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The Value of a Dollar

posted on February 25th, 2009 by christian

I have discussed the dilemmas of downloadable content frequently in the past, and each new piece of news gives us more to chew on. Soon we will be seeing the very first DLC for Tomb Raider: Underworld. You know, the content that was meant for the original game, but eventually wasn’t. We may never know if someone put a gun to Eric Lindstrom’s head in order to change his story, but we’re here to discuss value.

This joystiq newscontains a quote from Crystal Dynamics claiming each piece of DLC will take between three to six hours to complete. Scroll down further and you will see that a few commenters simply won’t fork over the 800 MS points for it. Since then, joystiq’s more recent review of the level clocks in at around an hour and a half.

We have a few observations here. First, is an hour and a half of entertainment worth ten bucks? I would say it depends greatly on the quality. Many of us have probably walked out of a movie theater after paying that much for a bad flick. On the other hand, I paid that much for Flower, which gave exactly that much play time, and don’t regret it one bit. When you’re dealing with under two hours of fun for this price, the quality is paramount, period.

Second, the original joystiq comments were made by users assuming that the length was at the claimed three hours or more (well, one was not, I guess he’s clever). They still don’t seem to be happy with this deal. As much as it disappoints me to hear that Crystal Dynamics may have made something at half their estimate, it is just as bad to see how hesitant gamers are becoming. Here are a few options for entertainment I have at my disposal:

Movie – ten bucks, with an hour and a half to three hours of entertainment.

Casual meal at a pub – ten bucks, assuming you don’t buy a drink. About an hour and a half, +/- 30 minutes depending on service.

Drinks at the bar – ten bucks, hour to three hours of entertainment, depending on where I go.

Movie/Game rental, brick and mortar store – 5/9 bucks, variable amount of hours.

At its worst time estimate, the aforementioned DLC isn’t grossly out of bounds relative to other options. While I would consider $10/3 hours a sweet spot, this still isn’t enough for many gamers. I wonder what exactly would make them happy. Four hours? Five? Six? At that point you have a $60 title.

For now, the lesson is clear. The industry is still trying to screw us over, and even when (or if) they are not, their customers expect the kind of value that can only be found in a paperback (and these kids don’t even read!).

Who is in the wrong here, if anyone? And what has to give?

4 Comments

  1. AK said on February 25, 2009:

    I’m not sure how other people feel about it, but I haven’t been happy with what I can buy for $10 for a while. That includes non-gaming forms of entertainment. We haven’t gone to a theater to see a movie for over a year, because it’s cheaper, easier, and more relaxing to wait for the DVD to come out and watch it in the convenience of our home. You mentioned $10 at a bar — but like movies, I prefer $10 of alcohol at home, I get a lot more Guinness that way and I don’t have to put up with idiots (even if they are occasionally entertaining).

    With games, network content is not discounted enough considering there is no hard copy for backup, the time spent downloading, and that I am already paying for the broadband used to distribute the content. Likewise, when I spend $60 on a game I am not happy with downloading updates and content that should have been included with my original purchase. If I’ve got to pay for a downloaded, transient, and short-term gaming experience I expect it to be much less than $10. But that’s not going to happen. If anything, the prices for network content are going to go up and not down.

    Of course, I’m rambling against the inevitable. Companies have been trying to figure out how to make everything a “rental” for years, with a pay-as-you-use model and no intrinsic consumer/user ownership of software or content. With every young person that joins the consumer masses, that model has gained greater acceptance.

    I don’t see this trend changing to our benefit. At the rate things are progressing, most physical media distribution will be gone in 5-10 years. When that happens there will be nothing to keep companies from charging whatever they want for online content, because there will be no competing distribution model to offer better value. Those who wish for the demise of physical media should be careful what they wish for.

  2. christian said on February 26, 2009:

    AK, thanks for a great post. As a person with a sleeping disorder (and thus does not like late nights), I know as well as anyone the joys of buying liquor to enjoy at home. You are correct that ten bucks does not go as far as it used to, and the problem with companies charging what they please in an all DLC future is a subject I have touched upon. All in all, I am much more against the content distributors than the gamers, but I am still appalled by how cheap our community can be, and I’m not about to excuse it all the time, especially when it can be just as damaging.

    Put it this way – I’ve calmed down a lot about the developments in our hobby. But when I see people that refuse to buy something like Bionic Commando Rearmed, Rez HD, or Flower because it costs as much as a night at the movies, it is very hard to constrain myself.

  3. GJ said on February 26, 2009:

    Replayability and persistence of content is a big issue too. A song off itunes is a buck, for 3-4 minutes of aural pleasure. I may replay the song 20-100 times though. Same goes for (you knew this was coming) Rock Band DLC.

    Personally I think episodic content is not really the best investment for developers. It’s rare that they can provide the experience that gamers want for the right price– and if they do too much episodic content, they might as well just make an MMO, or a new game.

    Map packs and the like (although I struggle to think of what else is like map packs) make more sense, because you can play them over and over again.

  4. christian said on February 26, 2009:

    But this isn’t episodic content – this is just extra missions and, in many cases, the finale, wrapped up as DLC. Most episodic content (okay, so Telltale Games’ episodic content) is five hours long and can be gotten through cheaper means through package deals or Gametap. I still think that is a viable model, as long as you plan out your full season of episodes and get them out in a timely manner.

    I think these mission packs, however, need some ironing out to do. They aren’t full fledged games, and they aren’t replayable map packs. I think the replayability certainly is a main concern.

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