The Fight Over DLC In Fighting Games

Downloadable content in fighting games has historically been a superfluous service, generally restricted to cosmetic changes like additional character costumes or colors.  That’s why, when Arc System Works announced they were going to release meaningful DLC to increase the lifespan of their latest fighter (BlazBlue: Continuum Shift), I was pretty excited.  However, not all is gumdrops and chocolate fountains here, as the first downloadable character dropped this week and spurred a fair amount of backlash.

I understand the complaints: 8 dollars seems a bit steep for a single character when there is no single-player material to go along with it, the character in question wears clothes so comically skimpy that it smacks of a cheap “sex sells” marketing ploy, and the character becoming available so soon after the game’s release raises concerns about ArcSys withholding content to make a quick buck.  These are valid concerns, and I too was disappointed in the lack of single-player integration for the new character.  The timeframe for the character’s release is a bit questionable, but I think it makes sense – there’s a good amount of time after a game goes gold that this development could have fit in, especially with localization.  Though the purchase is for an unlock, the character was included in a patch and was not on the original disc – an important distinction.  As for the prurient marketing ploy, well… it’s hard to argue with that.

Seriously, this is fan service bordering on self-parody.

That said, I still support the direction ArcSys is going with their new DLC.  How can I say that?  Well, perhaps it’s a matter of perspective.  8 dollars seems like a lot in this instance, yes, but if you were to purchase all 3 downloadable characters, you’ll still have only spent $64 on the game – barely breaking the usual retail price of a new title.  When combined with balance patches that are still purportedly free, this constitutes the main body of changes that would go into a subsequent installment of a normal fighting franchise.  $64 is going to be lower than whatever you pay for two separate games a year apart, which is the alternative that ArcSys is breaking away from with this DLC.  Casual fans can just pay $40 for the basic game, and they won’t have to worry about having an outdated model in a year.

Hell, even if you decided not to pay for any downloadable content, you can still play against these characters online – a point I haven’t really seen mentioned.  It’s actually a pretty nice deal: if you see a character you have no interest in playing as, you don’t have to buy him, but you can still face off against people online who use him.  In this case the downloadable character just becomes free DLC.  From your standpoint, it’s as though you bought the character – you wouldn’t have played as him anyway, just against him.  The only downsides to this are that your friends can’t use the character if you play local games, and there’s no real way to get a feel for any given character to see if you’d want to play as them (outside of playing against them or watching videos online, which gives you some idea but not the full picture).
There is plenty of other DLC for the game that’s more clearly a cash grab: additional colors, different announcer voices, even pay-to-unlock-stuff-that’s-already-in-the-game options.  It obviously makes them money because they keep doing it, but hey, you don’t have to buy that silly stuff if you don’t want to.  I think it’s important to draw a line between these cosmetic downloadables and the more substantial content already mentioned.  The former are questionable, but the latter signify a welcome change in how fighting game series are run.  When the alternatives are a new game every year or maybe even (god forbid) a subscription-based program, I’ll take this DLC model every time.

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  • I think DLC in fighting games are very tricky to pull of and be widely accepted. I would definitely go for it in a game I’m excited for, like MvC3 and the new MK games coming next year. As long as they bring something refreshing, why the hell not?