When the first rounds of DLC came into the gaming industry, people split into the hating, loving and uncaring camps, with some denouncing the clear money grubbing scheme and others defending this new way of extending the shelf life of a given title. For me, it’s never been that simple. I’ve always seen DLC from the point of view of its worth. Is it worth getting it, will it add something to the experience and most importantly, is the price right for it?
As we stand now in the industry and with the ever-growing market for episodic and cut up games, we’re never getting rid of DLC. In fact, if we consider digital sales platforms like Steam, GoG and GamersGate, then every game out there is DLC, Downloadable products. We’re sliding more and more into an era where retail physical copies become extinct and everything becomes Downloadable Content.
But even if that is true, the development, marketing and release of DLC (and I’m referring to add-on content in this) could see better practices, something that works more in the consumer’s favour. As my friend Timlah always tells me, “you only see the side of the consumer,” and it’s true, I do. Because I am one and because I feel developers should respect their audience, their fans and some of the current trends in DLCs feel disrespectful.
George Carlin once said: “One of the things I like to do in my shows is complain, it’s kind of a motif for me, complaining…so this next piece of material, like most good ideas is fairly simple. It’s just a list of people who oughtta be killed!”
As you know from reading many of my opinion pieces, I also like to complain. I don’t like to accept things as is and I will strive to make even a tiny change in the world, even if it’s just in changing your mind or opening it to new ideas—and my own in the process. “Think Better, Think Bigger,” is my motif.
So here’s a list of DLC Sins that oughtta go away!
The Fluff Pieces
This is, sadly, the most common form of paid DLC available, cosmetic stuff: New skins, new vehicles, costumes or other stuff that don’t really add anything to the gameplay. They’re just there to make your avatars look prettier. It’s my sincere belief that these things should be free. They don’t add anything to the game, they don’t expand its play time, bring in new challenges or alter the gameplay in meaningful ways. So what is there to pay for?
Then there are the other fluff pieces of additional weaponry and armour, or new gear in general that while they do affect gameplay, they don’t enhance it but cheapen it, turning it into a “pay to win” scenario. Though most of the time you end up paying for subpar gear that you’ve out-levelled by the time you find them.
Bioware, with Dragon Age and Mass Effect is one of the prime culprits of this style, with hundreds of skins, and new looks, costumes and hundreds of gear bits that ultimately add nothing to the party. But they’re not alone. There are dozens of developers and publishers out there that put this kind of DLC out there. Worthless content sold at a premium.
In the past year, with both Mario Kart and Smash Bros. many outlets reported that Nintendo was doing DLC right, and while I dread mentioning the Big N here as many will see it as fanboying on my part, I do have to agree. The content DLC sold by Nintendo for these two titles was meaningful, with new characters, new courses, stages, and much more and some even came for free. And that’s without mentioning the continuous and free support to Splatoon—though it has to be said that the game shipped with very limited content—with new maps, modes, weapons, clothing, etc.
This is a common issue with single player content DLCs, where you’re paying for new zones, missions or whatever it is they throw at you and when you get to it, it’s a single mission, one quest that almost always introduces a gimmicky character—most of the time voiced by someone moderately famous. They’re marketed as “Add-on Content” but add very little to the experience. Alternatively they give you a glimpse into some other part of the story, occasionally from another character’s perspective. This sounds amazing in theory: new character, new play style, new challenges. But what you get is something so short, so limited that you will inevitably feel ripped-off.
Warner Bros. and Rocksteady are the biggest sinners with the Batman Arkham series. I mean adding new characters to the game only for challenge maps, the same ones you’ve probably already cleared with Batman—happened to me while I attempted to 100% Batman: Arkham City—or promising gameplay as Deathstroke and finding out it’s only for training simulators. Batman: Arkham Knight is one of the worst offenders, with a costly season pass for extra and astoundingly short episodes with other characters. They add very little to the experience and feel like an afterthought.
Having said so, the very maligned Catwoman DLC in Arkham City did have a lot of meat, as did the Cold, Cold Heart DLC in Arkham Origins—a game I’m currently going through on my LawfulGeek streams.
Gearbox on the other hand has done fantastic expansion packs for Borderlands, particularly Borderlands 2. These add-ons really expanded the experience and even let the developers explore new avenues for storytelling.
The Classless Passes
Note: I am not referring here to Episodic Game Season purchases. They’re a completely different beast.
I often ask if a certain season pass is worth the money, if I’m getting the bang for my buck. The problem with season passes is that they’re based on promises, on content that doesn’t exist yet, and you never really know how much you’re going to get out of the money you pay—often around $30. It’s an investment, one many developers take advantage of, giving you dozens of Fluff Pieces and Short-Rounds to make you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth. Worst of all are the cases where the combined price for all the DLC is exactly the same as what you paid for the pass or when buying them individually is cheaper. In both cases, where’s the deal? Where am I winning?
If I’m going to mention a DLC Season Pass that ultimately proved to be worthless, you’ll forgive me for kicking a downed and dead horse: Batman: Arkham Knight. It was a $60 Season Pass for a collection of add-ons that the entire gaming media considered completely worthless. Short-rounds all of them, and of a very low quality…for a game I already consider subpar compared to its predecessor, Arkham City.
The best season pass I’ve seen in ages has to be the one for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, with two DLC in this frankly inexpensive pass and both add-ons being longer than The Witcher 2. This is service to your fans.
This is the greatest sin of them all, the Deadly Sin of DLCs: Prefabrication. From preorder exclusives to On-Disc DLC, the prefabricated DLC are the worst of the bunch, particularly since developers and publishers are no longer ashamed of admitting they’re cutting up the game for DLC purposes. These add-ons start their life as chunks of a final game before they get ripped out to market later, to get even more money out of the game or to be part of some deal with a retailer—looking at you GameStop!
Of course the list of offenders on this one is too long to go through. Every major developer and Publisher—bar Nintendo so far—has done this by now, with Ubisoft offering important elements of their Assassin’s Creed plots in the form of Preorder DLC, for example, or Square Enix Already promising missions for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided—and we’re not going into the “Augment your Preorder” fiasco. There are just too many examples to count, which is both infuriating and very worrying, as there’s no sign that this will stop any time soon.
DLC are a good market, and done well it’s a good idea, but the problem is that under the banner of “Games as a Service,” DLCs get more expensive and provide much much less than they should.
Maybe I’m naïve, maybe I’m too hopeful, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it now, I keep hoping that the Games Industry learns to do things the proper way, particularly in being respectful and thoughtful to their fans. They should appreciate gamers more, instead of taking them for granted and shove meaningless products their way, knowing that with enough buzz, they’ll buy everything.
But then again it’s also up to us to make sure they learn that lesson!
(Featured Image via @Toythatkills)