Opinion: The State Of DLC

Looking ahead to upcoming blockbuster Batman: Arkham City, and back at classics such as Half-Life 2, Jacques Voller explores the current issues surrounding downloadable content in gaming – and asks whether the demanding nature of consumers is largely responsible for its boom.

Ask any gamer you know about DLC and they’ll give you their own two cents about how it’s destroying the games industry, or how developers charge way to much for what amounts to very little. But if you think about it, aren’t we, the gamers, the one’s to blame for this?

I think we are and it amounts to three simple words: ‘supply and demand’.

Too often these days, I see on message boards around the internet that gamers, even though they have got great satisfaction out of a game, constantly shout ‘I WANT MORE’. Perhaps surprisingly, the companies actually listen to us. But when it comes to DLC, developers can’t satisfy everyone, and while some will be happy with what they release, the small minority (and let’s face it, the loudest) inevitably take it upon themselves to rush to the internet claiming that it isn’t what people wanted, or that it costs too much for what it is. And when the people who got what they wanted try to fight their corner, the small minority respond by going ‘NO, YOU’RE WRONG!!’

Developers face a problem. The fact is that unless you’re an Activision or Ubisoft, most firms either can’t afford or don’t have enough manpower to release games on a yearly cycle (although in Activision’s case, it may be someone who’s gone a bit mad with CTRL+V). I’ll give you two example of this, the first one being Rocksteady, who developed the immensely popular Batman: Arkham Asylum game and are just about to release the follow up Arkham City, which is most likely going to win a buttload of awards, including Game of the Year. Now, it’s been about two years since Arkham Asylum was released, and people have been wondering all this time what is going to be included and why it wasn’t released earlier (there’s your demand). So when they release Arkham City next month, they’re including a whole shedload of DLC along with it. Whether this will be day one or not remains to be seen, but all are retail exclusives (more about that later). The one which I’m personally looking forward to the most is the animated series skin and Joker challenge maps (there’s your supply). There might even be scope for game-expanding episodic content.

My second example comes from everybody’s favourite developer, Valve. My supply and demand argument is most prominent when talking about their most popular franchise Half Life – more specifically, the episodic content for Half Life 2. Now, while Half Life 2 Episode 1 and Half Life 2 Episode 2 both look and feel like full games, they are stilltechnically DLC, and it’s now coming up to four years since Episode 2 was released. Since then, as soon as you mention Episode 2 to a gamer, they’ll instantly start talking about how it’s been too long since it was released and that Episode 3 must be around the corner, right? There again is your demand, but there hasn’t been enough supply on Valve’s front. Perhaps, though, a more recent Valve example is needed. When L4D2 was released, people demanded that Valve release the L4D1 maps so that gamers could play them in a more action orientated game and credit to them, they actually did (although it now makes L4d1 completely obsolete). This is a good example of supply and demand in practice.

Episodic content is the ideal form of DLC. It expands the universe in which the game is set, all the while making the experience feel brand new and fresh.

The question is though, why is there more DLC now than ever? The internet age has helped in a massive way. The internet has allowed us, the gamers to connect to developers through the use of social networks and tell them what we want to see in our game. Another reason is the size-of-game to size-of-disc ratio. While the PS3 uses Blu-Ray discs which have an amazing 25 to 50GB storage space on them, and PC gaming has basically moved to downloads as their main form of delivery, Microsoft still refuse to give up on DVDs, which only have limited storage. Therefore, developers who release cross-platform games for Xbox and PS3 either have to compromise on quality to fit on the discs, or release the content that they couldn’t fit on the disc as DLC.

Now, there is a problem with certain types of DLC, and this is most obvious with retail-exclusive DLC. The most recent example of this is Arkham City, which is releasing different variations of the Batsuit to certain retailers – and I believe this is fundamentally wrong. By making us gamers jump through hoops, retailers are locking customers out of the content that the developers created for us, and now we have to wait a certain amount of time before we can access it.

That said, I really don’t get why gamers complain about what they call “cosmetic content”. Look, if we want to call our beloved pastime an art form, we should be willing to buy the artwork that the artist creates for us. Yes, it could have been included on the disc to start with, but it works the same way as posters or merchandise for films, and we don’t complain there, do we? The artists have taken the time to create the additional artwork; maybe the developers didn’t see it right to include it on the disc, but support them anyway.

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