Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Great Rocksmith DLC Debate - Why the Bundled Song Packs Just Aren't Good Enough

See update on this topic here.

You Have Every Right to Be Irritated About Your DLC

I'm not half as irritated with Ubisoft over this issue as I am with a number of people on the Ubisoft Rocksmith Forum who would presume to tell others that they shouldn't be irritated about this. Frankly, there are some good arguments on both sides of the issue. At the end of the day, Ubisoft is perfectly within their rights as a business to make Rocksmith players buy a second version of their DLC to play on a new platform. My bottom line, however, is that just because you can do something doesn't mean you should do it. Ubisoft will likely get away with pissing off a number of loyal Rocksmith fans. Eventually we'll all probably buy a PC version of Rocksmith and eventually we'll all probably buy at least some of the DLC we bought before.

But, rest assured, when some other company issues a competing product, many of Ubisoft's previously loyal Rocksmith fans will jump ship. Remember all the talk about Slash's new Rocksmith-like game? Remember how loyal Rocksmith players lambasted that game on the Ubisoft forum? Well, in light of the DLC issue, I suspect many more Rocksmith types will be willing to try something else. If that other company had been on the ball, they'd have had their product ready for release this month. I guarantee they'd have won over some Rocksmith players - and if their product was competitive Ubisoft would lose customers.

Ubisoft could minimize that very easily. They have made a gesture of good will by bundling DLC into three discounted song packs. But, as I'll show you below, that's sort of a hollow gesture. 

We Don't Even Own Rocksmith

It's important to read the licensing agreements on software because the lawyers who write that stuff are covertly eroding the concept of ownership. At the very least, they're radically altering the concept of ownership when it comes to published media. If you can't sell a game (or book or CD, etc), you don't own it. You're not even leasing it. You're renting it with no option to sublet. Many people seem perfectly content to accept this. I don't happen to be one of them.

The Rocksmith DLC platform issue is like having Avis tell you that you can only drive your rental car on secondary roads, as specified in the rental agreement that you sign at the dealership. If you want to drive on Interstates, you've got to pay double the usual daily rate - even though it's highly unlikely that you could drive the same car on both types of roads at the same time.

Put another way, it's like buying a book, say a copy of Lord of the Rings, printed in Algerian 14 font. If you want the book in New Century Schoolbook 12, you've got to buy a second copy. Fine. You are getting a physical product, and you can sell your first copy of the book or give it away or whatever you choose to do with it. The publisher has sold it to you and there is no longer any significant relationship between buyer and seller. Of course you cannot copy the book and sell copies. And, you cannot rewrite the content of the book in whole or in part and pass it off as your work or sell it. I can live with that. I'm not asking Ubisoft to give me the actual code for my DLC or do anything that would allow me to duplicate my DLC for potential sale to others. I'm not asking for more DLC than what I've already bought. Most importantly, I'm not even asserting that Ubisoft owes me this favor.

I'm merely suggesting that providing a digital copy of something I've already bought and paid for would not cost Ubisoft much, if anything. These aren't "songs" in the traditional sense of recordings. Ubisoft didn't mail a single DLC selection to me on CD. There is no physical product that has to be manufactured or shipped here. 

As far as the transfer of DLC to an alternate platform, I don't see the problem. Book publishers have managed to exist and profit for decades if not hundreds of years without the ability to control what happens to a book once it is purchased. If I buy a book, I'm free to resell it, lend it to someone, give it away, donate it to a library, even copy it (as long as I don't sell the copies). Software companies have far greater protections already. I'm reluctant to give up true ownership rights in order to give software developers even more protection than they already enjoy.

The fact that RS is using Steam to control distribution would suggest to me that they could make this rather significant good will gesture to their loyal customers even more easily without great potential for abuse.

The Censored Ubisoft Forum Discussion Continued

I'm not arguing that Ubi should give anybody a free copy of their previously-purchased DLC for a second platform. I don't fully understand all the myriad licensing issues, etc. involved - and I don't really care to delve into it beyond understanding why it might be impossible for Ubisoft to give a bit more on this. I'm willing to accept that there's money involved and that it is generally considered unreasonable by many to expect Ubi to just give anybody a copy of their DLC. I'm OK with that. Or I'm at least willing to grudgingly accept it as SNAFU.

People who have bought over $200 worth of DLC could save $70 on the discounted song packs, but I don't find the "deeply discounted" song packs to be a very meaningful gesture. A discounted price of $2 per song isn't looking like a "deep discount." Especially for someone like myself who didn't buy and doesn't want all of the songs in the newly offered song-packs.

I only own 15 DLC songs for XBox, 11 are in the Classic Rock pack and 2 are in the Alternative Rock pack. That only leaves me with 2 songs to replace that aren't in one of those two packs. Since they haven't provided the list of songs in the third pack, I don't even know if my two remaining songs are included. And, I don't know if there are any other songs in that pack that I'd want. So that pack is a crap shoot at this point.

I only own two songs from the Alternative Rock pack. Replacing these two songs for the PC platform would cost me a total of $6 - nowhere near $30. This pack includes at least 5 songs that I wouldn't buy at any price. (I wouldn't download them or use space on my hard drive to store them even if they were free.) That leaves 10 songs, at most, from this pack that I would even consider buying. That's only $30 with no discount. By buying the "deeply discounted song pack," I'm getting 5 songs free - but they're songs that I don't want. At best, this pack would be a break-even deal for me.

The Classic Rock pack includes 4 songs that I really don't want. The other 11 I bought for XBox. I'd have to spend $33 at normal prices to get those 11 songs for the PC. If I bought this song pack for $30, I'd save $3 on my DLC and I'd get 4 free songs - but again they're 4 songs that I really don't like or want. Saving $3 on the replacement cost of DLC I already own is about a 10% discount. Not exactly a compelling bargain.

Bottom line: A 33% discount is pretty good on something you want to buy, but the discounted song packs are not a good deal for me. I can replace the songs I want for far less than the cost of the song packs.

Consequently the discounted song packs aren't a tempting incentive to buy the PC version. They definitely don't rise to the level of a reward for being a loyal RS player because saving 33% on something I don't want isn't a deal. And, knowing that I might change my mind about the PC version down the road remains a disincentive for me to buy any more DLC for my XBox.

If you are considering buying the entire collection of more than 70 songs, you'd save somewhere in the neighborhood of $70 by buying the song packs. Nothing to turn up your nose at - but how many people have bought and plan to replace the entire catalog of DLC? Probably a relatively small number. Most people will be saving less than 33% - possibly a lot less.

I'd suggest a 50% discount as a minimum. . . but that's just me.

The Discussion Continued

The thread where this comment was originally posted (on the Ubisoft RS forum) was locked down not long after I posted this. But, before discussion was stifled, a couple of noteworthy comments followed. In one, someone suggested that even a 50% discount was not enough and that he was surprised anyone would accept 50% to repurchase something they already owned. Apparently some people are perfectly willing to accept a 0% discount to purchase a second copy of their DLC for the PC platform. Others demand a 100% discount. I figure 50% off is a good compromise.

Another forum member posted that he planned to sell his entire XBox system, with his RS game and all DLC and use the money from that sale to pay for the PC version of RS and replace at least some of his DLC. I have never read the entire licensing agreement, but I suspect that could be considered a violation of that agreement. Not that I blame the guy. It's a good idea. It's also an example of how users will violate or even flaunt the license agreement if they feel that Ubisoft is pushing them into a corner. (Mind you, I didn't say that Ubisoft is pushing anybody into any corners - only that some people may feel that they are and will react accordingly.)

So, again, Ubisoft, I'm suggesting that maybe you could yield just a bit more on this. Knock another 17% off the price and recover some good will from some loyal Rocksmith players. Throw us a bone here.


  1. I think you know where i stand on the issue, but i had a couple of other points you may want to consider.

    First, You are 1000% correct that the fact that we now "license" content vs buying it a) not good for consumers and b) subject to terrible agreements. I think that this is balanced by the fact that the digital good, once you have it, is much more 'durable'. i.e. if you take care of your CD/mp3/digital movie, you can play it indefinitely whereas tape and vinyl have a lifespan. My complaints about the licensing agreement is 1) that you usually have to purchase the product first, which i don't understand how it is legal 2) you need to be a lawyer to read it 3) is non-negotiable 4)can be changed without compensation etc.

    More to your points, though, i think this really stems from people not liking UBI. I absolutely think that Apple (or BMW or Bose or some other brand with die hard fans) would have no problems with these restrictions. For example, Apple routinely breaks or discontinues support for old programs/hardware, but you can still get a DOS program from the early 90s running on Win7... and MS is the company that nobody likes? How does that work? It works b/c for whatever reasons, Apple fans LOVE apple. Observationally, i just don't think that good customer service (or absolutely unequalled quality), and therefor rabid fandom, are in UBI's DNA and therefor, people will call them out on everything. It was me bitching that the PC wasn't going ever get released, and now it is someone else complaining that DLC that shouldn't transfer, won't.

    Finally, i think the release of the track packs probably has nothing to do with the discussion on the forum/dlc transfer issue. I think it was just a way to get separate the new users from some cash. I doubt the concern of a few hundred, or even a few thousand, vocal 'fans' is enough to sway the decision making for a product that is probably close to a million units sold.

    Just some thoughts,

    1. Great analogy on the MS v. Apple thing! I think historically Apple was viewed as the underdog who focused on quality over price in a fight against big, bad MS. Now that Apple is "one of them" (i.e. a huge corporation), I'm not sure they deserve their "rebel" status any more. But, you may well be on to something in terms of bashing Ubisoft.

      That's not really the case for me, though, as I'm very much an outsider in the game world. I don't know one game producer from another. So, I didn't have any pre-existing notions regarding Ubisoft. Perhaps I'm just being schooled here. Maybe I should be wishing that some other game company had come up with Rocksmith? But, based on the history, it seems like Ubisoft was the only company who had any interest. So, I'm grateful to a few guys at Ubisoft for developing Rocksmith and not quite ready to believe (I guess) that they'd be so quick to treat a labor of love into just another profit-maker.

      I agree - the bundled DLC packs probably had absolutely nothing to do with the new platform and our inability to transfer previously purchased DLC to PC. This was not Ubisoft throwing us a bone to appease us. But, if the bundled packs were a better deal, they could have served that purpose.