Nearly every single game released now eventually has some form of downloadable content released, promising that something extra will improve the experience. Some of this comes in the form of pre-order content, often “exclusive” to certain retailers, new multiplayer maps or comprehensive story-based expansions. It is becoming a near excessive trend, even satirised in indie title DLC Quest.
There is a growing grumble of gamers that are beginning to become a little fed up with how publishers are treating them in the way DLC is released, questioning if it is a quick cash grab. After all the promise of extra content for a title you’ve enjoyed may persuade you to prevent trading in your copy and thus it becomes a clever tactic in denting the pre-owned business. Or is it a simply honest move? Is it a way to continue an experience crafted by the developers?
In a recent interview for Official Xbox Magazine, Marketing vice president for Bethesda, Pete Hines said that gamers do not understand the development process and so the criticism of DLC, particularly ‘Day One DLC’ is unfair. He explained that it is a balancing act between meeting the release date and finishing all of the content. His words seem to raise more questions than put DLC detesters in their place though. Are developers doing their jobs properly if not all the game’s content is ready for release day? Are they being able to do their jobs properly?
It can’t be denied that DLC is certainly a financial positive for games companies. It’s a great way to make more money but consumers feel that it needs to be worthy of their cash. It is suggested that this ‘extra’ content is already included on the disc bought at retail and purchasing a code merely ‘unlocks’ it rather than downloading it. If the content is already there and intended to be there by the developers than why should we pay extra for it? DLC is always released with intention that it will keep players playing. A paper by students in Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Massachusetts into a statistical analysis of gamer behaviour included the effect of DLC in their study with interesting results.
Using data provided by Gamer DNA they looked at popular titles and if there was any change in the number of people playing when new content was released. Using Halo 3 as their first example they found that the first new map pack released after release (Heroic Map Pack) had ‘no visible effect on the player base’ and the Legendary Map Pack also had ‘very little impact’. Both of these were paid for content but when Bungie released the free Cold Storage map there was a large spike in player activity. Even for an extremely popular title like Halo 3, it struggled to create popularity in extra paid for content. Looking at Fallout 3 however the data collected showed that there was a visible spike in player activity immediately after the first DLC Operation Anchorage was released and maintained a steady level whereas the Halo 3 saw a drop just a day after. From this it is easy to conclude that when DLC content extends the game beyond the original product more people are prepared to buy it. However with the Call of Duty franchise among others we have seen many more multiplayer packs been released so has this changed? Is better multiplayer content being released now? Do enough people pay for it to convince the publisher to carry on providing? There are still those that refuse to buy multiplayer DLC but will consider single player DLC.
Then there’s the issue with the Season Pass. No doubt if you’ve picked up the latest release in store on day one the friendly (depending on the day) member of staff will have questioned if you are interested in purchasing the Season Pass. I always respond by asking “What does it actually give me?” I never receive a definite answer as usually what the pass will actually include is not completely announced. Using Gears of War: Judgment as an example the Season Pass apparently would give me a day early access to map packs at a discount rate. Is it totally worth it? Not at all, in my opinion. Why should I pay extra to then still pay more? Why isn’t it fully disclosed what the season pass actually includes?
Of course there has been wonderful DLC released that has welcomed the opportunity to expand the gaming experience. Dragonborn for Skyrim, Undead Nightmare for Red Dead Redemption, the numerous add-ons for Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas as well as The Ballad of Gay Tony and Lost and the Damned for GTA IV are some of the stand out examples of how DLC content can be worth its value and continue an enjoyable playing experience. It is noteworthy that all these add-ons are single player content.
We simply need to see more care and attention when it comes to DLC. If we’re offered a season or VIP pass we need to know exactly what it will give us and for it to actually be of value. Downloadable content needs to add to the gaming experience. There is too many ‘extra skins’ offered which add nothing worthwhile to the game. We need to know that developers are taking as much care with the extra content as they did with the original game and it’s not being thrown together by demand of the publishers. If there’s obvious tender loving care put into the downloadable content will wait for it and we will pay for it (within reason).