At my current internship, many of the clients I work with are those in the MMO and virtual worlds business. I have been involved in multiple discussions and brainstorming sessions regarding how such companies can profit off of featuring downloadable content (DLC) and microtransactions (in-game actions that generate currency for the developer- such as buying a level 50-billion sword for your Super Elf- hmmm.) One does not have to go far to see that DLC and microtransactions are very profitable in the MMO world- just look at the sales figures for World of Warcraft. But this form of revenue stream has branched out. Console gaming is now subject to DLC and microtransactions.
Perfect examples of the successful implementation of DLC in console gaming are Activision’s enormously cash-money franchise “Guitar Hero” series and Harmonix’s “Rock Band”. Consumers are more than willing to pay for new tracks which they can download onto their home consoles. New tracks add “legs” to the already purchased game, and allow fans to “jam” to their favorite bands. I’m all for DLC in this sense.
But there is a dark and ugly side to DLC, and one needs to look no further than the recent news that Capcom will charge $4.99 for a multiplayer mode in Resident Evil 5 that most will argue, should have been in included in the release of the game in the first place.
So where does DLC belong in the sports genre? EA is currently releasing two forms of DLC that I am all in favor for. For its NCAA College Basketball ’09 title, an expansion pack for the upcoming “March Madness” tournament has been released. For $15, fans can play through the excitement of the NCAA tournament, and do so through the ease of downloading, never having to leave the couch. EA easily could have released and profited off of releasing a separate version of NCAA in retail and charge $40 for it – fans would have bought it. But going the route of a game add-on, and charging a reasonable price for it, EA recognizes how to properly implement DLC into console gaming.
Similarly, EA is releasing an “Ultimate Team” expansion for FIFA ’09. This mode will allows players to collect and trade card packs of players, ultimately giving them the chance to take the pitch with an ultimate and superior collection of superstars. Anyone who has played FIFA this year knows it is packed with enough content to last year well into 2010. The franchise has already experimented this year with game add-ons in the form of “Adidas Live Season”, a feature that allows you to update your favorite players stats and performance through their performances on field in the real world. A feature that caters to die-hards, it is not a necessary feature,but one well-appreciated by those who really care for the sport of soccer. Both expansions in Fifa do not take away from the “out-of-the-box” experience for consumers not wanting to spend any more money, those who are satisfied with the original product. But they do give a whole lot more to those who desire it.
So, is there a golden rule for the inclusion of DLC and microtransactions in sports games? No, it is too early to determine what will work and what is necessary. In South Korea, EA offered up FIFA as a free-to- play title, charging players to buy new kits and more (the model seemed to work, generating over $1 million (US currency). I’m not sure if this will work for all titles, nor am I convinced that I would want it to. If free-to-play becomes standard somewhere in the future, I worry that developers may strip down games upon release and charge more through add-on features.
If a company can release content that will add onto the fan experience, while not scaling back on the amount of substance and depth in the original release, I say, DO IT! Sports gaming is a business,but the fans always need to be kept in mind. Anything that can “add-on” to my own “fandom” is fair play to me.