Downloadable Content, or DLC. Three letters that cause so much controversy and debate within this industry we love. Who does it right? What shouldn’t be sold? Is locking content already on the shipped game only to charge a fee later to release that data good? Is it ethical? The questions are many and we’ve yet to see anyone give a concrete answer that the rest of the publishers and developers are willing to follow. What we do know is that DLC makes money and if something does that then it’s not going to stop. But I’m not here about DLC. I’d like to talk about IAP, three little letters that you might not be familiar with even if your only way to play games is a mobile device, a smartphone. In App Purchases’ that is.
Looking at the above picture we see that the cheapest IAP is $1.99. Ok, hey, two bucks, that’s not awful, right? I mean, the rough average of console and PC DLC is in the $10 neighborhood. Only Skylander’s is a $0.99 game. Take a second. Think about that. The lowest priced IAP costs twice the game itself. Consider the following: ”Hi, welcome to Gamestop. Getting the new Call of Duty? Right on! I can’t wait till that new DLC comes out. The one that adds a new gun. Yeah, just one! I heard it’s going to cost $120!” See how utterly ludicrous this is? That’s clearly not even the worst one. Look back up there. $49.99 is fifty times the game’s cost. Imagine if you found out that the newest armor skin pack for Halo 4 was going to run $3,000. You’d laugh until you were blue in the face.
What on earth could be worth $49.99? The Ultra Pack, but of course! Wait… what is an Ultra Pack? Good question! I have no bloody clue. What you’re looking at is a picture of the top (and only) items bought within the Skylander’s iOS app. I’m not going to get into how Skylander’s takes the nostalgia goggles I have of Spryo, drags them through a mountain of fecal matter, and rams them back onto my face. Another time, maybe. I might cry too much. If you think $49.99 is a lot of money, you’re right. In the context of a mobile game it’s an astronomical sum and what’s really scary is that it’s the norm. Actually, truth be told, $49.99 is rather tame compared to what some games pull, and downright paltry compared to one extreme example (I’ll tell you about ol’ Gun Bros. in a minute).
The going rate for today’s triple-A titles is $60. The latest BioShock, Assassin’s Creed, Halo, and Call of Duty game will all retail for this. Now in the case of that last title they’ll likely have DLC in the form of map packs, new missions, and weapons. These tend to go for $5, $10, or $15. Sometimes a little more or less on the Xbox 360 due to Microsoft’s weird point conversion rate. Even on the high end of that scale you’re paying a quarter of the original retail and typically the content you get for $15 is fairly substantial. From Ashes (the extra content for Mass Effect 3) is $10. In this case paying a sixth of the original cost nets you the Prothean character (yes, I know, he was on the disk) and a new mission that’ll take roughly 30 minutes to complete.
Gun Bros. is a free-to-play game. Let’s look at their IAPs.
War Buck Pack E is $64.99. Now I happen to know that at $64.99 you’re getting in-game currency for Gun Bros. The really wild thing is that there’s a gun called The Kraken that requires so many of these War Bucks that it effectively costs over $500. Or it did at one point. I could install the game and find out, but to be perfectly honest with you I’m so utterly appalled on two fronts that I refuse to do that. First; that a company is doing this, and second; that people are actually buying the thing! I’ve seen a couple of YouTube videos of kids showing the gun off and read some articles about it. Basically the gun is an ‘I win’ button. It destroys everything on screen. So for $500 (at least at one time) the game becomes so easy there’s no point in playing it again. Brilliant.
I’ll try to end this on a good note. Back in my first article I talked about a game called Urban Rivals. I told you that I’ve spent nearly $300 on cards for that game. Not even tangible cards at that. I don’t regret those purchases one bit. Those virtual cards actually have value which is almost unheard of for something digital. You see, every now and then the creators of Urban Rivals will put a card into Cr status (Cr meaning collector). This means that the card will never again be distributed. You could buy a million digital card packs and you’ll not get that card, it’s gone. The only place it now exists is in the collections of those that had the card before it went Cr. Currently the most expensive Urban Rival card is Kiki Cr (the monkey below) at 15 million Clintz (the in-game currency). Just how much would that cost you? $65,850. Will some of the cards I now have be worth that much one day? Maybe. Though as we all know something is only worth as much as someone is willing to pay.
Most DLC and IAP content you purchase is nearly worthless. Yet when it comes to talking about DLC versus IAP I can’t for a second think that any DLC has ever been anywhere nearly as horrible as some of the IAP practices I’ve seen. In my next article I’ll revisit the topic of games being addicting and how developers then turn that addiction into monetary profit. Sometimes going as far as restricting the game from being played until you pay more, not unlike a tangible vice. We’re reaching a point in history where nickel and diming is becoming dollar and hundreds of dollar…ing.