Disc-Locked Content: The New DLC - footthumb Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Disc-Locked Content: The New DLC

I need to start this off by saying that I really don't know whether or not this has always been going on or not. I have to assume since there weren't any instances of companies being exposed for doing this in the past, that it more than likely wasn't happening. But I simply don't know. What I do know however, is that it's definitely starting to happen now. So apparently this is the way DLC works nowadays. Instead of the acronym DLC meaning downloadable content, it now stands for Disc-Locked Content. What that means for us, the gaming public, is that videogames that used to cost $65, may very well start to cost $100+. This is the absolute worst case scenario, but you should be aware that it is not illegal in anyway for them to do this. They are free to charge whatever they like for their product, and distribute it in any manner they wish. While pretty much every gamer in the world considers this to be sneaky, shady, and underhanded, it doesn't change the fact that it isn't illegal in any manner, shape or form. So what's the problem then? The future.

The most recent case of Disc-Locked Content is Capcom's game Street Fighter X Tekken. A couple of upstanding whistleblowers more commonly referred to as hackers dug into the disc and found I believe 12 or so characters already included, but locked, on the originally released game. They proceeded to do what hackers do and unlocked the characters and were able to play with them online. Why they would want to expose their hacking online is beyond comprehension, but they recorded this on YouTube and it's since made it's way to the gaming media. Now before this little debacle Mass Effect 3 was called out for including a character on their disc. The difference of course is that ME3's character wasn't able to be used, even if you were a good enough hacker to unlock him. So their included content wasn't finished. It was merely something they included that would be utilized in future Dowloadable Content. A way to save them time and make their future content easier to either program or distribute, whatever the reason was. Capcom however has fully playable characters locked on the originally released disc. This is the real problem. When a company builds a game wholly and completely and then proceeds to lock out portions of that finished game so that they can make $20 extra a pop when they decide to let you unlock those pieces; that's when we're being bamboozled (I always wanted to use that word). 

I am all for companies making money, maintaining profitability or whatever else it is that they need to do to remain in business; within reason. What I am not for though is deceiving people. No one told any of us that the game was changing. There was no press release, no announcement, and no warning. The way business was done yesterday and the day before just suddenly and completely flipped, and we were expected to simply just roll with the punches. We were under the impression that the already hated $65 price tag got us a full game. No one liked paying $65 for a game, but we did it because we enjoyed the experiences that they provided, and this was our #1 source of entertainment. We were, however, under the impression that that $65 was forked over in exchange for a whole and complete gaming experience. We were also under the impression that the downloadable content was extra content created in addition to that $65 game, which more often than not cost us somewhere in the ballpark of $20. Was this a reasonable assumption? Well if you consider that this is how business has been conducted since the inception of downloadable content, than yes I suppose you can call it reasonable. If I go to work everyday, put in my 10 hours and get a paycheck at the end of the week, is it not reasonable to assume that if I show up everyday and put in my 10 hours that I'll be receiving a paycheck next week? I'm pretty sure it is. That's just the way business works. You do the job, you get paid. Now. When we're talking about business as usual from a consumer's point of view, I'd say that it is equally reasonable to assume that if a company has been doing business a certain way for X amount of years, that that's the way they are going to continue to do business, unless we're otherwise informed. When prices go up at the pump you are informed. When prices go up pretty much anywhere in this country, you are informed. But apparently, when the price has just gone up for that disc you bought, they felt that the consumer didn't need to know. And make no mistake, the price did go up. Yes, you can still buy that disc for $65, pop it in and play. But you can't play it all can you? You used to be able to. Which means that whole disc and all the content on it used to cost $65. Now if you can't use all the content on that disc, if you have to fork over $20 here and $20 there to unlock all of that content on the disc, you tell me, did the price just go up for that disc? This may not be illegal, but it certainly has some ethical ramifications.

And that is what frightens me the most here. Companies are free to distribute their content in any manner they wish. If they decide that they no longer wish to give you a 12 hour campaign, but instead decide you are only going to get 8 hours of that campaign, and you'll have to pay for the other 4; they can absolutely do whatever they want. Is it my right as a consumer to be informed of price changes? I thought it was, but this skirts that issue in a very ingenius way. Instead of changing the price of their disc to say $105, they instead cut their content into pieces, charge you that same annoying $65 up front and partition the game off so that you have to pay that extra $20 here and $20 there if you want to 'unlock' the whole game. Is this what is happening? Absolutely not. Yet. But if they keep shaving a little here and a little there, then we could very well find out where this slippery slope leads. Because we're talking about money here. And if there's one constant in business it's that companies will always follow the money, regardless of where it takes them. And yes, of course you are not in any way being forced to purchase that 'extra' $20 and $20 to unlock that supposed 'extra' content, but if you don't think you're getting shafted here, you just drank the kool-aid sucker, please enjoy your stay at Jonestown.

As it stands, Capcom probably didn't do anything too wrong here. If the game has the same amount of playable characters as it did before, then it's technically not that shady. But in the digital realm, DVD's and/or Blu-Ray's only have a certain amount of space in which to put data. So if they've added X, Y, Z extra content on to the disc, where did they take it from? Obviously this is just a purely speculative assumption because they could very well have saved that space in any number of ways that may or may not have interfered with original game content; but it's worth at least mentioning. If you are now going to start adding this extra Disc-Locked Content onto your game discs, from where are you taking that space? It has to come from somewhere. So you've either developed a new space saving programming technique or you are shorting your content to leave room for this Disc-Locked Content. This of course would be the lesser of the two evils. I'd much rather get a whole and complete game, even if they cut some corners here and there for space's sake, than have my game actually partitioned and sold to me in pieces. What's the difference? Not a whole lot. Either way you look at it, the games we used to get would be diminished in one way or another. 

I like to believe that I maintain a healthy balance of pessimism and optimism, so I usually try my best not to assume that every company is inherently evil. I'm willing to give Capcom the benefit of the doubt here, assuming of course that the game came with the same amount of playable characters and or boards that it did last time around. They could very well just be saving themselves the time it would have taken to ship all this stuff and make it work in-game. In other words, they might have just been making things easier on themselves, and more than likely, us. We all know that developers are usually working on, at the very least, their first round of downloadable content while they are developing the actual game. So for them to cut some corners and add some of that infrastructure on the originally shipped game disc, wouldn't exactly be the worst thing in the world. I for one wish that Borderlands would've built some of their DLC into their release because those freaking DLC add-ons were a gig+. If companies want to save both themselves and us time by including some of these pieces into the original game, then so be it. Who's really going to complain about smaller DLC sizes and being able to get your content quicker and easier? But I don't think that is what the problem really is here. The real dilemma is that this is trending towards unreasonable. What starts as infrastructure has now moved on to full Disc-Locked Content. If it moves any more in the direction that it is currently headed, we're talking about partitioned games, and price tags in the $100+ range. It's not necessarily what it is now that makes me so upset, it's what the natural progression of this leads to: shorter games, partitioned experiences, higher costs, and an overall diminished gaming experience. I hope that I'm wrong, I really do. I hope that I'm just being overly pessimistic about corporate America, and greed, and all the other things that I have a natural tendency to distrust. Hopefully I will be playing tomorrow what I am today, because there is nothing quite like a full videogame experience. But it really is starting to look like Disc-Locked Content is the new DLC.

 

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