There comes a point, as someone who plays video games, where a Capcom title will come into one’s possession. Dependent on the tastes of this hypothetical gamer, there may be several Capcom titles that come into one’s possession: fans of the survival horror genre or fighting games would no doubt have seen their fair share. Undoubtedly, these people would have also seen their fair share of downloadable content for their games of choice and also their fair share of cut-price rereleases which incorporate the previously non-free downloadable content at the point of sale. Given the huge amount of DLC that Capcom tends to release for its games, particularly the Street Fighter series, one would be forgiven for any sense of relief felt that Capcom allowed the player to carry on in their use of the game which they had already paid for without any further expense; any sense of relief that the game is in fact playable without the x number of downloadable costumes for the characters. Capcom, as a developer, seems to be all to happy to monetise their games through making minutiae of the game downloadable at a cost. In this way, their behaviour is somewhat reminiscent of The Merchant of Venice‘s Shylock: the game’s core content is there at the point of purchase, but continued use of the product is expected to generate further profits for the company.
To say that the advent of ubiquitous access to downloadable content (as ensured by the proliferation of high-speed broadband Internet access) started this practice within Capcom, however, would be mistaken: one only needs to look at the case of Street Fighter II. In total, the game had seven iterations across the arcades and home consoles, each adding some gameplay mechanic or another or new playable characters. Super Street Fighter II, for example, added “Super Combo” and “Air Combo” features, and the prior Street Fighter II: Champion Edition making Balrog, M. Bison, Sagat and Vega playable characters rather than only CPU-controlled enemy characters. These are important additions to the Street Fighter canon, and the Super and Air Combos inform much of modern Street Fighter gameplay, but the fact that these updates were often released as full-price “new” titles to the player smacks of a certain commercial cynicism: an approach akin to assuming that because people had once bought these titles, they would continue to do so if a little window dressing were added to them. A similar thing could be said of the Resident Evil: Director’s Cut released on the PlayStation, which added little more than as easier difficulty, support for the then-new DualShock controller and undocumented auto-aim feature. In any of these cases, it would be a little steep asking £49.99 for the amount of revisions that have been made to the games.
The advent of the current generation of consoles made the business of further monetisation of extant products incredibly easy: all of the platforms had a centralised store for the processing of payments; all of the platforms had a mechanism for locking content to a particular user, through the user accounts on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. This allowed for Capcom to provide rolling content for their games, no longer necessitating the publishing of new physical game media for their updates. On the surface, this seems fairer: if content to be released is released online for easy download, those most keen of fans of any given game can simply download the new content without paying for a full game and thus extend the life of the product. Street Fighter IV and Marvel vs. Capcom 3, however, are informative as to how Capcom viewed the new market with respect to its prior practices: the situation allowed for the company to both have its cake and eat it.
In the case of both games, much DLC was released, including new characters and costumes, which would be then released included with Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. To further add insult to the injury of early purchasers of the games, these rereleases were priced below the original cost of the game and their DLC. Aside from the obvious motivation of keeping cash flow ticking over, this seems a bizarre strategy: it seems to insult those who would be loyal customers of the brand, given their early adoption of the games. The same thing happened between Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 5: Gold Edition, with the formerly paid-for Versus Mode DLC being included with the latter, and the latter being priced below the original’s cost with the DLC added.
The Resident Evil 5 case brings with it another issue that Capcom’s approach to game content brings: the issue of on-disc DLC, where the data required for the operation of the DLC is already on the disc at the time of purchase but requires the purchasing of DLC for it to be available for play. In this case, it was suspected that the Versus Mode was, in fact, included on-disc due to its small download size: rightfully, people who paid for this content felt that they were paying for it twice, given that they had paid for this disc itself and were then being asked to access assets on it. Though, in that case, the accusations proved to be false, Street Fighter X Tekken did include fifteen characters on-disc who would be released months after as paid DLC (£15.99 for the fifteen new characters on PSN), with them appearing as unselectable on the character screen after the release of the DLC if it is not purchased. Capcom cited “compatibility” and “shorter download times” as reasons for this on-disc decision, but, once again, there is something cynical about telling people to pay to access content that is already on their disc that the non-purchase is teased about every time the player selects a character.
DLC is not necessarily a dreadful thing, but Capcom’s approach is somewhat unfair to the consumer, expecting them to pay for any little update after their initial purchase of a game. If they are the Shylock of the video games world, it is only fair to point out the Antonios, who “lend out money gratis and brings down the rate of usance here with us in Venice.” CD Projeckt RED are a developer who must be congratulated on their constant support of products, most notably in their releasing of a large amount of DLC for The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings free of charge and automatically through Steam, including expansive new quests and a new gameplay mode – compare this to Capcom charging for costumes for characters. Rockstar, also, for their treatment of Max Payne 3 are to the congratulated.
The answer in combating this is, of course, to not reward Capcom for what they do with regard to DLC. Unfortunately, the fact is that they have several large franchises for which they can count on fans purchasing the games. Until this changes, which is either an event that will occur in the long term or not at all, Capcom will not have any real incentive to change their methods – especially given their revelations about plans for DLC for Resident Evil 6.