Let’s start with some ‘Fate facts.’ I don’t like, condone or – on some days, tolerate – games asking me to pay real world money for anything in the game once I already own the disk. You can have your own theory about why I’m like this, and by all means feel free to let your imagination run wild, but for the sake of condensing it for this article it boils down to two very simple things:
- DLC splits the user base. You have a game, so does your friend. Everything’s great, you can have fun together. But because you got the expansion pass, there’s a chunk of content you can’t play together unless he pays another £10. Essentially, DLC has become a class divide between gamers that has terrifying similarities to Victorian England, and it’s getting worse. If you have money to burn and can afford a pre-order, special edition with digital deluxe and the expansion pass, you are burning close to £70 for some games. Say for example, your friend who, unlike you, has a family to support, only buys the regular edition for £40. Even if you disregard the massive advantage you are going to get with all your in game items, it puts a clock on the playtime you have together. Eventually, after you’ve done all the content you have, he will either have to pay extra to rise up to your level, or you will have to do that content without him.
- DLC offers developers the opportunity to sell you a half-finished product. This is the cynic in me talking – that’s a given – but I don’t think anyone who’s played a game post 2012 can disagree. Day one patches are just a commonly accepted fact, and that doesn’t bode well. Not to mention, some games seem to be such a step backwards from other titles in the same genre, only for the DLC to introduce new modes and mechanics that you’re pretty sure should (and probably would) have been in the initial game. A DLC shouldn’t be there to bring the game up to the level of its competitors, it should be the icing on the cake of the game that blows all its rivals away.
Now, I want to say that I understand that gaming has evolved in the past few years. That we’re no longer in the age where if your game had a fatal crash bug, it can be fixed without a full product recall. Sometimes, based on user feedback, patches and fixes are necessary and I have no issue with these if they are delivered quickly and are available for free. This, I feel, is an acceptable use of the technological advancements we, as a society, have experienced since the late ’90s
I remember gaming on the Sega Megadrive, Nintendo 64 or even on some early PC releases when the thought of downloading something to supplement your game was laughable. Sure, we had screechy 56k dial-up connections at that time – if you were lucky – and the graphics and file sizes for games were essentially what you could fit on a CD-ROM or three floppy disks, but we made it work. There’s not too much of me that’s nostalgic for that time anymore.
The pros of free DLC
In my opinion, no game was a bigger disappointment in 2016 than No Man’s Sky. Hello Games’ epic space adventure promised so much, and delivered on so little. It’s hyped up exploration system and procedurally generated universe made gamers and coders alike froth at the mouth in anticipation, only to receive what can only be described as a repetitive sequence of glitches, crashes and one of the shallowest gameplay experiences that ever existed. Just over 12 months have passed since then and No Man’s Sky has received several big updates to its core gameplay. Mechanics which were not present upon release, bug fixes and quality of life improvements all came later in a series of hotfixes. Furthermore, larger patches inserted new and improved elements to the world which made playing the game slightly more fun. Over time, this has culminated in No Man’s Sky being more of a 5/10 than a 2/10 that it was on release. If the team keep this up, they may yet salvage the game and any future sequels, and that can only be a good thing. Just like people, developers who learn from their mistakes will always get a second chance from me. Those who keep throwing out the exact same thing with a different coat of paint however…
Swiftly moving back on topic, all of these updates cost me nothing. Yes, I would have felt cheated and disgusted if they had asked for money for these improvements, but in today’s gaming climate that wouldn’t have been out of the question.
“You want this new feature where you can get a space buggy to drive around planets? That’s £5 extra”
And it would just be par for the course. However, Hello Games didn’t do that, and a year later No Man’s Sky is a better space-survival game than it was upon launch, and if you own a copy and dropped it down the back of your sofa the day after launch, come back to it, it’s worth revisiting (November 2017).
This is a great example of how you do customer service, but at the same time there’s no way in hell a company should have been allowed to put a product like this onto the market in its release state. No matter how you try and defend it – and there’s a lot of people who will try and defend it – if I have paid between £40 and £50 for something, anything at all, I expect it to work.
The cons of free DLC
Let’s look at a different game for the cons of free DLC. I could have stuck to No Man’s Sky for this bit, and maybe I’ll put up a post with more ranting later, but for now I’m keeping it as concise as I can (and failing). Instead, let’s focus on games that are fine upon release, games that need only small bug fixes or minor tweaks to stuff that goes on behind the scenes. Aside from general housekeeping a few days after release, once the game hits the stands and sells a decent number there’s really no financial incentive for a developer to go in and give players free DLC, even if it’s just a patch to fix bugs. They don’t NEED to do it. Regardless of how these entities may present themselves to the public, they are a company and in their most primal form exist to turn a profit. If they’ve already got your money you’ve no power or leverage to request anything of them FOR FREE. Some bug fixes and serious game crashes are treated to preserve their image of course, but after that they don’t need to do anything.
As much as it may make sense that developers need to protect their image, and service the fans of their products, or even just do damage control ahead of any sequel or other Intellectual Properties they’re thinking of launching in the future, there’s rarely going to be a backlash from the gaming community so large that it can turn a game from profitable to not. It’s just not going to happen with the size of the gaming industry and how well most things are marketed (exception: EA, Dice & Disney, 2017).
Free DLC also suffers in either quality or quantity compared to it’s paid counterpart. Take Final Fantasy XV. Every so often there are little pop up events, like Festive or Assassin’s Creed which are for everyone, regardless of whether or not you got the Expansion Pass, but most of these are just different skins or graphics in areas, or a few in game items that have a minimal effect on progression. The paid DLC, Episode Gladiolus and Episode Prompto, lets you play as different characters and features voice-acted campaigns, even if they are quite short. They say you get what you pay for, and that’s quite true a lot of the time, and be honest with yourself: you’d try harder at a job if someone offered to pay you real money upon completion rather than just saying ‘Thanks.’
The pros of paid DLC
The pros here are almost the same as the cons of free DLC. More financing means more resources go into development, which should equate to a higher quality product than a free once. Paid DLC also extends the lifespan of a game, rather than games just being done with a month after the release date, you get reasons to come back to it, new content to enjoy and quite importantly, it keeps the game relevant – which helps when devs announce their next project.
Another pro is that paid DLC can often be a showcase of what a company can do with increased capital, particularly smaller companies who might not have had a lot of resources to start with. Once they have their windfall from the success of the original release, they can reinvest some of that into their DLCs and improve on the quality of the game. A great example of this – if I’m being liberal with the phrase ‘smaller companies’ – is The Witcher 3, a great game, made better by its stellar expansions, and you can tell some of the money they got from the game’s early success went into the subsequent releases, and that money is likely to come back around to us as just something spectacular in Cyberpunk (at least, we hope it does).
The cons of paid DLC
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out that the first con of paid DLC is that you have to pay, It’s right there in the name. Paying for a game you already have just feels alien, redundant almost, like as though somehow you’re being tricked, even if it’s clear that you’re getting something new and different.
Even if I tell myself over and over again that I’m helping the developers fund future products I still find it difficult to buy DLC packs, in fact, I can only say that I’ve bought four in my lifetime, and all of those are for games I truly loved. I bought the first DLC pack for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on my Xbox 360, I bought the Expansion Pass for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the Expansion Pass for Final Fantasy XV and the Expansion Pass for Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I’m not counting Borderlands: The Handsome Collection as a DLC, even though it is a collection of DLC, for the simple reason that I paid £30 and got everything all in one, no download necessary.
In my opinion, these games showed me with their original product that they DESERVED more of my money. They set either a really high bar, or an impeccable foundation for things to move forward from, so much so that I took the risk with those games. Three out of four turned out to be great investments.
This leads me to the second con of paid DLC: Paying up front. In order to get a good deal with most DLC you have to decide almost on release day whether or not you’d be sticking with this game for the long haul. No longer is it worth it to buy the game and wait, then buy DLC one for £8 when you can get the Expansion Pass with three DLCs for £15. This isn’t helped when most retailers also do their own deals where if you get the Expansion Pass on the day you buy the game you get £3 or £4 off the RRP. What’s worse now, is the dangerous precedent set by Breath of the Wild (and I assume other games I’m unaware of), for which you can’t get ANY of the DLC unless you get ALL of it. So you can’t pick and choose your packs.
Regardless of Zelda‘s cheek, it’s a common fact that the second or third DLC packs aren’t even detailed or even finished when the game gets its retail release, and if you’re lucky, you’ll have a teaser or a slight inkling what will be on the first one. Seriously, guys who bought Assassin’s Creed: Origins or Battlefront II Expansion Passes recently, tell me what’s going to be in the second and third DLC packs you already paid for?
In essence, this is gambling. You’re putting money down for something that is a complete unknown, of unknown quality or quantity until a few weeks before it’s released. By which time they already have your money. Again, excuse me for being the cynic in the room, but if they’ve already got your money there’s no incentive to get things right, to produce something that’s better than average. They just need to hit ‘acceptable’ so people don’t feel like they’ve been had. The standard of the DLC needs to be barely passable to get most casual gamers on board, so the brief to dev’s might as well just be ‘Kick something out, and don’t kick up a fuss.” That’s even when you fail to take into account that paying an amount of money upfront for something you don’t yet know the result of is the very definition of gambling. If you’re a 16-year-old gamer who’s gone out to buy Battlefront II (a PEGI 16+), and bought the expansion pass, you have committed a crime, because gambling is only legal for over 18s. Of course, if you’re an average gamer on the street and you can tell me pixel-for-pixel what’s going to be in DLC One, two and three for Battlefront II, I’ll retract this.
Finally, and I promise that I mean that, the worst part about paid DLC is that it is becoming WAY too common. It’s not just a few games here or there, it’s not just your big FPS games which drop new map packs anymore, as it was in 2007 – 2011. It’s every single title worth buying. Whether you call them Triple A games, blockbuster releases or just ‘Big games’ they all have a paid DLC option, which is essentially increasing the price of these games from £50 to £70. Soon it won’t be an optional DLC, it will be a mandatory surcharge for a game service. What’s next? We have to pay for the DLC and then an extra subscription to connect to the internet and game online? Wait…
Paid DLC is bad, stop it, stop buying it. Paid DLC should be a privilege. To earn the right to put something like this into your games you should have to be a developer in such high standing in the gaming community that there’s a reasonable expectation that what we get from you is of an acceptable quality. Essentially, so that we can safetly assume we’re getting value for money. I’m sick of DLC being map packs or new characters which are just re-skins of old ones, or having to pay extra to hear the backstory of one of the main characters – I’m looking at you Final Fantasy XV (even though I already paid and played it and it was perfectly fine).
I think the key here, is that we, as gamers draw a line in the sand, and here’s my line:
- Any paid DLC should progress the main story of a game, or provide an alternate campaign or play experience that acts as a prologue to the game or as a direct continuation. DLC should not be used to fill in gaps created in the timeframe during which the existing story takes place.
- Any paid DLC should be completely optional, and should not interfere with the gameplay experience of someone who hasn’t purchased it, or enable a player who has purchased it to gain, a significant advantage over players without – other than in the terms of narrative progression.
- All companies planning to attach paid DLC to their title should have to announce the content of each and every download in the series PRIOR to the sale the game itself. Anything added subsequently must be a FREE download available for all players. – This would nullify my earlier point about DLC being gambling, as we’d know what we were paying for.
- The price of any individual DLC pack should not exceed 15% of the RRP of the game itself on release.
- The price of any Expansion Pass should not exceed 33% of the RRP of the game itself on release.
I thought of roughly 20, but some of them were impractical – such as:
- Ensure that the game, upon release, hasn’t had any features or modes deliberately removed and packaged into DLC to increase overall profits.
That would be ideal, but I see no way to properly enforce it, particularly since everyone who works for the company would have lots of interest in keeping their mouths shut.