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DLC For Me And Thee? (Or Flee?)

Show Me The Money!!

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I shuffle through my (extensive) list of Discord servers multiple times a day, snagging snippets of info - and drama- here and there for website posts and email newsletters. The Icarus Discord caught my eye the other day with the following post from the CEO of Rocket Werkz, the developer/publisher, about the ever-touchy subject of DLC. (Here's a great breakdown of DLC for the uninformed.)

Background

One of the key philosophies of the studio has been to figure out how to make games that keep getting updated without the need to do the dreaded "Game-as-a-service" (GaaS) problems. Initially when the game launched it had been intended as a F2P game and we had searched and got close with some publishing deals. These fell through as we couldn't find someone to partner with who "got" the direction we wanted to take. This did, however, leave us with a lot of legacy architecture. This is where our online back-end came from, which was both loved and hated at the same time.

After our launch we went through a big lessons learned process. While the launch itself was successful, it was not anywhere near as successful as it could have been. Some of the key outcomes was identifying that we needed to do an update every week, without break, to begin to build trust with the community. We also needed to abandon traditional GaaS and try and find a new way. Finally, delegating more authority down by appointing more leads closer to the coal face, and give the project more autonomy.

This went really well - we managed to remove our backend completely which is a minor miracle in itself. We did face a lot of disatisfaction from some customers as this removed the "continue game whenever" feature that we had. But we were committed to the change because without which, the game could not survive properly when we turned the servers off. This is now entrenched in the studio as an approach and we are building our games now to be "de-steamed" even (where possible) so they would still operate even when steam no longer operates.

Overall revenue of Icarus

Generally speaking we have been extremely fortunate with ICARUS. The launch was strong, the 26th top launch for a new IP on steam in its year. It has outlived all its peers who launched around the same time. Even then though, all the revenue we have made we have put back into developing our games. This is an increasing challenge for game studios as the cost of making games has significantly increased while the price paid has not even kept up with inflation. This is also occurring at a time of increasing discoverability problems on steam. Previously established studios were used to releasing new products and having almost guaranteed audiences, but things have changed here and you really are only as good as your last game.

Our Segmentation Approach with DLC

We opted to borrow from greats like Bohemia Interactive and Paradox, who have managed to update their games a tremendous amount and suppliment revenue with DLCs. We studied a lot how to segment them, aiming to put the really good stuff for free. We then include paid DLC at the same time with less cool stuff but as a way for people to support us. This has worked really well, and we've been able to reproduce this philosophy not just with ICARUS but also with Stationeers. This has allowed us to continue to develop both games, even where doing so might not be profitable.

The key aims for our DLC strategy are:

  1. As unrestrictive as possible. If your host owns it, you can access it in their game. Even to the point that someone doesn't even need to to "hack" the game to access the DLC, they can just change a boolean value in settings and gain access.
  1. The fun stuff is free. This does make our DLC sometimes a little bit lacklustre compared to the free update, but we rather lean on this side than segmenting the player community. We continue to position the DLC as more of "supporter" content rather than strictly locking stuff. The exceptions to this are probably our "Expansion" level DLC which is very high investment from the studio, so these are more gated.

That post was followed by another asking for feedback on their overall DLC strategy while breaking down the details of their upcoming LAIKA update. In essence—and quoting the CEO—the "bulk of the cool stuff will be free, like mounts having their own talent trees to grow through, and then two DLC will be provided."

Creature Comforts Content Pack (USD 13.99); a furniture pack that contains a whole host of structures specifically around animals and companions. It is similar in this sense to our other furniture packs although inherently perhaps more functional as pretty much all animal furniture is functional in some way, rather than just cosmetic.
Pet Companions Content Pack (USD 15.99); an animal pack that adds a bunch of pets that the player can bring into their game. These are extra pets, such as cats and dogs, that the player can have as companions.
Zebra Rescue Mission (Free in bundle); a small mission that allows you to rescue zebras as tames. A bundle reward (see below).
These will be bundled together in a "Pets Bundle" at 33% off, giving you the two DLC and the free rescue mission. For completeness, the rescue mission will also be added to the "Complete the Set".

Overall, Icarus already has a fairly impressive bundle of DLC to its credit, ranging from new zones to base decor and finally to small maps for their Outpost mode-, which are "... more of a creative mode, with no threats, impactful weather, no missions or quests, just build as much as you want. The entire game + DLC bundle would run you USD $132.18.

So I wonder:

What are your thoughts on DLC?

  • Is Icarus handling it well?
  • Are you absolutely for it, no questions asked?
  • Are you absolutely against it, no questions asked?
  • Does your support depend on things like game status (full, early access), type of game (MMOs and expansion DLC seem to go hand in hand), if you super duper love it (I will buy anything The Long Dark needs to stay alive!), or some other personal or game factor?
  • Do you want to avoid DLC packs entirely (Were you burnt by The Sims???) and prefer a flat-out subscription service game like World of Warcraft with intermittent paid content dumps? A one-time purchase bolstered by a real-money shop but great content updates a la Sea of Thieves? Or should every game be the magical unicorn of No Man's Sky and pump gigantic and content-heavy drops into the game for not a penny more?

I've paid WoW's subscription fees since launch, but only recently have I felt like the content dropped between Expacs has genuinely lived up to the fees. I gladly purchase stuff in shops on Guild Wars 2 and Sea of Thieves because looking sexy AF as a pixel person is practically half the reason for gaming. And I threw my cash at The Long Dark for their first paid expansion pass because I love the game passionately and think everyone should get it, so they do more. (Have you gotten it yet? You should!)


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