Inside the mind of a geeky learning technologist

Downloadable Content (DLC)

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This post is a rant, I warn you now, it’s not going to be pretty. It’s part-based in a dilemma I face this month, as I do a few times every year: Should I pre-order game X? I know what you’re thinking, if I pre-order, I’ll get my game of choice on release day (or soon after, thank you Royal Mail), and I can eagerly play to my heart’s content. However, this isn’t so much of an issue for me, because:

  1. I mostly download games through the likes of Steam, no need to wait for postie;
  2. I have a 50Mb internet connection (soon to be 100Mbit, thank you Virgin Media)

So, my dilemma isn’t: Should I pre-order this so that I can get it on release day? No, my dilemma is: Should I pre-order this so that I can get the pre-order DownLoadable Content (DLC)?

Don’t get me wrong, back in the day when this sort of thing used to be called an expansion, I used to love it. Many modern games continue this tradition of adding new and fresh content to games, see my ‘good’ point below. However, DLC nowadays seems to be a byword for revenue generation, with actual gameplay a distant second. I shall explain…

Expansion DLC is the only DLC that I’ll pay good money for. This is the stuff that adds genuine new content to the game, doesn’t require any prerequisites (in terms of game play), and is available to anyone who already owns the game. Examples include the Total War series, most recently Total War: Shogun 2: Rise of the Samurai, but there are examples in everything from Wing Commander to Railworks. It doesn’t give [m]any advantages over those who don’t own it, it’s available to all, it can be played in isolation to the main plot. In all, most of the DLC for the Total War series has fallen into this category, adding additional units and starts/campaigns to the game.

Then we get into the DLCs that I dislike. There are a few, but the mainly apply to Bethesda and EA games:

Pre-order DLC,  the “buy the game in advance and receive an in-game X” content. Whilst I can appreciate that game publishers want you to pony up the cash in advance, my last few pre-orders (which I shall blog about another day) have been lame horses when finally released. Moreover, this DLC is often a one-shot; if you don’t pre-order then there’s only the slim chance that the DLC will be in a Gold or Complete edition of the game  released a few months/years down the line. This isn’t an old concept, so there are plenty of examples, but Mass Effect 2 is the one that demonstrates it well.

Retailer specific DLC, the “pre-order from retailer X and receive exclusive in-game item Y” content. This is a relatively new concept, but it annoys the hell out of me. If you buy from retailer X you’ll receive item X, order from retailer Y and you’ll receive item Y. In many cases these are also region locked, there won’t necessarily be a retailer in your region that sells the game with item Y. If I want item X or Y, I’m locked into a specific vendor, and often have to source and then wait for a physical copy of the game (Amazon and Game don’t do digital distribution). A recent example of this is Deus Ex:Human Revolution, where there were both retailer specific and region specific exclusive items.

Overpowered DLC, is the sort of DLC that changes the balance of the game. Usually these items are massively overpowered, and can be used throughout the entire game, negating the need to search for and upgrade starting items. Conversely, the item is overpowered, but ammunition is so rare that the item is useless once it’s been ‘used’. Again, Mass Effect 2 is a good example here, where the pre-order weapons were more powerful than many late-game items.

Vanity DLC, does absolutely nothing to the game, other than make it look visually different; there’s no advantages here other than showing off to your mates. Fortunately, this concept is so stupid that it’s relatively rare, but a good example is the weapon skins in Gears of War 3.

Promotional DLC, is the sort of thing where you get DLC for doing/purchasing something completely unrelated to the game. Again, Mass Effect 2 is the example here, where there was a promotion run with Dr Pepper. I’ve recently heard that although these codes are easy to find on the internet, Bioware no longer allows users to redeem them.

Other purchases DLC (play demo, get DLC) generally requires you to own another game by the same developer or publisher. Sometimes just playing a demo of the other game will suffice, but often you have to own the game outright, and have reached a certain point in the game or unlock a certain achievement. Bioware’s games are a shining example of this, where the Blood Dragon Armour persists across several games; unlocking it in an earlier game will unlock it in a later one. Mass Effect 3 is also guilty of doing this, requiring you to play demos of other games in order to unlock Mass Effect 3 items.
In fact, Mass Effect 3 goes comically further on this one, its been recently announced that purchasing physical figurines of in-game characters will unlock DLC.

If you’ve read this far, you’ll realise that a lot of games mix these types of ‘bad’ DLC *cough*MassEffect*cough*. It wouldn’t be a problem if these items were only a few pounds, and available to all; but often they are locked into significant additional expense (>£5) and only available for a limited time.
So, that’s the end of my rant. I have until the beginning of March to decide whether I should pre-order some games…

One Comment

  1. This content is currently only available for PC and Xbox 360 versions of the game, for unknown reasons, so unfortunately any artsy PS3 users will have to make do with the pretty pictures.

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