Downloadable content (DLC) is often a sore subject, with some gamers feeling shortchanged by map and weapon packs that cost too much, DLC that was originally meant to be main game content, and things of the like. The Witcher 3 developer CD Projekt doesn't think it needs to be that way. They want to show everybody how it's done.
The term DLC has a lot of meanings these days. First, there are generally good (sometimes even great) add-on chapters like we saw with The Last of Us and BioShock Infinite. Then there are "explandalone" expansions like Assassin's Creed IV: Freedom Cry and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon that don't require the base game to play. And of course, there's the nickel-and-dime stuff, smaller map, weapon, item, and costume packs that are sold for debatably worthwhile prices in free-to-play games or full-price games like Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty. Sometimes it's hard to tell what's real and what's a joke. It's a mess, and it can be a pricey one.
CD Projekt isn't pleased. All the muss and fuss, all the costly inconvenience? To hear them tell it, they hate that as much as you do. I sat down with CD Projekt co-founder and CEO Marcin Iwinski during E3, and he explained why he feels like DLC shouldn't be so complicated and gamer-unfriendly. It doesn't need to be this way, he contended, especially if developers are really bent on offering up their games as ongoing "services," a popular refrain from many companies these days.
"When we make a game and ask people to pay money for it, we sign a long-term agreement with them," he said. "We owe them. They paid us money, whether it was a full-price purchase or a bit later, we owe them support of our game. So people will get a lot of support with Witcher 3, and we're preparing some cool stuff."
Support doesn't just mean bug fixes and other odds and ends, though. Smaller pieces of content, he believes, should also be free. That, to him, is DLC. Bigger stuff? Well, that trundles into expansion territory, and that's when a price tag becomes necessary. But otherwise, everybody's on equal footing.
"First and foremost, I think the word 'DLC' has been extremely devalued," he opined. "Any additional content is called DLC, whether it's one sword or some costume options or a full expansion pack. I really look at it differently. For me DLC is the smaller bits and pieces, and we will never charge for those things."
"However, if we do a big adventure—say, 15 or 20 hours long, a very high production value story extension to the game—then we will probably charge for that."
Assuming CD Projekt sticks to those terms, they sound refreshingly reasonable. Expansion episode? Charge for it. Everything else? Make it free. Consider it a service, part and parcel with the game people purchased. When pressed on what exactly counts as an expansion, Iwinski cited the large, quite good Baldur's Gate: Tales of the Sword Coast expansion as a big inspiration. Anything less, he declared, feels like "a shitty proposition."
Cutting content and re-selling it at a later date (or on day one) should also be out of the question, he said. Again, that only makes things more confusing and inconvenient.
"There's all this discussion that certain content gets cut out of games before shipping," he pointed out. "With digital delivery and the ease of getting stuff to the gamer without the necessity of packaging it and shipping it to the store, I think a lot of people out there are very tempted [to do stuff like that]. I'm totally against it. I think we either make something meaningful for gamers or consider whatever else we do a service."
"We won't cut anything out of the game or diminish the value of the game in order to commercially monetize something afterward."
It could all be big talk, but CD Projekt did a bang up job with the Extended Editions for The Witcher 1 and 2, so here's hoping the trend continues here—albeit maybe with a game that's not quite as rough as Witcher 1 and 2 were when they first came out.
As for DLC as a whole, well, I sure hope more developers and publishers come around to thinking about it like this. I play games to have fun, not be confused and (occasionally) angry when my game comes in pieces.
TMI is a branch of Kotaku dedicated to telling you everything about my adventures in the gaming industry (and sometimes other offbeat and/or uncomfortable subjects). It's an experiment in disclosure, storytelling, interviewing, and more. The gaming industry is weird. People are weird. I am weird. You are weird. Why hide that? Let's explore it.