The Mortal Kombat franchise is no stranger to controversy. It caused a furore for its ‘realistic’ depiction of violence when it first appeared in the arcades back in 1992 leading to the creation of the ESRB a couple of years later. Mortal Kombat X, the tenth installment in the series, has been released to critical acclaim and once again its release has caused a stir in the gaming community. However this time the blood and gore have nothing to do with it. Mind you, the game has both by the bucketfuls. In fact I would say that its the goriest game in the series and one of the most deliberately violent videogame I have ever played. However it is 2015, and most people are unruffled by virtual blood. After all we regularly get to watch horrific executions of innocent people by ISIS on the news. The cause for the commotion this time? NetherRealm/Warner Brother’s decision to monetize the game post launch, hide characters behind a pay wall and offer DLC which is already on the disc.
For many, monetization is still a difficult pill to swallow and is often seen as the publisher nickle and diming the consumer. When a game has been bought at full price that seems like a totally legit argument, but I’ll explain why its not completely true shortly. Back in the day we bought the game and that was pretty much it – there was no content being sold piecemeal on consoles. You bought the game with the knowledge (or perception) that you had bought everything the developer had to offer. Everything changed with the arrival of the PS3 and Xbox360 systems which popularized internet connectivity on consoles. It is pertinent to note that the situation was slightly different on PCs. PC gamers, by virtue of being the gaming master race (I kid, I kid), were long used to being regaled with expansions for the games which saw commercial success. These expansions would have a sizable chunk of content and cost less than the original, but in most cases the base game was required for the expansion to work. In some cases these expansions actually fixed gameplay flaws which made the game infinitely better.
What changed then? First and foremost, as mentioned earlier, the internet happened. With virtually everyone being connected to the internet the distribution of smaller content which could be sold a la carte felt like something that benefited both the publisher and the consumer. Consumers were interested in the extra content and publishers cherished the increased revenue. It felt like a win win situation – up until the time when it started feeling like the consumers were being short changed (but more on that on a follow up to this post where I discuss why publishers are doing it wrong).
One has to appreciate why publishers are depending on DLC and in game purchases for their revenue stream. Its not just a matter of maximizing profits from a game which was sold to you at full price, although that is a huge part of it. Fact of the matter is that most games are not bought at full price. The second hand market is huge and it is one which provides zero profits to the publisher/developer. They tried to rectify that at the tail end of last gen with online passes but the reaction was so negative that publishers dropped that practice with the switch to current gen. DLC and in game purchases succeeded where online passes failed. Season passes, add on content, extra characters, cosmetic items and even quality of life consumables like the easy fatalities in MKX – they all help create an environment where a second hand game can still generate revenue for the creator.
By way of example, I recently sold my PS4 version of Battlefield 4. The person who made the purchase is likely to buy Battlefield Premium if he enjoys the experience enough (and he should, the expansions are excellent quality). That is money which EA would have never seen had it not been for this system. In an industry where millions are invested and success is never guaranteed this kind of extra revenue helps mitigate risks. Moreover having invested in Battlefield Premium myself I held off selling the game off for a very long time. Without the disc I now own content which I paid for and cannot use. This created in me a sense that I was going to lose money if I let go of the disc. Eventually I figured that I was losing even more money by holding on to the disc and dlc which in all likelihood I wasn’t going to use again. In short, DLC makes it less likely for you to put the game in the second hand market.
I will not hide the fact that I find no problem with the idea behind selling extra content for games, even ones I paid full price for. I feel that, if done right, DLC and in game purchases actually complement the playing experience. There are valid reasons why there wasn’t much negative feedback on Mario Kart 8’s DLC. Nintendo handled the whole situation really elegantly. The problem is publishers still seem to mess it up regularly with their practices. For the sake of not making this post too long I will stop this discussion here and go into bad industry practices in another post.