The cult of DLC

The cult of DLC

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Pining for the honest days of content yesteryear.

Remember back in the day when expansions were really expansions? When your favourite game would be completely reinvigorated by a whole new pack of content that you hadn’t even thought of? When you could spend upward of £60 on a game over the course of your playing it, and not feel like you’d been swindled by a games industry snake oil merchant. These days, the game alone costs £60 – if it dwells on the lofty perch of AAA titles, and those that don’t come with the unwelcome promise of all sorts of nickel-and-dime “downloadable content”, poorly disguised in exclusivity. DLC is a scourge that discredits every part of the industry, from EA to Dovetail Games.

I may just be looking at the games industry of my youth through rose-tinted specs, but I don’t ever recall being asked to spend £5 on a single piece of “downloadable content” that was clearly meant to be part of the game in the first place. Additional content used to be the result of genuine afterthought on the part of the developers, things like Point Lookout or The Pitt for Fallout 3 – two expansions which added entire new areas to explore, gameplay to experience, and quest-lines to complete in addition to the central world of apocalyptic Washington DC. Rockstar Games classic GTA IV was transformed two years after its initial release with the arrival of Episodes from Liberty City – two seperate, equally successful standalone stories that are independent, but interlinked, with the games’ original saga.

These, naturally, were of course planned business decisions at heart; taking hugely successful, genre-defining titles like Fallout 3, GTA IV, Skyrim, The Sims, or Total War and harvesting that success by introducing new ways of playing the games down the line. The cash would be certain to pour in, and there lies the rub.

Because the deployment of the expansion pack proved to be such a good move financially, everyone started to do it. The quality of the expansions notably waned as devs and publishers realized that their shills would still fork out for third-rate content in earnest. Before long, there were things like Undead Nightmare for Red Dead Redemption, which strikes me as having been a drunken joke that accidentally and horrifically became a genuine concept in the Red Dead boardroom the next day. Everyone loves zombies, even if they ruin a game that was, up until that point, an absolute work of art.

2K, for a while, wore the crown for worst “expansion” when they churned out Joe’s Adventures for equally artistic game Mafia II. This is a great example of some unfortunately scummy game development; it took loads of stripped content from the original game and repackaged it – seemingly with duct tape from Poundland – into a pretty poor addition to the story that, if anything, actually discredits the original game instead of enriching it. Most of the missions didn’t even have cutscenes for Christ’s sake. It was shoddy.

A decade ago, you would buy a complete game and, maybe a year later, an equally complete expansion pack would come out. A few years on, you would buy a largely complete game with a couple of successive expansions that augmented the main experience. Now, you buy a partial semblance of a game, grab all the bits-and-pieces of chipped-off DLC scattered around the place, and then wait another three years for all the inevitable expansion packs to eventually complete the game experience.

mona-dlc

As this accurate representation of the games industry in the guise of Italian Renaissance art shows, this is the widely accepted publishing model for games content these days, and this isn’t just something the money-grabbing top-tier corporations practice. Even quite chivalrous enterprises, like Paradox Interactive, have given into temptation, making you pay £1.50 a pop for shreds of content from £30 medieval strategy-RPG Crusader Kings II so that the Mongols actually have Mongolian faces, or so that the game’s Arabic characters don’t look like borderline-racist cartoons from the 1940s. There are other, completely legitimate – if not suspiciously numerous – expansions for the game that for a reasonable price let you, for instance, play as a Muslim dynasty or an Italian merchant family, but the game’s storefront is riddled with DLC like the “Iberian Portraits Pack” which takes your money in exchange for turning all of Spain’s rulers – Christian and Muslim alike – into caricatures of Bolivian president Evo Morales.

Admittedly it’s a step up from the playdough portraits of the game’s default characters, but the fact is, Evo Morales or not, something like that should be a complementary addition to the game, and not priced. Especially considering Paradox now boasts three of the top selling games on Steam as part of its portfolio.

If this was five, maybe ten years ago, then a game like CKII would have all those aesthetic enhancements integrated into the game free of charge, if not just in the game at release. Now, if you don’t buy these sorts of things – whether they’re in a Steam sale or not – you get the niggling feeling that you’re playing a game of baser quality, and the worst part is this is something that afflicts nearly every game on the market. Simulators like Rise of Flight and Train Simulator 2016 charge you by each individual plane/train. To play TS2016 in its entire form costs over £3,200!

It is as errant an act of knavery as can be offered!

An aspiring writer who has previously contributed to pop culture review site I'm With Geek, as well as being one of its former Games Editors. Has a particular penchant for history, the arts, music, cinema and gaming.

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