One of my fondest gaming memories was playing Total Annihilation back in 1997. It was a time when Cavedog Entertainment provided new units to use every month; free of charge. These new units weren’t all that game-changing either; just nice additions to the already massive arsenal that few other games have managed to provide. Things have changed a lot since then.
Downloadable content (DLC) is now everywhere, with every big release quickly followed by map packs, multiplayer skins, and, occasionally, extra gameplay content. Most of which requires some investment of real world money to acquire. Borderlands 2 has managed to put out 45 pieces of DLC, over half of which are nothing more than cosmetic additions. While the game itself was only released in late 2012, Gearbox has seen it fit to release a new adventure for most American holidays, including Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, and Christmas. This was essentially one piece of DLC every two months.
Free to play multiplayer shooter Loadout currently tries to support itself with cosmetic DLC. It is similar to the plan implemented by Dota 2 and League of Legends, although it does this with an amazing level of faith in the playerbase. The Mardi Gras DLC costed (it’s no longer available) US$89.99 and only provided six new outfits. Needless to say, there was almost no value to be had for something of that price and it did not go down well with the community.
Worse was what happened in Dragon Age: Origin, which managed to use DLC to break immersion in the game; which is a feat unto its own. Allowing players to accept a quest and then telling them to buy it is possibly the worst way to integrate DLC into the world and looks like a cheap cash grab.
The mother of all unnecessary fleecing of customers through DLC is the Sims franchise. The Sims 3 has 11 expansion packs that add new features and gameplay options; if that isn’t enough there are also 9 Stuff Packs, which simply add more items to the game. The Stuff Packs are not cheap either, with each costing US$24.90.
It is extremely understandable that developers want to make a little extra income and extend the lifespan of a game. Gamers don’t mind if this is done properly and in an entertaining way. Extra playable content or options like those found in Borderlands 2 is perfectly acceptable in an age where expansion packs no longer exist and DLC is our only option. Collectible style gameplay like that in Train Simulator is also a great idea as it translates a physical hobby into the virtual world.
Charging for DLC is not a bad thing, but there has to be value for the player. Train Simulator’s massive amount of DLC is not an issue due to the nature of the game, the same goes for the ridiculous number of songs available for Rock Band 3 (Wikipedia lists it at 1689 songs).
Games are becoming a legitimate means of storytelling and art. The Last of Us has been lauded as some of the best writing in a game ever made, and isn’t burdened by large amounts of skins and additional DLC. In fact, the only DLC available is a single expansion campaign that helps with developing the characters as relatable people. Bioshock Infinite weaves a story around the city of Rapture, and manages to build an extremely believable world in which the characters exist. DLC here only serves to future expand on the existing story and increase immersion.
Gamers are generally more than happy to support developers, but only if the developers care about the players. We have a limited amount of funds to spend on games, and it is more likely to go to those who provide a reason for us to keep buying their stuff. Saints Row IV may have some obviously fanservice DLC for sale (like this Hey Ash, Whatcha Playing? Pack), but also has a Child’s Play pack for supporting the Child’s Play charity. Similarly, Dota 2 began selling additional cosmetic items when the Free To Play documentary was released. Proceeds from the sale of those new items went to supporting the players featured in the documentary. Borderlands 2 also provides great stories with the Head Hunter packs, and these are actually priced quite reasonably.
Games like Titanfall, while being fantastic experiences in their own right, suffer from being enslaved by corporate marketing and sales teams. DLC map packs and expansions become means of simply making more money off gamers, without providing any real value. It would be understandable if the Titanfall developers decide to avoid including new Titans in any of the planned DLC. After all, what would the point be if their publisher is already talking about Titanfall 2?
The title of this story is probably misleading. There isn’t actually a lot of DLC on the market; but a large amount of it is unnecessary. Cosmetic and vanity items don’t mean much unless the game in question is some sort of MMORPG or relying on Free-to-Play monetisation; otherwise, why should we be paying more money for skins after paying full price for a game? These things used to be given out for free.
Providing extra content used to be a massive exercise in coming up with something new. Gamers once awaited expansion packs with great enthusiasm. For good reason too, as expansion packs usually brought large amounts of new content. Those who don’t remember should just look Blizzard’s recent release of Diablo III: Reaper of Souls. Essentially, developers need to give people a reason to buy their stuff.
If not, we will end up with a world where games ship with multiple pieces of DLC that becomes obsolete once a sequel comes around.