Last week I wrote about the ridiculously large amount of necessary cosmetic downloadable content (DLC) that currently plagues the gaming industry. While there are those who agreed that this content is easily ignored, there is the other side of why cosmetic DLC is popular with developers and publishers. After all, if there wasn’t a reason to keep making it, why does it exist?
Most cosmetic DLC doesn’t cost much to purchase. A majority of it settles in the price range of about US$0.99 to US$4.99; depending on how much content is provided. Larger map packs and mini-expansions also tend to cost quite a bit more. This aim here isn’t to only sell DLC, but also serve as a marketing tool. There is a lot to be gained by reminding people your game exists, and releasing small DLC packs is a way to justify making announcements.
Buying DLC that doesn’t add anything to the gameplay is also a way for the player to demonstrate their support to companies who have made a fantastic game. My previous story singled out Saints Row IV as one of the games with a ridiculous amount of unnecessary cosmetic DLC. In all fairness to Volition Inc., the game itself is well executed and hits all the right notes; because of this, buying all those extra skins and costumes are ways of showing gratitude for making a great game.
To be fair, some gamers love their vanity items. We all know those people who spend hours designing the perfect character in Skyrim, using all the options at their disposal to create the ultimate representation of themselves that nobody else will ever see. It becomes worse when the game is a multiplayer title and there is an audience to appreciate their work.
The release of multiplayer maps as DLC are also not entirely bad moves. Creating a balanced map takes a lot of time and playtesting; a situation that is compounded by publishers pushing for tight deadlines. Shipping the base game with fewer, but more balanced, maps helps reduce problems that may arise.
Ideally, this has worked for Titanfall’s release. While it has been widely criticised for the lack of content (only three Titans) in the game, there has been little complaint about the functionality of the game. Except for a few matchmaking errors and the lack of ability to play with friends. The playerbase inevitably end up asking for new maps anyway.
Publishers and developers generally do not share sales number on DLC, but it is safe to say that it turns a profit. They wouldn’t be trying so hard to make more if it wasn’t working. Cosmetic DLC is popular because it is easier and cheaper to produce than new adventures or levels; and it also leaves large portions of the development teams free to work on future projects.
While there certainly is a large amount of pointless DLC going around, we shouldn’t be too concerned about it. Developers generally do not put out this content without a reason, and most studios understand that there is a limit to how far you can stretch the average gamer.
As I pointed out before, there isn’t actually a lot of DLC out there; and most studios are careful to avoid flooding the market with junk that nobody wants. Even the cosmetic DLC that appears these days generally has some appeal, like the Hey Ash, Whatcha Playing pack from Saints Row IV or the Free To Play vanity items in Dota 2.
The ability to customise and make our player avatars our own is very much in the traditional spirit of gaming. To be perfectly honest, there are plenty of people who create new skins in game characters anyway. Developers are essentially giving players what they want.
More importantly, they are also extending the extra customisation options to the console gamers; who do not have the luxury of multiple mods to make their games look precisely how they would like.
Cosmetic DLC might seem like a giant waste of money, but it serves many purposes in the gaming community; from supporting the studios to providing extra options to gamers. While few of us would care to buy all that is available, it wouldn’t hurt to pick up one or two pieces. After all, not everyone is going to be Subset Games and give away expansions for free.