Editorial: The Problem With DLC

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Downloadable content has become a large part of gaming during this generation, allowing developers and publishers to add even more content onto their games long after release.

Sure, in the past we have had expansion packs, and some that was even available via download, but DLC has finally become commonplace in the market and has almost become an expected feature with every new title that releases.

Is DLC really working out so well? Let’s look at some of the major problems that have arisen so far.

More after the jump.

The reason that these issues sprung to mind is because of something that happened to me recently.

Last year, I reviewed Assassin’s Creed II for the Xbox 360 and was blown away with the entire experience, I simply couldn’t get enough. The knowledge that the developers had already planned additional DLC got me very excited, because once it all ended I just wanted more, and this was answer.

A little while down the line, the first set of DLC for Assassin’s Creed II called “The battle of Forli” was released, and found that I just wasn’t interested in downloading it anymore.

I felt the same about Mass Effect 2, if not more so. I loved the game so much, that I gave it my very first perfect review score. Nothing could tear me away from playing it, and even though there were hours and hours of fun to be had, I just couldn’t wait to play it even more when the DLC was made available.

Now, a short while later, the first set of DLC missions have been released in the shape of the Firewalker download.

Not only is it additional game time with one of my favorite games of the year, but it’s also adding a completely new gameplay element (the hover vehicle) to the game and it’s even completely free.

Why then, do I find that I couldn’t be bothered to even download it? I mean, I was just dying to get my hands on more of it when I finished it earlier this year and now I just don’t care anymore.

Add the exact same story to Fallout 3 and I had a reason to write an article about.

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There are a few factors that have an effect on these scenarios.

It would be foolish to ignore the power of hype, which is something that us reviewers have to be very careful about at all times, but it still exists. When you are excited for a new game that you have just bought, it’s all that you want to be about. You dive deep into the world offered to you and immerse yourself in the genre and the setting.

Once you are done with the game and a few weeks pass, that excitement gradually fades away and as gamers, we already start to focus on the next best thing that’s going to be available.

The other factor that plays an important role is the need to relearn the game. A game like Fallout 3 can take a little bit of time to get used to. What buttons do what, where you have to navigate to in order to find your map, inventory management, shortcut buttons etc. and with the amount of games that the average “hardcore” gamer plays these days, it can be difficult to remember what does what and have to get back into it (I believe that this is also an issue for people who never go back to finish their unfinished games).

As a last note for that last point, I often find that DLC (specifically additional missions or content for single player games) is released far too late, meaning that many gamers are already into something else, or have already traded the game out.

Expensive prices for DLC don’t help either, especially when the added content is not up to scratch. After playing the first Mass Effect I bought the DLC pack that was released a while later, only to find myself heavily disappointed at what was essentially nothing more than a glorified Mako moon landing mission. I felt like I had been burned, and it made me start thinking twice about buying DLC without making sure it was worth it first.

Map packs for multiplayer games seem to work out best, as they truly do add value to the online experience. The issue is that some of them can be a little expensive, or not entirely appealing to everyone which then causes a major problem – splitting the multiplayer community.

Once a map pack has been released, you either have it, and play with everyone at all times, or you don’t, and you are stuck with fewer games to find and a less friends to play with. Matchmaking systems have thankfully made this process easier on everyone, but a great example of where everything went wrong was the Gears of War series.

In the first Gears of War, people who didn’t have the additional maps were simply booted from the game, leaving them to sit there and do nothing while the other half of their friends played happily, only to return once the game was back to an original map (if there was space).

Gears of War 2 tried to do things a little differently, but caused nothing more problems for everyone. In Gears of War 2, if someone who doesn’t have the map packs joins your game (which can not be made private), those maps are removed from the playlist entirely, leaving those who paid for them annoyed and disgruntled at the fact that night after night they would land up playing the same old maps because one or two people didn’t have them.

All of these factors, and a bunch more (don’t get me started on ripoffs like outfits and color schemes) combined have made me realise that DLC in general is a learning process for game developers and publishers. While some of it can be beneficial, it still has a lot of growing up to do. Hopefully, after a couple more years we will truly see DLC shine in every way and become an absolute godsend for gamers. For now, it’s a little up and down and many people will find themselves uninterested, unsatisfied or left out because of this new age feature.

How has DLC treated you? Do you buy a lot of DLC? What do you think can be done to solve the problems? Let us know your thoughts by posting a comment below.

Last Updated: March 29, 2010

Nick De Bruyne

Video games writer, editor and critic since '08. Living and breathing video games, movies and cars since the 80s. Follow me on Twitter if you love tons of gaming talk, and @pennyworthrevs for fun stuff and links.

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