Editorials

Discussing Evolve: Part 1 – DLC

evolve_part_1_dlc

Too Much DLC on My Hands
 
Much like the monsters in the quote above, angry gamers have feasted on a flailing marketing strategy for Evolve, Turtle Rock (developer) and 2K’s (publisher) 4v1 monster hunting game. The game has drawn criticism from gamers and game journalists, primarily because of the downloadable content (DLC) strategy that has been employed for Evolve. A good example of this criticism, in part because it cites some of the other critics, is the recent Forbes article by Erik Kain.

According to these criticisms, Turtle Rock, previously best known for developing Left 4 Dead with Valve, and 2K have short-changed gamers by not selling a complete game. Instead, content has been held back to be sold as DLC in a blatant attempt to milk gamers out of extra dollars. These criticisms are unfair. This post will look at the DLC piece of this and then a subsequent post will deal with the content question.

Critical Questions

It’s not that the criticisms are not factual. If you look on Steam there’s the base game ($60) plus several DLC packs available now (totaling $61) and a season pass for forthcoming DLC ($25). With a cursory glance it looks bad. No one can deny that Turtle Rock and 2K are looking to make money from Evolve and related content. These are facts that the criticisms have gotten right.

Why then the claim that the criticisms are unfair? Because before railing against something, one should step back and take a deeper look and not judge based on just a cursory glance. This deeper look reveals that most of the criticisms miss the mark (or, perhaps more accurately, don’t tell you what the mark is).

The criticisms have not, from what I’ve seen, dealt with the crucial details needed to answer questions like, “What is this extra content that is being offered?” and “How would not buying this content effect the experience of playing the game?” The answers to these questions will help us make an informed decision about whether or not Evolve’s DLC policy is a dramatic increase in charging gamers for content or just another flavor of existing practices.

What’s in the Launch DLC?

So, what is this extra content that is being offered? That $61 of DLC that is available now; it’s all skins. There are weapon skins for the hunters and skins for the monsters. But they are just skins. No perks like a higher fire rate on the weapons or greater armor for the monsters. It’s cosmetic.

Therefore, the answer to the second question (How would not buying this content effect the experience of playing the game?) depends on how important you think skins are. This DLC does not affect how the weapons or monsters play at all; the gameplay is the same whether you have these skins or not. Personally, I can’t get excited (either positively or negatively) about skins. If it is a big deal to you, you are free to criticize Turtle Rock and 2K for doing this but please be clear you’re complaining about skins.

evolve_season_pass

The Season Pass

As for the season pass? Most season passes are around $30, which gets you maps in the majority of multiplayer games. For Evolve the season pass ($25) will get you four additional hunters (one for each class, presumably) and some monster skins. Whether this is an equivalent value or not is up to the individual but a few points should be noted.

First, unlike most map packs, if you choose not to buy Evolve’s season pass it will not prevent you from playing with those who do choose to buy it. They can play, for example, as the DLC Trapper while you continue to play as one of the original 3 Medics. Therefore those who do not want to buy the DLC are not under as much pressure to buy it. This is a DLC model that does not to split the community into the haves and the have-nots the way map packs almost always do.

Second, according to Turtle Rock additional maps are coming and they will be free. Additional game modes will also be free. This is the other part of the DLC model that keeps from splitting the community. While people are harping on Turtle Rock and 2K charging for skins (a common practice) they quickly skip over that there will be no charge for additional maps and game modes.

A Closing Question

So a question for you if you are complaining about Evolve’s DLC policy; would you be happier if, for Evolve, Turtle Rock and 2K reversed themselves and gave away the skins but charged for the additional maps (i.e. used the traditional DLC model)? Would this and the subsequent dividing of the community be preferable? I prefer the current Evolve model where the community is kept together and the cost for developing additional maps and modes is covered by selling skins or other items, like additional hunters and monsters.

If those ranting about Evolve made this choice clear, I wouldn’t feel the need to respond to their criticisms.

Side Note:

Jim Sterling, cited in the Forbes article mentioned above, makes a big deal about how purchases are being made simpler. He points to downloading movies that are just the movies without all the extras that are used in an attempt to sell different versions of DVDs and Blu-Rays. First, I don’t disagree that for some people simple is better. But I don’t think this can be stated as a universal market principle, particularly in gaming.

Borderlands 2 offers a large number of character skins for sale. In Team Fortress 2, hats are bought and sold on a regular basis. Payday 2 releases additional content, for a fee, on monthly basis (yes, that’s an exaggeration but it sure seems like every month). Steam trading cards can be traded, as the name implies, but they are also bought and sold with a small part of the sale price going to Valve for facilitating the exchange. Sony and Microsoft have both sold digital clothing items for avatars. Some people may not like it but let’s not fault the companies. These things are being offered because there is a market for them.

Jim and other gamers are free to dislike this and rant in videos and in writing about how gamers should stop buying these items. But please don’t make it seem as if this is something unique to Evolve or as if this is some new phenomena that hasn’t been seen before. It smells of Captain Renault saying he’s shocked to find there is gambling in Rick’s cafe right before he’s handed his winnings.

But is Evolve’s base game really worth $60? Check back tomorrow for Discussing Evolve: Part 2.

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