The ways of enjoying video games are constantly changing. With virtual reality and hybrid consoles, the definition of video games is rapidly changing. Not only is the way we enjoy video games changing, so too, are the games themselves. Gone are the days of tuning to channel 3, tripping over cords, or waiting for monthly magazines to learn the latest tips and tricks for your favorite games. Everything has become streamlined, and so has our gaming experience.
Perhaps, the biggest change that has occurred in recent years, however, is the fact that no longer have you finished a game when you've finished a game. No longer have you finished unlocking everything when you've finished unlocking everything. Thanks to DLC (downloadable content), modern games are constantly evolving, even as we play them. New modes are made available, new areas or parts of the story are added; the game as it was on the day you bought it, and the day you finally put it down are now completely different products.
One would think that additional content would be welcomed with open arms. While it is, there are some elements of DLC that have left many gamers completely opposed to the practice. Let's take a look at exactly what it is that has made DLC such a polarizing topic for gamers.
The History of DLC
The advent of DLC is thought to be thanks to the rise of the internet. While it is true that in-home internet and its connectivity with home consoles has led to the rise of DLC, the foundation of DLC can be traced back to the Atari 2600 and Sega Genesis, both of which allowed gamers to download content, full games, through the use of telephone and cable lines. Not truly DLC as we know it, these downloadable games helped to redefine the way gamers and companies thought about game distribution.
Eventually, PC gaming embraced this digital method of distributing content; several games released user-created mods and maps online. In 1997, the RTS game, Total Annihilation, began offering free downloadable content every month. Around the same time, the Sega Dreamcast offered DLC, though this was limited by the capabilities of home internet at the time. This new method of offering content to customers truly entered the mainstream with Microsoft's Xbox. The Xbox offered mostly free downloadable content for many of the Xbox Live titles. Even though there were some DLC during this era that was paid, the majority was still free.
It's true with the rise of microtransactions that DLC entered the current era that we are in now where DLC is almost synonymous with "paid DLC." The switch to paid DLC as the standard was a quick one. Almost overnight, game companies went from offering aesthetic changes as DLC to offering hours of extra content for nearly the same price as the base game.
More Content, What's Wrong With That?
For some people, complaints regarding DLC are unwarranted. The decision to buy DLC is a choice that only the consumer can make, no one is forcing anyone to shell out extra money for color packs, side stories, or extra game modes. While this is true, for many people, the fact that it's an option is the problem. Many millennial games remember a time when extra content was unlockable, not downloadable. Of course, many of those same games remember a time when you could only play with friends if they were in the same room. The ever changing world of gaming also results in a changing landscape that gamers must adapt to.
Being charged for something that was once free feels ridiculous and unfair. Even if it's something as simple as extras characters or color skins, the new requirement of paying to unlock them is a tough pool to swallow. Paying for what was once free means we are inevitably going to pay for things that weren't even an option before: we are in an age where content creators can add content to their game after release.
Consumers have shown that we are willing to pay for extra content. This, unfortunately, while allowing gamers to experience games in a completely different way from twenty years ago, with some games receiving content years after release, it has also allowed game companies to seemingly take advantage of its customers for increased profit. It is this situation of gaming companies taking advantage of its customers that many games have a problem with.
At one point, some DLC was truly a gift from the developers: extra content to commemorate a milestone, additional content that didn't fit the original budget, or sometimes content the gamers asked for and developers are able to create. In all those instances, DLC was conceived and created after the game’s release. Now, DLC is announced at the same time as the game, available for purchase at launch, and, in some cases, even packaged with the game but unavailable for use without purchase. All of this, along with the scope of some of the DLC, made gamers feel as if DLC is no longer extra content for a game, but instead what should be standard content being held behind a paywall.
This is An Isolated Problem with Video Games... or Is It?
We've come a long way in regards to the general consensus regarding video games. Videos games, once held in low regard, is finally being accepted and recognized as an art form, in addition to its intended use as entertainment media. When talking about video games as a form of entertainment, however, the idea of DLC seems to differentiate from other forms of media. If we take a step back, we can see that movies and music also have this form of "exclusive" content as well.
In February 2016, Kanye West released the album, The Life of Pablo. For the next 4 months, Kanye continued to make changes to the album: remastering songs, adding songs, changing lyrics and other miscellaneous changes. Declaring his album a "living, breathing, changing creative expression," Kanye sought to change the idea of a music album, as well as the concept of a finished product. Some fans and critics were frustrated, wondering how many times they would have to download these changes—DLC if you will—in order to enjoy the album. Questions also arose as to why, if he wanted to make changes, Kanye released the album in an incomplete state.
Some of these mirror the same questions that gamers have about DLC. But Kanye and The Life of Pablo are a bit unique in their handling of new content. In some ways, however, this method is better than the current one being employed in the music industry. Currently, some CDs are released with retailer or even country exclusive songs and versions of songs. Almost similarly, some films are released as "director's cut" editions, or packed with hours of additional content.
Like video games, fans who enjoyed this media upon release, suddenly feel they are forced to pay extra money to get the full experience, or in some cases, completely unable to. Or at least, that may have been the intent. It is now possible to get your hands on these extra tracks, or a director's cut versions of films without actually purchasing it yourself. But due to the nature of video games, the way in which we get to enjoy the additional content is limited.
Even though other forms of media have their own extra content, they are not completely off-limit to those who didn't purchase them the way that DLC is with video games. This inability to even experience DLC adds to the frustration that many gamers feel when it comes to DLC.
The hate for DLC is mostly directed towards paid DLC. In some ways, the hate is justified: being required to pay money to enjoy parts of a game that were paid for feels like a slight against the consumer. Paid DLC is not the only form of DLC, and that needs to be remembered.
Some companies create DLC that would be priced elsewhere and offer them for free. For some people, this serves as an argument against the claim that paid DLC is a necessary evil in a world where the price of games hasn't changed much while the price to make them has. The politics of different companies aid serves to remind gamers of the original purpose of DLC--as to the gaming experience.
Not all paid DLC gets or deserves the ire of gamers either. One genre where the paid, post-release, DLC business model actually makes sense is the music genre. It's hard to release a new entry in a series annually that will features updates to the gameplay, as well as an up to date playlist. Of course, getting the rights to these songs costs the developers time and money that could be spent elsewhere, is simply a way of keeping the game modern.
You Don't Have To Buy It
For many people, the solution to the DLC epidemic is simple: don't buy it. For DLC like characters and color packs, this is easy. DLC that offer visual changes are probably the most unassuming: they are cheap extras that don't add too much to the gaming experience. At the same time, not having them doesn't either. Buying these or extra songs in music games is generally done voluntarily, the desire to match personal tastes compels some people to purchase DLC.
It is with the season pass-type DLC that some gamers begin to feel compelled, not by personal tastes, but by their desire to experience the game in full that they purchased. Take, for example, Final Fantasy XV's season pass. The season pass offered three episodes that would expand the story. It’s hard for fans of a game to pass up on the chance of completing a story that they enjoyed. Final Fantasy XV isn't the only game that places gamers in this trap. It's becoming increasingly common for gaming companies to have story DLC.
Here, the message to gaming companies isn't that we want these DLC, but instead that we'd like to experience the entire world and experience what the game had to offer. Still, the companies understand that they can continue to charge customers for story-based content.
How To Fix The Problem
As gamers, we are in a hard spot. The joy and love for games is what allowed DLC to reach the state that it's in. There must be something that can be done to curb the release of “bad” DLC while keeping “good” DLC in the state that it's in. Of course, many people will disagree on what “good” and “bad” DLC are, or if there's even such a thing.
Getting developers to understand what it is that gamers want from their DLC is not an easy one. Sending the message by not buying would require a majority of gamers to do so for an extended period of time; that's a highly unlikely option. Gamers that are opposed to DLC must find a way to make that fact known. It is only then that developers will start to care and make changes that will keep gamers happy.
There are several alternatives to the current DLC business model. Some, like offering free DLC post-release while increasing the base price of games, and others only offer band-aid fixes and may only change the way people feel about the situation. On the whole, the problem of finding the best way to offer paid-released content still remains. But isn't that the solution, changing the way we feel about DLC?
It seems as if downloadable content is here to stay. It has become such a standard in our gaming lives that, despite the many critiques, does have a valid place in the evolution of gaming. With the release of mid-generation consoles, digital only releases, and episodic games, it's becoming very apparent that just like the way which games ship has changed, so too must our expectations of their contents.
Currently, gamers and developers don't see completely eye-to-eye when it comes to DLC, and that's a good thing; it means that there's still room for the practice to grow before it's perfected in a way that's truly beneficial to both consumers and developers. Perhaps, in 5-years, we can reach that perfect position or perhaps, it's a bit further down the road.
Let us know in the comments section what you think of DLC.