The Problematic Case of DLC

Since the implementation of downloadable content in the early years of this console generation, the landscape of video games has changed dramatically. The ready availability of content for games that players already own being at their fingertips via online service menus has totally altered the way consumers consider purchasing games. They are left with the decision of whether or not they want to purchase a game with guaranteed extra content or one where it may not be an option. They debate over whether they want to purchase one game and its accompanying DLC or a second or even third title. Most important of all, though, players want to know if DLC is worth the purchase.

This hasn’t been much of a problem for shooters or rhythm games, since additional maps and songs simply add to the experience without taking anything away. However, it has been almost an entirely different story with games that feature a strong narrative. For years, developers have been trying to find ways to create enjoyable downloadable experiences by making various additions to both gameplay and story. Unfortunately, they have all met massive criticism from the consumers.

Some of the most frequent uses of downloadable content for narrative-driven titles are weapons, clothing, and other types of gameplay-altering packs. These don’t run the risk of changing the game’s story and upsetting anyone who feels like they have to buy the new content to experience the whole narrative. It also gives players more variety when it comes to taking on their foes. However, a lot of gamers have put these under heavy scrutiny. The fact that this type of DLC adds nothing to the story is seen by some as a cop out and a cheap means of making money. Possible customers complain that it doesn’t add anything significant to the experience and does not exhibit true dedication to providing high-quality extra content. Worst of all, there have been some customers who feel that this form of DLC creates an unfair advantage for those who purchase it over those who don’t. It allows those who can shell out the money for the content to have it easier than those who have paid the $60 they would expect to be sufficient to enjoy the game.

In an attempt to avoid altering the field of gameplay for its users but still provide some form of augmentation, developers have also created side-quests in the form of adventures with secondary characters or challenging dungeons that make players who purchase the content work for the rewards. These once again come under attack because many players don’t see why the quests or adventures couldn’t come packaged already in the game. If it is something so minor and doesn’t impact the story too much or didn’t involve a lot of work, then players don’t understand why the developer wasn’t able to input in into the final game. They feel like they have been ripped off, like they didn’t get the full value of their purchase. This feeling is amplified even more if the content is released shortly after the game itself. Sometimes DLC like this will face backlash for being subpar because it isn’t a major add-on, which can paint an unfair image of the developers as just not caring about the content’s quality. Even worse is when some of these kinds of extra content, like Assassin’s Creed: II‘s “Battle of Forli” and “Bonfire of the Vanities,” end up facing both types of complaints.

An example of sidequest DLC.

Most recently, DLC has been used to expand the narrative of games and tie into future titles in a series. These offer the most solid, highest-quality experiences that can be brought to gamers through downloadable content. They don’t give items that can unbalance the playing field and make things easy for other players. However, they do provide crucial, almost essential moments in the canon narrative. Though fans who purchase the next title without having played this type of DLC will eventually be filled in with background information and informative discussions in-game, there’s still that feeling of something missing resulting from not witnessing it first-hand. This makes the player feel like they are being forced to pay for extra content in order to fully enjoy a narrative that they have come to love. Mass Effect 2‘s “Lair of the Shadow Broker” and “Arrival” content have been met with this critique, especially with the recent reveal that the repercussions of “Arrival” are what start off Mass Effect 3.

With all of these complaints about downloadable content, it makes one wonder just what is the solution? How can developers provide additional content to their entire fan base and keep them appeased while doing so? The simple answer is that they can’t. No matter what a developer does to create an added experience and attempt to keep players coming back to their little corner of the gaming universe, they won’t be able to satisfy everyone with each release. This means that the only real ways to fix the problem are to either stop the creation of DLC altogether, find the most profitable and appeasing methods, accepting the fact that they can only please fans little by little.

Regardless of what anyone thinks, the game industry is still an industry and still a business. Developers and publishers want to make money and turn a profit on their successful brands. DLC has become one of the easiest ways to do that, so it won’t be going away now that it has not just proved successful, but has also fully infiltrated this form of entertainment. Since eliminating DLC isn’t, and shouldn’t, be the solution, there’s only one other way.

That solution is to simply continue down the road of trial and error that the industry is traveling with this still relatively new method of producing content. Game makers will have to see what works, what garners the least fan backlash, what makes them the most profit, and what is considered worth the money they ask for it. Find the best possible blend of all these factors and just go with it. As the old saying goes, “You can’t please everybody,” so why try to? If the content isn’t good, then it won’t get positive reviews and the people will speak out about it. They will act as the checks and balances to make sure the arena of DLC evolves the way it should. So let the developers and publishers try new and innovative means of making DLC. It is still a young and growing aspect of gaming, and like all things will need time to mature. The pluses and minuses of every iteration and evolution will eventually determine which types will be the most essential, successful, and important.


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Author: Mike Murphy View all posts by
Mike has been playing games for over two decades. His earliest memories are of shooting ducks and stomping goombas on NES, and over the years, the hobby became one of his biggest passions. Mike has worked with GamerNode as a writer and editor since 2009, giving you news, reviews, previews, a voice on the VS Node Podcast, and much more.

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