From a horse blanket to an entire industry: digital downloads
Mar 21, 2010, 16:21 GMT
Hamburg - Going to a store to buy a new video or computer game is so yesterday. Nowadays, the computer industry hopes to turn its consumers towards digital content downloads.
Downloading lets buyers and sellers dispense with packaging, printed handbooks and DVDs. Delivery is straight to a computer screen. The buyer gets convenience, the seller gets to tempt customers with an ever-widening range of extras that can be purchased - also via digital download - to broaden and deepen the product.
Download content, or DLC, can come in a variety of formats. Sometimes it's just a question of a few items. Sometimes it involves a whole new chapter for a game.
The first instance of DLC was recorded in 2006 when computer and console gamers were given the chance to buy an extra item for the role-playing game Oblivion. 'It was just a horse blanket,' - a tiny extra to make a digital horse happier - remembers Patrik Schonfeldt of the VDVC (German Association of Video and Computer Gamers).
But DLC really hit its stride in 2009, often in the form of role-playing games offering expansion items. For example, Fallout 3 offered a variety of new missions and landscapes for play.
The final breakthrough came with Dragon Age: Origins, also a role-playing game. In this 2009 bestseller, the publisher urged players to download extra content. Anyone who opened the downloads found two codes, which allowed the player access to a new collection of armaments and a new zone for adventures. This time, it was free.
Why not just put these extras on the original game DVD? There is reason to believe that there is a strong profit motive. But Christian Schmidt, who writes for German gaming magazine GameStar, thinks there might be a little bit more to DLC.
'With Dragon Age, it was also part of a strategy against illegal copying and resale of used versions of the game,' he says. That's because only the original buyer of a game could download the extras for free, copiers and second-hand buyers had no access.
However, a lot of these extras don't come for free. The strategy seems to be to offer a variety of additional content for the most popular games. Individually, the minor costs don't seem too big an investment - usually less than 10 euros (13.75 dollars).
But there's a catch. Some content only adds a little to playtime. And anyone who keeps on buying more and more extras will soon find the bills adding up.
It's still early days for the marketing strategy and publishers are still testing to find out what consumers really want. Schmidt says the mini items haven't worked so well to date. 'For example, people in a role-playing game want to get an entire story.'
The VDVC recently conducted an unscientific poll about DLC on its forums. It showed that 17 per cent of respondents found the ability to get extra content 'super' and 25 per cent thought it was OK so long as price and content maintained a healthy balance. Another 25 per cent was neutral.
But one-third of respondents said that a newly purchased game should come complete without any additions necessary. That highlights a worry in the gaming community: that developers remove content from a game before they market it only to sell it later for extra money.
There are currently no thorough studies on the success of DLC. But manufacturers see some bright spots. Electronic Arts, the publisher of Dragon Age, reported shortly after the game hit markets that it had already made more than 1 million dollars with fees from the sale of extras.