Should all MMOs have DLC?

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Coming off of yesterday’s post about EverQuest 2 turning to a DLC model, I started to think about MMOs in general and whether or not the entire industry could actually benefit from an (ready for it?) ‘ideal’ DLC system.

Since a subscription seems to be taboo, what if the game simply cost the box price to get started. Then, instead of subscription, monthly or every other month (or honestly however often they can make it…) content updates were released that, in the total of a year, added up to what would normally be added to the game in an expansion.

The monthly content would be separate from regular maintenance patching that would improve the overall game. Balance changes, regular updates to existing content, etc., are all included in the base price. The DLC would be $15-$20 each.  There could even be an option to subscribe for $15/month and gain access to all DLC as long as you subscribe — such systems technically exist already.

Effectively, regular DLC is like a subscription except for the fact that players end up getting much, much more than a normal subscription would normally yield. It’s also optional.

A few problems…

  • DLC seems to inherently demand instancing which truncates the world and segregates players
  • Greatly depends on the dev team being capable of creating regular updates and publishing content
  • The psychology of players dropping $15 on a purchase vs. $15 in a subscription is a hurdle, and if the contnet were spaced then the psychology of dropping $30, $45, etc., at a time seems even worse despite being no more than a subscription


  • Opportunity for devs to take in a regular cash
  • Optional for players to pick and choose what content appeals to them
  • Creates the opportunity for a lot of new content
  • Regular yearly expansions can still be released to raise the level cap for everyone and provide a one-time $60 increase with lots more content

This all relies on an ideal. The ideal being that the content is amazing and quality is high. Rushing content to collect cash ruins the entire plan. Since that’s where most of the ‘business’ side would rush it, I question whether such a system could ever work. But if we could actually see the MMO industry respect quality, respect GOOD gameplay/design then we could work within the ‘spirit’ of the subscription model.

Ideas? Thoughts? I’m curious to know how you’d react to buying an MMO at the regular box price and having it be a full MMO without a subscription or F2P cash shop, but have there be micro-expansions or DLC packs come out with new content (and rewards).  Would you be willing to buy one every 3 months for $45? Every month for $15?

  • ESO is going to do this model.. Buy the box and all future content will be sold as DLC

  • I would not buy that. As a matter of fact, I stoped playing ESO despite enjoying it. I’m entirely dismissing Crowfall based on their b2p choice.

    A sandbox can’t exist under a dlc model. Mechanics can’t be packaged and put on a store.
    In theory, a themepark could work, but other improvements take a backseat when your livelihood is based on releasing content often and expensive enough to sustain the company.
    As history has proven, f2p/b2p mmos are not sustainable and never grow in revenue. Imagine if you remove the cash shop from the equation.
    This means reduced resources, even compared to f2p games.
    And as you said, that approach segregates the community, and that’s not what you want to do with an mmo.

    It can work for relatively small games like payday or arena games, but for mmos, it never has and never will. Let alone anything that tries to resemble a virtual world.

  • @Frosth: Can DLC in a sandbox exist if new zones were added? New recipes to make found in a new zone? I agree with you in a logical sense, and based on the general direction DLC and the industry has gone you’re correct, but I’m trying to remain as open-minded as possible to decide if it’s possible.

  • @keen
    Well both new zones and recipes would be p2w.
    As sad as it is, mmo players go through content for the reward first, the quality second. Look how tolerant we are for repeating raids over and over for the tiniest chance of loot.
    If a dlc wants to be sold, the content needs to provide valuable loot, loot that would not be available to non paying customers.
    Even if that loot, or whatever items that is crafted by dlc recipes, can be sold on a market place, it’s still buying power: Economic power.

    We could move the debate to: Is p2w or player seggregation inherently evil?

    But players are usually reticent, and even if we were to reach a positive conclusion, most wouldn’t and that brand of dlc approach wouldn’t work commercialy.

    Then again, people keep buying wow expansions, which does exactly what I criticized earlier with level cap increase on top. But can any new game get away with it? And does wow get away with it only because those expansions are large and far between?

  • I’m all in favor of buy the box, pay the sub, buy the expansion. I’m also in favor of buy the box buy the expansion. I’m trying to decide if buy the box, buy the dlc, buy the expansion is doable.

  • I personaly think that the expansion model is abusive. The subscription model is paying for game development as a service. The content of expansions has already been paid for but the customers are asked to pay a second time.

    In a way the f2p, b2p and dlc models are more honest than the sub+expac.
    Unfortunately, none have proven to be financially viable on the long term.
    This only leaves the box+sub model as the only honest and viable existing model.

    Mayve there are other possibilities that have not been tried yet, but that’s beyond my knowledge.

  • The F2P, B2P, and DLC models are more honest than the sub + expac model only if you insist on being disingenuous about what the sub fee is paying for.

    The sub fee is there to keep the game running, not to pay for new content. If subscriptions became the primary source of funding for new content, this would create a very serious imbalance between players. Players who subscribe the day a new expack drops would be getting the expack for free: in essence, they’d be mooching off the longtime players. You don’t think that would create problems in the community?

    That’s why the sub + expack model makes sense. The cost of playing the game is broken down clearly for everyone to see: (1) the initial box price defrays the initial development of the game, (2) sub fees keep the lights on, (3) expack prices defray the development of the new content being added. Players can look at those prices and decide whether the game is worth it or not. Where exactly is the dishonesty in that?

    I’ve never had any issue paying for expansion packs on top of a subscription fee, so long as the content is of commensurate quality. But then I tend to be honest with myself when making judgments about how much a game is worth. If a game is worth spending my time on, then it’s gotta be worth a paltry $15 a month as well.

    Now if only the folks who complain about paying subscriptions could be just as honest. It’s a bit hypocritical to accuse game developers of dishonest pricing, if what you really mean is “I feel entitled to enjoy your game for free.”

    … As for the subject of the original post, I’m feeling a bit pessimistic about the whole idea. The “expansion pack” concept comes with certain expectations as to volume and quality of content. If the devs don’t meet those expectations, players can become disenchanted with the game as a whole. That can have a huge impact on everything from subscription numbers to cash store sales.

    That being the case, I can see why DBG would find the DLC option attractive. That’s a style of business that tends to be more suited to casual games than MMOs, and folks who play casual games tend to have lower expectations. I’d imagine DBG would be happy to get its players into the same mindset.

    After all, the same people who complain if their $49.95 expack is a bit lame may be happy to shell out $15.00 for a bit of fluff. It’s an impulse purchase, nothing more. If it doesn’t work out, well, maybe the next bit of fluff will be more satisfying.

    Sure, you can put a positive spin on this and say “it allows players to pick and choose their content” but what it comes down to is this: when all is said and done, you’re going to be playing a different sort of game: a game that has more in common with your iPhone apps than with the MMOs of yore.

    In the long run, I think we’ll see a decline in the quality and quality of the content that is being released for MMOs. Players will expect less if you don’t call it an “expansion pack”, and that means you can get away with giving them less. Make it an impulse purchase, and you can get away with much less.

  • I never liked subscription as a payment model for mmorpg.
    Prefer buy to play like guildwars and if expansions do not happen to often and actually deliver grade A content I do not mind that either.

    Subscription feels like a thing of the past where server costs where sky high and it was a necessity to ask for a sub.
    Think games like Meridian 59, Ultima online, maybe Everquest.. But it was no longer necessary for a game like World of warcraft in 2004.

  • @Amiya
    I’m not being disengenuous about what the sub fees pay, I’m being realistic.
    Server fees, bandwidth fees and admins are fairly inexpensive nowadays. Even taking ec2 prices, a 10 000 subscriber mmo could make a large profit with a $0.50 sub. The actual cost being closer to $0.05. And ec2 is amongst the most expensive solutions.

    What costs a lot is to keep devs, artists, content creator and designers on staff. That’s what the subscription pays, a game that keeps being developed.
    And that’s inline with the initial concept of mmos: An everchanging world.
    Expansions in addition are effectively paying twice for content.

    I don’t mind paying, I’d even pay the inflation adjusted price of a sub($15 -> $21) and more for a game that was worth it. I’d even pay for expansions if there were content added for my sub money and expacs not slowing down that process.
    I just don’t like being ripped off.

    I do share your pessimism though.
    A dlc approach will end up lowering quality over time. It just doesn’t pull that much money compared to other models and won’t keep up.

    Gw1 did well for itself with expacs only, but that game was designed in a different market environment.

    From what I said earlier, subscription is more relevant now than then.
    Servr costs disapeared but dev costs skyroketed.

  • We’ll inevitably get to the point where more and more content is either taken out or delayed for future DLC. I don’t like to be nickel and dimed like that. I’m not blind to the fact that it happens with expansions as well, but certainly not as frequently as it will with DLC.

    I think the perfect system would be a buy to play model where we buy the game with no monthly fees and we get a feature rich expansion once a year. It’s certainly much better than paying a monthly fee and getting an expansion every two years.

    If the game and content is worth it then players will buy it. Unfortunately a lot of the times it’s not and the blame gets put of the payment model instead of where it should be. Stop giving us half-assed, unfinished, monitized up the wazoo, temporary content and instead give us something epic and long lasting.

  • I do not think I have a problem with a DLC vs. once a year large expansion if the cost and size of what you get equal out in the end. My worry with EQ2’s new idea is that you will be getting a lot less for a lot more money. Their new proposed DLC is one, maybe two instanced zones. Guess we will wait and see.

    Best pro about frequent DLC is that there is constantly a new influx of things to do. Too easy to burn through most of the content from one large expansion.

  • If it is to work I think it has to be done in a way that does insult a player’s intelligence like replacing a $15/month sub with an $180 yearly Season’s Pass.

    Plus it needs to not just be a series of pay walls to progression or people will start to get frustrated by P2W experience barriers.

  • Actually that’s quite a good idea, although DLC and subscriptions are in a way similar, the pros sound quite appealing. I’d definitely like the opportunity to pick and choose which ones I’d like!

  • I mostly agree with @Amiya

    Expansions typically extend the end-game so we kind of have a “buy what you use” model in that sense. The subset of players experiencing that content is going to be a lot less than the total number of subscribers; if you went based on that alone you would lose out on a huge chunk of revenue from those casual gamers who pay monthly but don’t gobble-up content like the top players.

    Your player lifetime is only so long, and always has been ever since the days of text-based mudding. It wouldn’t make sense for a profit-based business to spend all their time extending the game play when those most likely to pay for it fall outside the standard deviation.

    There’s commerce in the craft now… at a certain price point people who play infrequently will see the charge on their credit card and let it ride rather than dealing with it. Enough of those players and you are making good coin without needing to have the server capacity to handle every single one of them at all times. Health clubs have been using this model for years…