Critical Hit | The Perils of DLC

By André Eriksson 23.02.2015 7

After paying 60 Dollars/Pounds for a game, it might be assumed that the full experience is going to be given. However, this isn't always the case. Sometimes weird DLC policies harm the experience and lock off important parts of gameplay behind. Welcome to the latest Critical Hit feature, on The Perils of DLC…

A thing that has grown to be a bigger thing over the year in gaming ever since online functionality was put on our consoles has been downloadable content, DLC for short. The idea behind DLC might have, when it was introduced, been one that tickled many gamers of greatness to come. It has indeed offered some great heights, such as the very generous Hyrule Warriors DLC packs. Way too often, though, they are just content intentionally left out.

The issue appears when DLC obviously isn't there to serve the purpose of the consumers, but, rather, the publishers. The issue is when it is interfering with the actual experience. It can be everything from having to buy currency in MMORPGs due to ridiculous prices to "True Endings" being locked behind a paygate, forcing the consumer to cough up money to get to the conclusion. All in all, everything that takes away from the product bought.

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Over the history of DLC there have been all kinds of shady things going on, with everything from Day One DLC to actual on-disc DLC that needed the player to pay extra to access everything they had supposedly already bought. It is clearly understandable that companies want to earn money on their games, especially when production costs increase and the prices are stale. Videogames have basically been the same price for a very long time while production costs and inflation have decreased the value of the money coming in. This means that either the publishers must increase the prices or increase the number of games sold. While increasing the prices directly might have a negative effect on sales overall as higher priced games might cause havoc, some did choose to increase the prices indirectly by offering half-finished games.

It is important to establish a difference between half-finished games and those that pretty much enforce micro-transactions or the buying of DLC to enjoy the game, and those titles that offer expansive DLC that adds to the main game rather than taking things from it to squeeze more money from people. It is important, yet hard, to differentiate these from each other. What to keep an eye on is to see when it was released. If a piece of DLC was released at the very same moment as the title in question came out, warning flags should immediately be raised, or if the game ends with a weird cliff-hanger and there is DLC that offers the conclusion to that. Then it can be pretty certain that this was content originally intended for the main product.

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There are some clears "dos" and "do nots" when it comes to DLC. What is always a clear offender is the aforementioned cliff-hanger ending that gets its conclusion in the DLC. Nothing ticks a consumer off as much as paying for a product but then having to pay more to get what they paid for initially. That is a feeling that should be avoided as much as possible. Another thing that might be very tempting is to add a currency that, while obtainable in the game, is mainly found via micro-transactions or DLC packs. F2P games might sometimes get a free card on this due to the fact that the consumer did not buy the game to begin with. For retail titles, though, having a hard to farm buyable currency is DLC decreasing the enjoyment of a game.

Enough with bad examples, though, since bad examples cannot be learned from without offering a solution to strive towards reaching. When speaking about bad examples and practices of DLC, the important common point is that they take away from the experience by locking content that should be within the initial game behind a paygate. The opposite of this is expanding DLC that adds to the experience.

This can be done in many ways, the most classic being the good old expansion packs that have been around forever. The great thing about these is that there is a lot of content offered that adds to the already existing experience, but where the enjoyment of the original content is completely independent of the extras. A great example of this is the The Sims titles, which usually offer several different expansion packs, every one of them having a specific theme with items and new activities for the Sims to participate in, and none of which is needed to enjoy the initial game, nor the other expansions, which means that the player is completely free to get whichever expansion pack they want and that best enhances their experience. All this adds to the original experience.

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Another great way to use the power of DLC to enhance a game is with costume packs. While this is frowned upon by many gamers for offering nothing "new" gameplay-wise, it is a great way for players who either want to show support or want to pamper their characters with some really nice dresses, to do so without it ruining anything for everyone else. This kind of cosmetic DLC has its audience and pleases them at the expense of no one else. A great example of this is in Dead or Alive 5, which has several costume packs for people to get.

Extra campaigns that are completely unrelated to the main scenario also work well. While this usually falls into the expansion packs category, it still deserves an extra mention because it can be completely unrelated to expansion packs, which are usually bigger packages with different content. These campaigns offer more to do after finishing off the initial content, and expand upon the game in a cheaper way as it does not need an entirely new game to work. This often ends up with nice products that from a game-time-for-money standpoint clearly benefits the customer and from a money-for-work-rate clearly benefits the publisher and developer, which creates a wonderful win-win situation for all parties involved. Great examples of this are the DLC in Hyrule Warriors and Mario Kart 8, which offer a lot of new content for a very good price-point.

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Hopefully, in the future, there will be fewer pieces of money-grab DLC that are only out to milk the customer dry and instead be more of a focus on expansive DLC that improves what is already there, instead of being essential to enjoy the core game. When that happens and becomes common practice in the industry, the dreams of what DLC might bring to gaming could finally come true. With any luck companies will understand that what's in the best interest of the consumers is also in their best interest, since the consumers will vote with their wallets, and more-so now when people are starting to get fed up with cheap DLC ruining their experience. The interest of the customer is not contradictory to the interest of the producer - those two are co-existent and the producer depends on the customer to be able to continue producing new products. Something some companies are feeling right now is the aftermath from having some shady DLC policies over the years. When this understanding of the relation between publisher and customer is not of an oppressive nature, but a co-existing one, then the true beauty of what DLC could be will flourish. It has already started, and has been going on for a while with good DLC hitting stores recently, but still, there are some who lag behind and that is something that should get fixed soon.

One path that can clearly be seen for DLC in the future is that sequels gets released in forms of "DLC" similar to how New Super Luigi U got released and is one very possible way that DLC might go in the future as it reduces development costs for titles, yet offers the same great amount of content. Who knows what the futures hold, though...

Be sure to air your thoughts on the topic of DLC for games in the comments section below!

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Ah DLC. I tend to hate it when there is day one stuff and costume packs, only defending it when it is treated like expansions were back in the day.

But then I remember I have every single piece of DLC available for the Borderlands series, including the cosmetic costume packs that I can't even see myself.

I used to agree on you with costume packs. However, as I started to see their beauty from a game design perspective as a way to enhance the game without it affecting the core experience so could I never put myself into hating them as they are ingenious and I would lie if I said that I have not bought a couple of cute dresses for characters during my lifetime as a gamer.

The difference between illusion and reality is vague to the one who suffers from the former and questionable for the one suffering form the later.

Glad you brought up DOA5. I will defend the F2P model and cosmetic DLC in that game to the death. There is a lot of ignorance surrounding this game's F2P setup. I plan to do an article on its F2P system soon.

MK8 is a great example of DLC done right. With a full 8 cups in the base game, there wasn't the feeling of anything being missing (well, unless you go into the lack of battle mode arenas and lots of characters that appeared in past games). As far as tracks/cups go, though, we had what we expected. To add 4 whole cups/16 new courses as DLC, spread across long periods, it actually feels like they never sold us short with the original release. The cheap price is fantastic value, too. £11 if you bought both packs together, I think.

Hyrule Warriors seems to be excellent value, also. Haven't bought into that one, personally (I would if there was Malon), but it looks like Nintendo has got the pricing and content down on these major DLCs.

The only way the 'bad' DLC will stop is if people stop actually buying the things, though. As long as it keeps selling, it will keep getting made.

I'm guilty as charged for a few examples, unfortunately. Mass Effect 3 was a really bad example of it, putting major parts of the story as DLC, which were damn expensive, equalling over the price of the game if you wanted them all. These DLCs never went on sale for what seemed like a good two years at least. EA clearly want to keep them full price as long as possible. So when they did finally go on sale, I snapped them up, knowing this was possibly my only chance. Spent over £20 on all of the available DLC for ME2 and 3. I think the value was good in the end, because there was literally hours' worth of content for that £20. But again, for a story-heavy series as Mass Effect, especially in the final game when the secrets come together, it was a shameful tactic to put such important parts behind DLC.

FF13-2/LR is another example. I'm a fucking sucker when it comes to FF, so of course I pre-order the retailer-specific DLC for things like Cloud's costume in LRFF13, and the story DLC for 13-2 (the latter of which is fucking awful practice for a Final Fantasy title, and one I don't think they'll be going back to based on feedback). Pre-order and retailer DLC is another matter that shouldn't exist, and will only stop if people stop pre-ordering. Alas, when it comes to certain games like FF, I am part of the problem.

It's a bit hypocritical of me to say vote with your wallet, only to buy story DLC and pre-order at specific retailers for content. That might only be for very few games (ME and FF is really about it), but the only way bad DLC will stop is if people stop buying it. DLC done right is great, but there is so few of it around. I hope Nintendo continues to get it right.

( Edited 23.02.2015 02:28 by Azuardo )

Great article. I'm sure people know by now that I hate digital purchases and DLC falls into that category. I definitely feel like there are some cases of it being done right. As mentioned in the comments and the article Mario Kart 8's DLC is a great package of content that goes above and beyond the original expectations of the initial game. 

However THQ pissed me off with their WWE DLC, with the season pass costing around £20-£25 for a few extra wrestlers and move sets. It's just criminal in my eyes to exclude something when you know they had it there from day 1.

I'm interested to see how Nintendo handle Smash Bros DLC, Mewtwo codes are only available for one month which makes me feel like DLC is coming around Late April/May. What would people be willing to pay for a character? £2.50? A stage £3? Additional equipment etc? Would you feel robbed in Smash Bros, the game has a tonne of content in it already but I wouldn't want to pay stupid amounts of money for DLC either.

I didn't like Nintendo's costs on DLC for Fire Emblem Awakening though...£40 for a few extra chapters but I also feel like I missed out on half the game.

However I do agree with you, games are cheaper in today's standards. Given that N64 games cost £49.99 , and given inflation from the late 90's I would have to say that we are getting a better deal now than ever before!

( Edited 23.02.2015 03:13 by Flynnie )

Kudos for a great article that touches one of the worst aspects of modern gaming.

( Edited 23.02.2015 04:43 by Ofisil )

A lot of quotes in the Internet are attributed to the wrong person
                                -Georgios Karaiskakis

The proliferation of DLC truly is something that makes me long for the days when console and handheld gaming was strictly an offline experience.

I knew that, in 1991, when I paid $90 to purchase Final Fantasy II (JP IV), I knew that I was getting a game that was complete.  It had been rigorously tested, played straight out of the box without having to update any software, and everything that was programmed onto the hardware inside the cartridge (and not dummied out) was available to me.

I am infuriated, now, when I pay $30-$60 for a game and am greeted with fewer than thirty hours of gameplay.  The advent of online MMORPGs just made it worse, for me.  The concept of having to pay a monthly fee (that's a bit exorbitant, to my mind) is an offense to my senses, especially when you're expected to pay a hefty upfront fee, just to access the software itself.  It's one of the primary reasons why I will never play an MMORPG - it's just not worth my money.

Some people like it; I get that - me?  I always find myself begrudging developers for asking me to pay to unlock anything.  If it's on the disc, it should be available from the start.  Period.

But what if, hypothetically, what you pay for WAS already a good solid experience?  Does it really make a difference what else is on the disk?

Plenty of old shareware stuff used to be "complete" in terms of code yet still locked till you paid. It was simply cheaper method of distribution. I don't see any difference here.
Unlocked or download. Made before, or latter.
Doesn't matter.
All that matters is if what you did pay for is worth the cost. <-- Tells some truly terrible tales.
Last update; Mice,Plumbers,Animatronics and Airbenders. We also have the socials; Facebook & G+

Thanks for your kind words everyone! It warms. Smilie

Darkflame: Glad you bought up Shareware, a thing indeed from the past. And yes, this is clearly a thing that can, theoretically, be done well. But the issue is that in most cases the developer and/or publisher deliberately leaves things out of the main game while in the case of Shareware so was it more like that other developers added demos to their games in the maingame bought. But you are right on the thing, it is not automatically a bad thing.

I see your point, but in most fighting games they are still there. Of course, there are some whose names shall not be mentioned that has almost completely removed unlockable costumes. But the reason why I find them acceptable is as stated in the article that they are in no way vital to enjoy the game. Even though they are expensive so is there no need to get them to enjoy the game to its fullest. As said, they are there for those who wants them. And I find it great if this means that more nice costumes gets made even after the game has launched so if there comes in a cute dress I can get it for my character while if there weren't that dress might not have existed in the first place.

About the story DLC, you are right. But then they preferably should work as separate campaigns as I talked about longer down in the article. Or it should be hinted at when one gets the game. Episodic games does this extremely well in my opinion. The issue is, however, when it comes out of nowhere that one needs a DLC to get the rest of the story.

The difference between illusion and reality is vague to the one who suffers from the former and questionable for the one suffering form the later.

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