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Staff Blog: DLC A New Direction

Promotional pre-launch downloadable game content has been one of the most interesting developments in digital distribution in the last few months. With notable Xbox Arcade titles, Dead Rising: Case Zero and Dead Space: Ignition paving the way, it seems that these generally cheap and cheerful titles may become a regular gaming staple. However, this concept is not without its critics, with some fans claiming it is a way of charging for what is essentially a glorified demo.

Dead Rising 2

Dead Rising: Case Zero was a nice breath of fresh air when it was released at the end of September, around a month before Dead Rising 2 was launched. At a paltry sum of 400MSP, it was one of the cheapest game downloads on the Xbox Marketplace and sold well over 500,000 copies turning it into one of the fastest selling Xbox downloads of all time. There was clearly a market for the game, and the high user ratings suggest that fans loved the experience.

Personally, I really enjoyed Case Zero. It was everything I wanted an original taster of the game to be. There were loads of zombies, plenty of ways to kill them and due to the occasionally irritating save system, plenty of replay value. It’s certainly true that the in-game area is pretty small, but it took a fair amount of time to explore it fully and find all of the different weapons and items available. But there was a surprising level of depth to it, with plenty of combo weapons available which gave a real idea of what the full experience would be like. There were a couple of different cases available, around 10 or so survivors to rescue and a psychopath to defeat. Essentially, Case Zero acted as a microcosm for Dead Rising 2 and that was everything it needed to be.

Dead Space

However, I was shocked to learn about the overly negative review scores the game has received and an angry backlash from some of my friends. Most criticisms seem to be aimed at the fact they were being charged, for what should be a free demo. While I can see this perspective, Case Zero isn’t really a demo; it’s more of a short standalone chapter which is clearly priced as such. The fact there are extra incentives is just another reason to purchase, you can progress to level 5 which will carry over into Dead Rising 2, which is far from a major feature but a nice reward if you did purchase it.

Case Zero was an ideal experiment and I was really glad to have bought it. It gave me a real taste of what Dead Rising 2 was going to be like at a budget price. I easily got my money’s worth, with a couple of playthroughs and even a bit of messing around to show some friends the different, outrageous weapons. It was a very polished and clever move by Capcom and I can’t wait to see what Case West will be like when it is released in the near future.

Dead Rising 2

Dead Space: Ignition is a similar, yet very different story. EA’s attempt to seemingly follow in Capcom’s footsteps and release pre-launch content seemed like a great idea, that is until someone pointed out that the game is not a survival horror and instead a series of mini-games. While these vary in their quality and enjoyment, the general package released at the same price as Case Zero just doesn’t feel as good. Perhaps, it’s the disassociation with the bum-clenching survival horror of the original, with only some nicely styled animations filling in the background to the upcoming sequel.

Dead Space: Ignition isn’t a terrible game, but it’s not a great one even at its budget price. However, if the developers had chosen to make it a short, third-person survival horror chapter, filling in the plot between the first and second games then this would have been a much better decision. Surely, pre-launch downloadable content should give you a taste of the upcoming full game’s content in order to really motivate you to buy the product on release. With Ignition you’re still left largely clueless about the style of the main game, which is where it falls down when compared with Case Zero. However, the inclusion of an unlockable bonus suit for Isaac to use in Dead Space 2 is still a decent addition to provide some motivation for purchase.

Dead Space

Still, the more critical fans certainly have a point with worries about the possibility of companies charging for what are essentially demos. Both Case Zero and Ignition are examples of games which are far more than demos, but it is not entirely unforeseeable that some greedy companies could resort to creating one extra level during development to release as a pre-launch level in order to rake in some easy cash. How long before we start to see a Call of Duty DLC level with one multiplayer map, where you can earn perks that will continue into the next game? More importantly, how much would people be willing to pay to get a taste of the game a month before it is due out? Personally, this seems chillingly inevitable due to the success of these early pioneers.

Hopefully, these pre-launch downloadable games will learn the lessons from Case Zero and Ignition and build on the good while removing the bad. But with several more examples looming on the horizon, it will be an interesting development to see whether these popular experiments can stand the test of time, and criticism, to become a regular feature of pre-release hype and build-up.

 

Chris Wakefield

evilgiraffeman | 13th April, 2011

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