In Defense of DLC
People sure seem bitter about DLC now-a-days, don’t they? Between MW2’s $15 map packs, EA’s Project Ten Dollar, content keys to unlock files already on the disk, the infamous horse armor, alleged “pay-to-play” demos, and even the future potential of charging you for user generated content, it seems people have a lot to be angry about. However, is it really as bad as it seems?
One of primary complaints I’ve seen surface is how games are shipped ‘half-finished’ or how content is intentionally removed in order to be repackaged as DLC. This thought process seems prevalent with the recent flux of “GotY Edition” titles surfacing (Uncharted 2, Dragon Age: Origins, GTA4, and Forza 3 all announced these past few weeks), with some gamers claiming that these are the “real” or “complete” versions. Is this really the case, though? Were you initially sold an “incomplete title”? I wouldn’t say so.
More and more, developers are budgeting for DLC releases. Meaning that, if DLC didn’t exist as a medium to sell the additional product, you’d never see it to begin with. The game itself is fashioned separately as a whole product. Yet some people seem to think without DLC, all this extra content would have otherwise wound up on the disk. From a business point of view, that kind of thinking is completely backwards and stands out as another example of how so many gamers have a false sense of entitlement (but that’s another discussion entirely).
Instead, we should be looking at it in a more realistic (and less idealistic) light. Our favorite games are given renewed life, replayability, and longevity in some fashion–something console gamers rarely had prior to DLC’s availability. Other than the SOCOM and Halo series, how many of your favorite multiplayer games had additional content to expand their longevity last gen? I certainly can’t recall any. How many of your favorite old school RPGs had chapters added after release to delve into the history of some of your most beloved characters? None. That’s the beauty of DLC though. Scenarios like this are now possible.
Prior to DLC, if a game received additional content, it usually meant buying the same game all over again (See: Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution, Devil May Cry 3: Collector’s Edition, Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance/3: Subsistence). And in some unfortunate cases, it meant never seeing the extra content at all (FFX’s Dark Aeons added in the PAL release, but not the NTSC version as well as Ico’s additional weapons and secret ending unavailable in the NTSC version). Now that sort of thing is completely avoidable to consumer benefit. Sure you’ll be charged a nominal fee for it, but it’s better than repurchasing the entire package, right?
That’s not to say all DLC isn’t without any drawback however. Obviously it has it’s fair share of criticisms, as highlighted in my opening passage. The strongest of which seems to be pricing. Is horse armor worth a buck? Should you be charged $10 to play your game online just because you wanted to buy it used? Do you really have to pay $5 for a glorified demo? At the end of the day, it boils down to whether or not you value what you’re paying for.
Mass Effect 2 and Heavy Rain both cost $60 upon release. One playthrough of Heavy Rain will run you around 10 hours, while Mass Effect 2 will take you anywhere from 40 to 80 hours to complete. Both are, in my opinion, absolutely fantastic titles. So would you argue that ME2 is a better value? And if so, does that mean Heavy Rain isn’t worth the price of admission? It’s all subjective. It’s the same thing people debate when discussing XBL’s yearly subscription fee vs. PSN’s free service. I could write a long explanation telling our readers why it’s illogical for them to pay $50/yr for XBL, but clearly 20+ million people feel justified in paying for it; But lets not get off topic.
As a whole, DLC does seem a bit on the high side. Especially when developers try to strong arm you into paying an abnormally high price due to a game’s popularity (I’m looking at you, Activision) or make you pay for something that would otherwise be free. Then there’s the fact that pricing largely remains the same no matter how long it’s been out. For instance, Prince of Persia (2008) can be found for around $20, yet the Epilogue DLC still commands a $10 price. You’re paying 1/2 the cost of the entire game for 2 hour’s worth of content. I think most people are in agreement that the price of DLC should do a better job at scaling with the price of the game itself.
There’s also some complaints about what makes ‘good’ DLC. “It should be story focused.” “It needs to be more than just extra missions.” “You can’t make it too important to the primary game, because then you’re missing out if you don’t buy it.” Some of these in direct conflict with each other (It should focus on expanding the game’s story while simultaneously being irrelevant to what the game is about?). It’s similar to individuals arguing whether or not ME2 was better or worse for streamlining it’s RPG elements and making the game more action orientated. Obviously, certain people are going to disagree on a matter where there is no middle ground. However, the point of DLC is to expand upon a game you already own. After that, it’s up to the user to decide whether or not they enjoyed how the game was expanded and shouldn’t reflect on what DLC – as a whole – is about.
Because DLC is tackled in a number of different ways. From adding to the core gameplay with extra multiplayer content, more missions, and/or raised level caps to expanding on the game’s story in a variety of ways. Some offers up fluff items like costumes and customization options and others give you more toys to play around with–like paint guns (LBP) and extra vehicles (Forza 3). Obviously it can’t be all things to all people, but what it does give you is additional replay value in some form. Ultimately, that’s what all this is about. To open your eyes and look at DLC for what it is and not to criticize for what it isn’t. To stop acting like there is something fundamentally wrong with DLC, and start looking at it more subjectively. Maybe you didn’t enjoy Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot or LBP’s MGS package. That’s fine, and no one is forcing you to buy them. But does that mean DLC is flawed, or did you simply not enjoy what it accomplished? To me, it looks like the latter. Food for thought.