How To Do Downloadable Content (DLC) Correctly

A common complaint among gamers is how greedy companies are with all the downloadable content (DLC) they make. This ranges from expansion packs to simple skins for a character model. What is the solution? Is anyone providing downloadable content in a way that pleases gamers? How is a company expected to do DLC “correctly” if so many are doing it “wrong?”

 

Jon Hill

DLC has been a slippery slope for the video game industry over the last couple of years. Companies have been nickel-and-dime-ing gamers for character skins or new weapons and creating a terrible trend of game developers taking things that should have been included in a game and sticking them behind a pay wall. Paid DLC done right would reflect something that old school PC gamers remember fondly: expansions. An expansion was another disc you could buy for a PC game that included new missions or levels and added a lot more gameplay to a game that may have been out for quite a while, revitalizing your interest in it
Ideally, paid DLC would work about the same way: a chunk of content that actually adds to the overall experience of the game. More story, more levels, more maps… DLC should give you more game, not just more stuff for your game. Examples of great DLC would be Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, FarCry 3: Blood Dragon, or Skyrim: Dragonborn. These titles not only changed how much game you get to play, but how you can play the game.
Content like character skins, weapons, or multiplayer maps should be made as free DLC. Sure, it takes time and effort to create those assets, but if a game is successful enough, this should be a ‘thank you’ to the fans. Some game series take some features available in one game and make it DLC in its sequel (looking at you, Exo Zombies) forcing players to shell out more money for an experience they’ve come to expect.
No matter which way you cut it, DLC can add more value to your games when done right. But when lazy, effortless mobile games make millions of dollars off of micro-transactions, it doesn’t look like the trend of lame DLC is going to end any time soon. Though, it is nice to know there are still some developers out there dedicated to creating DLC that genuinely expand on a game instead of just giving it a new coat of paint.

COD DLC

Steve Schoen

Downloadable content is supposed to extend, enhance, and improve the gameplay experience. However, in the video game-playing world, this often is not the case. For nearly as long as there has been DLC for console-based video games, there have been tactics employed by publishers to squeeze the gaming community for every dime they have. Now, not every game company perpetually behaves like a money-mongering cash vacuum (*cough* King Digital *cough*), but nearly every game company has been accused of producing low-value DLC at one time or another. I will outline here what I find to be some of the greatest offenses, and how they might be rectified.

 

Problem: Disc-locked content
This one’s a real teeth-grinder. If the content is already on the disc, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be available to the player. The content contained within the disc was produced as part of the company’s original production budget. Trying to compartmentalize pieces of the game already on the disc using monetary gateways is an unscrupulous business model. If you don’t believe selling the game for $60 without locking up one to five sections of the game for $10 to $25 a pop, it means you don’t have faith in your product.
Solution: Everything on the disc should be available to the player at launch. All locking it up via DLC does is incite people to try and hack and torrent the content.

 

Problem: Day-one DLC
Remarkably similar to disc-locked content, the category covers DLC that is not on the disc at launch, but should have been. I mean, if the content was ready at launch, it stands to reason that it should have been on the disc. Now, it’s certainly possible that a particular piece of content was not ready when the game went gold, but was completed before launch. However, I’m just guessing that this is not the norm, and even in those rare cases, I’ve never heard of a publisher say:
“Here, guys! This wasn’t ready on time, but it’s an important part of the game. Just connect up to our server and we’ll patch this piece of the game in for you at no extra charge. You’ve already done us a solid by shelling out $60 for our game, and more in the case of those who’ve paid for special/deluxe/collector’s/limited editions. Thank you very much for you patronage and we apologize for not living up the reputation of professionalism and quality you as consumers have come to expect. We sincerely hope to retain your business in the future.”
It’s more like:
“Yeah, this should have been ready at launch, but it wasn’t. Things happen. Getting the game out before the holiday shopping rush was simply too important. However, you can access this piece of the game for the modest sum of $10 to $25. If we don’t sell enough of them, our CEO simply will not be able to buy his son a Rolls Royce for his 16th birthday. You wouldn’t want to disappoint a boy on his birthday, would you? I mean, you should feel honored that we’re even offering it up for sale, despite its relative importance to the overall plot and gameplay experience. Even though it’s just a large file on a server that costs virtually nothing to store, we feel that the greatest contributing factor in failing to produce this portion of the game in a timely manner is ultimately your fault, because of your unrealistic demands and expectations, and you therefore must pay to make your game complete.”
Solution: Finish production on games before publishing. If you can’t, push back the release date. If you can’t do that, stop charging customers for content they should have had access to in the first place.

 

Problem: DLC that provides only cosmetic changes in the game
Why developers put effort into producing and charging money for clothes for Xbox avatars to wear, I’ll never know. And this isn’t even a game we’re talking about. DLC needs to provide a noticeable, tangible, change in the gameplay experience in some meaningful way. Anyone remember the horse armor in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion?
No, I don’t want to pay money for barding that does absolutely nothing.
No, I don’t want to pay money for a costume that’s just a palette-swap of the costume I already have.
No, I don’t want to pay money to make all the NPCs have bobble-heads.
No, I don’t want to pay money for a different version of something I already have.
No, I don’t want to pay money for something that should have been in the game in the first place.
I’m sure you can think of many more examples. Developers putting man-hours into such trifles just drives up the cost of the things we really want.
Solution: Focus efforts on producing extra content that enhances gameplay.

 

Problem: DLC that undermines previous player effort
We’ve all been there. We put about 70 hours into a game, and jump through all the seemingly ridiculous hoops you need to in order to obtain the game’s ultimate weapon. When you get it, you feel a sense of accomplishment that defies description. You equip it and run around in anticipation to try it out, and it exceeds your expectations.
You’re so happy to have something tangible for your character that symbolizes the culmination of all your adventuring efforts. You tell your friends about your ultimate weapon and they swoon with envy, begging you to tell them all the steps necessary to get it, so that they too can know the joy.
Then what happens?
The developer puts out a DLC pack that contains a weapon that puts yours to shame. What’s worse, they make you put forth minimal to no effort in order to get it. Some DLC packs may simply make the item appear in your inventory. You feel so foolish to have put yourself through the frustration of obtaining the now second-best weapon in the game.
Snotty children who didn’t get the game until over a year after release will likely get the ultimate edition that has all the DLC included on it. Then, they’ll have the best weapon available from the start or nearly the start of the game, beat the game with little to no effort, and then go online and decry the game as being far too easy. It has a way of making you feel like a chump.
Solution: Stop exchanging money for an easy button. If you must produce equipment that outmodes the best available in the vanilla game, at least make it difficult to find, ridiculously expensive, or only obtainable post-game.

 

Problem: DLC price-locks
It’s a funny thing about video games. As they age, they tend to go down in price. However, I’ve not known this to be the case for DLC. I played Dragon Age II through again in anticipation of Inquisition and for completeness. I finally decided to buy the Legacy DLC. Even though the game was over three-and-a-half years old at this point, the DLC was still $9.99. You would think at some point, the price of the DLC would shrink to reflect demand for the base game. Heck, a lower price DLC may even revitalize interest in a game that’s a couple years old.
Or, you could go the route Bethesda took and release a Legendary edition of Skyrim. Now, that’s not a bad thing, getting a copy of a fantastic title with all three DLC packs preloaded. Great deal, even at $60. The only problem is people like me who have owned Skyrim since 12:01 AM on 11/11/11 still have to pay for each piece of DLC separately. I mean, I paid $60 for this game at launch. Then I paid separately for each of these DLC packs in 2012. Then, they release a new edition with all DLC included for the same price as the vanilla game. That’s fine, supply and demand and all that, I really expect a rebate, but what about the people who didn’t buy any of the DLC initially? There’s no good reason why they should have to pay out the wazoo for what a company is now essentially giving away for free.
Solution: Incrementally decrease the price of DLC packs with the age of the title. Stop charging early purchasers for content that’s being handed to late purchasers on a silver platter.

 

If you’ve hung in there this long, I applaud you. You’re a real fan, and I appreciate you.
I realize these solutions may seem a bit simplistic, but the truth is, there are no easy answers.
Happy gaming, and may God bless.

Evolve DLC

Wesley Wood

Wow, Steve really nailed all the issues I have with the way most companies do DLC. However, I want to take a different approach and show you one company who has shown everyone how DLC is supposed to be done. That company is Nintendo. I can already hear some groans. Whether you love, hate, or have nothing but apathetic feelings towards Nintendo, one thing is certain, they provide DLC the way we, as gamers, expect.
I want to provide you some examples so that you may observe what I have already identified. First off is New Super Luigi U. New Super Luigi U is a twenty dollar expansion that released June 20, 2013. That is seven months after the release of the game it is expanding on, New Super Mario Bros U. We have already confirmed that it avoids two of the problems that Steve wrote about. Those two problems being day one DLC and disc locked content.
Now what did New Super Luigi U give the gamer for twenty dollars? What we were sold was a redesign of all the levels from New Super Mario Bros U. Each level was shortened and you, obviously, played as Luigi. Luigi’s playstyle differs from Mario in that he jumps higher, yet he also slides around, making him less sure-footed.
Also, a new character was introduced called Nabbit, providing a new challenge to the game. Nabbit would randomly appear in levels you have already completed and your goal would be to chase him down and catch him. Once again, we have seen how Nintendo has avoided more of the DLC problems that Steve laid out. Those conundrums being how DLC provides only cosmetic changes, DLC that has price locks, and also DLC that undermines previous player effort.
Let me present to you some more examples of how Nintendo has produced nothing but quality DLC.
Mario Kart 8 – Sixteen new tracks, eight new characters, and more. All for only twelve dollars and released half of it six months after the games release. While the other half released a year after.
Hyrule Warriors – A twenty dollar season pass granted you new levels, maps, costumes, and items that were released over the course of five months. The DLC was split up into four different packs.
Pikmin 3 – Seventeen new missions were sold for nine dollars. Most levels were provided for free as long as you let the game update on your Wii U.
I can go on and on, but I will not for your sake. If you would like to look into more games that Nintendo has provided DLC for then take a gander upon Fire Emblem Awakening, New Super Mario Bros 2, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Tomodachi Life, and Mario Golf: World Tour.
All in all, I would love to see companies go back to making DLC be expansions. All the little stuff they provide (see Evolve) should be unlockables for playing their game or at least be free DLC. I am saddened when I see gamers try to defend the predatory business decisions that companies like EA and Ubisoft have made.

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What are some games that have good DLC? What are some companies that have failed at DLC?

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Wesley Wood

Wesley Wood is an aspiring film director. He would love to make GOOD films to help spread God's word and help Christians grow.

3 Comments

  1. cole on March 18, 2015 at 8:59 pm

    I feel like the production and sale of DLC is ruining modern games. Lets go back to the mid-late 90’s when the Nintendo 64 was released. Imagine some of the iconic games on that system (i.e Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time & Majora’s Mask, Super Mario 64, Mario Kart, Donkey Kong 64 etc.). Now imagine those games with some of the original content taken out and re-sold a few weeks later as DLC. Would Ocarina of Time have been as good of a game if Lon Lon ranch and Epona was taken out and re-sold as DLC? What about Mario Kart 64? What if they cut the character count in half and took out the Star cup with 4 race tracks and re-sold that content as DLC?

    Now what about a modern example? Destiny is a well selling title that was released by Bungie for the PS3, PS4, Xbox1, and Xbox360. There is no arguing that at launch, Destiny was lacking content. It had a lackluster story with a pretty shallow multiplayer. You’d think that a game made by Bungie, who had a whopping $500 MILLION dollar budget, wouldn’t be so lacking in content. We can assume that most of the games content was cut a launch to be re-sold as DLC. We don’t know for a fact that this was the case, but they were advertising the next two DLC packs before the game launched, that raises some red flags.

    So how do we fix DLC? DLC is around because games are becoming extremely expensive to make. I would say that if we were to increase the price of games, companies wouldn’t be forced to cut out content and have that content re-sold to the consumer.

    • Wesley Wood on March 18, 2015 at 10:51 pm

      Nintendo is one of the few companies do DLC right. Shovel Knight is doing it correctly as well 🙂

      • Cole on March 19, 2015 at 12:38 am

        @WesleyWood I read your section of the article and I agree with a good amount of what’s there. What I was attacking in my post was on disk content and content that was finished before launch but held back for DLC purposes.

        I want to bring up one point you made: “All the little stuff they provide (see Evolve) should be unlockables for playing their game or at least be free DLC.” I agree 100% with your statement, but what about games like League of Legends or SMITE that are Free to Play games. Since there is no buy in for the full game, does it justify their large amount of micro transactions?

        Just wondering your opinion, Thanks for taking the time to reply to my original post. 😀

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