A Price on Artistry and Skill – Opinion Piece

I am a big fan of art and like to sit in front of a piece and ponder how the artist did it. We often pretend that someone with a certain level of skill has to be talented, but they are not. Talent can only get you so far and claiming that a masterpiece is just the result of some happenstance that is out of our control – like talent – undermines the effort, and discipline that person displayed in order to get to the level of sophistication they are on now.

When we normally look at a painting, a sculpture, or when we observe athletes, acrobats, or martial artists, or even when we listen to academics talk about their field of work, what we see is the finished product; we don’t see the hard labor, desperation, and years of failure behind it. We don’t know how much effort, time, and often money was spent on acquiring not just the equipment necesssary, but more importantly the skill required to achieve this height of craftsmanship. And when we look at their results, we have little to no idea how much of that knowledge and experience went into this single piece we are admiring at the moment. But because we don’t notice how much blood, sweat, and tears went into the honing of their technique, we often think that it’s okay to just ask for a translator’s or artist’s work for free without offering so much as a hearty thank you and now f*ck off. We are forgetting at such points that quality has a price and that they are justified in asking for compensation.

Overlooking Yamatai. Also in picture, the Aviatrix costume DLC from Tomb Raider (2013).

Things seem just as bad when talking about digital art as it is just a bunch of ones and zeros, nothing real; nothing you can touch. Just like with its real-life counterpart, however, it too needs the indispensable hardware, be it a strong computer, a drawing tablet, the right program that costs loads of money. Add to that their aptitude, the amount of time it takes for them to become proficient at using their tools: Years spent merely learning the craft instead of literally doing anything else, which brings us to one of the most popular pastime activities of the early 21st century: Video games. Even though it sounds like a no-brainer, we are too often unaware that video game developers and designers too use their artistic skills to create entertainment products.

DLC Sherry Birkin outfit, unlockable by completing objectives on Resident Evil Net

In big budget video game development, the artists responsible for creating the characters or objects tend to be finished much earlier than the programmers – they don’t have to code nor fix the bugs. Despite that, it is not just work; it is the face of the finished product,their design choices make or break the whole thing and will be the reason why many will decide to buy a game in the first place. Anyone who ever tried to create a 3D model or a pixel character knows how difficult it can be to draw something anyone would like to look at for more than five seconds. However, once artists finished designing the art for one game, they tend to sit around their workplace with nothing to do, costing the employer money. That is why companies nowadays often either immediately reassign them to work on the next project in line in order to prevent downtime (parallel to the currently developed one), or they have them design additional content for the current project, if there is nothing else to do. They then create things like alternative outfits for the characters – something we nowadays often see as costume DLC (Downloadable Content).

Barry Burton wearing his commandant DLC uniform and Natalia’s Lottie DLC suit from Resident Evil Revelations 2

The outfits don’t change anything about the gameplay other than keeping things fresh. In fighting and online titles these outfit DLC or skins are also used to keep long-time players more engaged, that is why platforms like Overwatch (2016), Dead or Alive 5 Last Round (2015), League of Legends (since 2009), or Ultra Street Fighter IV (2014) amass a quite impressive amount of added clothing over time. True, it is always nicer if costumes come prepackaged with an item and can be unlocked by completing certain objectives within a game and this practice should by no means disappear, but DLC open a window of including more stuff after the product has hit the market. From an employee’s point of view, this solution is certainly much better than hiring artists as contractors or on commission, because they have the security of a steady job with regular salary instead of always worrying about their future (provided the working conditions are adequate, of course).

Hayate and Hitomi rocking their Halloween 2015 DLC costumes, Dead or Alive 5 Last Round

Problems then come up when some consumers demand these DLC items for free and protest loudly when they don’t get them under their conditions. I can understand these customer complaints; after all, they aren’t made out of money and know the troubles of regular life all too well. Most just want to play something and relax after a long day and many products nowadays come with add-ons and downloadable content that nobody asked for and cost additional cash that could otherwise be spent on other things – money that may not be that readily available. But not all DLC are out there for sheer money grabbing tactics and there is a difference between want and greed. The artists still had to work to design the additional content and their production still cost the company money to develop and bring out.  Please keep in mind that even though these artists may be creating merchandise for a big developer, they themselves are not rich and unless you buy a product, they might not necessarily be able to keep their job, because some studios will have to let people go to keep the ship afloat. Things are often not as simple as we think and most importantly these artists are not those men in suits we see on TV or who we think about when we talk about big business. They are just regular Janes and Joes going about their day, worrying about taxes, and bills, and family – like most people. The last thing they want is to lose their jobs. What we therefore must recognize is that (costume) DLC per se are not the enemy, they are measures that help artists and designers not get laid off.

Dark Dracula DLC costume from Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2

Of course, it’s a terrible thing when companies engage in money grabbing tactics with features that used to be included as Easter eggs or when entire modes and complete chapters of the main game are chopped away by the management to be sold separately for no other reason than to maximize profit off of gullible customers, but well-crafted downloadable content that is added to an already completed gaming experience is most certainly a good thing and it is okay to ask for monetary compensation for it in return. It is not the same as trying to rob the consumer base from their hard-earned cash. Before criticizing all companies for not releasing additional content for free, please keep in mind that by purchasing these DLC, we are not just encouraging art and creativity, nor do we merely show that we are indeed still interested in the product in question, but we are more importantly also supporting the people behind the games we so much enjoy.

This does not mean that everyone should just go out and buy whatever DLC there is, especially not if you have a wallet as small as mine; I am merely saying that next time you see a developer or game that you think deserves backing, if it has additional content you’d really like to have, and provided you can afford it, don’t verbally attack the studio for not giving it away for free, maybe consider buying the DLC.

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As always, feel free to leave a comment, if you like. The comment section is completely open, no need to register or log in. All screenshots shown here were taken by me during my playthrough of these games.


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