The Great Downloadable Content...Well, not 'Wars.' 'Squabbles,' Really.


So, let us talk about downloadable content, or DLC. This essay will be covering the basics, so feel free to skip right ahead to the comments section on this one if you are so inclined. Certainly, if you know what DLC is, then you also have an opinion on the subject.

For everybody else: DLC is anything officially added to a computer game after that game has been released. When it comes to computer RPGs, that usually means extra missions, a new game board or two, improved weapons and armor, perhaps a mini-campaign… and, most importantly, new costumes for your doll. Excuse me: “character.*” Players will buy all of this stuff, and game studios will sell it; so no problem, right? Well… no. Not even close. The topic of DLC can be a bit, well, fraught; and the issue is not entirely cut and dried.

From the players’ point of view, DLC often appears as a way to scam more and more money out of the fans. The most infamous iteration of this, according to some, is “Day One DLC”: that’s when a game company sells you the basic game for price X, and lets you know that there are additional adventure/character packs that you can instantly buy alongside of it for price Y (or else just buy the Deluxe Game for X+Z). Players naturally suspect that the DLC is not actually extra, but instead necessary for properly gameplay; and they also naturally suspect that they’re being ask to effectively pay more than the listed retail price for a game. But even the DLC that shows up later in a game’s sales-life cycle suffers from a mildly poor reputation: either the DLC is necessary for gameplay, in which case it should have been included; or it’s not necessary, in which case it’s just trying to squeeze more money out of a stone.

The game designers, on the other hand, have a slightly different opinion on the matter. First off, many of them do DLC seemingly fairly reluctantly, and apparently mostly because the fan base expects it. One thing to remember that while people may make games sometimes for the sake of the art, they typically sell them in order to make enough money to live on. A company that spends years on elaborate computer game worlds does it largely for that sales payoff at the end of the process; after which, they typically want to start on a new multi-year project, not spend six months making ever-more baroque versions of horse armor. There’s more money and buzz in new, rather than in old; and DLC is the epitome of “old.”

And as for Day One DLC: game companies are intimately aware of price points. Sell a game for $29.99 plus two Day One DLCs at $10 each, and you’ll end up making more gross than if you sell the same unit as a $49.99 Delux Edition. Also, it’s easier to integrate DLC into a game if you’re building it alongside the main one – particularly if you’re using voice acting at all for NPCs and Player Companions. And if you’ve gone to all that trouble anyway, you might as well get the DLC out there as early as possible, so that you can make money off of it. Because, again, people gotta eat.

Personally, I come about 3/5th on the game designers’ side, and 2/5th on the players’. The studios are not in this for their health; but at the same time I have seen situations where Day One DLC really should have been part of the main game (note that I’m naming no names). But perhaps the most important thing to remember about the DLC debate is that it reflects a tendency in gamer culture to squeeze more and more out their games. Not just in terms of raw time spent playing — after all, you could lose a couple of weeks playing, say, Ultima V, back in the day – but in terms of immersion and verisimilitude**. It’s all part of the attraction of an interactive entertainment experience.

*Although, seriously, the ability of gamers to go through outfits and doll-houses for their dolls is apparently endless; particularly if you are playing in a MMORPG. Clothing and mounts and other non-game accessories act as a subtle, yet very real, mark of social status among players. It’s how you tell the old players from the new ones… but I digress.

**And then there’s modding your games (which is to say, adding fan-made content). But that’s another article entirely.

(Artwork created using multiple images.)