The last console generation brought the gaming industry forward in leaps and bounds. High Definition graphics, amazing new effects, getting everyone online and expanding the scope of multi-player gaming.
Possibly the biggest leap for developers of console games was an off shoot from the new found internet connectivity. With every console connected to the internet via either Play Station Network or Xbox Live, developers could release patches and updates to tweak and improve games.
This also meant the introduction of downloadable content, commonly known as DLC.
DLC packages were released for different games which basically gave one of your existing games new content for a small fee. The new content might include new levels for your game, new characters to play as or new skins (think costumes) for your characters.
The video game world had seen ‘expansion packs’ before, that brought a fresh experience to an existing game, but usually in the form of additional discs bought in stores. The fact that you could now download the new things instantly had potential to be a hugely popular move.
However, the early DLC packs on offer were not met with the enthusiasm that had been hoped for. Gamers from the console side of life were not used to having to pay for extra content – and the pricing structure was massively inconsistent from studio to studio.
People felt that the games they were paying £50 for in the high street were essentially being released incomplete and they were then being asked to hand over a further £5- £10 to get the ‘complete’ version.
On reflection, they were not wrong. In some of the worst cases, gamers were having to pay £3.50 for a set of 4 character costumes that were actually already on the disc they’d purchased. They didn’t download anything so much as merely ‘unlock’ the content hidden within the disc. Other games started to offer DLC that essentially put them ahead of other gamers. The ‘pay not play’ approach allowed gamers to acquire weapons, armour or access to areas that couldn’t be reached without putting in the time and skill normally required. (Though this approach proved more popular on PC games, it still exists through ‘microtransactions’ in certain ‘free to play’ console games today. For instance, DC Universe Online, DUST 514 and next-gen co-p shooter, Warframe on PS4, allow you to upgrade your character much quicker of you’re happy to pay for the privilege.)
As years progressed, people became more and more used to the idea, but the feedback led some developers to re-think their money grabbing tactics. Developers started to offer more substantial story elements to games for around £7 or £8. Smaller things like map packs or additional challenge modes for £3-£4 and if it was a purely cosmetic addition (like a costume), they could go for as little as 60p.
There were still exceptions to the rules. Publishers like Activision looked at the sheer volume of their user base- and took advantage of their game’s popularity. Seeing fit to repeatedly charge nearly £12 for each additional pack of 4 DLC maps they released for their Call of Duty games, those who chose to purchase all of the DLC would end up paying more than they had for the original game.
At the other end of the scale, we have publishers like Rockstar. They were overwhelmed with the popularity of their game and chose to reward customers by offering much of their DLC for free.
Whatever the price of entry, the attitude towards DLC shifted. Customers began to expect DLC for their favourite games and rather than complaints about games being shipped incomplete, people started to grumble that the DLC packages were not being released quick enough.
Games like Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us came under pressure to have new story content within weeks of their initial release, showing a huge turn around in attitude.
This has been further compounded by the recent announcement made by games developer ‘From Software’.
When they told their awaiting fans that upcoming RPG, Dark Souls IIwould have no DLC, some fans rejoiced at the idea of the complete game being shipped. However, another contingent became disgruntled at the fact that, save for a couple of inevitable patches, the game will be ignored by the developer after release.
The case of “what do you mean that’s all we’re getting?” proves that gamers are a fickle bunch. From Software may be the only developer to experiment with shipping a complete game to customers for a while as DLC has proven to be fairly lucrative for developers. Not only does it extend the life of the games on the shelves, but it also offers developers the chance to make some money from pre-owned sales as DLC is tied to individuals online accounts rather than the disc purchased.
The introduction of things like a ‘Season Pass’ for games, which offers all the DLC for a given game throughout its life span for a massively reduced one-off price, are also proving popular. Unfortunately the rise in popularity of the Season Pass has caused a surge in the aforementioned impatience. Customers that buy a game – then follow that purchase up with a £15-£20 Season Pass (or a whopping £40 in the case of Call of Duty games), seem to expect all that extra content almost immediately, rather than over the following year – which is the typical release schedule.
It would seem that from its inauspicious start, DLC is very much a part of the modern console gaming landscape. It remains to be seen if From Software’s decision to eschew DLC will have a positive or negative impact on their fortunes. That said, with the money still flying in – twelve months after some game’s release dates, don’t expect many other studios to follow suit any time soon.
Richard is a father, teacher, gamer and writer. He believes that The Last of Us and Olli Olli 2 are the finest games ever made, feels that the StarWars Saga should only be watched in ‘the Machete order’ and once cleared Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in one sitting. Took him 20 hours, four cups of tea and a sausage roll. You can follow him on twitter @TLOUFactionsMP or @VigilanteSanta and view his occasional twitch outbursts on twitch.tv/spooklebeans.