In the current generation of gaming, downloadable content forms a large part of the gaming market. In the eyes of the publisher and developer, it means that you pay more than the base fee for the game. In the eyes of the consumer, it means we get more of the games that we love. This would seem like a relatively simple and clean relationship, but as we all know this is not always the case. Things have developed in such a way in recent years that the words Downloadable Content leave a sour taste in many gamers’ mouths, and there are several reasons for that.
Before we get on to complaining, it’s important to note that there are different types of DLC. Firstly, there’s the type that adds some amount of additional content into the game that’s already there, such as the map packs for Call of Duty or Games with multiplayer elements often lend themselves to this sort of DLC as the majority of the enjoyment in that mode will come from competing with other players, and injecting something as small as a new map or mechanic into the game will deliver more freshness than it would in a single player game. The equivalent in single player expansion would be adding time trials or a selection of additional game scenarios, such as the first DLC for Arkane Studios’ stealth action game Dishonored, titled Dunwall City Trials. In essence, this type of content is generally void of narrative significance and essentially re-organises or adds to the games core mechanics in some way, but not in a way that drastically affects the original game. Purely aesthetic differences such as weapon skins or alternate character costumes, as well as alternate playable characters, will likely fall under this category as well.
The second type is a DLC that completely adds a new section of game that is largely unrelated to the original game in a narrative sense. A good example of this is the GTA IV downloadable add-ons such as The Ballad of Gay Tony. The content may cross over with the base game from time to time, but can be considered its own entity running off of the same engine. This serves the purpose of giving the player more of the game but without compromising the integrity of the game they already loved. It’s taking the mechanics and gameplay and transferring them to a different setting or context, and will unlikely sour the player’s opinion of the base game in the event that the DLC isn’t good. An example of this is the other DLC, The Knife of Dunwall, that was just announced recently which follows the assassin Daud, as opposed to Corvo, and his exploits throughout the duration of the game’s story. This saves the developer from butchering Corvo’s story by adding content throughout it, or from ruining the poignancy of the base game by artificially longing it with further content. This is generally the least risky option when developing DLC that will usually satisfy the player. Often, as is the case with Dishonored, it will offer a slightly different perspective on the main story, or add a deeper level of context to it. Unfortunately, this DLC can sometimes alter the main story and worsen it, such as was the case with Mass Effect 3.
The final archetype of DLC is that of the completely unrelated add-on that has little or no business being tied to the game, but is fun enough that no one really bothers to be upset by it. Obvious examples are Undead Nightmare for Red Dead Redemption or the Festival of Blood add on for infamous 2. Interestingly, both of these expansions forcibly inject horror tropes, zombies and vampires respectively, into universes where they don’t ordinarily belong, the wild west and superheroes equally respectively. This doesn’t add to the mechanics of the game in any real way, doesn’t expand on the story and doesn’t offer any fresh perspective. It’s just fun in the old plain sense, offering a different experience altogether. This was so true with Undead Nightmare that the expansion was packaged and sold separately from the original game in stores. Many would argue that that is reason enough for its existence, but some fans would prefer to see DLC that enhances the core game, as opposed to simply exists alongside it.
Each sort of DLC has its place, and its appropriate price point on the market. Weapon expansions that add a single item or so tend to cost around a dollar or equivalent, with skins and costumes costing the same. Map packs for multiplayer, depending on the amount of content contained, will often cost between 10 and 15 dollars. The other two types contain a bit of a grey area, varying from 10 dollars for the Dishonored DLC for example to 20 for Skyrim’s Dawnguard expansion. More importantly than their cost, is that each DLC has a set place in the consumer’s needs. Some people want tiny changes to make their game last that bit longer, like new weapons, costumes or maps. Others want a richer experience and can attain that by seeing the core game in a new light, such as with the Dishonored DLC, and some want to just have a bit of fun without having to buy a whole new game and are willing to accept that there could have easily been a Texan wild west town plagued by zombies. However, it is not these types of DLC that people have a gripe with. It’s the day one DLC, the on-disc content that arrives locked and requires an exorbitant sum to unlock, or the DLC that is put out to “fix” the original game. This pushes us out of the “enhancing the player experience at a cost” territory and into the “getting more money from the player, and they get an arbitrary bonus” territory. This greedier mode of gaming monetization warrants a piece of its own, and shall be receiving my full attention next week. Till then, let us know in the comments if you have any additional types of content that don’t fall under the categories I listed, or if you have a category of your own that you think deserves to be separate.