7 mins read

I’m a big fan of Theatrhythm. It’s a game project with a lot of soul, and reviews across the board – mine and the response on Metacritic has, so far, been very positive indeed: 80 aggregate score from critics, and 97 from users (at time of print).

As a games journalist, naturally I’ve been clicking around the Internet reading various responses to the game. A common response was “but the DLC is so expensive!” It’s an attitude that concerns me greatly, as I believe it represents a tension between gamers and the businesses that make the games that is quite destructive.

To give some context: Square Enix will be releasing DLC for the Theatrhythm, to the tune of around 50 songs, at around $US1 a track. This is on top of the 77 songs that are already built into the game. Buy everything, and you’re looking at around 127 songs for the price of a budget-priced game (at least, in Australia, it’s $20 less than the usual 3DS retail price), and $50 for the DLC.

That does price the entire package as significantly above the price of a normal game, yes, but the content more than compensates – you’d need to two Just Dance games to get the same number of tracks in a music release, for instance. Buying them both new, at launch, would have cost more, so gamers are actually making some savings here.

On top of that the price of Theatrhythm’s DLC is roughly equivalent to the price of a Rock Band DLC song, or indeed a music track from iTunes. I felt Square Enix was being fair – generous even – with the DLC policy for this game. There’s still 77 songs in the basic retail game, after all, which is above and beyond most rhythm games, and the game doesn’t try and push DLC on players, either. It’s simply there if they want it to extend the longevity of a long game even further.

And yet, it’s become a point of criticism – certainly not as vocal as the day-1 DLC controversies that, say, Capcom experienced with its Street Fighter games, but there is a definite sense of disappointment about the overall price of buying everything this game will offer.

To me, when a game as pure in intention as Theatrhythm to be exposed to this kind of controversy (and make no bones about it, this game is a thank you note to the Final Fantasy faithful), it represents a core tension in the games industry that bubbles under the surface: no one really thinks about it, but gamers don’t really like the idea of supporting the developers or publishers. Handing over money for content is not something people want to do, but rather it’s something they grudgingly have to do. It’s almost like the price of games is a punishment, rather than the mutual exploitation that a capitalist system is meant to operate under.

The problem lies on both sides of the fence. Developers and publishers are doing a very poor job of articulating value to the consumers, and this is something that needs to improve, and dramatically quickly. DLC, especially, needs to be positioned as a reward for dedicated gamers, and not merely another way to make money from people. But, at the same time, when consumers start to voice disappointment in handing over $0.99 for additional content for a game they really enjoy, there’s a fundamental problem in customer attitude.

The reason Theatrhythm is such a good example for expressing how toxic this “it should be cheaper” attitude is because this isn’t a case of being able to dismiss the DLC practice as “dodgy” or “exploitative” with bad DLC. Extra Final Fantasy music for a game that you are playing because you like Final Fantasy music? How can that be a bad thing? Nor is it a case of the developer being greedy – no one has criticised the amount of content that is “on cartridge” for a very good reason – it’s huge.

No, the problem is far more fundamental than that, and it’s not even related to DLC – this is an industry where the market doesn’t like the providers being successful. While this is true to an extent with all industries (we live in a capitalist world, after all. Greed is a given – including greed from the consumers), I’ve found the games industry to be especially aggressive.

Businesses try to aim for cost-to-revenue rations of 35-40 per cent or thereabouts. Most games businesses wouldn’t even be close to that. Consumer’s don’t care about how healthy their favourite companies are, though, until it’s far too late. In the meantime, it’s still a problem if a developer or publisher tries to increase the margin on a game, or protect itself from second hand sales. DLC is still a considered to be a bad thing by many gamers, but DLC is all that’s keeping some of them afloat.

This is a very difficult industry to do business in. Surely if you like games, then trying to support the industry is better than resisting it? Or, in other words: if you like the game, it really isn’t healthy to complain about forking over $1 for a bit of DLC that you want anyway.

I’d like to hear everyone else’s thoughts – why do you think there is a significant population of gamers out there that resist supporting their industry? And, what is the solution, do you think?

This is the bio under which all legacy DigitallyDownloaded.net articles are published (as in the 12,000-odd, before we moved to the new Website and platform). This is not a member of the DDNet Team. Please see the article's text for byline attribution.

  • I'm surprised that people are complaining that the songs for Theatrhythm are expensive (I'm taking your word for it, I haven't heard anything yet).

    I don't think anyone ever said Guitar Hero or Rock band songs were too expensive, so why attack Square Enix? Perhaps it's because the people who play Theatrhythm aren't the same people who play music games, and this is the first time many of them really feel compelled to fork over money for DLC? I'm just theorizing here, though, I don't really know

    As for day one DLC, there wasn't day one DLC for Theatrhythm in Japan, was there? I thought Square Enix was just timing the first batch of DLC songs to match the worldwide release because they already had the songs ready to go, so why not? They were DLC in Japan, too, so I wouldn't fault them for not putting them in the western release. I guess I could see why people might complain abou t them not putting more tracks in the game to start, but 77 songs already makes it a great deal as is.

    Correct me if I'm wrong anywhere here, though!

  • In general I do not get the DLC debate. I fall into the camp that is just fine and dandy with used game sales, and I view DLC as a means for devs to make more money – but you know what? The content has to be compelling. They aren't forcing you to buy it (except in the case of additional online passes *glares at White Knight Chronicles 2*), so it's up to the consumer to decide if they want to add additional life to their favorite gaming experiences.

  • I really wish people wouldn't buy it if it is genuinely bad DLC, because then the development community would be forced to adopt more consumer-friendly DLC policies. Complaining about something, and then paying for it anyway, does no one any favours – not the des, and not the gamers.

  • Yeah, I think the attack against the DLC for Theatrythm is kind-of stupid and unjustified. However, I see how people got to the point where they were cautious of DLC; Other companies have been hammering DLC for quite a while, to the point where they're asking tons of money for "Downloadable Content" that's already on the disc and they're thinking that paying 15 US dollars is an acceptable price for four new maps, some of which may not actually be new (see; Capcom with Street Fighter X Tekken and Activision with Call Of Duty). This has led lots of people to be opposed to the idea of all DLC in general instead of the stupid kinds of DLC.

  • Looking at the article again, the title is very misleading. A better title would be "The DLC Debate: Why are so many gamers against DLC?" rather than a title that assumes gamers don't want companies to make money.

  • ok fine ill ask you guys this question what if a company translated Disc locked content then told you its japanese content only
    well look no further Level 5 with there game white knight chronicles did this exact thing they translated content than gave us the BS story its japanese content only

  • What content was that Arietta? I can't remember playing White Knight Chronicles (or the sequel) and feeling like I was missing content.

  • I might get downvoted for saying this, but I'm generally against the idea of DLC as a whole. Games used to be great, and full, and exciting to explore and find secrets in- you could replay a game a few times and find something new each time. Or, if you were particularly persistent, you might find new unlockables within the game if you met certain criteria. My problem with DLC is that it far too often just leaves a basic game for the player, and leaves these cool secrets up for buying at the DLC store. There's no skill, luck, or work needed in the game to obtain them, and that weakens how full the game feels, to me. Games increasingly feel intentionally incomplete, or that there could be more to them. I do think Theatrhythm handles DLC better than most games, but in my mind, it's akin to paying $75 for content that should already be included in the game.

  • No downvoting here, Chris! Great insights and thanks for dropping by to share them.

    I agree with a lot of what you say there – DLC is a bit unfortunate as it does tend to "feel" like content is being deliberately held back to sell at a later date.

    But this is offset by a couple of things: The reality is that games are getting bigger – the resources that goes into making a Call of Duty game is substantially more than what went into Doom or Quake. So developers could be more generous with those games because they needed to sell fewer copies to see a return on the investment.

    It's important that developers make money. As game budgets get bigger and bigger I personally don't mind some DLC (especially for minor things like non-story stages or character costumes) because it means the developer will be able to make another game later. 🙂

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