June 12, 2015 | Written By: Nathaniel Hohl
I doubt many would argue that downloadable content (or DLC) for video games has and will likely always be an issue of constant scrutiny for gamers. Some love it, some hate it, some love to hate it while others hate how much they love it (mainly because of how quickly it can empty their wallets). No matter an individual gamer’s stance on DLC, one thing that can’t be argued is that it’s most assuredly here to stay. The rising costs of video game development have forced publishers to look into additional revenue streams beyond a game’s base $60 price tag and DLC helps to keep the cash flowing long after a game’s new-release appeal has worn off. However, not everything about DLC is quite so bright and rosy. In this feature, I’ll discuss some of the pros and cons regarding DLC and, hopefully, help my fellow gamers make more informed decisions when it comes to the DLC that they purchase. Putting a Price on Fun
The most obvious detractor involving DLC is that much of it requires players to spend more money on a game they likely already paid $60 for. With most major AAA games, the publisher will even try to get more money out of gamers before they even play the game thanks to growing trends such as pre-order bonuses, day-one DLC, and season passes. Day-one DLC seems to be a particularly sore point with gamers, especially since it often seems as if the publisher purposefully cut out core content in order to repackage it as DLC (the From Ashes DLC for Mass Effect 3) or that the publisher is trying sucker players into purchasing tons of frivolous content (Evolve’s staggering $85 worth of day-one DLC).
It’s important to remember however that paid DLC does in fact benefit players in more ways than one. Not only do you get to enjoy the additional content, but the additional revenue that the publisher makes off of the paid DLC sometimes allows the developer to offer other kinds of DLC for free (Mass Effect 3’s meaty multiplayer expansions were all free thanks to the revenue garnered from the single-player DLC). Revenue earned from smaller DLC packs can also help pave the way for larger DLC expansions. We may scoff and snicker at Oblivion’s infamous horse armor DLC now but I’m willing to bet that the money Bethesda earned from horse armor sales helped contribute to the development of Oblivion’s magnificent Shivering Isles expansion.
The “Complete” Picture
In addition to the extra monetary cost, the other big complaint that is often lobbed at DLC is that its associated game is somehow “incomplete” without it. This is actually a fair complaint in some regards since developers will often sneak a few bug fixes and balance tweaks in with a DLC release (available as a free separate download of course) but the idea of a DLC-less game being “incomplete” is a bit trickier to approach. While it is true that you’d theoretically get more enjoyment out of a game if you also got to play the DLC than if you didn’t, such an argument doesn’t really hold water when you consider the different amounts of enjoyment that can be experienced by different players. One player might be unsatisfied with a game no matter how much DLC it came with, another could enjoy a game so much that they felt they didn’t even need the DLC.
Going back to when publishers sometimes go overboard with DLC, it’s bad when it’s presented as day-one DLC, it’s even worse when it’s split up into different console-specific or retailer-specific pre-order bonuses since those wanting a “complete” game (or at least as close to complete as they can get) at launch are suddenly chasing an impossible dream (WB’s shenanigans with Batman: Arkham Knight are case and point). On the flip-side of that argument, publishers have been careful to keep the content they offer as pre-order incentives within the realm of cosmetic and/or non-essential content which means it technically isn’t necessary in order to enjoy the game as the developers intended. The reality of having to pay more for a “complete” version of a game (at least when it’s new) may be hard for some gamers to accept, but a big part of that reality is that none of the content that is added in through DLC is essential to enjoy the base game.
The Final Word
It’s odd to think about how often people forget a certain simple fact since it’s as true today as it was when DLC first took off as a concept: DLC affects you as a gamer as much as you’re willing to let it. The rising popularity of DLC has given us some truly remarkable bonus experiences (Red Dead Redemption’s Undead Nightmare expansion, Mass Effect 3’s Citadel story add-on, etc.) but it’s also a concept that bows to the whims of player interest. DLC isn’t going to one day ruin the gaming industry as some overzealous gamers claim because, as much as I’m sure some would like to, publishers can’t force us to buy it along with the base game. The simple truth is this: you can spend hours weighing the pros and cons of DLC but, when all is said and done, you’re the one with the power, not the publishers. DLC is a remarkable innovation but it is also one that won’t likely ever get out of hand (at least not permanently) because we, the gamers, are the ones who ultimately decide how successful (and profitable) it is.