Monday Musings: On The DLC Tip

The advent of downloadable content will surely be a significant legacy of this console generation. Rare is the game released today that doesn’t offer some form of additional content, paid for or otherwise, to be downloaded post-launch. DLC is here to stay, but what do we – as gamers and as an industry – really want from it?

From Horse Armor to The Lost And Damned, DLC has come a long way in a short space of time. As consoles went online, publishers recognised the opportunity to sell additional content to their most loyal consumers. For the publisher, DLC is a new revenue stream.

Further, publishers want us to buy DLC for reasons above and beyond the extra cash they receive from each download. They see DLC as a way to combat the used game market. They use DLC as a carrot to encourage us to keep our games instead of trading them in.

Releasing new content post-launch is also a great marketing window to attract new customers. In this sense, the DLC doesn’t even need to be paid-for content to bring in more money. You only have to look at the massive spikes in sales of Team Fortress 2 whenever there is a class update to see how successful Valve’s approach to free DLC has been.

Smaller titles benefit too. Sega’s Valkyria Chronicles returned to the PS3 top ten six months after launch thanks to the release of its DLC pack. Suddenly, Valkyria Chronicles was in the news again and, as a result, new players were attracted to the game and new sales were made.

For the gamer, DLC provides the opportunity to get more out of the games they’ve purchased or spend more time in a world they enjoy. Whether it’s in new maps, modes, quests and missions, or simply just an extra layer of customisation, almost all DLC gives us more of the game we own.

DLC provides us with an extension to the experience we would otherwise not have been able to enjoy. Previously, if we wanted more of a particular game, we'd have to wait years for a sequel. Now we can find our favourite games refreshed within weeks or months.

However, there have been missteps along the way. Letting players purchase cheats or simply buy their way to success leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Paying for essentially a key to unlock content already on the disc is unacceptable. Overcharging for cosmetic or trivial in-game items isn’t ideal, but ultimately it’s the player’s choice whether to pay or not.

While the majority of gamers are pleased to be able to get more out of our games, we’re also understandably wary of being taken for a ride. Prevalent is the notion that publishers hold back content that could have been included on the retail disc then charge us for it post-launch. And as DLC becomes more ingrained in the industry, more part and parcel of the development process, the harder it is for a publisher to defend itself against that accusation.

It’s a tricky issue and strikes right at the heart of how DLC is defined. Capcom copped criticism for the way it handled the Resident Evil 5 multiplayer DLC. Some gamers felt it should have been included on the disc; some even complained (wrongly as it turned out) that the content was already on the disc.

“You’re selling an incomplete game!” they cried.

But Capcom never promised a multiplayer mode. In fact, they never even mentioned it as a possibility until after the game had launched. Like most DLC, Resident Evil 5’s multiplayer mode was developed along a separate production schedule and within its own budget. Without the ability to release it as DLC, we would never have been able to play it.

Games are never complete. Ask any developer and you’ll hear the same response: “We could have added this or improved that.” Business reality dictates that games need to hit deadlines and meet financial requirements. Features and content are always cut throughout development. But I don’t think any publisher is cynical enough to deliberately withhold content to sell as DLC at later date.

Sometimes though, an already tricky issue becomes even more complicated. Eidos, for example, cut content from Tomb Raider Underworld in order to ensure the game hit its intended release date. The company had an obligation to shareholders to get the game out before Christmas and so they did. When it came to the subsequent DLC, they were able to salvage some of that work (some rough, unfinished levels or unused art assets, perhaps).

But what if Eidos had chosen to delay the game in order to follow through on that original vision? What if Capcom had devoted more money and resources to squeezing the multiplayer mode into the shipped version of Resident Evil 5? What if, to bring in a more extreme example, Valve had waited until now to release Team Fortress 2 with all the extra content they’ve been able to add since release?

Unfortunately there are no easy answers to those questions. Publishers and developers are still grappling with the best way to offer DLC: the type of content, the timing of its release, and just how much it should cost are all issues with which the industry continues to wrestle. But some games seem to be showing the way.

Bethesda have more experience than most in dealing with DLC and have clearly learned much from their initial foray into the field. Where Oblivion’s Horse Armor was frankly ridiculous, the immense Shivering Isles expansion perhaps taught an even more important lesson. It was too big, too late. Shivering Isles cost a lot of money to make and, while it may have justified its high price tag, the fact it took so long to come out undoubtedly meant there were fewer active Oblivion players able to take advantage of it than Bethesda may have hoped.

With Fallout 3, Bethesda has applied that experience to excellent effect. Announcing the first three DLC packs several months before the game’s launch reassured consumers that Fallout 3 was worth hanging onto. Releasing them so quickly – and announcing a further two packs – has meant that gamers are still going to be playing Fallout 3 a year after it originally came out, with new purchases spiking at each DLC release.

Another game taking the right approach to DLC may come as a surprise. Ubisoft’s Wheelman is hardly the greatest nor the most popular title, but its first batch of DLC offers something I’d like to see more of: a demo. You can sample one of its new mission types for free, then pay to download a pack full of them. We have demos for full games, so why not for the DLC we’re expected to pay for? Especially when said DLC introduces a new way of playing the game that we may not actually enjoy.

Of course, there are plenty of other titles doing DLC the right way, too. Rock Band, Burnout Paradise, and Halo 3, to name just three, have forged their own paths and reaped the benefit in terms of consistent sales, community support and general word-of-mouth excitement.

We all want more of our favourite games. We all want to experience more of something we’ve enjoyed. When a game gets DLC right, gamers respond with enthusiasm. When a game gets it wrong, we’re equally quick to let our views be heard.

What do you like or dislike most about DLC? Who does it the best or the worst? And, since it’s here to stay, what new approaches to DLC would you like to see in the future, in both this console generation and the next?


Comments

    I think of DLC as a fantastic alternative to the age old tradition of paying for expansion pack discs, Bethesda really have got the whole value for money aspect down when it comes to DLC content. I'll quite happily pay $10 (and have) for another 8 hours of Fallout 3 gameplay, hell thats as much play time as you get from a Gears of War story campaign. Now if they could only get the pre launch QA thing down.

    However paying for things like maps and skins is really a rip off in my eyes. You never used to have to pay for maps in the good old days (and by good old days I mean less than a decade ago). Hell on the PC mod community users pump out maps for free in their spare time, what makes it so much more expensive or difficult for a dev house to knock out 3 maps every 4 months.

      I remember when DLC was called expansion and you had to pay: Doom, DoomII, Quake, Quake II, Doom3, all have boxed expansions which use the same engine as the original release.

    I was thinking of getting Tomb Raider for the PS3, but then I read that it didn't end properly, and you'd need to get the DLC for that... which wasn't released on the PS3. So there was no way I was going to buy a game that I couldn't guarantee I'd ever be able to properly finish!

    it's hard not to feel aggrieved when publishers charge for content that is on the disc at purchase (i'm looking at you Yoda).

      Absolutely. I'd like to think we've seen the last of that type of "downloadable" content.

    Deus Ex and Unreal 2 both shipped without multiplayer, then gained it in a free patch later.
    Unfortunately the DLC phenomena is encouraging developers to charge a fee now for what would have previously been a gift to the loyal customers who already paid good money to play an unfinished game.

    Where I'd like to see DLC play a greater role is with sports games. Take for example the Tiger Woods franchise - instead of shelling out $90 each year to get a new play camera, new course, and new hats for Tiges, they should create a core engine that does golf well and then each year release the courses, cameras, hats and even tournaments and rosters as DLC. Base engine updates should be released every 3-4 years as new games and in most cases could be compatible with old DLC. Of course I know this will never happen as forcing people to buy, say, a new Madden 2010 with Dual Shock Crotch Adjust Stick(tm) is more moeny in EA's coffers.

    I enjoy DLC when it adds gameplay such as levels, modes or more story to the game. Burnout Paradise and Fallout 3 are great examples here.

    I avoid it when it just changes a skin or 'stickers' for obscene prices. LittleBigPlanet (except the Metal Gear Solid pack) and Street Fighter IV come to mind.

    I'm in awe of the huge amount of content that Criterion are pumping out for Burnout Paradise. Friends of mine still play religiously, and I myself returned to the game months after I'd stopped playing to check out the new bikes, weather and day-night cycle.

    Valve, however, I think overdo the additional content a little. While the new weapons add spice to the game, they also have an affect of upsetting the balance of the gameplay every few months. It forces players to relearn various tactics and adjust their playing styles, which can be disruptive. Though, providing new maps and modes I haven't a problem with.

    One of the games that I personally have enjoyed the DLC for is Super Stardust HD on PS3. Though it is a relatively cheap downloadable game, similar to Maelstrom and Asteroids, two additional packs released many months after it's release provided extra single-player modes as well as multiplayer. I didn't mind paying an extra $3.95 or $5 or whatever for the Endless mode because, even though it appears to be insignificant, it provides hours and hours of extra play.

    To some degree, I also wish that Rez HD on 360 had DLC to provide additional levels, enemies and remixed tracks.

    @Dee

    Rockstar did something similar to what you're suggesting with GTAIV. You essentially buy the engine when purchasing the original game, then DLC like The Lost and Damned build on that existing engine.

    Heck, it wouldn't be difficult, I'm assured, for the Rockstar team to infinitely modify and expand the world of GTAIV through DLC -- if that DLC is of the same high-quality as The Lost and Damned, then I'd be more than happy to pay for it, too.

    you deserve props for the very delicious early 90s TLC reference there.

    One game I would like to see DLC for - Far Cry 2.

    It looks almost trivial to address the major criticisms of the game via some kind of DLC update - build that respawn system for the checkpoints that Hocking mentioned they had to cut because it would take too long. Take the time! I'll pay for it!

    And while you're at it, get your mission designers to implement a couple of new, random mission types to silence the critics who derided it as too much of the same.

    The game sold over a million copies - that's a decent sized market just sitting around untapped, rapidly losing interest. I'm really saddened that the DLC has so far only consisted of new vehicles and weapons. There still is so much untapped potential in the Far Cry 2 world, it saddens me that it seems to have been dropped like a sack of potatoes.

    Not everyone has the internet. Like me. Greedy landlords are a good reason not to have it. But I still want Bionic Commando Rearmed.

    Beautiful Katamari on the 360. Those "extra" levels were there the whole time - what we got for the full RRP was 80% of one of the PS2 games but in HD.

    Like Good Game said: DLC is there to keep players intrigued to the game for longer so they don't sell or trade it in. I find that quite true. But I also hate it when the DLC is just a 'key' to unlock more stuff. Why?
    Such as the 'Time is Money' DLC for EA's Skate 2. I literally laughed out loud while thinking "What were they thinking?!"

    DLC should only cost money if it is actually new gameplay, if is improvements or simply maps/skins I think they ought to be free, also I hate it when DLc is being devolped whilst major bug/glitches with the original game are ignored (I'm looking at you Fable 2!)

      i agree its why God invented some thing many people forget called the patch... i dont want to have to pay any extra money for a patch to fix a game... if a builder screws up what he is building do you pay them more to fix it or do u expect them to have done it properlly first or be wiling to put it right?

    I'm happy if done right. I remember my mum saying she'd happily pay 20 bucks for extra dungeons for games on majroas mask and ocarina of time (although that's pretty much what they are of each other) when i was younger.

    The Valkyria Chronicles anime may be helping push sales of the game also.

    the thing that i hate the most about DLC is that it usally costs so much, sony is the worst for this, most of the games they make have DLC, little bigplant is the WORST, stuff that should be free they charge ridiculas prices for, shivering isles is a great verison of DLC it has so much to offer and its a decint price, if i added up the cost of all the dlc of little big planet it would probally come to the same price as Shiverung isles with less actually content...Yes you should pay for most Dlc but it should be substancial updates like tf2 etc not lots of micro updates that should be free

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