Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tale of the Tape: Battle of Forli vs. Zombie Island of Dr. Ned, Part 3

Round 3: Value
This is a tough Arbitrarily Selected Criterion to score. Frankly, I don't want to touch the "how do you quantify value?" debate. Is it number of hours played? Geographic scope of the game world? Number of quests or levels to complete? Or some other arcane combination of factors?

The fact that it's DLC we're considering complicates matters. Unlike most full retail releases, there is a highly variable pricing structure for DLC. For any given player, the "value" of a piece of DLC can't be entirely divorced from his/her experience with the core game. So not only is it tricky to judge the DLC on its own merits, we've also got a whole bunch of baggage to sift through as well.

And, of course, any discussion of "value" is always subject to an individual's tolerance for spending money. How much game should I get for $5? For $10? How about even smaller price point increments? You can see how this gets dicey.

All that said: here goes.

I purchased Battle of Forli shortly after it released in January, at its asking price of 320 MS Spacebucks, or $4. Since most playable DLC - not just skins, new weapons, etc. - for AAA titles like Assassin's Creed II is priced at the $7 price point at the very least, I was impressed at what seemed like an outlier. It felt like a solid impulse buy, whereas DLC at a higher price point gave me more pause. The $4 price tag felt just right for a bite-size piece of additional content, which Battle certainly is: less than an hour was more than enough time to complete it. If it didn't add new maps or enemies or quest types, so be it; at $4, that's not really what it's intended to do.

Put another way, if this DLC is about 1 hour long, and ACII is about 10 hours long, I'd expect to pay 10% of the price of the retail game for 10% extra game. Of course, that kind of math falls apart for a game like Mass Effect 2, which one could easily spend 40-50 hours on; the Kasumi's Stolen Memory DLC, at $7, is hardly 10% more ME2, so the value proposition doesn't hold. Besides, we then get into that problem of quantifying what "more game" means based primarily on length, which is a whole other issue.

I waited until a 50% off sale in April to purchase Dr. Ned, when I snagged it for 400 Spacebucks, or $5. Again, an easy impulse buy at this price point. In terms of the above equation, I think I got much more bang for my buck (pun intended) than with Battle. I probably spent a good 5-7 hours in Jakobs Cove, although a good chunk of that was grinding out the interminable "Braaaaaains!" quest. Which I obviously HAD to finish.

At the original price of $10, I'd still judge Dr. Ned a good value, but not just because of its length. As said in my earlier posts, the DLC gives you several new maps and enemy types, and the atmosphere adds some needed variety to the core game. It's clear Dr. Ned was a true add-on to Borderlands, whereas Battle of Forli was explicitly a "deleted scene" from ACII.

That said, I don't know if I would've bought Dr. Ned at $10. For whatever reason, $5 seems to be my cutoff point for DLC. I wonder if that has to do with the $10 per pack I shelled out for all five of the Fallout 3 add-ons. No question those were true expansions, but that game ended up costing me $110 in total. I still haven't finished Mothership Zeta; after 100+ hours in post-nuclear America, I think the luster started to wear off. (Imagine that!) There is such a thing as beating a game into the ground with too much content. Which makes me prematurely regret buying the Awakening expansion for Dragon Age: Origins - especially when I'm not even close to finishing the core game.

But I digress. I'm calling Round 3 here a draw. For all intents and purposes, the price of Dr. Ned was $10, and I just got a good deal. Battle of Forli may not have offered anything new to the ACII experience, but I do think it is closer to what DLC is becoming - a small chunk of game that probably could have been included on the disc, but wasn't, for financial or technical reasons. At $4, I won't complain about that. Bump up that price a few dollars, though, and I get more cautious. And $15? Forget it. With so many amazing (full) games on Steam for $10 or less, asking $15 for DLC on a console is flat-out ridiculous.

In terms of value, once DLC hits that $10 price point, I'm expecting something equivalent to what I can get on Steam: not just a deleted scene that really only appeals to the game's superfans, but a fully-featured module that adds variety to the core game experience and can mostly stand on its own.

Let me stress, however, that I am all about developers getting paid. They work hard to produce quality content, and they deserve to be compensated fairly. I realize that piracy and used games sales cut into publisher revenue, and thus developer paychecks. The expectation that DLC should be free, or cheap as free, is kind of silly, especially if you expect the DLC to meet the criteria in the above paragraph.

Tune in tomorrow for the final verdict - which should be painfully obvious at this point - and more shameless pontificating about DLC, business strategy, and what it all means for consumers.

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