The Age of DLC – Squashing Bugs, Pre-Order Bonuses, and Endless Entertainment

Let’s talk about DLC.

In recent years, video games have gotten a knack for including the ability to add data onto the base game after it’s released. It’s become so ubiquitous now that it may not seem that important. However, DLC is a big deal. For the uninitiated, DLC stands for “Downloadable Content.” Since the internet has found itself in nearly every video game player’s house and every system nowadays can access it, DLC now exists as a way to add more data onto an already released video game.

Before the Xbox 360 and PS3 (though some would say earlier depending on the title/system), if a game was released, that was usually it. Occasionally development studios would re-release a game with some of its issues fixed, but examples of this are few and far between. Occasionally this would mean a game would be released with tons of bugs that could no longer be squashed. If they were on the disc/cartridge, they were there for good.

Now enter DLC. Downloadable Content can be anything that you download and add on to an already “finished” game. It can patch bugs, it can give new quests or items, or it can otherwise expand or change a game beyond what it was at release. This is great in many ways. It allows the fun to continue for a player after a game has ended, it allows developers to keep creating content for a good game without having to invest in a complete sequel, it allows developers to allocate small teams to DLC while bigger teams focus on new, more exciting progress, and, perhaps most importantly, it allows for those pesky bugs to be fixed.

Sounds perfect, right? Unfortunately this innovation in video game technology is not so innocent or cut-and-dry. DLC has caused its own plethora of problems. It allows developers to be lazier, worrying less about releasing a beautifully polished product, sometimes offloading a buggy pile of trash onto the consumer, promising “fixes to come”. It also has spawned more greed in certain developers or publishers. Gone are the days where massive games could be released, the player buys the disc and that’s that. Now, some people argue, developers can give you the “base” game, withholding content to be added for DLC later – at a cost. While it isn’t very well known if this is really the case, lots of speculation exists around the idea that devs are keeping content under wraps.

Furthermore, DLC spurns on the plague that are “pre-order bonuses”. While I could write an entire paper on why these things are essentially the toxic filth that infects the video game industry, the short version is this: game developers lure players into paying for their games ahead of time to get small bonuses. Why is this a problem? Well, if you pre-ordered the new Assassin’s Creed and it turns out to be the hottest pile of garbage you’ve ever laid your eyes on, sorry Jim. You’re out of luck. Ubisoft already has your money. But hey now you can play as Ezio! It doesn’t do much but you sure do look cool.

This is an issue which is prolific in nearly every game that comes out nowadays. A pre-order will promise free loot, cosmetics, perhaps XP bonuses or an early weapon unlock to give you the EDGE on the competition. This is as close to a pay-to-win strategy as you can get away with cleanly. Technically you may not pay any more for the game, but you are paying early to get a leg up on the competition. If it weren’t for downloadable data, there would be nothing that tells the game that you, Jim, made all us gamers look bad and gave Activision your money early for that sweet double XP and digital camo shotgun.

While these models can be set to abuse the system of DLC, there are some companies with beautiful, pixelated halos above their logos. Companies like Capcom often offer the player completely free expansions on already complete games. The first that comes to mind would be the upcoming Monster Hunter: World. The game is already complete and finished by most means, but the devs have promised to keep support strong for the game by adding in new monsters, quests, and armor completely free to the player. This will keep things feeling fresh even for someone who has put 500 hours into the game. And yes, Jim, you can spend that much time on a game and still like it. I’ve got well over 1500 hours in the Monster Hunter series.

All-in-all, DLC at its core is a beautiful thing. It promises more than it denies, it gives more than it takes, and it has proven to be an excellent thing for gamers. We now live in a world where, if a game is crap, it may not always be that way. If the developers are determined enough to fix it they can! The best part is, though, if they aren’t willing to fix it, you know exactly what games not to buy in the future.

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