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Pre-Release DLC and Improving Brand Identity

As the game market grows it has become increasingly more important for franchises to remain constant in the consumer’s eye. DLC has been a popular choice to promote a game's pre-release identity.

Pre-Release DLC and Improving Brand Identity

As the game market grows it has become increasingly more important for franchises to remain constant in the consumer’s eye. With the recent success of Capcom’s Dead Rising: Case Zero DLC I wanted to examine current and past DLC that were designed to help promote brand identity.

Whether it be in the form of DLC or web based gameplay; have these “game appetizers” improved franchise identity or have they given a false impression of what the full game will offer? I will examine three recent DLCs and 2 other alternatives that have demonstrated unique ways in promoting a future game’s release.

Case Zero

Dead Rising: Case Zero: Capcom has championed this DLC as “the most dynamic sales weapon we have ever had in our arsenal”. Similar to a demo, the Case:Zero DLC offers players a chance to witness the core mechanics of Dead Rising 2 in an environment specifically built for this DLC.

Players are also treated to short narrative that sets up the events to DR2. I found the DLC to be worth one Abe Lincoln and helped me as a player understand the world of Dead Rising 2.

However, as mentioned in other forums, the DLC almost worked too well. I felt that I had experienced what Dead Rising 2 was going to offer and passed on the purchase of the retail skew. In the coming months we will be able to crunch the numbers to see if Case:Zero is the “dynamic sales weapon” Capcom claimed it to be or if it stifled Dead Rising 2 ‘s sales.

Current Metacritic:  79/User 8.3 Dead Rising 2: 79(360)/80(PS3)/77(PC)/User:8.3/8.2

Fable 2: Pub Games: Pub Games was a unique experience that let players play 3 different mini-games to unlock items and earn gold prior to Fable 2’s release. This DLC was offered for free with pre-orders and is currently available on Xbox Live for $10 dollars.

Unlike the narrative-centric Case:Zero, Pub Games is a 5 minute experience that offers the chance for players to earn gold outside by playing 3 gambling-based table-top games. (Fortune’s Tower is great!) Players will not be introduced to any narrative threads or characters throughout their playing experience.

Instead the game offers an atmospheric taste of Fable’s 2 setting. As a free downloadable this game provided me with a few hours of entertainment and in-game gold for my future Fable 2 adventures.

However, if players were unable to secure a free voucher for the game would they want to purchase Pub Games for rare items and extra gold? This expensive add-on does not offer enough substance to warrant a new player’s investment. Pub Games is great for fans of the series, but possibly not worthwhile for the casual player.

Current Metacritic: 53/User 6.3 Fable 2: 89/User 6.2

Dead Space Ignition: Like most players, I was enamored with Dead Space’s visual design and gameplay. And like most players, I am weary of the more “action-drive” sequel that will arrive in early 2011. Dead Space Ignition is a free download for those who pre-order Dead Space 2 or you can elect to purchase the item through each console marketplace. 

The game is a mix of motion graphic images and simple mini-games. I have to admit that I haven’t finished this DLC, but it has already given me the wrong impression about the series.  This DLC delivers the player a narrative experience through crude, albeit, stylized motion graphics that feels rushed and incomplete.

We are quickly introduced to several characters that are tasked to hack different consoles. This is where the gameplay is introduced. Players are treated to simple mini-games that are water-down versions of their counterparts. The events of Ignition, like Case:Zero, are a build up its successor.

Ignition's simple gameplay and corny character situations have caused me to become disinterested in the series. Dead Space should be spectral, isolated and horrific. Ignition takes the opposite approach and offers us bright palettes and a crowed setting.

Does this mean that I will ignore the sequel’s release? Probably not, but it does make me more aware of the different brand approach that EA is trying to deliver in January.

Current Metacritic: 39(360)/36(PS3)/User: N/A  Dead Space: 89(360)/88(PS3)/User 8.9/9.3

Web and iPhone Promotion: Besides DLC EA has offered other alternatives to promote a retail game’s release through website interactive and mobile devices. In 2009 iPhone users were able to purchase an app called Mass Effect Galaxy that introduced Mass Effect fans to two main characters from Mass Effect 2.

Mass Effect Galaxy

Similar to Ignition’s motion comic approach, Galaxy delivered their prequel narrative through animated images. The clean, cartoony style presentation differentiates from the main game’s ascetics, but still delivers a fun mobile experience.  Galaxy is a worthy narrative that expands ME’s lore, however its clumsy touch controls and laggy top-down action made it less desirable.  

Dragon Age Journey’s is another example of how to promote brand identity outside of DLC. Journey’s was an interactive experience that allowed you to visit the world of Dragon Age and experience the game’s basic RPG elements. A visually appealing game at no cost to the player, this standalone piece demonstrated a franchise’s ability to offer a free experience with the reward of in-game content.

I have no strong criticisms with the iPhone or Web-based experiences (if they remain free, Galaxy was not) that offer intriguing narratives with in-game rewards. However, as a player, I often feel forced into these experiences just to gain in-game items. I ultimately care about that sword or gun I will be able to obtain, not the narrative that is being told in the process of my virtual transaction.

We have all played vertical slices or different skews of games that were designed to promote a future game’s release with either excitement or dreadful boredom.  I believe that designing these experiences will become more popular as we continue to play and make games. The difficulty in designing these "hors d'oeuvres" is creating an experience that mimics the quality of the full game. (Notice that all the DLCs have lower scores than their successor. Case Zero being the narrow exception. ) What DLC or promotional content has left you satisfied or turned off from a game’s brand identity? 

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