The Creative Assembly's Total War: Rome II is set to receive a paid downloadable content pack that contains added gore, but when is it okay to charge for content like this and not just give it out as part of the game?
There used to be a time when games were released on a disc, and the release date was final. Companies would have to get it right, because their reputations were on the line, so all the content had to be finished and packed nicely on the disc (or discs) before we'd get our grubby hands on it.
Then came the age of digital distribution, and for all its merits and benefits, it has given publishers a huge "get out of jail free" card in the form of day-one patches, and other insidious forms of quality-lowering.
Of course, this is not a day-one patch, but my point relates to the very core concept of what DLC is. Let's face it, The Creative Assembly's previous game, Shogun 2, had lots of DLC. It even had its own gore DLC. This just establishes a poor track record by Sega and The Creative Assembly, and not only are we being provided gore as DLC again, but this time it's at twice the price of the previous game's gore DLC.
Speaking to Eurogamer, The Creative Assembly were asked why they were charging for such a simple piece of DLC and one that should arguably have been included in the base game. I applaud them for responding to questioning on this, as communication certainly helps, but their answer was less than ideal.
Brand Director Rob Bartholomew stated, "Like the popular Blood Pack for Shogun 2, it is additional content that is not part of the main game."
Let's just think about that for a moment. Really? You buy a full-price, triple-A title, and yet you need to pay extra to see blood effects on the screen.
He went on, "As the main game is rated for a teen or 16 audience, and we don't want to raise that requirement for a lot of our fans who are that age, Blood & Gore has always been intended to be a separate additional product and is age rated appropriately."
This is more reasonable. I understand the need to keep the audience as wide as possible. The next question is, supposing that the idea was to include the gore content for free, but this was impossible due to the age restrictions on it, why The Creative Assembly didn't just release the gore pack as free DLC. The answer might lie in the fact that age verification is needed to purchase DLC, but not acquire it for free. In other words, charging for DLC might be necessary in order to verify that this is an adult gamer. I cannot confirm this, but it seems plausible.
Even granted all of the above, there is nothing I can find that will answer this one question: why did The Creative Assembly not release the gore DLC pack as a nominally-priced purchase, for 29p, for example? The only reason I can see for charging as much as £2 is that this is an attempt to generate further revenue for the game, and this doesn't sit particularly well.
Remember those launch issues? There were so many launch issues. Why is this company being permitted to release further paid DLC for a game with so many issues? One possible explanation is that the creative team (animators, artists, etc) are not involved in fixing game-breaking bugs, so their time isn't being occupied. Whatever the case here, it's not good for the public image of The Creative Assembly to be releasing paid DLC until their game is justifiably fully functional in the eyes of those who paid full price for it.
There's one other argument that comes into the mix here, and it's one of irrelevance. How many people will voluntarily pay £2 for a gore DLC? It's not going to be 100% of Total War: Rome II owners. It's certainly not going to be 0% either, but it'll be significantly less than the number who would have owned the gore if it had been included in the base game.
Which raises the question as to what else might end up as paid DLC that could arguably have been put into the base game. All of this extra content, while designed to stretch out a £40 game into an £80+ game, and make the developers and publishers extra revenue in a competitive market, just ends up being side-stepped by those tasked with reviewing the game, so doesn't it hurt the game's review that so much of this content is potentially being left out, and won't it indirectly encourage gamers to consider another title worthy of their hard-earned £40, when perhaps, if all this content had been put into the base game, the sales of the base game might have been raised, making the sales of extra DLC less important?
That last point is food for thought more than anything since it would be unbelievably hard to put any kind of scientific method behind the numbers involved in all that, but it's really down to what gamers think, and what kind of taste they're left with in their mouths. Is it fair to charge, even a small amount, for a DLC pack that adds blood and guts to your game? You'll have to read the comments threads on the many gaming articles dedicated to this subject, and see for yourself.