In Defense of DLC [Editorial]

DLC. It’s been quite the buzzword in gaming media for a few years now, most of it negative:

“They’re releasing DLC already?”

“This was clearly held back from the original game, I’m not paying another $15 for DLC!”

“I wish they’d stop focusing on DLC and spend their time on the next game instead.”

In reality, is DLC actually the criminal here? Is it really such a bad thing to produce? Sure, there are isolated examples of DLC that are clear money grabs, but I’m more of the opinion that the majority of DLC is not only just a fact of the industry now, I think it’s gained a bad name that it really doesn’t deserve – quite the opposite in fact.

Let’s be clear here, we’re not talking about the endless slew of skins and camos that are released for games like League of Legends or Call of Duty, we’re talking about story expansions, additional episodes, map packs and new modes that get released in paid DLC packs after the game has launched.

In a world where money is getting increasingly tight as everything gets more expensive (games included) people are more and more averse to paying for DLC after they have bought the game just a few months previously.

Is this reaction wrong? No, you’re being asked for more money than you used to, naturally it carries a negative feeling. Are developers to blame for these issues? Of course not – this is our economy at work and nothing more. Take Assassin’s Creed II for example, a game that came under heavy fire after two extra content packs were actually marketed as sections “missing” from the main story. In reality it wasn’t an issue, but the way Ubisoft marketed it made it even easier for people to think it was held back from the game to sell to players later.

For context, about three-quarters of the way into the game, the story “jumps” because the Animus data is apparently corrupted. Now, we can all agree AC 2 was a lengthy game, and probably didn’t need any DLC, so why the issue with paid expansions if you got your money’s worth?

The main belief that drives this negativity is that we have already paid money for a game, that any extra content associated with it or forms a constituent part of it should be included in that price.  “You used to be able to pay one price and get everything included” people say, but developers never used to be able to release expansions for games as easily as they can now. DLC isn’t always about the money grab, it’s about providing more content for a passionate fanbase to enjoy. Yes, profit is always a significant aspect of a DLC release, of course it is – an extra product that costs developers money to produce should absolutely be allowed to carry a price.

Ultimately DLC is there to refresh and maintain interest in a game after release, to add extra depth to aspects of the game that hardcore players would find interesting and to tell new stories that are too small to release independently. Yes, it’s an element of the game that players may miss out on if they don’t spend the extra cash on it, but so is a sequel, and that carries a price we’re all too happy to pay simply because it’s been a while since we last paid up.

We have to realise that we live in a world where videogames are a far bigger medium than ever before, with bigger worlds and deeper fictions than we’ve ever seen in the industry. As a product franchise grows, the frequency of content releases will increase. As a result the avid following of such a series will incur additional costs, it’s simple. Developers are producing DLC for money, yes, that’s what they’re in the business to do – but we shouldn’t be complaining about it. This is a way for our favourite series’ to remain active, current and successful by providing a more regular stream of content rather than just one title every two or three years. Production of such content does not impact the development of the sequel as almost always the studio will have separate teams working on the two projects.

As for release times, why does it matter when the DLC is released? If a game has three story DLC expansions to release, there is little difference in the end result whether it is all released on day one, split across the first few weeks, or spread over a whole year. The only party it could impact negatively is the developer, who may lose out on the continued engagement it encourages if it were spread out instead. Sometimes an immediate release isn’t about the instant money grab but eliminating the risk of poor sales if they release it too late instead. If somebody is interested enough to buy the DLC, nobody is forcing them to buy it all in one go on day 1, once they’re done with the main game and content with having got their money’s worth, they can then decide if they want more.

It simply seems to now be a popular belief of our arguably “entitled generation” that expansions should come gratis with a new game, despite having paid the same price as one would willingly pay for just the base game if DLC had not even been mentioned. Surely this seems unreasonable?

A betting man might say that the growing production and release of DLC expansions is bringing us closer to an inevitable future where studios have multiple branches working on yearly releases of games as standard practice, in a bid to maintain engagement. In fact, such an arrangement has already started with series’ like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed, where different studios work in parallel on different releases. These games have suffered from fatigued followers bored of repetitive formats, but this is where improvements can be made. For these games, the focus wouldn’t be to further increase the frequency, but the quality of their games, an achievable goal to work towards whilst the rest of the AAA industry plays catch-up.

Hopefully this has helped point out the reality I think we should all be looking to accept – our favourite hobby is growing and naturally getting more expensive. DLC isn’t a detriment to the development of future games, the main game is very rarely devalued by any so-called “held-back” content it includes, and it’s not a soulless money grab, regardless of when it is released. Sometimes DLC is a way to experiment with new formats without the high-risk environment of a full release (see Dead Space 3: Awakened), an experiment that can drastically improve and influence future titles. Let’s remove the stigma against DLC, review it fairly, praise the best expansions and by association highlight the sour grapes ruining it for the rest – those charging $15 for 20 minutes of extra gameplay and a couple of poxy skins.

What are your thoughts on DLC? Any favourite expansions?

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