Downloadable content. We've all heard of it and at some point we've all probably bought some. But it's definitely now a growing phenomenon. More and more downloadable content is now appearing on all platforms where once it was the exclusive domain of PC games. With this broadening of the target market comes a broadening of the divide between people who are for these kind of transactions and the people who are against them. But are things really so black and white when it comes to so-called "premium content?"
It's not so far in the past that this kind of content just wasn't available. When charges levied on electronic transactions was such that the charge was usually as much, if not more, than the cost of the content, then this kind of delivery mechanism simply wasn't considered. There were the odd, few games that bundled up many small pieces of content and provided them as one larger download periodically (either for free or as a pay-for expansion pack) but the thought of buying small amounts of content was just a pipe dream.
However, this was all soon to change. As the cost of processing so called "micro-transactions" (typically high volume, always low-value transactions) all but disappeared there was suddenly an area of the market that games companies realised they could exploit. Suddenly there was a mechanism for a company to provide an alternative uniform or strip for your favourite team in your favourite sports game, without having to buy outfits for all of the teams in your game at a higher price. But do content micro-transactions make for richer games or richer game companies? Well, that all depends on your point of view, of course ...
Electronic Arts "buy unlocks"
One company that seems to have taken the brunt of the outcry on the internet over micro-transactions, and the one company that seems to be labelled as "money-grabbing" when it comes to micro-transactions is Electronic Arts. It has been seen on the XBox 360 in a number of EA titles, where it has started to sell the ability to buy players/items that you could otherwise get for free by playing the game. Let's take an example. In Tiger Woods 2007 on the XBox 360, as you play through the game, you can unlock professional golfers and then play as them. However, you can also "unlock" these players by buying them from the XBox Live Marketplace. So, effectively, you're paying for content that you already could get for free. But why?