On DLC and Virtual Property
Firstly, Twitter royally sucks for that sort of interaction.
Secondly, those of you who have spent more than 10 minutes on gaming message boards are already aware of where this is going, that being the practice of “DLC” consisting of unlocking data on the physical media that was previously inaccessible, as opposed to downloading said content. Brad, like many people, finds this inexcusable because they have “paid” for that information.
Now, I wish to state that Brad is an intelligent individual who I absolutely respect and has probably forgotten more about games than I’ve learned in the first place. He is also wrong.
The problem here is that he’s applying the pragmatics of physical ownership to that of computer data. You see this a lot on the Internet, and it never works. It never works because when you buy game media, you’re not buying every bit of information contained in that media, you’re paying for whatever bits (literally) of that data that the game company chooses to give access to. Accessing that other information is not only not your right, it is, taking the contractual agreement that you enter into by buying that media at face value, actually illegal.
Several recent examples involving games show that what you are actually purchasing is access to the data that the company wishes you to access: for the American release of Yakuza 3, Sega has removed access to the hostess bars as well as the shogi and mahjong minigames, all of which are available in the Japanese version of the game. Said data is almost certainly not actually been removed from the disc, just blocked off. So, do American consumers have a right to access this data? I invite those of you who feel this way to bring litigation against Sega of America and let me know how this goes.
In a more extreme example, we have Ubisoft’s new DRM for their PC games where if you are not online, you cannot access the game at all. This includes network outages on Ubi’s side as well as your own. Again, you paid for the game, yet if you try and bypass the DRM to access the game data, it is you who would be doing something illegal.
As a final example, if you buy a game with an online component, you only buy the right to access online content for as long as the servers are up. In this case, it is easier to understand why this is, because the relationship between the consumer and the data is explicitly separate from the physical property, even though almost all the code and art assets used in the online experience is packed on the physical disc.
The part of this issue that is boggling to me is that Brad, and presumably many people who share his viewpoint on this, are against the unlocking of data, yet are fine with paying for information as part of a DLC package so long as it’s downloaded. Now, I have some first-hand experience with how DLC is generated, and I assure you that in most casees that whether regardless of whether it is eventually downloaded or unlocked, it is generated in the exact same manner. Meaning that people are only willing to pay for said information if they have to go through an inconvenience of having to squeeze that information through their personal bandwidth.
This makes a certain amount of sense as anybody involved in selling product throughout the years will tell you that people will prefer to pay more for something when presented with the illusion of work having been done, even if said “work” is completely unnecessary for the end product. In fact, if something is seemingly “too easy” to produce, it must be a rip-off, regardless of the value of the end product. In this case, the significant download* of said DLC data is “proof” of the good faith of the developer.
However, this shouldn’t be an issue of contention for much longer as we’ll all be dealing with download-only content eventually, which will bring all sorts of new arguments (that will soon feel old) along with it.
* – I use this awkward phrase because technically, you’re still downloading something when you unlock access to DLC, it’s just that the download is of a trivial size compared to the actual amount of bits contained in the “downloaded” content.