Downloadable content has been around for a while now when it comes to digital games and it has its pros and cons. The idea of downloading content replaces the idea of game development teams needing to make separate individual expansions to an already existing game. It makes creation of patches and other maintenance much easier. It also allows to company to make additional profit by presenting new content without having to release it on a second disc.
Presentation of this new content however has led to companies trying to make a further profit through the form on “On-Disc DLC”. “On Disc DLC” is content in a digital game that is part of the original game but is locked behind an additional price tag and labeled as DLC. Essentially the base game is released but alongside the newly released game will be downloadable content that is presented as an expansion. One way they will often present “On Disc DLC” is through encouraging preorders saying that the locked content will be available from day one without needing to do an additional purchase to get the full game experience.
The framework that I want to use when looking at “On Disc DLC”, is Kantian Ethics. This is a moral theory of essentially deciding based on a humanitarian perspective. It puts humans at the utmost priority of care and need when the need to decide in a situation arises. Kantian ethics can give video game companies a basic idea of how to treat a business model when it comes downloadable content. And most companies thankfully do not use “On-Disc DLC” to make further profit, though some companies can be reliant on people making microtransactions as well.
When considering why “On-Disc DLC” is a violation of Kantian Ethics, it is important that we examine Kantian Ethics from a business perspective because “On-Disc DLC” is in fact a business decision. A paper by Christopher Downs from University College Chichester wrote the following regarding Kantian approaches to business, “Thus, treating the humanity in a person as an end, and not as a means merely, in a business relationship requires two things. First, it requires that people in a business relationship not be used, i.e., they not be coerced or deceived. Second, it means that business organizations and business practices should be arranged so that they contribute to the development of human rational and moral capacities, rather than inhibit the development of these capacities.”, from this we can see a straight forward idea of how Kantian ethics should be approached in business. It regards deceiving people as immoral and uncontributed.
The practice of “On-Disc DLC”, is a complete violation simply because it takes advantage of a widespread business practice that not only takes advantage of a person’s financial requirements, but it is also pays less attention to what a targeted audience wants in the digital game on-launch. On a side note “On-Disc DLC” also leads into other forms of content such as microtransactions which have been becoming more and more prevalent in multiplayer-based games such as Halo and Call of Duty.
From experience a big genre that takes a big hit from this practice is the Real-Time Strategy genre. The specific example that will be used is Creative Assembly’s Total War: Rome 2. On launch for this game specifically, a good amount of in-game content was not playable on day one. A large amount was specified to be playable on day one via preorder. A total of four transactions each being $10-$12 was required to get the full experience on launch.
Creative Assembly never really made a big response to backlash regarding the DLC decision. The main reason to this I think is because besides DLC, Total War: Rome 2 had a very bad launch because the game was riddled with game breaking errors that produced an even bigger outrage than the DLC because not being able to play the game is way more of a problem than having to pay for addition content. Regardless they should have at least put out some sort of response to this issue because this was not Creative Assembly’s first attempt at “On-Disc DLC”, their previous game Total War: Shogun 2 had “On-Disc DLC”, but because the game was commercially successful and the way the additional content was not that different from base game, it wasn’t as large of an issue. Total War: Rome 2’s day one DLC was radically different because the additional content was what was expected by many to be in the base game without a pay barrier.
This business practice essentially sold a quarter the game, bit by bit in order to get more money out of the audience. The audience were reasonably outraged by such and the game received a large amount of backlash for many reasons and this was one of the big points. What was even more outrageous to audiences was that certain content that was blocked off was not even available for purchase on day one. The modding community later released a mod that made all playable content available and found that certain unique content which was blocked off, was not even available yet for purchase. This only set more fuel to the fire, but by the end Total War: Rome 2 set a record in pre-orders by enticing “On-Disc DLC”.
Believe it or not, Creative Assembly pulled a very similar stunt with a more recent game called Total War: Warhammer. This time instead of having just a few parts of the mainline content locked away, Creative Assembly decided to lock away one whole fifth of the main campaign content behind a DLC box. They once again also tried to entice preorders with this to make more money. Sadly, this was kept as it was and once again pre-orders of the game were at a high. A Eurogamer article by Christ Bratt, points out the fans outrage on the matter, “The outcry this time around seems louder than ever, perhaps because the Chaos race are such a core part of Warhammer fantasy – some tabletop fans will have been battling with and against them for more than 20 years.” Despite this backlash, Creative assembly kept their stance on this “On-Disc DLC”, and the creative director tried to address the issue, his explanation is as follows. “To get that investment from SEGA (who are always supportive in backing us), we demonstrate that we can release a great game that results in a lot of happy players. But to do that with Warhammer content, it has to be split up into reasonable pieces in order to do all of it at a reasonable resource cost.”, but this response doesn’t explain why it is being released alongside the game. It also raises other questions that ranges from: “Why not release it at a later date to make it appear as an expansion?”, which they did for future DLC for the game.
One last point I want to make is that the content that was put up as DLC on day one was not new content in the franchise, in fact this is content that is rather prevalent throughout both series. Total War: Rome II’s DLC barred 3 very well-known factions that many like to play as. Total War: Warhammer’s Chaos Warriors DLC barred an entire faction that is well established in the Warhammer franchise. Many were actually expecting this content to be as art of the base game, but from what we can assume to be budget constraints they ended up acting as day one DLC.
As seen from this examples Total War: Rome 2 and Total War: Warhammer received massive backlash from this business practice and to this day the company has never attempted to make such a large portion of content that was readily available as DLC only. This was very clearly an attempt by Creative Assembly to squeeze out money from the community by taking advantage of downloadable content. It also had no attempt at appealing to Kantian ethics because they made no attempt at looking at the audience wanted from the game on-launch for this game back in 2013. To me it only makes it more wrong to use such a tactic because they stayed by their decision and despite the backlash from the fans, they ended up buying and pre-ordering the game.
“On Disc DLC”, is a violation of Kantian ethics because when we view Kantian ethics from a business point of view, it deceives customers on what they believe they are getting in a game. It forces people to pay more money for content that really should have been in the base game. The examples provided from the Total War franchise are concrete examples of this practice in full effect. It is unfortunately a very effective business practice as both games sold well despite the protests.
DLC will always be prevalent in today’s gaming industry but as a result it has brought unethical business practices into play and it makes companies less transparent as a result also. As much as I would like to see this practice done away with, it seems that it is here to stay unfortunately.