Mass Effect 3’s downloadable story mission “From Ashes” was not an expansion of the game. It was another portion of the full game’s story that had to either be purchased with an expensive limited edition version or separately as downloadable content through Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network. “From Ashes” was about recruiting Javik, a party character and the last surviving member of the Prothean race whose technology forms the backbone if the entire Mass Effect mythology. It was essential and EA left it out to make a buck, which angered more than a few fans.
“From Ashes” also guaranteed that downloadable content available from release will be an essential part of future big budget games for Electronic Arts. Don’t like day-one DLC? Too bad. It’s here to stay.
Speaking with Gamasutra on Wednesday, Electronic Arts’ Chief Operating Officer Peter Moore discussed the dual importance of both digital and physical retail sales for his company’s games. “The key thing [for boosting launch revenue] is selling digital content on the day of launch,” said Moore, “When we sold Mass Effect 3 back in March, we saw a 40 percent attach rate that first week to DLC at GameStop in the United States. Not only are you selling a $60 game… you’re selling $20 DLC, so the sale becomes $80.”
That proposition, turning a $60 sale at retail into an $80 one, is the core of the video game business going forward according to Moore, and he’s right. Big budget video games need to evolve and fast. Just look at April’s retail performance—total sales for the industry were down 32% year-on-year. That’s bad news for anyone.
Of course, the new model is bad news for players with little pocket money and a desire for coherent stories. Day one DLC like “From Ashes” for Mass Effect 3 certainly increases the amount of money EA is going to make, but it’s also a brazen deception. You’re telling consumers that they’re buying a complete game for $60, when in fact they’re only getting most of a game.
EA has in effect found a way to return games to the expensive heights the industry saw back in the late 1980s and early ‘90s when games still predominantly came on cartridges. New home releases of the era like Mortal Kombat 2 could cost as much as $90 on day one. The success of day-one DLC like “From Ashes” is bringing AAA games right back to the bad old days.