Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The trouble with DLC

Downloadable Content is not a bad thing. It is a good thing, but I do struggle to find it always justified by the cost that we pay for new or fresh or updated content. For example, Saints Row: The Third. A great muck around sandbox game. However once you have blasted through the very short campaign / missions. There is nothing to do in the city. Back in the day, GTA: San Andreas had a tonne of user made content available for free all over the net. Obviously some was rubbish, but a good portion was top notch and fun.

Unreal Tournament is another example of a great game made better by the community efforts. The power of the various Unreal engines made user made content a must have 'add-on' to the base game. Chaos UT was a brilliant example of user made content that was free and extremely well polished. However while the Unreal Engine's have been accessible to those of us for free, recent incarnations are not any where near as accessible as the great engines of the past. It was as though the developers were trying to tell us something. and that something was - if you want it, you better be prepared to pay for it!

Now back to Saints Row 3. It had been released as a solid game, but far to short. That was for a very good reason, there was much more to be added to the game but not until we had forked out an extra $20 for a bunch of new costumes, some silly weapons and a car or two. Since the first DLC packs came on the 'Steam' market there have been more than a dozen new DLC packs. All of which cost between $2 - $20 to download and add to the game. Not a single trace of user content can be found on Steam (at time of writing).

The sad part is that most game developers have gone down this path. Perhaps it is to justify their worth in the industry. That only they can make excellent content. But I know that there are many great modders out there who have either not been fully discovered or who want to remain independent. Don't get me wrong, I believe that most game developers are sublime and have made the games that we love to play and modify, but it also seems clear that the reason most of us cannot create content for these games is because they don't want us so. So they can continue to make money off titles long after release.

There is nothing wrong with that at all! In fact I believe that it was Maxis and their game The Sims, which effectively wrote the book on developer created content post release of a game. It appears that all the additional 'expansion packs' for the Sims had been ready to go with the game at the time of it's release. But rather than release it as a massive game, it was broken down into cuts of meat that could be bought separately after the initial game had been bought.

Now as a mark of respect to the developers. As games become increasingly complex and incredibly detailed. It does indeed become difficult to allow access to these dense algorithms that are modern games. The Total War franchise is a great example of this. Shogun 2: Total War is a brilliant game. I love it so much that I have probably aged just sitting in my chair playing it. However it has become too complex that there is no simple way to create a Software Developer Kit (SDK) for the Creative Assembly's latest game. That doesn't mean they haven't tried though. The developers have gone to lengths to make their game more accessible to modders. In fact they have written labyrinthine mazes of text about how to go about opening up their file packs for tweaking.

That is one example of how games are too complex to modify. Alas, there will be a time when simple modders such as myself will no longer be able to create unique game content on their own. Project C.A.R.S looks like about the closest thing to user content on a grand scale in that their company is funded my the community. However modders like me will never be able to make the well polished tracks and cars that they offer. Fortunately I and hundreds like me still have Rfactor and Rfactor 2 which thrive on user created content. In recent times I have begun to work with other people to improve my tracks. All the best circuits for download out there are rarely created my one person and mine are beginning to head down this path.

I have started collaborating with two key and very talented people. One is a camera expert who has done such a good job that he now is paid to make circuit cameras for game companies. I am truly glad that he is willing to work for free with my circuits. The other key person who has only just started to work with me specialises in texture optimisation. None of my tracks have been for sale as I have not given commercial usage rights to anyone. I believe that community content should remain free. Otherwise great game content for Rfactor like many others will become DLC.

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