So game companies have a problem. They have 2 revenue streams and one of them doesn’t work very well on consoles and the other doesn’t work well on PC. First, is the box sale in the store. This is great for consoles as it doesn’t take up much shelf space but a month or two after launch, good luck finding the copy if the game isn’t a blockbuster. They have a relatively small window in which to sell their game and make a profit (after the reseller takes a 15% cut). The second option is the online store, which is great for PC players. You can find a game whenever you want, sales are easy to access and there are infinite copies. Resellers make a cut as well but since every game is a new game, it works well for the developers.
The issue is in resales. You won’t find too many resales of PC games (maybe a lot of pirating though honestly, Steam is much easier than pirating) but you will find hundreds of resales of console games. A resale goes 100% to the reseller. Let’s take Assassin’s Creed as an example. The game is good but the multiplayer sucks so people play it and sell it back to the reseller to finance their next purchase. Player 2 buys the used copy 2 months after release for 1/4 the price and the developer doesn’t see a penny. These are 2 distinct sales yet only one counts.
Compare that to movies with multiple revenue streams. The cinema, rentals, tv distribution, netflix and hard copy purchases are all available before the used market. Pirating is a larger issue for them then used movie resales and good luck trying to find a new movie for more than 25$. Games start at 60$.
So, game companies sell an overpriced (judged by the consumer) piece of software that drops in value the instant it’s purchased and can be acquired in 2-3 months for half or less of the initial cost. Developers then said, “hey, let’s make money long term”. DLC came out where you could by expansion packs (like on the PC) for a nominal fee and extend the life of the game. League of Legends is wholely based on this with DLC packs for skins. Cool.
Next they said “maybe we can make new game purchases better”. They added codes to new boxes that enabled multiplayer or gave free DLC. If you had a used game you could buy them from the developers for a small cost. Nothing too big and I understand it though the cost of this type of DLC/code is up for debate. In many cases it’s next to impossible to get a new version of a game in the first place and others, it’s a much better deal to buy the game at 15$ and pay the 10$ fee to get the new game items. Heck, sometimes it’s not worth it at all.
Finally we get the nexus of the two – the collector’s edition. There was a time when this meant you had maps, books, music and a bunch of non-game stuff. That was awesome. EA started pushing a change with in-game bonuses (pets, equipment, quests) in their games and simply saying “free day 1 DLC for new games”. Day 1 DLC means it is part of the game and they split it off. If you are not getting the DLC, then you are not getting the game. I can’t remember the game off the top of my head but they had this in a MMO FPS game a few years ago and people went crazy over the imbalance.
Now we have Mass Effect 3 where the day 1 DLC includes a Prothean as a playable character (as well as guns and skins). Protheans are the central people in the Mass Effect universe and if you don’t have the collector’s edition you can buy this DLC for 10$. The collector’s edition costs 20$ more and comes with: 70 page digital art, lithograph, pet, skins and this DLC package. In past games, just buying a new game normally would get you normal content (which this DLC is). Now they are breaking up games to sell them to you in chunks to be sure to make as much money as possible.
So what does this all mean? To me it means I now have to vote with my cash. I really want to play Mass Effect 3, I mean really want to. I won’t though. I’ll wait a while, see if I can get the game from another reseller than Origin and get it all on sale. The whole Origin debate is for another time but there is no way in hell I am putting an avowed root kit software on my computer.
If devs want to make money on each game sale, then day 1 unlocks is the way to go. Day 1 DLCs are not. Eventually, games will be streamed to consoles/pcs and require an account link to play – just like MMOs. A few more years though.