What Should Be Next: For Downloadable Content

By Joel Taveras

November 22, 2011

[‘What Should Be Next’ is weekly column where I examine and discuss certain trends, franchises, genres and ideas in the gaming industry, and where they should be headed.]

When people look back at the current generation of  consoles, I believe the one thing that will remembered even more so than the games themselves, will be the flourishing of downloadable content. On paper, DLC reads like a gamer’s dream come true; more content to enjoy from your favorite game — awesome. But the reality is that publishers have figured out how to nickel and dime people, and well, since then its all gone to hell.

It isn’t always bad though. There are still diamonds in the rough, content that makes publishers really look like they care not just about their IP, but their fans too. Will it ever get back to to that? I’m not sure, but I believe I know what should be next for the platform.

There really is no clear definition on what should be considered DLC either. Especially now since the platform, just like games and genres, has also divided itself it’s own smaller sub-sects. Now we have DLC, Expasions, Map Packs and the list goes on, but for arguments sake let’s just group that all into one big pile. In other words, anything you have have to download, we’ll just consider DLC. Cool? Ok, let’s move on.

Now, I’m not here to argue that at the end of the day, its all about choice. Kevin Butler is not popping out of your PS3 with a desert eagle in hand asking you to empty your wallets in exchange for a new shirt in PlayStation home. It simply turns into a case of the haves and the have-nots, and folks that have the expendable incomes will be the ones to take advantage of such content. I just believe there’s a much better way to go about it. A way to put actual “content” back into DLC.

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Most people’s biggest hesitation with DLC, especially lately, is finding out that the content is already on the disc. To a gamer there isn’t a bigger slap in the face than paying face value for a product to then have 10% of it hidden behind a fake wall which you can only climb with the help of your wallet. It’s a practice that most, if not all, of your favorite franchises and publishers are currently guilty of.

So how can they break free from leaving a bad taste in gamer’s mouths? Well for starters, publishers need to make their customers feel like they’re getting their money’s worth. A great example of this would be the downloadble expansions for Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto IV or Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. Sure, player’s paid a premium price ( as much as a third of the price of a retail game) but were greeted by hours of gameplay in return.

Is this feasible for every title? Absolutely not. But does every title even need DLC these days anyway? I don’t think so. On a disturbing note, most companies are strategizing and planning DLC early on into a game’s development, this is how things like same as release date DLC happen. That’s right, there are whole teams dedicated to separating you from more of your money after you’ve already plunked down an initial $60 to begin with.

What I would propose to make DLC actually worth something as a viable platform from a consumer standpoint moving forward, will definitely be the most unorthodox approach to selling content, but something that  isn’t too unreasonable. The idea comes from Siren: Blood Curse, a PS3 game from a couple of years ago. What made Siren unique, was that it was presented episodically. It was, for all intents and purposes, an a la carte gaming experience. This is what DLC should start heading towards. Allowing users to download the “content” that that they actually want to enjoy.

Games like Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3, respectively, sell tons in their own right. And I think it’s safe to say that no one is playing either for their “gripping” narratives. Both make their bread and butter through their multiplayer offerings. What if, when games like that released, you had the option to download just the chunk you needed or wanted?

Imagine a Call of Duty game where you could buy just the multiplayer for $40, and add single player and spec ops later on if you wanted to, for $10 each. Gamers that wouldn’t normally take a chance on certain titles would likely do so just to see what the hubbub is all about. The cost of entry would be cheaper and the chances that they’d feel like they’re getting their money’s worth would be greater.

Sure this may be a reach. If anything it’s more of a hope than it is a prediction of what’s next; it’s what should be next for downloadable content. This idea of buying a new skin for a fake gun, or armor for your fake horse (4 years later and that one still doesn’t get old) is just cheap and doesn’t add anything new. Maybe its just the naming and branding is what I have the biggest issue with. “Additional extras” is what it should be called, because “content” it certainly is not.

What should be next for downloadabe content? I’ve said my part, now it’s time for you to share your own thoughts in the comments section.

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Joel Taveras

Joel Taveras is one of the founding members of DualShockers. He hails from New York City where he lives with his wife and two sons. During his tenure with the site, he's held every position from news writer to community manager to editor in chief. Currently he manages the behind the scenes and day-to-day operations at the publication.

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