While Electronic Arts and BioWare were a little slow in taking up the free-to-play model in Star Wars: The Old Republic, BioWare has been experimenting with distribution models for its single-player role-playing games for a while. BioWare has used online
passes, day one DLC and significant story additions to build revenue outside of the traditional one-time purchase price. According to Fernando Melo, director of online development at BioWare, having a post-ship plan is “absolutely fundamental to what your
team needs to be doing.”
He directly answers questions about why BioWare offers day one DLC at a talk at GDC Europe, showing how despite the displeasure for such an offering, the sales numbers justify the business practice.
Though he couldn’t provide exact sales figures of downloadable content packs for games like Dragon Age: Origins, Mass
Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, he did show that following the launch of a game, sales numbers drop off sharply for the original retail product. Yet upon every release of downloadable
content, player activity shot back up again, and more importantly for Melo and BioWare, the sales of other existing pieces of DLC also spiked. This he attributed to users returning to the game and discovering new content had been released that they weren’t
previously aware of.
He also noted that DLC purchase activity remains low but consistent for many months following launch, and that while the base retail game may drop dramatically in price, the DLC always retains roughly the same one. He characterized paid DLC as “really safe,
from a risk perspective.” That’s assuming the game is successful, and with the caveat that some paid DLC, such as story missions, will sell better than weapon packs or other minor additions.
But why, if some of that downloadable content is ready for launch, is it not included in the base game? “Contrary to what you might hear on the internet,” said Melo, “fans do want more content. They tend to say, ‘I want it now.’ The problem with day one
content and the challenge around it is that the right answer for now is different for every player. There is no single right time, there is no single now. It’s subjective, and it’s unique to every player.”
BioWare checked its collected statistics to try and figure out the proper timeframe. “In our case, when we look at completion rates for our games, consistently less than half of our players actually finish even once.” Dragon
Age: Origins was low at 36%, which also happened to be the biggest game included in the comparison chart. Mass Effect 2 was the highest at around 56%, though this spiked up around
the time before Mass Effect 3launched as people went back and completed the story. BioWare took that data, where some blazed through the game as quickly as possible, and some completed
the game at their own pace, and figured the only way to cater to both crowds was the have DLC available on day one. “In that case, you’re making it available on their time. They choose when to pick that up. It’s not based on us. It’s not based on some first-party
release schedule. It’s there, if they want it they can pick it up day one. If they don’t, they can wait until they’ve finished their game.”
Yet that still didn’t address the question of why the DLC wasn’t just part of the base game. As the production timeline Melo presented during the talk showed, multiple packs of downloadable content must go into production before the base game is complete.
Melo couldn’t provide specific sales figures, but showed a high percentage of players, particularly with Dragon Age: Origins, purchased the content made available day one. Even
significant percentages of those who purchased titles used from game stores went on to activate online passes and purchased additional DLC.
For BioWare, it’s a sound business strategy, yet for some players, it’s still a nuisance. “If you have a consistent culture of how you’re communicating to your fans, that will increase the number of people that are more likely to believe in your explanation.
You’re not lying to them, but they will take whatever you’re saying as like, ‘you’re lying to us.’ That will always be there. The only way that that’s going to go away is you fast forward a few more years, where this is just normal. Every game is digital from
day one. Every game is an ongoing service, almost like an MMO, where on any given day new content shows up. Maybe that’s part of the base package, and maybe it’s a premium feature.”
On the topic of premium content, Melo said that once microtransaction models begin to crowd out fixed-price DLC, there’ll be no more need for online passes. “As soon as you start having microtransactions in your game, you’re now operating within a free-to-play
or social space. In which case, introducing any kind of a gate, like an online pass, that limits how many people can get into that microtransaction space, may actually work against you.”
That’s not to say BioWare is moving entirely in the free-to-play direction with its single-player role-playing games. Melo specifically said at the talk that everything he discussed did not indicate something BioWare was going to do next. But still, you
can tell the studio is thinking hard about it, and has already made steps into microtransactions with Mass Effect 3. “A key tenet of microstransactions is it allows players to spend
what they want, when they want to. This is a really powerful force and concept. They’re not capped, unlike one time DLC purchases. If you have five DLCs, even for the most ardent fan, they will only ever be able to give you 50 dollars, let’s say. With microtransations
and consumables and things of that nature, potentially you may get less, but you may have more players able to do that. There’s also a lower barrier to spend, compared to most fixed-priced items.”
As time moves forward, BioWare will not only continue to closely monitor the data Melo presented, but also in-game behavior. BioWare looks at what types of content players find most engaging, such as romance stories or which followers are most often brought
into a fight, and uses that data to drive DLC decisions. BioWare still makes decisions about what will and will not make it into the game, but Melo concluded that ultimately, when determining how to expand a game beyond the base experience, “nothing will beat
listening to your fans.”
Source = http://uk.ign.com/articles/2012/08/13/bioware-explains-day-one-downloadable-content
Thoughts? Not sure they really justified the whole Day 1 DLC but their use of micro transactions has resulted in the case of ME3 at least, quite a lot and all FREE MP Content