Too Little, Too Late: The Dark Side of DLC

The ability to download new content and patches to games has fundamentally changed the console gaming market over the last few years. New multiplayer maps, game modes, expansion packs, and even Oblivion’s horse armor have managed to eat a new hole in gamers’ pockets. For the most part, expanding games through downloads seems to be a very positive thing; if you don’t want something, you don’t have to buy it. Enthusiastic gamers get what they want, and developers still get compensated for their additional hard work.

However, as great as DLC may seem, it has a dark side.

In certain instances, it seems developers don’t put in the level of hard work necessary to produce a great game before its scheduled release. Next thing you know, you’re playing Alone in the Dark, all the while trying to resist the urge to yell at your Xbox for not pausing the game while you equip new items from your trench coat. Sound familiar? How about not being able to unlock certain armor in Halo 3 for a month? Or having Ninja Gaiden 2 freeze on you during cutscenes for no apparent reason? And let’s not forget about Bully: Scholarship Edition, which was dogged with technical issues for months.

Alone in the Dark

And the issue doesn’t stop at consoles. Recent iPhone games have been particularly notorious for being broken. If you’ve managed to get every banana in Monkey Ball, then congratulations; those seven years of medical training to become a surgeon have paid off. How many of you have managed to play through Aurora Feint without a single graphical bug or low memory warning? None? Didn’t think so.

This brings us then to our big question: why do developers put out buggy, unpolished games into the market? Developers like Bethesda, Ubisoft, and BioWare are known for taking their time and publishing games that are complete. There’s a reason you haven’t heard about Splinter Cell: Conviction in two years; it’s being taken back to square one. Rather than try to rush a broken game out the door and reap the potential profits from suckers like you and I, they’re taking their time and doing it right.

But it seems that far too often these days, developers are taking the “sell it now, patch it later” approach to making games. Alone in the Dark, for example, is planning to patch in new camera controls, a better inventory system, and new driving mechanics. This is great news for everyone who bought the game, but why on Earth would Atari wait until AFTER the game has gained such a poor reputation to fix it?

Just today news came out that the Xbox 360 version of The Incredible Hulk would be getting a 2-person multiplayer mode. Why now? Why not develop a game that’s feature complete upon release? Surely developers realize the influence that enthusiast press reviews and Metacritic ratings have on gamers. Why not take advantage of that?

Last week both Aurora Feint and Monkey Ball were updated; Monkey Ball now has features that should have been included at launch time. Aurora Feint, meanwhile, seems to finally be stable, but blocks still freeze and many have reported losing game saves from previous versions. Again, I have to ask: why now? Granted, Aurora Feint is free, and Monkey Ball is the best-selling iPhone game; but how many gamers decided to forgo the $10 download after reading about it’s difficulty?

Some may argue that DLC is great because it allows developers to fix problems; others, like me, see it as a curse for exactly the same reason. Developers should get things right on the first try; for our sake and theirs.

So readers, how much do we REALLY love the effects of DLC?

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  • Jason Citron

    I'm one of the developers on Aurora Feint. I thought I'd chime in to give an "inside" perspective. I'm not trying to defend our bugs or anything of the sort. When I heard people were having account issues after we released the new update, I lost sleep trying to figure out what went wrong. You can imagine, as a start up with only two developers, we don't have the luxury to spend a year working on our game to make it as polished as you might expect. I'm honored that we were paired in the same sentence as Monkey Ball — but don't confuse us for them. We don't have anything like the capitol resources that Sega does to produce its games. Aurora Feint is indie development to its core. We just hope that people will recognize this and give us a little slack around the corners when we slip up. Thanks for playing our game though! Feel free to shoot me an e-mail if you want to chat more.

  • Silverthorne

    It really is quite interesting to hear some inside perspective from one of the developers himself. The size of your development team makes the quality of the game you've created that much more impressive. I have to say, I'm glad to hear some feedback; Aurora Feint is really fun, and ridiculously addictive. Imagine then my dismay when, upon updating, my Enlightened Level 4 suddenly turned into a Journeyman Level 0. I considered briefly quitting for good, but it speaks volumes for your game that I just bit the bullet and started over. This latest update was fantastic for the Aurora Feint; aside from the account problem I've only experienced one in-game issue with this version (frozen blocks.) I've stated before that Aurora Feint IS the best game for iPhone; and its pricetag (free) is a big factor in that. (I have to admit that even if the game were $10, I would happily pay.) Other writers and hosts here at Platform Nation also love the game, and I know of several individuals from much, much bigger enthusiast sites who can't stop talking about it. I only question bug issues with the game because I already hold it in such high regards. I also understand that issues arise among consumers that developers and beta testers may never encounter. For instances like that, I am quite thankful that a means of patching games actually exists. Keep up the good work, and tell Danielle to do the same; the game gets better with each version. As a note to readers, I encourage you to make a PayPal donation to support the Aurora Feint development team so that they can keep working on improving the game experience. You can make a donation to Danielle Cassley's email, which can be found on her profile in the Aurora Feint forums.

  • Kosamus

    DLC will be up for much discussion till the internet dies, which is not going to happen unless that Terminator prophecy comes true. Give me more Knights of the Nine DLC and less horse armor. I personally am sick and tired of getting the whole PC patch route fixed upon my console gaming. I am tired of games getting rushed because of the season, movie tie-ins, sudden employment releases, and the dreaded we'll fix it later approach. I know every bug can't be found before release but how to you release games like The Orange Box, The Darkness and Mr. Driller with so many bugs that playing online is almost impossible. Some bugs can be ignored and dealt with till a patch eventually comes around 3-6 months later mark when everyone has picked up the next big hype and forgotten about (ex: Team Fortress II). When I want to play a game the way it was intended; I want to on launch day – not next quarter.

  • LC

    I see it as price gouging, an under handed market gimmick that makes gamers feel like they have to buy content to get the full experience… but wait, didn't I just pay $60 for your game? how about some customer appreciation?