Downloadable content has become a regular feature in our gaming landscape. Nearly every major release, nowadays, has a season pass. What’s more publishers often ask us to purchase these season passes without even telling us what we’ll be getting for our money. So, how did we get to this state?
DLC started in the modding community on PC. Fans of games would change something in a game to provide a different experience as well as add a new map or mission. The first recognised mod was Castle Smurfenstein, a mod for the original Castle Wolfenstein (the first game in the Wolfenstein series, Wolfenstein 3D would be two sequels later). Castle Smurfenstein swapped the Nazi soldiers for Smurfs and changed the setting from Germany to Canada. It was really just a new skin on the same game, but it was the start of something new. Pretty soon, developers started shipping games with tools that made modding their games even easier. Gamers and wannabe developers created new levels, multiplayer maps and in some cases, new games entirely.
Downloadable content really came into its own on consoles with the introduction of Xbox Live. Games started using Xbox Live to lengthen the life of games with DLC. Ninja Gaiden added the Hurricane packs which gave the player new campaign options. Halo 2 added the Maptacular and Killtacular map packs; these added more multiplayer maps for the game. As time went on, more and more games released DLC, particularly map packs for multiplayer games. These early days had such promise and great ideas. It was never seen as a necessary thing, which meant that what was released was either something the developer thought would be a good addition, or something asked for by the fans.
This Utopia was never going to last though. As soon as publishers realised that DLC was a viable revenue stream, things started to take a more cynical route. There was still quality, worthwhile DLC out there, but there was also bad stuff released. One of the most famous examples was Horse Armour for Oblivion. For $2.50 you could buy armour for your trusty steed even though it had no practical use. Bethesda received quite a backlash for this, and to their credit, the DLC they have released since has been great.
My personal choice for the most ridiculous DLC is from Electronic Arts. The Saboteur was a fun open-world third-person action game from Pandemic Studios. The game is set in France during the Nazi occupation in World War 2, and your aim is to take back as much of Paris as you can. You do this by destroying German barracks, bases, and checkpoints, as well as generally killing Nazis. The DLC for this game was called ‘The Midnight Show’, and cost $3. So, what did you get for your $3? Well, it removed the coverings of the ladies breasts in the brothels so you could see their nipples. Yes, that’s right, $3 for digital nipples!
One of the next moves in DLC was microtransactions. These small pieces of downloadable content are what make free-to-play games possible. While I’m not a fan of free-to-play games, I have no problem with publishers releasing these games for free and then charging small amounts for extra items or to replenish in-game energy and alike. What I do have an issue with, are microtransactions in full price games. Our friends at Electronic Arts are the masters of this dark art. In 2012, Peter Moore speculated that ‘within five-to-ten years time all games will have transitioned to the microtransaction model’. Dead Space 3 and various Need for Speed games, have pay-to-win options where you can pay for better weapons or faster cars. The EA Sports brand has turned this into an even bigger moneymaker with their Ultimate Team modes. Here you can pay for a pack of cards with real money instead of in-game currency that you earn through hours of playing.
As I said earlier, the latest trend is season passes. Don’t get me wrong, some games offer some great deals with their season passes. My issue with the current crop of season passes it that they ask you to spend 50-80% of the cost of the full game without telling you exactly what it is you’re getting. This is particularly frustrating when the game is such a barebones release to start with. There are currently a string of multiplayer-only games being released that aren’t necessarily worth $60 at launch. The first game in this series was probably Titanfall. As much as I love this game, I don’t believe it was worth $60 at launch. The game as it is now, is what it should have been at launch.
The latest multiplayer-only release is Star Wars Battlefront (yes, I realise there’s an offline singleplayer mode with bots, but let’s be honest, it’s not really a singleplayer game). The game looks good and is getting some decent reviews, but I’m not convinced that it’s worth the money. What’s more is that the season pass for this game is $50! EA has announced that the season pass will include 4 expansion packs, each with a new game mode and 4 new maps. While I do appreciate them sharing at least that amount of info, it’s still quite a gamble spending that much up-front for a multiplayer game. What if there is little to no online community for the game after the first couple of months?
The season pass that I find most egregious though, is for Rainbow Six: Siege. While I applaud Ubisoft’s decision to make all post-release maps available for anyone who has bought the game, the $30 season pass is bordering on the disgusting. Your money gets you seven-day early access to new characters, six weapon skins, 600 credits of in-game currency, two extra daily challenges (that earn extra experience) and a permanent 5% experience boost. As the only stuff of any real note here helps you level up quicker, you are paying $30 to save yourself a little time. I find this absolutely disgraceful and it’s a dangerous road that we find ourselves on.
Downloadable content is a fantastic thing, and has such amazing possibilities. It can help prolong a game’s lifespan. It can help to fix issues in a game. It can add some alternative ideas that developer’s come up with. I also agree that for 99% of the DLC out there, we should have to pay for it. I just think that publishers are pushing the boundaries of what should be released and how much we should have to pay for it. I think the idea of charging 50-80% of the cost of the full game for only 20-30% more content is wrong. I also think that asking us to pay that without giving us any idea what we’re going to get, is untenable.