On Downloadable Content (DLC) – The Case of Fire Emblem: Awakenings

originalI was browsing around the publications which I frequent and one of them had an interesting article on DLC (http://kotaku.com/5975167/are-you-ok-with-nintendos-fire-emblem-dlc, image used from the original piece). They wrote about how Nintendo will soon release a 3DS version of Fire Emblem (Fire Emblem: Awakenings) and that there is already announced DLC. With all the hate that Capcom and EA have received because of practices like on-disc “downloadable” content, it certainly warrants inspection whenever a game is announced and there is already DLC available. Fire Emblem’s case, however, is different from that of Capcom or EA. Fire Emblem: Awakenings was released originally a year ago in Japan. It is a robust game, well worth the 40$ investment. After the game was released, Nintendo offered additional DLC. Now the game is being released in the US, but without the DLC. This prompted some questions to which I will offer short answers that are direct and to the point.

1. Should a company charge several dollars for horse armor?

This, of course, is a reference to the (in)famous Horse Armor of Oblivion. The author of the original piece said “Probably not”, but I would disagree. Oblivion is a full game well worth the investment, and the horse armor is nothing more than an aesthetic change. It would be smart business to offer it as part of a skin bundle so that the purchaser feels that they are getting “something” back for their investment. It’s a stupid move, but one that they can make anyway.

2. For costumes in a fighting game?

This is a reference to the recent Capcom fighting games. The author’s answer was “Hmm.” My answer is “sure”. As long as the content is downloadable, the company can sell anything they want as DLC. This brings us to the next question…

3. Should the DLC never be on the disc even if it ensures better multiplayer compatibility?

DLC should never be on the disc. Locked disc content marketed as DLC is not giving the player a full game and then giving them extra content. It is giving the player an incomplete game for which they have to pay extra if they want to experience the game the way it was meant to. The software industry, being the young petulant child of markets, thinks that it is entitled to special rules than other industries (and it’s done a wonderful job at convincing everyone that this should be so). However, they should play by the same rules as every other industry. Allow me to make some comparisons:

Pretend that you just purchased a car for $25,000. You get the car. You just don’t get the tires. Tires aren’t part of the car. They’re “on disc DLC”. You need to pay a tire fee of an extra $200 per tire.

Of course, it doesn’t work that way. Tires are part of the car – they’re included in the package. And, of course, once you have your car you can put spoilers, stickers, and mirror dice on it. It’s your car. You can even replace the factory muffler and transmission for another one, because it’s your car. You bought it.

Pretend that you just purchased a house for $120,000. You get the front porch and the house, but you don’t get the keys to the attic or the backyard. Those don’t come included with the house, even though they’re part of the property lot. You have to unlock the attic DLC and the backyard DLC for an extra $10,000 each. “BUT THEY’RE THERE!”, you say. Well, yeah, but because of arbitrary rules I decided you had to pay extra to unlock them. You don’t have to pay that extra money now, you can do it later. But you can’t use those spaces until you do.

Sounds ridiculous, right? That’s because the attic and the backyard are part of the property, and when you pay the agreed-upon price it includes everything in that property. And, of course, it’s your property. You can paint the walls, hang art in the wall (of course, why would you want to when you can just play games? http://www.sophiehoulden.com/can-art-be-games/), remodel the kitchen, and add extensions. The reason is because it’s your property and you can do whatever you want with it.

Imagine you bought a computer and half the keyboard was locked until you paid the “keyboard unlock” fee, and that you couldn’t upgrade it. Sounds ridiculous, right? It’s your computer. You’re from the PC Master Gaming Race. OF COURSE you can open your Digital Storm, take out one video card and put in another, and install more RAM.

Now imagine that you bought a video game. In that disc you have several features, but many of them are locked. You can’t access those features in the game that you bought because they’re “downloadable” content, except it’s on the disc. Locked disc content is the attic you can’t access in your house or the wheels your car didn’t bring. Except you can, and it did. On disc DLC should be unacceptable. It is nothing more than taking a game, taking out features, and charging full price for the incomplete content.

Somehow, people have come to think that this is ok. “It’s software, you don’t buy it, you license it” is one of the dominant arguments I hear on this. Of course, many courts have ruled that you buy your copy of the software and, thus, can do whatever you want with it (which means that software gets no special treatment because of its wonderfulness), but the “you just license it” folk ignore that.

So, what should the owner of the copy of the software have the ‘right’ to do? Anything he or she wants. Despite all EULAs you “agree” to (come on, we all know you didn’t really read it), your copy of the game is your copy of the game. As the owner, you should have the right to install it and uninstall it at will in any of your computers / consoles. You should also be able to tinker around with the disc. Feel like you don’t like the textures on Final Fantasy XIII? If you know how, you should be allowed to put a file into your PS3 to change them. It’s YOUR console and YOUR game. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the companies HAVE to give you access to online services. If you decide that you want to install Linux on your X Box, you should be able to. Microsoft also has the right to ban you from their network if you do, because it’s their network.

Here’s what you can’t do – make counterfeit software. You see, you bought your copy of the game. Install it, look at its source, change the textures, go crazy. It’s your copy. But with your purchase of a copy you don’t buy the distribution rights or the intellectual property. You DON’T get to make a copy of the disc and sell it. You DON’T get to make a copy of the disc and put it online. You can make all the copies you want and put them in your closet as backup, but you shouldn’t get to infringe on the right of the content creators and distributors to sell and make profits, just as they shouldn’t get to infringe in your right to do whatever you want with your property.

Does that make sense to you, “you just license it” crowd?

4. Does the DLC need to be made only after the game is done? Should it come out within six months after the release? More? Less?

It shouldn’t matter WHEN the DLC is made as long as it’s not part of the original intended experience. Publishers can have one studio develop the core game and a second studio develop additional worlds, maps, or whatever content they want to make. When the game comes out, if they want to release day-1 DLC, then that’s fine. What they don’t get to do is put the extra DLC on the disc, because once you buy your copy, that’s your copy. What they SPECIALLY don’t get to do is have one studio create the full game, then have them lock three sections off and call it DLC.

The article ends asking readers to “judge”:

“If a company (Nintendo) makes a large game (Fire Emblem: Awakening on the 3DS), sells it in Japan in the spring of 2012, then sells a variety of downloadable mission expansions in the months that follow and then that game is brought to America nearly a year later… should the DLC even still be DLC? Should it be on the cart? Should it be free? Or is it cool for Nintendo to charge extra if the base game is still well worth the game’s asking price?”

In this case, Nintendo can do whatever they want as long as the core game has the full game. If they want to sell the DLC at extra cost, they can do so. It was DLC originally anyway. It sure would be nice of them if they released a Fire Emblem: Awakenings Ultimate Edition with all the DLC already included tho.

<Link to Stephen Totilo’s piece: http://kotaku.com/5975167/are-you-ok-with-nintendos-fire-emblem-dlc&gt;




About Quijano

Johansen Quijano is a professor of English in The University of Texas at Arlington, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Development focusing on TESOL, and a Master’s Degree in English Literature. He has published and presented on a variety of topics including video game studies, popular culture studies, education, teaching methodology, language acquisition, romantic poetry, and victorian literature. His research interests include the above-mentioned topics, narrative, interactivity, simulation, new media in general, and 18th century literature. He also enjoys creative writing (fiction, historical fiction, and poetry), and reading all kinds of epic literary works - from the Epic Poem of Gilgamesh to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Posted on January 15, 2013, in Video Game Commentary and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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