It happened again.
I’ve been playing Black Ops pretty intensely for the last few weeks as it’s currently my FPS of choice after I quit Halo Reach for good and there’s nothing else on the horizon I’m even remotely looking forward to in the genre.
So yesterday a little notification popped up on Xbox Live that a new map pack had debuted for the game. Four new maps? Hot damn! Before I even knew what was happening, I had added MIcrosoft points to my account, and downloaded the $15 bundle.
But then a realization came over me. The publishers had won. For all my sanctimonious ranting about how DLC should be free, and companies are overcharging for content that should be in the game already, I just spent $15 on this map pack without even batting an eyelash. Afterwards I actually felt bad. Like I’d just bought a vial of crack or a toothless hooker.
And what did I get? This game costs $60, and I’ve added exactly four new levels to it. Is that an extra 25%? It may be in terms of the amount of multiplayer maps, but lest we forget that this game originally had a campaign as well, and the guns, perks and challenges in multiplayer are part of the game’s content. Nothing’s been added to any of those parts of the game.
It doesn’t matter though. I’m sure I’m about to read some new story about how Activision just raked in $50M in 24 hours because of this DLC pack. What we’ve seen here in the last few years is the creation of a product guaranteed to be massively profitable. How often can you say that?
It really is a sight to behold. I’m sure there’s a decent amount of work that goes into making something like a map pack. It probably takes a team of designers and testers a few weeks to make sure there are no lingering problems with the levels. But in no way is this amount of work proportional to the price tag, and companies who own successful franchises have essentially found a way to print money.
So why does this work?
It’s pretty simple economics. We, the consumer, have demonstrated that we are willing to pay this inflated price point, because the benefit we reap from it is beyond the cost. We know these few bits of code are in no way worth 25% of the entire title, but the enjoyment we get out of exploring new levels in one of our favorite games is apparently worth the cash.
And frankly, $15 might be too much for these maps, but it’s not a lot of money in general. It’s a few cups of coffee, a dinner at Applebees, a movie ticket and a half. And if you do the math, you’re probably getting your money’s worth.
Let’s do a conservative estimate and say you play ten hours of Black Ops a week. There were fourteen maps before, now there are eighteen, a 28% increase. Theoretically with random map assignment, 4/18 or 22% of the time you should be experiencing new content in the game. So in a ten hour week, that’s just over two hours of time spent playing new maps. Contrast that with a two hour movie you pay $10 for. It may be less bang for your buck in week one, but what about in week 2, 3, 4 or 5? You’ve only had to pay the $15 once.
I guess I wrote this article to prove to myself that even though I realize people like me are the reason DLC prices are so high, that both we and the publisher are getting something out of the deal. Granted, they’re getting millions of dollars and I’m getting a few new virtual worlds to run around in, but when you actually map it out, I don’t feel like I’m getting ripped off as much as I did previously.
But as for my massive Comcast cable bill when I watch exactly four channels? That’s another media pricing issue entirely I can’t even begin to get into right now…