Sometimes fans want it, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the developers want to add it in shortly before the game’s release, and sometimes it’s planned way ahead, or so consumers think. It’s been a very controversial topic of discussion since its inception during this console generation, and it won’t go away any time soon. I’m referring to Downloadable Content, most often abbreviated as DLC.
It’s a term coined in this generation, and its definition comes from several unofficial sources. One of them is courtesy of the popular website Urban Dictionary, which defines DLC as “Acronym for Downloadable Content. Most commonly used when referring to DLC for PC games or current gen consoles (the 360, Wii, and PS3).”
Interestingly enough, there is another definition right below this one which explains why DLC is such a hotly debated topic of discussion among gamers, developers and publishers. The gamers argue that downloadable content that’s already on the disc upon the game’s launch, nullifies the “downloadable” part. They question why charge them a price for something that was already included in the game to begin with? The developers and publishers pose their argument as the content being prepared only until after the game ‘s completion, yet before its release date. As a result, the gap before the game’s launch gives them plenty of time to do other things, and thus they devote it to creating planned future content for the game. Even more controversial is the argument that questions the purpose of DLC. Do some games need it? Can others survive without it? This is a yes and a no, as there are good arguments that work for and against the question. What I’m going to do is pose arguments for either side, since I still can’t pick a side, because there are a few examples that define DLC for what it is and others that don’t.
First, the examples that define DLC for what is not, or at least shouldn’t be. We can look no further than to EA for this example. Electronic Arts was labeled as the worst company in America for a second consecutive year after a string of controversial decisions. One of them was Mass Effect 3′s notorious ending. It was a finale so controversial, that it drove EA to release a DLC pack called Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut a few months after the game’s initial release. Even if the DLC pack was free, many thought it was an apologetic move on their behalf for having such a looming influence on Mass Effect 3. Consumers also did not appreciate the wide array of DLC packs, including From Ashes being available on launch day (included in the Collector’s Edition of the game); otherwise priced at $10. If that wasn’t enough, Dead Space 3 has more than a slew of upgrades or “packs” you can purchase in game with real cash. There are 11 you can download, and only one of them is free. Seven of them are priced at $4.99. There is also an online pass you can buy for $9.99. That being said, these are all optional. You don’t have to purchase anything, but even then, having more than $40 worth of content available on-disc right at launch is sure to tick somebody the wrong way.
And EA isn’t the only publisher following this trend. A bit over two years ago when Capcom launched Marvel vs Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds, players and critics noticed the lack of characters, and unsurprisingly, Capcom released them as DLC for the game just weeks after launch. With this update you had access to Jill Valentine and Shuma Gorath for a price of $4.99, or you could have paid $20 more for the special edition of the game which included them. Additionally, DLC costume packs were also released for $5. Namco Bandai actually pulled a similar move with Soul Calibur IV years before by having Darth Vader and Yoda readily available on-disc at launch, and still charging full price for them as DLC. Just last year when Capcom released Street Fighter X Tekken, I remember them announcing plans for costume DLC packs as well as character packs. The players having been familiar with Capcom’s tendencies, were a bit smarter and hacked open the locked content. Someone even posted the said content online for everyone to see. When I played Street Fighter X Tekken, I noticed the game’s lack of content, polish, and online service being marauded by hackers using the 12 characters locked on-disc. Later Capcom would release Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 and Street Fighter X Tekken for Vita with all of the content readily available for players at a much less expensive price than when first launched.
What about when games charge for experience upgrades? Most recently, Gears of War: Judgment did just that. It also includes a wide variety of skin packs you can purchase for your characters and weapons. Having said that, Gears of 3 was the game that started it all. Both games also include a Season Pass; a much cheaper way for the consumer to get access to all the forthcoming DLC. If you have the Season Pass, you get all of the “exclusive” access to the content. If you don’t, you can still purchase the content, albeit in separate transactions that might not save you those $5 you save on the Season Pass. Another recent game following suit is Injustice: Gods Amongs Us, whose Season Pass includes four “mysterious” characters and several skin packs for other fighters. Two years ago, Mortal Kombat 9 also had a similar pass available for purchase. To avoid angry consumers, why not include this content in the price of the game? Charge instead the price of the game and the content accordingly if it’s gonna be included with the full game. Although, it’s likely people won’t want to pay more for these games when the “extra” content doesn’t justify the price. Perhaps it should be a matter of how much should companies charge for these titles? What should that be based on…
Alas, the examples that define DLC for what it is, or at least should be. Everybody remembers when The Elders Scrolls V: Skyrim launched. Gamers and journalists found a new critical darling to pamper. Some called it a “packed” journey, a game packed with “escapism.” To others it was a gargantuan adventure fully packed with richly textured experiences. Hmm, do you notice a trend? Packed, packed, packed. Well, let’s continue. A month before the release of Skyrim, Dark Souls was another critical and commercial success that was out in the market. Dark Souls, being infamously regarded as “considerably difficult but genuinely challenging,” was twice as long as its spiritual predecessor Demon’s Souls. With a robust online mode, open world, and deeply rewarding gameplay mechanics, this game too was “packed” with content.
Did either of these games need DLC? Not necessarily. However, both have a large fan following which yearned for more even after having been glued in front of the television for hours and hours on end. As a result, Bethesda Softworks released three expansion packs for Skyrim called Dawnguard, Hearthfire, and Dragonborn, all released last year. While the DLC packs were criticized for being buggy, the packs were still more rewarding than paying for a downloadable character. On the other hand, From Software released Artorias of the Abyss for Dark Souls. You could pick up this extra adventure by purchasing a copy of the Prepare to Die Edition of the game on PC or buy it for $14.99 on your respective console. Now, some might argue that $14.99 is too much for a DLC pack that adds a few extra world zones, costumes, a PvP arena, four new bosses, and some weapon regulations. I think that’s more than justifiable, and especially for what you get out of it. Artorias of the Abyss felt like it was the cherry on top of a fantastic game; not some Season Pass giving you more “exclusive” access to your favorite game. All of these DLC packs for Skyrim and Dark Souls also tied into the lore of their respective worlds. They were complete packages.
Let’s go back to that question: what should the price of all these titles be? Games like Street Fighter X Tekken, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, and Marvel vs Capcom 3, all of which feel like incomplete packages should be tagged at what price? When their so-called DLC is already on-disc to begin with, should that be reflected on the price, or should the games have a cheaper tag to accommodate it? Does a game like Mass Effect 3, which is packed with content to begin with, have the need for all of these extra weapons? Should players also have to pay for on-disc DLC from day one if you didn’t purchase the collector’s edition of the game? You probably should because you didn’t pay the extra cash for the goodies, but why should the special edition buyers get the on-disc DLC? What about Dead Space 3 and its micro-transactions for upgrades. Should you pay in order to have access to customization? And when did Gears start charging players for extra experience points? All of them are walking a fine line that easily causes a rift between gamers, developers and publishers. On the flip side of things, we have Dark Souls and Skyrim, two games without need of DLC. Regardless, players still want more out of these fulfilling games, and the developers/publishers delivered more than people asked for. In fact, Dark Souls and Skyrim could have been more than $60 games considering the sheer amount of content each delivered.
I still don’t have the answer for how much a game should cost, but I do think some companies should start to see whether their games are worth a full retail price or not. Afterwards, we can start talking about this newly introduced micro-transactional process called Downloadable Content.