It makes perfectly good sense that if you enjoy a game, you’d want to play more of it. This manifests itself in the market, what with sequels, the development of genres, and just plain copying of a concept by other games. More recently, however, a sort of mid-point between new games and free additional content has emerged. Downloadable content, or DLC for short.
It’s a word that provokes many to get up in arms, and with proper cause: a great deal of DLC has been, and surely will continue to be, unsatisfactory. That’s not to say all DLC is inherently poor, but the sort of company that chooses to distribute it, and the type is heavily indicative of whether or not it will be of a high quality. There are some companies that simply update the game for free, assured that continued support of a game beyond the first few months will not only earn respect with those who already own the game, but also attract more players. Then there are others who want to see the largest net profit, and DLC is a gateway to that destination. Granted, a decent middle-ground also exists, but the reason for the polarized opinions is the fact that quality in the case of additional paid content is black-and-white with few exceptions.
What differentiates a company like Valve from a company like Activision? Both produce some popular (though not necessarily universally-liked) titles, and have been met with substantial fiscal success. Philosophy is the biggest difference, and it becomes apparent when looking at a topic such as DLC where each stands.
Valve has earned a championed fandom. Other than making some of the most memorable and renown games of the early 2000′s, they hold their customers dear. Team Fortress 2 has undergone some of the most substantial changes, updates, polishings, and lore-development of any game to date, entirely free past the initial price tag. And even that was eventually done away with. Whether you love or hate Valve, it’s hard to deny their dedication and how resolutely they stand by and support their games, a rare attribute which fans and even average players can and do appreciate.
However, Valve still does partake in a form of DLC, that being micro-transactions to buy cosmetics, items, and virtual coins with which to put into the eternal slot machine of Mann. Co. crates. Some people spend crazy amounts of money on these things, as much as hundreds and even thousands of dollars. But it’s all on a personal whim; new content, updates, modes, maps, weapons, everything is available to all players. Some players buy the items because they like the game, while others get caught up in an extensive virtual bartering economy to obtain all the metal net-worth of the known universe.
This is where the distinction comes up: voluntary payment for cosmetics as a side-play to the free and consistent updates to the game. Valve played it smart. The prices on some of the hats and weapons is frankly absurd (see: more than the price of the game during its release), but all of it can be obtained with minimal investment as one naturally progresses through the game. There is an option, thought not a requirement, to purchase for all those who wish to do so, and the ability to opt out and still get the full experience of the game for those who do not.
Activision gets a lot of flak for their business practices, some of it earned, but some of it not. They own the rights to one of the most successful current franchises, which garners a lot of hate as a result of the contrarian viewpoint held by most video game hobbyists, resentment to those who see gaming as a static medium for nothing but Call of Duty and perhaps Madden. Warranted hate spans more from the extensive pricey DLC and premium services, as well as the frequency which DLC new installments of the series have been assembled and kicked out onto the market.
In this case, you pay for the base game, and probably enjoy it a lot in the case of the average player. You might even sink as many as a few hundred or thousand hours into it. After a while, new maps get released for a paltry 15 dollars. Ok, maybe not paltry; $15 is ¼ the price of a modern game. But your friend argues “You don’t have to pay for it! It’s just more maps.” True enough, you don’t. Then again, you will be placed into matches that have these new maps on it. And if you don’t have the map, you’ll be kicked when the match starts. A minor inconvenience, but you still enjoy the game.
Then a premium service arises, a monthly fee for preferred server selection, stat tracking, and all DLC as well as other exclusive perks. Now not only are you lower on the ladder to play a game you’ve already bought, in addition to whatever internet service subscription you have to pay for to play online, but you have only 10 maps while everyone else has 20. More often than not when you join a game, the maps won’t be the ones you own.
One can argue that if they really like the game, they’ll pay for the rest of the content to be on equal footing. This holds a little bit of truth, but it’s taking the wrong position on the topic. It’s poor form to oblige player to pay more to get all content. Moreover, if the player continues to shell out more money for diminishing returns, things like maps and modes and missions, it sends the message that people are willing to do so, encouraging more of it in the future. And that’s exactly what has happened. Activision has released 5 entries into the Call of Duty series over the past 6 years, soon to be 6, with a current total of 10 DLC packages, not to mention the paid subscription service. The differences between each title is minor, and the DLC is skimpy, usually only a few new maps. This just screams avarice.
Companies can and will continue to distribute additional content via DLC, but when it is hollow and clearly just for profit, a growing part of the player-base becomes estranged and fed up, and will express their emotions in many ways, ranging from just giving it a bad score or just bashing it on the internet, to taking a vow never to support that company in any way.
DLC shouldn’t be bad. Just like episodic content, it should in theory allow for more content to be released at regular intervals, just as sequels to popular games might do. However, the ability to slap a price tag on an item and shoe-horn it on players with a nudging motion reminding them of everything they’re missing out by not paying more makes DLC a honeypot for greed. Reviews for DLC are virtually non-existent, and one really can’t know what’s in store when they purchase it, especially for things like additional missions and other single-player content.
It’s hard to know what direction this will go as time goes on. On one hand, people like to blindly buy into things that add to their favorite games. On the other hand, many are catching on to how disadvantageous and otherwise unsatisfactory the large portion of DLC has been. Both methodologies have their strengths and drawbacks, but only the individual can decide which to support, and paying more for less doesn’t seem like the strongest choice.