Once upon a time, video games offered everything their players needed in the box.
You’d open up the case, take out the cartridge/disk/CD (delete as appropriate based on your age), stick it in your machine of choice and get to work. Everything from the main game to side missions, easter eggs and other goodies were all included in the retail price.
Nowadays, well, not so much. We’ve entered an era of expansions packs and downloadable content – for a small fee, of course – and not everybody is a fan.
Much has been made of gaming’s new paywall, with players wondering why the paid-for content, be it extra levels or new skins for their character, aren’t simply included straight out of the box. The primary issue is that the game itself can cost around $50 or more upon release, with expansion packs and additional content setting players back as much as $30 depending on their size and scale.
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Players can end up investing well in advance of $100 on one single game, and while the naysayers will argue that it’s at a gamer’s discretion whether they choose to buy into the expansions or not, ultimately you can forgive those who believe that DLC packs and the like are a cash-in on the part of their developers.
The concept of ‘microtransactions’ in gaming has grabbed such universal attention that scientific research papers have been written on the subject.
It’s worthwhile comparing two Electronic Arts titles to see the difference between expansion-based gaming and in-built bonuses that come in the box without the need for further payment.
FIFA is the planet’s best-selling soccer game, and it has looked to make the most of that lofty position by ensuring that millions of players are able to access additional content to enhance their experience. One such game mode is Ultimate Team, in which players are encouraged to acquire packs to boost their squad and perhaps unearth a gem such as Lionel Messi. Some limited-edition versions of the game grant players with additional packs, and therefore promote increased spending.
EA generated $1.155 billion from live services in the past quarter, with “growth driven by FIFA Ultimate Team and Apex Legends.” pic.twitter.com/YP1dDXRKgz
— Alpha Intel (@alphaINTEL) November 3, 2021
Compare and contrast that approach to another EA title, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Rather than overtly tapping into the expansion content culture, here, players are rewarded in the way that developers of decades past envisaged – the non-linear gameplay enables fans to replay the title and watch different endings to the drama unfold.
Once they have completed the game on more than one occasion, players are rewarded with bonus content and unlockable extras. They are rewarded for their skill, rather than the depth of their wallets.
Perhaps video gaming could take a leaf out of the book of iGaming, the general industry term given to slots and online casino games. They offer bonuses for deposits, and so players can wager their money but also benefit from the bonus credits, too. Some casinos even offer no deposit bonuses, which require zero activation from the player at all. There are sites out there that collate all of the available bonuses as well, and you can click here to read the entire report for the tail-end of 2021 and into next year.
The reality is that DLC packs and expansion content are not going anywhere anytime soon. This is a revenue stream for publishers that the latest generation of gamers have grown up with and accepted.
But does that make it right? Perhaps we can only dream of the days when developers release fully-realized games that are available to everyone… straight out of the box.