DLC is not a new concept. I remember getting the Game of the Year edition of Elder Scrolls III. Bethesda in particular has been releasing expansions that are often comparable to the base game for as long as I can remember, and they make big games.
But this trend has gone in a troubling direction in recent years. It has gotten to the point where a game just feels incomplete without the DLC, be it because the DLC legitimately fills holes left by the original (e.g. Assassin’s Creed 2), or because it builds on the story in the base game in a way a sequel won’t (e.g. Fallout 3 and New Vegas).
Games are not cheap, and I am utterly disgusted with the idea that I paid $60 for an incomplete product. These are not kickstarters or early access titles I am referring to. These are AAA games, made by respected studios, pulling in ridiculous amounts of money. If they, with the media coverage and the CEOs and the shareholders, can’t be held to some sort of standard, this industry is going to hurt consumers. Consumers which will, out of an understandable interest in their own wallets, hurt the industry right back.
And what of the stability issues brought up by constantly adding to the game? Two games that I’ve been playing lately are Payday 2 and Warframe. One is a theoretically complete game, the other is still technically in Beta status. These developers have added a great deal of content, while trying to keep it accessible. But, each new addition tends to break some part of the game. No matter how quickly they fix it, you’ll always have players like myself, who got burned by the buggy additions. That strains your relationship with consumers. We already have games that are buggy at launch (*cough* BATTLEFIELD 4 *cough*). It is a slap in the face to hear “We made another thing so you could give us more of your money. PS- It might break everything we already made and took your money for, sorry.”
Balance is also a thing that often suffers. In most cases, the DLC offers an item or weapon that does something nothing in the original did, or something that is a direct upgrade. Sure, this is partly to justify the cost, but I thought games were supposed to be about skill, not the size of your wallet. Payday 2 has sniper rifles and machine guns now, both of which give the DLC buying players options not available to the rest of the community.
I feel this is already influencing consumers. I wouldn’t touch Battlefield with a ten-foot pole now, considering B4 has 5 goddamn pieces of DLC planned, which will reportedly cost $15 more than the original game altogether. That is just silly for a game that barely worked on release. Call of Duty is just as bad, taking 3 studios now just so they can maintain their pattern of one game per year. Personally, I don’t feel like spending $60 (or more!) a year on a multiplayer-based series that has been running since 2007, and I can’t be the only one.
Now, I won’t say this is all bad. Some companies do try to price their new content according. Bethesda charges the usual rate for their DLC, but it usually goes much farther thanks to their open-world RPG genre. Payday 2 doesn’t have a single item of downloadable content that costs more than $7 dollars, and in the spirit of the old split-screen days, only 1 person in 4 needs the content for other players in the team to enjoy some of the perks like new heists. Warframe, better yet, has everything available to everyone (outside cosmetic items). Yes, it does pit your wallet against your patience, like many F2P games, but you can get everything without paying a cent if you want it that badly. Hell, some items aren’t even available to the people that break their wallets out, being reserved as rewards for challenges in the game.
The constant patching of such games also lets them completely rework elements of the game that aren’t working as intended. You can’t cable tie every civilian on the map in PD2 anymore, and the Trinity frame in WF no longer lets you spam invincibility for the entire mission. Maybe these problems wouldn’t have gotten through to the consumer in the old days, but if they had, the developers wouldn’t have been able to correct them.
I think consumers need to hold the line, when it comes to purchasing DLC. It’s no longer just a matter of “is this DLC worth it to me?”, it’s become “Do I want to encourage whatever this company is currently doing, business-wise?” Activision charges $60 a year for what is essentially an update to a multiplayer-based game because people keep buying it. If people didn’t, they’d have to lower the price or, god forbid, do something else. I know people want to just focus on the fun, but games are an industry now, and the way to curtail behavior you don’t like in an industry is to stop giving them your money.