There's a new, emerging trend in core video game business models: the downloadable content (DLC) "tail." Most recently, Microsoft announced that the expansion for "Grand Theft Auto IV, The Lost and Damned," trounced previous sales records for the first day release of DLC. While company didn't release specific sales figures, still the event was clearly a shift.
What do the following games have in common?
They actually have two things in common: they were critically acclaimed upon release, and they have, and/or will be, releasing substantive add-on DLC. In fact, so far in 2009, many of the titles most acclaimed by the gaming press have been these add-on releases.
The model makes a lot of sense for game developers. Add-ons don't cost nearly as much to produce as building an entirely new game, they cut down on the rental and used game markets by providing utility to titles well past release, and they introduce a new potential revenue source based on an already successful property.
The new model also presents an interesting opportunity for marketers. Static in-game advertisements, which typically allow greater creative integration -- but at the cost of an expensive and time-consuming process -- are a big gamble. The success of the campaign is directly tied to the success of the game release, and if the release date of the game gets pushed, tough luck for the campaign. As a result, we've seen a drop-off in static in-game executions, down from what was already a less-than-popular practice. But DLC offers a new opportunity.
It's quite likely that the bestselling titles of 2009 will have expansion packs in development before the original title is even released, based on how popular this business model seems to have become. Marketers can then watch the success of titles that contextually fit for their brand, and approach the developers to integrate a static campaign into the add-on content. This ensures at least (a) a built-in potential audience for the content; and (b) that while the content of the game is up in the air, the controls/graphics/gameplay is solid. Both of these dramatically reduce the risk associated with static in-game ads.
I doubt static in-game advertisements will suddenly become the hot new thing, but this shift has certainly added some ideas for marketers to consider.
[Full Disclosure: Josh Lovison works for the IPG Emerging Media Lab, which works with Universal McCann. Both Microsoft and Sony are agency clients.]