DLC: it’s those three simple letters that bring heavy connotations with them on both sides of the spectrum. Now whether or not you’re a loyal supporter of all things downloadable content, or whether you think it’s the next worse thing after Aliens: Colonial Marines, there’s no denying the fact that DLC has become a necessary evil in the video game industry today. Publishers need a way to ensure their games reach a certain milestone of longevity, and that there will still be a reason to invest in these IPs months, or even years, down the road after their initial release. After all, it sure makes the multi-year wait for the next installment in our favorite franchise just a little more bearable! So why is there still such a general controversy, and sometimes even distaste, towards downloadable content?
Just like different video game IPs, every DLC is its own unique beast. So of course, the big question turns to what makes a fair and justified piece of DLC, and what makes an abusive and money-grabbing one. Perhaps one of the most notorious examples in the last few years of DLC abuse was the disc-based content locking practiced by companies like Capcom, and even Volition with the release of Saints Row: The Third. Basically, these games would ship on release day with several of the additional downloadable content packs already prepped and ready to go on the retail game discs. A few months later, when the official “DLC” would be released, players would essentially pay a small fee to “unlock” the hidden content that they had technically already bought and owned on the actual game disc.
When a big AAA title gets released these days in 2013, it’s almost a guarantee that several DLC packs are sure to follow. However, it often seems that WHEN these inevitable DLCs get announced also plays a big factor in the public’s perception of them. For instance, do you remember the eye-rolling that occurred when Ubisoft fully announced the DLC for Assassin’s Creed III a few weeks before the actual game’s release? Taking this pattern to an all-new extreme, DLC for Assassin’s Creed IV has ALREADY been announced, even though the base game isn’t set to come out until the end of October. Of course, given things like the now relatively common Season Pass functionality which lets gamers purchase all future downloadable content for a game at a discounted price, it makes sense why gamers would want to know what they can expect to receive later on before making an investment such as this. But when the advent of DLC begins to take away from the base game at hand, this is where I think many people begin to see a problem.
One company whose DLC strategies I’ve always admired is Gearbox, the developer behind the fantastic Borderlands series. In both Borderlands and its 2012 sequel Borderlands 2, players were given four unique and extremely thought-out storyline DLC expansions (with even more Borderlands 2 DLC on the way), which not only featured all sorts of new missions and locations, but were also nicely paced out in the months following each game’s respective release. Gamers knew exactly what they would be in for in buying a Gearbox season pass, but it was more to extend the Borderlands experience that they had already been enjoying: and not something that seemed needlessly tacked on as a mere afterthought.
But of course, no matter what kind of DLC you plan on bringing to your next big game, whether it’s new costumes, extra multiplayer modes, or a full extension of the single-player experience, it often seems like the message you convey alongside the announcement will either help or harm the way your DLC is positioned on the industry meter of “Excellent” and “Money grabbing.”
One company that recently came under fire for shady DLC tactics was Deep Silver, for the recently released Metro: Last Light by 4A Games. Alongside the release of Metro: Last Light in May, Deep Silver posted a day-one $4.99 DLC that added on the Ranger Mode difficulty to the game, which is the Metro series’ equivalent to an extreme mode of play. But the big problem with this one? The fact that Deep Silver began billing the Ranger Mode DLC as “The way that Metro: Last Light is truly meant to be played.” So in the eyes of gamers, they were paying full price for the latest Metro game, only to be told if they REALLY wanted to have the full Metro: Last Light experience, then they would need to shell out a few more bucks for that privilege. Again, the fact that a day-one DLC release such as this could have easily been added to the actual base game only fuels the counter argument, and comes across as no better than that “disc-locked” content that Capcom and friends took such a fan beating over.
A huge controversy erupted online of Deep Silver’s handling attribution of DLC in Metro: Last Light, which was speared in such a negative fashion, that developer A4 Games was forced to respond. In answer to the heated claims of releasing an unfinished product with money-grabbing DLCs, A4 Games had basically stated that developers these days simply just can’t afford NOT to include DLC, and that they saw the Ranger Mode DLC as the least intrusive method for extending their game, not to mention the hopes of bringing in more revenue so they could continue to do with they love: making great video games. A similar controversy occurred when EA and Visceral Games announced DLC for Dead Space 3, and promised it to be the “most disturbing content in the series to date.” So in other words, the kind of content that many gamers thought they were already purchasing with the initial retail release of Dead Space 3.
So if there’s anything that can be learned from the many ways that downloadable content has transformed in today’s age of gaming, it’s that the industry might very well need them in order to survive. Even bigger, industry landmark companies like Nintendo are finally beginning to get their feet wet in the DLC waters, with this summer’s New Super Luigi U one of the first substantial DLC expansions the company has ever released, not to mention one of the most well-received DLC by both gaming critics and the gaming community that I’ve seen in quite some time. So there’s no denying that, if done right, DLC can not only be a completely appropriate means to monetize your latest IP, but gain the trust and support of your fanbase and other gamers.
What are your feelings on the current state of downloadable content in the video game industry? Has DLC really become a necessary evil for all prospective game developers? What’s more, do you have any other examples of DLC done right, as opposed to DLC done wrong? Be sure to let us know in the replies!