EA poised to release NBA Live 2013 this fall, could EA convince gamers to buy it over NBA 2K13 with the chance to win tickets to their local team?

Where the hell are you?!

Instead of physical items, companies could offer digital downloadable content to complement their titles. Square Enix proved themselves more than capable of creating quality animated films when they released Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children back in 2005. If Final Fantasy Versus XIII ever sees the light of day Square Enix could promise a digital copy of an accompanying film to every player who completes the main story. Chances are this wouldn’t significantly harm physical sales of the film as those who appreciate quality would likely pick up the Blu-ray version of the film regardless, whilst a digital copy would cost Square Enix very little as there would be no postage or packaging cost.

Remember me when BioWare announce their ‘Retake Omega’ DLC pack!

In my previous editorial Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut & Beyond, I proposed that one of BioWare’s additional DLC packs would focus on Aria and Shepard retaking Omega. BioWare and Dark Horse Comics released Mass Effect: Invasion, a four part miniseries that explores the back story of Aria T’Loak losing Omega to Cerberus back in 2011. BioWare could reward players who purchase and complete ‘Retake Omega’ or play a set amount of multiplayer in the weeks leading up to the release with digital downloads of the comics themselves. Promotions such as these could revitalise the multiplayer portions of games, which in BioWare’s case could lead to additional funds through a sudden boom in the number of multiplayer packs being bought.

My biggest concern when looking to the future of downloadable content is that developers and publishers will continue to focus more and more on post launch and day one launch DLC, with gamers getting less and less for their money. This in turn means that we as gamers will have to invest more time and money games to unlock content that was once included at retail. In defense of publishers and developers alike, games are becoming more and more expensive to make; I wonder though, would gamers who opt towards buying most of the DLC for games prefer to pay an additional charge at launch and receive all of the post-launch content, or would the majority of gamers support a universal £5-10 price increase and receive more content on disc?

Taking the Tiger Woods series as an example, I’m curious to see if future games will choose to integrate locked, downloadable content into their main career modes, and whether gamers will accept, or revolt against EA’s new model. With EA holding such a significant portion of the gaming world in the palm of their hands, will other publishers bend the knee and adopt their model?

What’s that saying again? It’s good to be the king.