Jul 272012

DLC (downloadable content) is one of the most debated issues in gaming right now. Games are featuring more and more add-ons that can only be purchased digitally, and gamers are really beginning to wonder if all this content is worth their time and their money. What I’d like to do is look at some common criticisms of DLC and give you guys my own two cents. Ultimately, I think there’s no easy answer to this debate, but I think there are some obvious things to point out.

#1 DLC Costs Too Much

This is really a subjective criticism. Every gamer loves cheap content, but unless a game is pretty old, it’s probably not going to be what anyone would consider cheap. Most DLC averages anywhere from $5-$15 (I’m talking about exclusively digital content here, not games and expansions that can also be downloaded), which I don’t think is really too much to ask, especially for a game that you presumably already know you like. The catch here is, of course, that not all DLC is of equal quality. For example, the original Mass Effect had two DLC, Bring Down the Sky and Pinnacle Station. Bring Down the Sky was a great addition to the game and completely worth the price, while Pinnacle Station left a lot to be desired. But, in my mind, that’s the gamble you take whenever you buy a new game or DLC, so I don’t think that it’s really fair to criticize DLC on that basis.

#2 DLC Makes Developers Purposely Leave Content Out of an Initial Release

A lot of gamers have accused developers of purposely leaving content out of their games so that they can release it later as DLC and make more money off of it. A good example is Mass Effect 3’s first DLC From Ashes. From Ashes featured a new squadmate, and a lot of gamers who looked closely at the code on the Mass Effect 3 game disc found that there was code for this squadmate already on the disc, leading to accusations that BioWare had deliberately cut the squadmate from the game to release it later as DLC. BioWare defended themselves, saying that the squadmate would not have been ready for the disc at the time that it had to go into production, and was therefore released later as DLC. Both stories seem plausible, and while certain gamers may trust certain companies, no one can ever be sure what the truth actually is.

Part of the problem for gamers is that DLC can significantly raise the price of a game, depending on how much there is. If a game only has one or two DLC, that may not be such a big deal, but if a game has lots of DLC, even if each one is only $5, that can add up to a pretty hefty price tag. It’s also inevitable that at least some companies are going to take advantage of the culture of DLC to release a lot of content, increasing the amount of money they make from a certain game. It’s also true that as long as gamers will buy DLC, companies are going to keep producing it, whether it’s quality or not. I don’t think there’s really an easy answer to this criticism. Ultimately, if you feel like the DLC for one of your favorite games is worth it, then you have to make the decision whether or not to buy it, regardless of a company’s practices. If you want to protest a company’s practices, don’t buy the DLC and write a letter, but I think it’s going to take a while for anything to change if companies are using shady practices.

#3 Some DLC Isn’t Even Really “Content”

Generally, when gamers refer to content, they mean story content. The most popular DLC generally seem to be the ones that add a mission to a story, like many DLC for RPGs like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, the Fallout games, and the Elder Scrolls games. A lot of DLC, of course, is nothing of the sort. DLC is also available in the form of map packs, alternate appearance packs for characters or weapons, and other forms of additional content, like characters (like new knights in Castle Crashers) or weapons (Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age II both had multiple equipment packs available). The problem with this type of DLC is that it’s really a minimal addition to the game. There’s no reason you need a new knight to play Castle Crashers, or more weapons to play Mass Effect 2. Of course, these DLC are also completely optional, so the obvious answer is to not buy anything you don’t think is worth it. I don’t think DLC like this are ever going to disappear, because they’re so easy to make and it’s really easy to sell each of them for a few bucks, which gives game companies a lot of profit.

#4 You Can’t Resell DLC

The used games industry is an entire debate in and of itself, but one of the big downsides of DLC (and any other digitally purchased content, like entire games or bigger expansion packs) is that it can’t be resold. Some gamers (like me) never sell a game back, but some finance their ability to play new games by selling back old pieces in their collection. Obviously, this is one reason why gaming companies love DLC so much. Whether you love it or not, it’s yours forever. This also decreases the value of a hard copy of the game, especially if there is an ultimate edition available (for example, if you bought Dragon Age: Origins used, it would probably cost you around $13, but buying the expansion and all the DLC would cost you at least an additional $90, but the ultimate edition is only $25 new, making it a much better deal, and you can also find used copies for a few bucks less). This criticism, in my opinion, is another subjective one, because some people are going to have no problem purchasing something they can’t resell, while for other gamers, it’s a really hard sell.

These are just some of the problems gamers might have with DLC. Ultimately, I think each gamer has to decide what individual DLC is worth to them. For someone like me, who loves Mass Effect, for example, I’m going to buy all the Mass Effect DLC no matter what, but for other games, I might be more cautious, or read some reviews before I indulge. It will be interesting to see how this debate plays out in the gaming community, but I don’t think we’ll see the end of it for a while.

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