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Timed Exclusive DLC is a Waste of Time
Timed exclusivity, it’s one of this trends that has risen to prominence in this current generation. You know: platform x gets game y for z amount of time. At least that’s how it appeared to me during the first half of this generation. Now it really isn’t games themselves that are the target of timed exclusivity, it’s the DLC attached to the games.
But DLC being a timed exclusive doesn’t really make me want to own the platform to which it’s “exclusive” to. In fact, I think the whole practice is a waste of time for consumers.
We should get something straight before going any further: While I think timed exclusive DLC is an utter waste of time, I understand why it exists. Third party exclusives are all but extinct, but console manufacturers need something to give third party games an edge on their platform—a reason to buy game X on their platform over a competitors. This edge comes in the form of either exclusive in-game content, a la the Benedict Arnold missions for Assassin’s Creed III on PS3, or timed exclusive DLC, a la any Call of Duty game on Xbox 360 since Modern Warfare.
Like I said, I understand why the practice exists, but I have to ask if it’s really all that effective.
When you look at the trend of games with timed exclusive content, it’s hard not to notice that the majority of them are for the 360. High profile games like Grand Theft Auto 4, Skyrim, Fallout 3/New Vegas, and even Resident Evil 6 all have had or will have timed exclusive DLC released on the 360. Don’t think I’m just picking on Xbox, as Battlefield 3 also offered a timed exclusive period for its DLC to PlayStation 3 owners, it’s simply more apparent on Xbox than PS3.
But if we were to pick the biggest offender in the timed exclusive DLC game, it is by far Activision with the Call of Duty franchise. As mentioned before: every Call of Duty game since the first Modern Warfare has had its DLC drop first on the 360. It’s no different with Black Ops 2, where the first DLC pack, Revolution, is now available on Xbox 360 (it’s kind of funny to see Revolution advertised as being on Xbox first, as if it were some sort of badge of honor that makes a huge difference). Keep in mind that I’m not saying anything about the quality of Revolution, and that I’m strictly talking about timed exclusivity.
Why is Call of Duty the biggest offender with timed exclusive DLC? Well, two reasons. Part of it has to do with it being one of, if not the biggest franchises in gaming right now, but it also has to do with the frequency at which new Call of Duty games are released. Every year there is a new Call of Duty iteration, meaning that every year at least one game with timed exclusive content is made available on the 360. Again though, I question whether this is such a great idea.
If you look at the sales of Call of Duty, it certainly has done better on better on Xbox 360, but while PS3 sales are lesser, they don’t lag that far behind. According to Vgchartz if you take a look at the history of Call of Duty sales, and these are pre-Black Ops II figures, Xbox 360 accounts for 54%, or 59.85 million units sold since the first Modern Warfare; PlayStation 3, on the other hand, accounts for 41%, or 45.42 million units sold since the first Modern Warfare (when we’re looking at figures in the tens of millions, I don’t think the difference between Xbox sales and PS3 sales is all that great). If you break that down, a Call of Duty game averages around 11.97 million sales on 360 and about 9.08 million sales for PlayStation3, or just shy of a 3 million unit gap.
Can you attribute that gap to the fact that Call of Duty DLC first appeared on the 360? Probably not. These numbers are more than likely skewed because the 360 had a larger install base for the majority of the time period considered. There are many reasons why the 360 had a larger install base, but timed exclusive DLC can’t and shouldn’t be counted as one of them. If anything, you can argue that the games sold more on Xbox because they performed better on Xbox (and I’ll admit that they do), but that’s a matter of performance and not a matter of on which console the DLC first appeared.
Now, when you look closer at Call of Duty sales figures, it becomes clear that as the gap in sales between Xbox 360 and PS3 closed, so too did the gap in Call of Duty sales on each console. Yes, Call of Duty still generates more sales on Xbox, but by the time the first Black Ops was released, that gap narrowed by about one million. Furthermore, if we keep an eye on the same time frame, while Call of Duty sold much better in North America on Xbox, it actually sold better on PS3 outside of North America.
So what do those figures mean in the grand scheme of gaming? Well, I look at those numbers, and can’t help but think they reinforce the point of this article: timed exclusivity for DLC doesn’t really help sales, making it a waste of, well, time. I mean if it did, you’d expect the console sales gap to increase in response to added timed exclusive DLC, not to shrink. People just aren’t going to buy Black Ops II for Xbox simply because they’ll get to play Revolution or any other piece of Black Ops II DLC first. The theory that they would, really if you think about it, flies in the face of multiplayer gaming.
For argument’s sake, say you own both a PS3 and an Xbox 360 and are a big fan of the Call of Duty franchise. But the majority of your friends only have a PS3. Are you really going to buy the game for 360 and not play with your friends, just to experience the DLC first? No. Any sane gamer is going to choose to play with his or her friends, and experience the DLC together as it comes, assuming you are at all interested in the DLC. At that point timed exclusive DLC is moot, because it’s your friends influencing your decision.
I guess what it boils down to is patience. Most of us are patient enough to sit and wait however long it takes, and it usually isn’t that long, for the DLC to be made available on our console of choice before purchasing it. Timed exclusive DLC just isn’t enough to justify purchasing a new console. If you owned an Xbox 360 and a PS3, I can understand purchasing the game for whichever console the DLC will be appearing first, but beyond that timed exclusivity serves no purpose. The availability of timed exclusivity in DLC is really only useful for creating creates internet pissing matches where nobody wins.
Publishers don’t care whether you play their third party games on a PS3, PC, or Xbox 360—they really don’t. All they care about is that you actually buy their games and all the additional content that goes along with it. A game sold on either PS3, 360, or PC is still, obviously, a sale which equals money in a publisher’s pocket, and we all know that publishers love money.
Hey, good article Flynn. Well I do think you are correct about timed DLC regarding multiplayer games, but if a single player game on a specific platform adds something I'm interested in at no extra cost, like the joker challenge missions for Arkham Asylum on PS3, I'm most likely going to get the game on that system. I'll likely be just as happy to play the game on either system, but I don't mind if the publisher incentivizes me to choose their platform. In fact, I think it's good for the industry. The competition keeps the publishers on their toes in trying to offer a "better" experience on their platform.
@CrazyBolt I agree with everything you're saying. If a game is offering exclusive content, that can make a huge difference. But with timed exclusive content, they really aren't creating the same kind of incentive for the consumer that strictly exclusive content creates.