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Opinion

A Matter Of Value: Avoiding The DLC "Scam"

A tale of two bros.

Downloadable content comes in all shapes and sizes, and its existence means you can be sure in the knowledge that when you buy a game these days, that won’t be the end of the story. Whether it’s more multiplayer maps, a new game mode, or even a standalone piece of story DLC, publishers are constantly pushing developers to support games post-launch.

And why wouldn’t they? It secures developers’ jobs for the months after release, giving them something to do while the publishers decide whether a sequel is something they want to move forward with and while the next project goes through early prototyping and concept work. Often, though, and certainly more with this generation of titles, it feels as though DLC plugs some holes in an incomplete product, or just unnecessarily bloats it out, rather than expanding the experience in a meaningful fashion.

More often than not – most of the time, I’d wager – DLC is developed after the launch of a title, but that doesn’t always mean that it’s in addition to the base experience. Though DLC is usually on the cards, there are points throughout development where a developer decides whether to struggle to include something in the main game, or to leave it on the cutting room floor and maybe revisit it after release. Whether this content would have existed if DLC wasn’t an option is another story, and truly depends on the circumstances surrounding the game – Mewtwo might have never made it to the latest Smash Bros. if he had to be ready for launch.

DLC-1

That’s quite a controversial one with Mewtwo, given that the series creator has straight-up accused other publishers of creating a “DLC scam”, in which they charge customers soon after launch to complete an unfinished product. Yet you could see Mewtwo and the upcoming Lucas add-on characters for Smash Bros. in a similar light – they were in previous games without DLC, so why not this one?

In reality, there’s only so much a developer can achieve when there’s deadlines to meet and release dates to keep to, and to say that Smash Bros. was an incomplete product with almost fifty characters and more modes than we could’ve anticipated would be foolish. Call of Duty and Battlefield, too, always have season passes of some form which bring new maps and modes, but the number of maps at launch isn’t low by any means.

I think these kinds of DLC can be brilliant – it lets those who love a game get much more out of it than they would have before, and can bring new dynamics as developers come up with fresh ideas which don’t quite do enough for sequel territory but would work to expand the game in an exciting new direction through post-launch content.

We should really be looking at value – in terms of what the original game offers, and how much the DLC offers in comparison – when we scrutinise this kind of content. Sixteen new maps, several new weapons, and four new chapter of the zombies mode is pretty standard for a Call of Duty season pass, and that’s basically doubling the game’s main attraction there with the number of maps, so £35 or so seems quite reasonable given the game’s RRP of £55.

You have to take into account the fact that the game’s engine and everything that makes the game tick is already in place, which is where that £35 might begin to seem a bit steep. Nintendo seem to have understood this since Mario Kart 8’s downloadable content packs cost just £7 each or £11 as a bundle, and collectively add essentially another half game’s worth of tracks and a few added characters, but this is a game which has all of the mechanics in place, making the DLC development a comparatively simple process.

Still, and I don’t like complaining about a good bargain, that seems to be partly due to Nintendo’s naivety when it comes to content – a price point closer to £20 would still have worked quite well, considering that they’re supporting the game in other ways with free 200cc mode updates and such.

It’s also about striking the right balance between free and paid content. Free updates and new modes will drive people to return to the game and you’re maybe more likely to sell more DLC packs as a result. This is where a lot of developers miss the point, shoving everything they can into a season pass just so they can charge more for it collectively.

Batman: Arkham Knight’s £33 season pass contains all manner of content – story missions with new villains, challenge maps, and racetracks – and perhaps there’ll be enough in there to justify the cost, but if that price were lowered and people were drawn back to the game through free challenge maps – perhaps giving them a flavour of the new story DLC – then it might be an even more profitable endeavour.

There’s also too much pointless rubbish in there that most people simply wouldn’t fork out for separately – why would you want a new Batmobile skin in a single player game? There’s an argument for showing off your unique aesthetic online, but do people really get that much enjoyment out of having a chrome Batmobile that only they can see?

Quality control can be another issue when it comes to DLC. Some developers don’t seem to be quite as concerned with putting something out that’s sub-par when compared to the original experience, as Far Cry 4’s Prison and Yetis DLC packs so ably demonstrated. In terms of value, it simply doesn’t match up to the main game and it’s just not as enjoyable an experience, no matter how many hours and minutes it may take to complete.

Batman-ArkhamKnight-HO-IL1

Yet there are some bite-sized pieces of DLC which match and even exceed the main story. Just look at The Last of Us: Left Behind and BioShock Infinite: Burial At Sea for some rather essential additional stories which are at least on par with the experience which spawned them. Then you’ve got standalone DLC, which has become more common recently with open world games such as inFamous and Assassin’s Creed, taking the mechanics of the original game – or just the setting – and acting as both a lower priced entry point to the series while giving fans something more, and acting as something different enough to be a success. Who knows, Batman’s additional story content could be of this calibre too.

But there’s already the feeling that it’s probably not going to be. Rocksteady have made some fantastic games, but Warner Bros. recent track record doesn’t bode well for Arkham Knight, considering that the last game had a rather integral bit of the story ripped out and included in the box as a download code to combat pre-owned sales with the Catwoman content, and the Harley Quinn’s Revenge story DLC that followed the main game didn’t nearly live up to the quality we’d expect from a Batman title.

The Red Hood content looks vaguely interesting, but this is just another side of a twisted and complex DLC story, where it’s free if you pre-order from a specific retailer – and don’t get me started on that particular practice – but paid if you just buy the game, something which also plagued Evolve with it’s fourth monster being a pre-order bonus, or $15 separately. These are simply becoming bigger bits of the games, and therefore feel like less of a bonus and more of a “secure your sale with us now to get the full thing upon release”.

Console exclusives, expansion packs, microtransactions, season passes – DLC is becoming an increasingly convoluted affair, yet it always comes back to that question of value. That’s made up from a mix of quality, longevity, and personal love for the game – if you enjoy something enough, you’ll be sure to want more of it – but sometimes there’s just too much there for the regular consumer, and it’s becoming increasingly hard to separate the high-quality content from the bloated and tacked-on extras that are sure to follow every game’s launch.

18 Comments
  1. Tony Cawley
    Pint! Pint!
    Since: Feb 2009

    Good write up, but you’ve forgotten all about destiny, and that’s a different matter altogether. Accusations of a finished game being cut up so some of it can be sold later as dlc. I don’t think we’ll ever truly get to the bottom of what happened there but if the accusations are true, as much as I love destiny that would be horrific practice.

    Comment posted on 30/04/2015 at 12:22.
    • RudeAwakening
      Member
      Since: Jan 2011

      You beat me to the post! :) i was going to bring up Destiny.

      How could you forget Destiny Blair, imo is the perfect example of bad dlc at crazy prices using the same maps as the main game. Hell even the latest dlc HOW’s map was shown in one of the early Destiny trailers!

      Comment posted on 30/04/2015 at 12:56.
      • Stefan L
        Community Team
        Since: May 2009

        The crazy price comes from the crazy exchange rate from USD to GBP. What’s $35 in the US is £35 over here.

        Comment posted on 30/04/2015 at 13:11.
    • Stefan L
      Community Team
      Since: May 2009

      It’s addressed indirectly. During development, things get left on the cutting room floor, whether it’s just that they didn’t work or that the developer has to do so in order to hit a release date, and this is especially true of a brand new game series such as Destiny.

      But development is also very fluid, with ebbs and flows of who is needed and what needs to be done. During beta testing, you don’t need artists so much, so you can put them to work on the foundations of the DLC.

      In Destiny’s particular case though, yes, you could break out of the level and find things from TDB in the Cosmodrome, but we’ve seen time and again that Bungie as a whole have worked very hard to adapt and improve upon what Destiny is both with major patches and with big changes that come in tandem with the DLC. The levels might have been there, but they’re just one part of what makes the game.

      Comment posted on 30/04/2015 at 13:07.
    • Blair Inglis
      hisnameisblair
      Since: May 2009

      See, I just wanted tef to add it as bonus, additional content in the comments section.

      Comment posted on 30/04/2015 at 14:00.
      • a inferior race
        I'm special
        Since: Jul 2009

        Give yourself some tsa points for that if they still exist

        Comment posted on 30/04/2015 at 17:17.
    • Lanselta
      Member
      Since: Forever

      Destiny is a case where not having the DLC actively locked you out of parts the game. Some Weeklies and Nightfall’s were completely not available to those without it. Better weapons and armour put non DLC players and a distinct disadvantage in Iron Banner. I felt pressured into buying the DLC for Destiny, and I did cause I was bloody hooked. I felt buyers remorse after buying it too. I would not recommend supporting that type of strategy, and I’m sorry I did.

      Comment posted on 30/04/2015 at 14:04.
      • MadBoJangles
        Member
        Since: Nov 2009

        Yup I can agree with this sentiment.

        Personally I didn’t buy it, I thought that the game was very good and a lot of fun (especially in co-op) until I hit the wall that was grinding for light gear.
        Making players grind the same missions over and over to hopefully fluke that one piece of gear they need from a totally random drop/reward was stupid.

        When the DLC came out I felt like I had to either buy it to keep up or trade it in and wash my hands of it. I chose the latter and moved onto other games.

        On the subject of DLC/season passes in general, I think the customer has more power than they realise. If people truly are shocked by the costs involved, simply don’t buy it and be vocal about it via emails or forums.

        I have purchased a few in the past, some good (Bioshock) some not so good (Battlefield 4). Like you said in the article, if a player loves a game they will invest more money for more of the same.

        Then there is the whole Evolve debacle…I wanted to buy the game I really did, but I decided to avoid it all together due to the DLC mire with a ridiculous amount of options.

        Comment posted on 01/05/2015 at 11:11.
  2. Starman
    Member
    Since: Jul 2011

    Remember Warner Bros didn’t bother getting the game breaking bugs finished in Arkham Origins because they would rather the developer worked on DLC instead.

    For me DLC done right is putting the game out then asking players what they wanted more of in DLC. DLC done wrong is showing it months before the game is even out, like always happens with the WWE games.

    Comment posted on 30/04/2015 at 12:34.
  3. rSp8
    Member
    Since: Aug 2008

    I was looking at Batman AK on a few shopping sites earlier today, and I’m almost ashamed to say- I think I’m going to have to fall for it and pre-order for the Harley Quinn DLC. Worse than that even, I’m going to have to order it from the dearest place I’ve seen, GAME, because they have exclusive Red Hood DLC. No doubt these will be available to everyone eventually, but will probably cost more than getting this. As for the season pass, I won’t be getting that. Not interested in skins and challenges, just story content.

    Comment posted on 30/04/2015 at 12:48.
  4. double-o-dave
    Member
    Since: Nov 2008

    I’ve only ever bought 2 season passes. BF4 and DriveClub.

    The BF4 pass, for me, wasn’t worth the extra £40. I hardly play any of the additional maps as they just don’t seem as well thought out to me. Then I was even more annoyed when they announced the Second Assault map pack (BF3 maps) as I hated BF3… mainly due to the maps. I didn’t like the bloody things first time round, then unbeknown to me, I end up paying for the them again! I didn’t use any of the weapon shortcuts either as I’d already unlocked most of them by the time they were available. That the last time I let my brother talk me into buying a BF premium pass. I’ve basically paid £40 for the occasional double XP weekend. lol

    On the other hand, the DriveClub Season Pass is the best £20 I’ve spent when it comes to DLC etc. As far as I’m aware, most of the extra cars and different events have been produced after the initial release which was worth every penny anyway. I actually look forward to the new Tours and cars every month. You must be getting about 16 new tours and well over a hundred races and various new cars for £20 – Bargain!

    Comment posted on 30/04/2015 at 12:53.
    • rSp8
      Member
      Since: Aug 2008

      Agreed on the Driveclub season pass, best DLC I’ve ever bought. If you have the game but not the pass, get it now!

      Comment posted on 30/04/2015 at 12:56.
  5. TSBonyman
    Member
    Since: Dec 2009

    I don’t do season passes, the only one i’ve ever bought was for Resogun and the only reason i went for that was because i had gotten the game for free on plus.

    I deliberately bought the second Batman game preowned because i suspected that i wouldn’t like what they were doing with the Catwoman DLC and sure enough, everytime i interacted with certain areas in the game it would pop up this chastisement saying i needed to buy the DLC. Congrats Warner, now it no longer retains it’s integrity as a game, now it’s a place to do financial transactions. By all means add notifications of available dlc to the main page/menu so that people can choose to look into that. But chasing people for more cash whilst they are in the middle of playing a game they’ve already paid for is bogus imo.

    Anyway, i thought Shadow of Mordor was the new Batman – until Mad Max is released ;)

    Comment posted on 30/04/2015 at 13:36.
  6. beeje13
    Member
    Since: Jan 2010

    I like the idea of standalone expansions, it’s a great way for the developer to make some more money off the back of their tech from their last game, a good place to experiment with new ideas, and an access point for new fans at a lower price point.

    Wolfenstein: the old blood is out in a few weeks, a year after the main game, I’ve seen it to preorder for 12.99. Infamous first light was about that price too.

    I’ve always had a little issue with all season passes, whether they are good value or not, you are committing your money into the unknown, quite often on the back of just a pr blurb.

    Comment posted on 30/04/2015 at 13:50.
  7. Crazy_Del
    Member
    Since: Jul 2009

    Surely Evolve would get a mention no?
    Only season Pass I have ever bought were Alien Isolation as I am a big fan. Was tempting to get a season pass for Mortal Kombat X but I noticed it’s £25 and I think that is very steep!
    As for Evolve Blair will say it’s a DLC in the coming hours in this comment section xD

    Comment posted on 30/04/2015 at 16:39.
    • Blair Inglis
      hisnameisblair
      Since: May 2009

      Second last paragraph for Evolve.

      Comment posted on 30/04/2015 at 19:47.
      • Crazy_Del
        Member
        Since: Jul 2009

        Facepalm*

        Comment posted on 30/04/2015 at 21:20.
  8. OneShotWook
    Member
    Since: Jun 2010

    The problem for me personally is i feel that publishers are targeting our ‘gotta unlock em all’ culture.This practice just sucks too much fun out of the game.
    Arkham knight is the game that made me draw a line and become a Game of the Year customer simply because there is no way Warner would miss strangling a few more coins out of the games fan base.

    Comment posted on 03/05/2015 at 19:38.