To DLC or not to DLC…?

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…that is the question. Or, you know, it used to be. These days it’s not really so much of a question for developers of “if”, but more likely “when”. So what makes DLC worth buying, and when is it better to just cut your losses and leave it be? I’ve tried to give my thoughts on the subject some sort of structure!

The Good, the Bad and those random ones that I’m not sure about…

It seems that there’s a fine line in where gamers consider that their DLC has been/will be good value for money or worth the purchase at all. Trying to identify what factors are involved is probably like trying to find a piece of hay in a stack of needles. So instead, I’ve tried to identify different categories of DLC to decide whether or not I like them. Yet another opinion piece, as always, and maybe you’ll disagree, but here’s my breakdown of the main chunk of DLC available today.

The Good – *Stu has equipped, Helm of Indifference: -5 Rage* (… He doesn’t have a happy attribute.)

  • Continuation/Extension/Expansion of a (good) Storyline

  • New game modes/gameplay

  • New scene/outlook/perspective

Anything that really adds to the game that’s already in place is a big winner for me personally: everyone who knows me will tell you I’m a sucker for a good storyline for example, so DLC that adds to this is almost always appreciated. Perhaps it gives a little more context or explanation to a previously shady event, or perhaps it describes life after the main storyline? Maybe the DLC brings in a new game mode to build on the successes of the main game, perhaps from fan requests, or possibly the same idea from a different perspective? Basically, let’s see developer’s build on what they have and add new, relevant content for player enjoyment rather than company profits. Is that too much to ask? Some might say it was, but it seems there is DLC out there that fits the bill here.

Obviously I’m not gonna call it without listing at least a few semi-relevant examples, and here they are:

Mass Effect DLC: Now before I get kicked to death by a horde of angry ending haters, let me clarify here, the Extended Cut doesn’t count, because it’s not paid DLC and it was absolutely 100% necessary. Instead, we’re looking at From Ashes, Leviathan, Omega and Citadel. Each of these add ons expanded and built upon the foundations of the awesome ME universe, in addition to adding new lore of their own. From Ashes gave us Javik, Leviathan gave us the origins of the Reapers, Omega allowed us to take back the station from Cerberus hands and Citadel added even more interaction and a new level of relationship between the crew members of the Normandy.

Bioshock, Burial At Sea: Ok, so aside from the fact that it came in two parts and featured a giant cliffhanger, BaS has been one of my favourite DLC packs in the last few years: it gives us a new take not only on our favourite Infinite characters, but also of the famous underwater city that we all (hopefully at least) know and love. This alone makes it worth buying my eyes, because it builds on the awesome game that Infinite proved to be!

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The Bad – *Stu has equipped, Helm of Mad Hate: +15 Rage, -10 Critical Thinking, -5 Coherent Writing*

  • Microtransactions

  • Irrelevant/unconnected additions

  • Day 1/on disk

  • Paid DLC to plug holes in the game

  • Golden Bullets

Ok, so let’s be honest, not all instances of these points are going to be bad, just as not all of the entries on the good list are above reprimand. But for the sake of my sanity and the length of this article, let’s go ahead and assume they all pretty much fit to some extent. In much the opposite ways to the positive DLC points, the negative DLC factors for me concern the relevance or need for the addition. In short, does it fit, or does it feel more like it’s been needlessly tacked onto the side of the game to generate some additional revenue? Microtransactions, “Freemium” games and “golden bullets” fit this category well. Generally, any game which advertises itself with one cost (free or otherwise), then follows it up with mini purchases for extra items or game winning weapons instantly annoys me, and in general, most of the gaming community that doesn’t have money to splash around so they can win at everything. Another pet hate is Day 1 or on disk content, which just feels like a stab in the back for most gamers. It’s not just the fact that in the case of on-disk content it’s technically not even “Downloadable” (it’s on the disk for crying out loud!)… no, to make it worse, a pre-release item has been held back to add an additional cost for the game. There are arguments both ways of course, but you can see why it’s annoys gamers who’ve spent their hard earned cash on their game, only to find out it’s got a nice money sized locked hole on the disk. This can be negated, but not diffused entirely by allowing it as a pre-order bonus… maybe.

Your examples for some of the above:

EVE Online: Remember the outrage sparked at the initial launch of “Aurum” and microtransactions for CCPs MMORPG? Crazy amounts of real world money for new clothes for your character. Sure, let people waste their money, but there was a bigger issue at stake; would “golden bullets” start being introduced some feared, perhaps new money only ships and weapons that would turn the tides of PvP combat? Cue massive outrage, debates and a huge online riot (gotta hand it to EVE players, they really know how to show their distaste for ideas…).

Street Fighter X Tekken: Capcom’s crossover fighter, although not really a massively heralded fighting game, still caused its fair share of controversy with its on-disk DLC (which, it should be noted,  is different to and even worse than Day 1 DLC). Fighters who could be paid for to unlock and use were stored on-disk before release, and when this was found by some gamers, they took to the internet as any outraged fan does and hit Capcom hard. Capcom responded, of course, that they’d look into it, so fair play to them.

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Those random ones I’m not sure about – *Stu is confused… he purchased DLC in his confusion!*

  • Map packs

  • Skins/themes/characters

These two were a bit too varied between games to put my finger on really. Each has it’s own breaking points, but they’re pretty similar: how much do they cost, what do they add in terms of gameplay/look and feel, and are they good value all factor in to which side of the line these entries fall on.

Let’s start with map packs. They can be awesome if they’re done right. Give a good spread initially at release and then add more maps with a different setup in. Battlefield 3 is a great example (except perhaps on pricing): they began with a solid set of maps, then added packs like Armoured KIll, Close Quarters and Aftermath with their unique themes, in this case massive open field vehicle heavy maps, closed in close quarter battle maps and post devastation maps respectively to keep players entertained. On the flip side Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 fell just over the other side of this line, with maps feeling, to me personally, a bit stale and similar to the care set: at the end of the day, you were still running around a network of tunnels/corridors/fields shooting at people with the same guns over and over again. And don’t get me started on price, considering both DLC map packs included re-used retextured layouts (Crash, Overgrown, Strike and Vacant from MW1). Sure, it probably takes some work to recycle these, but it still felt like you were paying twice for the same thing…

As for skins themes and characters, it’s much the same deal. Is it new, is it interesting, does it add something significant, or is it literally just a colour change or reskin of another character/style/theme to make some extra money?

Borderlands 2, Krieg and Gauge DLC: An example of a well executed DLC pack. Each of these characters added their own mini backstory, personality and most importantly, skill tree, into the Borderlands universe. The best part? They were (for the most part) well balanced and unique. Awesome job on that front.

Dota 2, Skins and Equipment: This may seem a little two faced, but hear me out. Dota 2’s equipment system is transaction based: you can buy all of the skins and character items you could ever want. However, the main redeeming factor is that you can earn them through gameplay too, which essentially gives the best of both worlds: shortcuts for people with no patience and too much money, and a target for players willing to put the time in to earn it.Well played Valve, well played… (It’s also pretty cool that a lot of them are community made too -Sam)

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So Stu, you can b*tch and whine all you like… but what would YOU do?

That’s right people, it’s time to find that piece of hay in a stack of needles, fart in a jacuzzi, particular grain of salt on a beach (etc…).  Because this is the big question really isn’t it? The gaming industry is exactly that… an industry, a business…

Primary Objective: Make Money.

Secondary Objectives: Look Good Doing It, Make People Happy, Make More Money.

In a way, you can kinda see why sometimes we get the negative parts of the DLC argument. Money makes the world go round, as they say: if there’s no money in it, the gaming world probably wouldn’t even exist at all. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. Rien. Niente. Yeah, you get the picture.

However, in the world the optimists inhabit, where the sunshine and bunnies are in abundance upon grassy meadows of hope and everything poops rainbows, you have to ask if there’s a way that everyone can be happy (it should be noted in my world a.k.a life, this is rarely the case… look up “zero-sum mentality” on Wikipedia). So, I decided to see if I could generate the five steps to success for DLC…

Stu’s Handy “5 Steps to Success Guide” for: DLC

Your DLC should meet the following criteria!

1) It has to be profitable, but appropriately priced.

2) It should add a significant, unique, original theme, idea or gameplay aspect to the game.

3) It shouldn’t be on the disk in the first place.

4) It should add to or expand upon the game’s core.

5) It shouldn’t exist for the sole purpose of charging for game winning items. Ever.
That’s the best I can come up with… the question is, what do you think makes DLC worthwhile… yes, you! Speak up, or forever be bombarded with equal parts of awesome and crap for now and all eternity. Alternatively, you could join me and everyone else in the world: if you don’t think it’s worth it don’t buy it. And if you’ve bought it already and hate it, learn from it, and don’t buy the same sorts of DLC in future without a review… preferably from us, but no pressure.

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