Since the birth of downloadable game content, one question has been burned into the minds of companies and gamers everywhere: is it worth the extra cash?
And it’s a fair one to ask. Many of us players remember the days when a console game would be shipped as a complete product on consoles without any expectations of extra content or limitations behind paywalls. But now, downloadable content is more than just a “nice to have” addition to the console’s online store – it is an active selling point of a title… Think about that for a second.
Companies fight for the exclusive rights to DLC and actively push it as a victory – the consumer spends money on a game, to spend more money thereafter.
Now, it is not our intention to be negative about the state of downloadable expansions. In many situations, they have added plenty of additional enjoyment to games we never wanted to end – LA Noire’s extra crimes to solve, the additional maps on Halo 3, the undead nightmare of Red Dead Redemption and much more.
And it’s great for companies, too, who have been able to make an extra $30 on top of most $60 game purchases and really invest in making even better games for the future.
But for every one of these jewels, there are many dull rocks that extract cash from players for needless additions like extra character colours and gun skins, or even worse, content already pre-loaded onto that very disc you bought from the store is locked behind a paywall and called “DLC”.
So, with all this in mind, my question is simple. Is it worth it?
Does downloadable content enrich the experiences of gamers and developers across the globe, or is it just a waste of time (and money) for us all?
Well, let’s find out by taking a look at the shining stars and shady sights of this business practice.
In it’s purest form, downloadable content is the opportunity to expand creatively upon the developer’s vision and, ultimately, provide extra fun for the players. That, to us, is why DLC has a place in modern gaming.
Let’s not forget, it’s existed for a lot longer than you may think… The precursors to DLC can be found in the Atari 2600’s GameLine service, which gave users the chance to download games using a telephone line. Not just that – don’t forget about the personal computer’s impact on this. Whether it’s the downloading of user-created maps and mods, which were distributed exclusively online, or buying expansion pack discs at your local Gamestop, the idea of purchasing additional content was already alive and well in the gaming world long before it became big business in the 2000s.
There have been many incredible examples of expansions, including the infinite hours of extra gameplay offered for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim with Dawnguard and Hearthfire, re-imagining the entire game through another character’s eyes with Borderlands’ Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep, the aforementioned Undead Nightmare DLC for Red Dead Redemption, the extra dip into the underwater city of Rapture in Bioshock Infinite’s Burial at Sea, and many, many more.
Players are never happy when their favourite game ends, and will jump at the chance to play more at a reasonable price. This is, obviously, an incredible opportunity for publishers to make some extra money and for developers to reap serious rewards by taking another dive into the amazing work they create.
Not only does it create a longer-lasting fanbase around some games, it puts money in pockets. A win-win system surely?
Well… Much like a lot of business sectors, it’s great up until companies try to be a little too advantageous (to put it lightly).
Because profits are increased through a decrease in production costs, the goals of reducing man-hours on DLC has churned out some truly embarrassing expansions that are quite the waste of any gamer’s hard-earned money.
Such items as paying $2.59 for horse armour in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the shortcut DLC bundle to get the best guns in Battlefield 4 (goodbye any type of gameplay enjoyment or fair gameplay altogether), buying additional lives for Sonic Lost World (yes, those things you earned through playing the game, or were granted for free when you hit the game over screen on a console game just became monetised), the ability to perform Mortal Kombat fatalities easier for a $4.99 microtransaction, or a new range of furniture on The Sims.
Surely I can’t be in a minority here, to be disappointed about these pointless additions that seem to have been maliciously pre-planned to extract more money from the player. But it gets oh-so-much worse, as I introduce to you the common practice of withholding game data already on the disc and hiding it behind a paywall.
Resident Evil V already had a multiplayer vs mode ready to go on the game disc. But for the cost of $5, you could download a paltry 1.86 megabyte-key that unlocks the content already on there. Bulletstorm restricted six extra time attack missions, Persona 5 concealed every piece of their DLC on the disc, Dynasty Warriors Gundam 2 had a whopping TEN missions blocked on their disc! Many more games are guilty of this, and it’s evidence of companies greedily limiting a game’s enjoyment with a price tag.
It’s like taking a free £50 bonus and playing a game of online poker, only to realise the extra ace you need for that hand, the colourful graphics and 3D animated dealer are all hiding behind a paywall – leading to a dull, grey experience for that experience. You wouldn’t stand for it, and neither should anyone else.
And, let’s be honest, there are times when the DLC goes too far and adds too much… Thanks to the steady stream of new songs added to Rock Band between 2007 and 2013, acquiring every single track would have cost a massive $9,150.10. Yes, let that sink in for a minute.
This is common in any business anywhere. The moment a new and exciting model of doing business comes out, that consumers get behind, companies are quick to try to exploit it.
So what are we trying to say here? Well, as you’ve probably guessed by the two sides above, DLC is a tricky topic for the gaming industry. For every piece of complimentary content for an original game that felt complete from initial purchase, there is a whole slew of silly additions with no real purpose for existing except for taking more cash out your pockets.
The option to expand upon the original content should exist but alongside it some general governance as to what is defined as DLC.
There should be some level of regulation, as to protect the consumer and inform their purchasing decisions, which could be done by simply asking three questions:
- Does the original game feel complete without it?
- Does the DLC add any worthwhile value to the game?
- Is it more than just a part of the game that you have purposefully withdrawn, to make extra money?
If your answer to these three is “yes,” then you are getting a good deal and the developers are not just attempting to over-monetise. Because we don’t want to reduce the importance of this additional creative channel to developers who wish to expand on the incredible universes they create. However, it’s clear the micro-transaction style of restricting access to enjoyable game elements for the sake of making a little extra cash are harming this market.
DLC is good, but only in the right circumstances. Just don’t overdo it, publishers.