This article had previously been posted on another publication where I used to contribute my stories. I have since created and moved on to my own site here at DualShockers. I want to again share my editorial with a new audience. Enjoy.
In this current generation of video games, we as gamers have been witnessing the increase of certain industry trends. Whether it’s the recent emphasis on more casual experiences via the Nintendo Wii (which some would argue is hurting the industry, but in fact it is making it bigger and stronger by broadening the demographic), or the almost automatic inclusion of an online multiplayer component, thanks to the Xbox 360. One trend that has spread like the plague across all platforms is downloadable content (DLC), and I feel this is something that deserves some serious thought.
I call it a plague because not only does it look like it’s here to stay, but this trend is giving developers the opportunity to take an already overpriced $60 game (or even $80 if you’re into collector’s editions) and mold into a $100+ hole in your pocket. It’s absurd that a game can cost almost a third of what you paid for the machine you play it on. Now I don’t think the idea of DLC is bad, it’s just that I think there’s a lot of bad DLC out there. DLC that truly adds to the experience, whether it’s a bunch of new features (i.e. Co-op), additional hours of gameplay and/or extra Achievements/Trophies to go with it I think is awesome (i.e. GTA: Lost and the Damned and Prince of Persia). The problem lies when developers and publisher alike try to milk the consumer for everything they have.
I won’t even touch on the clusterfrak that was the horse armor DLC found in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion or the VS mode DLC for Resident Evil 5. I think that those two can speak for themselves. I want to take it to the map packs which are found in 95% of the online shooters. Call of Duty 4 is a perfect jumping off point. We’re talking about a critically acclaimed, fanboy loved, best seller for two years straight. The DLC brought to the game came in the form of the Variety Map Pack. Four maps for $10 dollars, but only 3 of them were original (the Chinatown map was a reboot of a map from COD2). So technically, 3 maps at what comes out to about $3.33 a map. Not bad I guess, especially since it showed that the developer, Infinity Ward was going to support the title. That, though, would never come into fruition, because a just a couple of months later, Infinity Ward would then announce that they had no plans to further support the game. Talk about taking the money and running with it. We’re talking about a game that to this very day has terrible network issues that have yet to be resolved. The only thing that came along with the map pack was big bright red text in matchmaking lobbies that names who in the party didn’t buy the DLC yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if that move is a form of indirect marketing for the DLC, like “let’s make ‘so and so’ feel like a cheap a-hole in front of his friends, then he’ll have to buy it.”
Another franchise that shows no remorse for your paycheck is the Halo franchise. This is where Microsoft (I don’t think Bungie has anything to do with it) really whips out the douchebag stick and hits you with it. I mean come on, they charge for every single map pack (that is until the latest one is released), and the packs are subsequently churned out faster than bad UPN sitcoms. The thing that bothers me the most about DLC when it comes to Halo is that it isn’t as though Microsoft doesn’t make enough money on, oh I don’t know, the books, the action figures, the apparel, Halloween costumes, ridiculous $130 special editions, shit colored 360’s, and the list goes on and on. Why can’t the same consumers who buy all this Halo propaganda get some free, or at the least very cheap, DLC? It’s bad enough that Xbox Live is a subscription service, yet the games are based on P2P networking without Microsoft actually hosting any of the matches on dedicated servers.
I already know how everyone’s going to come back at me with this one. Everyone’s going to say, it’s all about choice, you don’t have to buy it if you don’t want to. And for those who say that, you’re right on one side of it, but when the map packs affect who you can and cannot play with (a la map pack playlists in Halo 3), then there isn’t much of a choice if it’s something that your friends have and you need to buy it in order to play with them.
Out of all the companies that offer DLC, the one company that did get it right was the one everyone refers to as the evil empire. Publisher Electronic Arts along with developer Harmonix, could have easily done what Activision is doing right now by saturating the market with all different editions of the same game (i.e. Guitar Hero: “insert washed up 90’s band here”). EA and Harmonix did the right thing by allowing the consumer to keep all those songs they originally shelled $175 dollars for in Rock Band (the complete band bundle price) and transfer them over to Rock Band 2 for only $5 more. They could have resorted to profit driven tactics like what Activision did with their Guitar Hero: Smash Hits (a collection of previous Guitar Hero greatest tracks), but they took the high road and I as a consumer respect them more because of it.
When DLC is used the right way, it can turn a good game into a great game. When it’s used the wrong way, it shows the true colors of some filthy profit driven game publishing corporations.