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Beware the Downloadable Content (DLC)

This article was written by in Consumer. 19 comments.


I buy maybe three video games a year, which is as often as they make games good enough to buy. I find it impossible to pay $60 for a new game, partially because as a child of the original Nintendo, I got accustomed to $40 games, so I always wait at least a couple weeks to get a used copy. And I did the same thing with Assassin’s Creed II, which was worth every penny.

But I’m not going to tell you how awesome this game is, since you’d either like it or you wouldn’t. No, the interesting part is how I almost wasted a bunch of money on it.

I got my used copy for about $45 and spent a couple of weeks playing it on and off until I finished the story. I don’t care much about unlocking achievements or finding every treasure, I just care about being good enough to finish the story. Eventually I was, and I brought the game back and traded it in for a used copy of Batman: Arkham Asylum (which is also very good). I was satisfied, and excited about future sequels.

A little while after that, I saw on the Xbox dashboard that there was new DLC (downloadable content) available for Assassin’s Creed II. A whole new piece of the story was ready to be unlocked for 320 points, or if you want to talk like a normal human American, four dollars. I found myself in a brand new position: I had finished the story, and yet I had not. The satisfaction of finishing the game had been yanked away from me, which would normally have angered me, except that the game is so good that mostly I was annoyed I had sold the game back.

So I did what seemed natural: I complained about it on Facebook. I had given up, and had no intention of buying the game again, that would be absurd. I was just planning on feeling sorry for myself, or at least waiting until I felt like I had the free cash to throw around.

Fortuitously, I have a co-worker that follows me on Facebook, and whose son likes to get in considerable trouble (imagine police officers, broken arms and many fights). She punished him by taking away some of his video games, and lent one to me, the one I needed to continue the story… which I did, and then the next day, there was yet another DLC pack available for the same game. Naturally, I immediately paid another four human American dollars and played through that in a few hours.

So, lesson learned: do some research on whether the game developers are planning any DLC before selling the game back. Unlike the $40 price tag, I’m still not used to the idea that games get add-ons over time, but I’m thrilled that they do. I’m also really lucky that my friend’s son gets in trouble, but hopefully he and I can both learn to make smarter choices.

Published or updated March 15, 2010. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Smithee formerly lived primarily on credit cards and the good will of his friends. He is a newbie to personal finance but quickly learning from his past mistakes. You can follow him on Twitter, where his user name is @SmitheeConsumer. View all articles by .

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Tom

The question you must ask yourself: How much did it cost, per hour, for the enjoyment? Did the game give you 45 hours of fun for $1 an hour? Did the addon give you 4 more hours at $1 per hour? If so, then the value is the same. If the game took less than 45 hours, the addon was a better deal than the game itself.

DLC is nice, when done right. Clothing for my character in PSHome is not worth it.

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avatar Tom Dziubek

Hey Smithee, have you gotten sucked into Rock Band / Guitar Hero yet? Buying and downloading all of your favorite songs…especially from a particular artist you like…can be very tempting. I know someone who got so into Rock Band that he felt the need to download purchase EVERY song available.

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avatar Smithee ♦1,358 (Quarter)

Aye, I probably spent somewhere close to $20 on Rock Band songs, but I haven’t played in what seems like at least a year.

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avatar Curt

I really enjoy Con. Comm. Good advice that is practical. I try and get my kids to read your posts. Now, a question for you. If time is valuable, why is so much of it being spent on video games? One wonders if this may be, as many neuro-scientists contend, an addiction. We all need hobbies to unwind, but the amount of wasted time and effort on video games seems to be a questionable use of life. Not good economics in the long run. I’m not perfect and have areas to work on in my own life. It is useful to have them touched upon from time to time. Again, your blog is helpful – keep up the good work.

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avatar Tom Dziubek

“We all need hobbies to unwind, but the amount of wasted time and effort on video games seems to be a questionable use of life.”

Fair point, but I think it’s up to each individual to decide how much down time they need in their own personal life and how they want to spend it. I’m sure just about any method that a person spends unwinding is open to critique in regards to its relative value. What if you or I decided we wanted to spend our down time sleeping, or sitting on a chair staring blankly at a wall? Would it be any different than someone who wants to play video games? I think it’s more important to address the amount of time performing such activities, as opposed to how that time is spent. As long as the person enjoys the time and it helps their mental well-being, more power to them.

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avatar Salvatore

It’s funny, I thought you were going in a completely different direction with this post. I thought that this was going to be about how the downloadable content was a trap that sucks away your money instead of being something that you were upset about not having an opportunity to purchase. Researching every purchase of $50 or more seems like a good idea though.

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avatar steveDH

Hey, it’s a good business model and it’s used in various forms throughout our lives. Even the evening news uses it. “Teasers are good for business”, is what it’s called. “Find out why so-and-so did (whatever) NEXT on Kxxx!! (Wxxx for easterners). Funny at best (new content for your game) and criminal at it’s worst (Tobacco giveaways) it is just a lever to get you to pass along those bucks. I like Tom’s thoughts; at a dollar an hour it beats going to the movies.

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avatar Matt

I don’t think it’s quite fair to just dismiss DLC out of hand. The length of any particular DLC is something that’s up to the individual developer. Some developers, like Ubisoft Montreal, won’t give you much for your money. However, other developers provide excellent bargains with their DLC. For instance, Fallout 3 (which is interestingly made by Bethesda, who is often maligned for one of the worst DLC packages ever, horse armor for $2 in Oblivion) has several lengthy DLC packages, each for $10, that add dozens of hours to the game.

The important thing is to do your research before you buy and determine if the amount of enjoyment that the DLC adds to the game is going to be worth the price you pay.

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avatar David

My issue comes with the game publisher essentially selling you an unfinished product, then charging you for the pleasure of an ending. Unfortunately, this is becoming more and more common.

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avatar james braselton

hi there wow can not wait for nintendo 3DS too come too market it will indeed download content auto madicly even during sleep mode all it needs is another 3DS too talk too or wi-fi

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