The $US10 worth of new content that went on sale digitally for Gears of War 3 this week is mostly already included on the Gears of War 3 disc that gamers bought for $US60.
It's fair to charge extra for content that is already on the game disc you bought, one of the game's lead creators told Kotaku. Sound strange?
"We're not saying that everything on the disc is the product," Gears 3 executive producer Rod Fergusson said in a telephone interview. "The disc is another delivery mechanism."
Fergusson and his Gears team at Epic stand on the opposite side of an argument that gained fire this week when people noticed that the new $US10 Gears of War 3 Horde Command Pack, which consistis of three new multiplayer maps, new weapons skins, new Horde mode items and more -- was a mere 1.42MB download on Xbox Live. That meant what it looked like. Most of that content was on the disc people already paid for. The $US10 people paid for it was, essentially, an unlock key. Cue the howls: Epic is charing people for something they already bought.
"I can definitely see the counter-discussion," Fergusson told me. He says Epic is trying to be transparent about what it's doing and why. That 1.42MB figure wasn't even intended to be hidden. "We didn't want to artificially pad it," he said "I know of instances where other [game companies] have said, 'We'll put a downloadable video in there." That would get the file size up, but it would also reek of dirty tricks, if detected.
"People hack the [download] streams, and when they do, they think that you're trying to pull a ruse." Epic, he said, isn't trying to mislead anyone. They admit it: Horde Command Pack buyers are paying for content on discs they already own.
Fergusson can justify his game's on-disc DLC. His answer is complex, but logical. It goes back to the fact that Gears of War 3 was originally going to ship in autumn, but was pushed back to spring. "We had begun DLC packs early enough, and with the extension to our schedule. It meant we had that stuff done before we shipped." He was talking specifically about this first DLC pack. The others aren't on the disc. This first one included weapons and maps that needed to be visible to all players, even those who weren't going to pay for them.
Game developers don't want to splinter their multiplayer community into sub-communities that each have to own the exact same pieces of content to play with each other. To get around that, they often provide new DLC to all players, ensuring that all of them can see the content. But only those who pay for it can use the DLC weapon skin or host the DLC map. Fergusson and his team knew they'd have to do something like that. "One of the concerns was we would have to have people download compatibility packs because, with a big emphasis on the extra characters and weapons skins, that whole thing is a vanity play."
The autumn delay gave Epic a new option: instead of making every gamer download the Horde Command Pack content, they could finish that DLC before the fall and put it in some of the open space on the Gears game disc. "We felt it was a win/win, because no one is going to have to download anything huge when the DLC comes out."
Gears of War 3 already had a lot of content, even for a full-priced game. Fergusson said reviewers have said there is as much as three games in one, what with the game's replayable co-op campaign, its extensive co-op Horde and Beast modes and its competitive multiplayer. He doesn't think gamers were short-changed for the $US60 even if they weren't getting access to all the content on the disc without paying an extra $US10.
"I think the thing that makes it muddy for people is when it's on the disc," he said. But Fergusson views the disc not simply as a purchased game but as a delivery mechanism. "We could have left it off and said, 'Hey, here's another disc.'" Instead, he believes Epic did the right thing, sticking to a plan of doling out multiple DLC packs month after month after the game's release and making it convenient for everyone to experience the first pack without a huge download or added physical purchase. It all comes down to what people believe they're paying for and, as far as Epic is concerned, gamers paid for the full game that they got access to this past September.
Gears of War 3 isn't the first game to include on-disc downloadable content. If Epic's logic is sound and if it sits well with consumers, it won't be the last. But that's all the on-disc Gears of War 3 DLC for now. Fergusson said the next Gears DLC is going through its certification process now. It won't be on the disc. You'll have to download it all, if you decide it's worth paying for.