The Paid DLC Conundrum

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Gamers are certainly a unique bunch.  Few groups of people are as passionate (and critical) as us.  We are constantly divided on various topics and the case of paid DLC (downloadable content) is one of the most notorious.  Before I dig into this controversy of sorts, let’s look at a bit of history on the subject.

It is difficult to pinpoint the very first instance of actual DLC.  For our current purpose, we will not count Expansion Packs, as those were typically released on physical discs.  I am only looking at additional content that was strictly released digitally, at least at first.  From what I can gather, the first free DLC was allegedly for a computer game called Creatures in 1996.  One month after the game’s release in November 1996, DLC was added in the form of Christmas Pack 1 and had over 4,000 downloads in the first week alone.  As far as paid DLC goes, the first reported instance was for another computer game called Redneck Rampage in 1997.  This DLC took the form of a “cuss pack” that added strong language to the game.  The developers supposedly charged $1 via credit card simply to verify that the user was of “adult age.”

The Sega Dreamcast was the first console to include digital DLC availability, and the original Xbox was next to follow suit.  Initially, the majority of DLC was free with only a handful of exceptions.  Being an Xbox fan myself, it’s with trepidation that I admit most fingers point to Microsoft for implementing a price tag associated with DLC and making it common practice.  From there on, other companies jumped on the bandwagon and today any mention of DLC makes us ask “okay, how much?”  In the past, folks were typically surprised when they had to pay for DLC but now we are left in utter shock when it’s free.  Is it bad that I feel like Lady Macbeth every time I download content for free these days?  Have the companies that give us free content turned us into thieves?  Or have the companies that charge for extra content been shaking us upside down for so long that we no longer know any different?

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My intent here is not to criticize or single out any particular developer.  The games I will mention are simply examples because practically every major developer utilizes DLC these days.  Those in support of this argue: why should we complain about getting extra content for games we enjoy?  I agree…to an extent.  When there is a game you love and six months to a year down the line they release DLC, why shouldn’t you be happy?  I have no problem with DLC, paid or free.  I purchase extra content for games I enjoy just like everyone else.  The inherent issue though is where to draw the line.

Take games like Call of Duty and Battlefield, for example.  DLC is built into their business models.  We know every time a new Call of Duty is released, there will be four DLC packs released throughout the course of the following year.  Each pack will contain four multiplayer maps and a new zombie map.  It’s just the way it is.  Each pack will cost $15 and after buying all four, it will be like paying $60 twice…for the same game.  Yes, you have the option of not paying but if you like the game and want the “full” experience, is it still considered a choice?  When you do not have the extra maps or modes, you become limited online.  The people playing the vanilla content decreases, and you are left feeling like one of those kids unpicked for kickball in the schoolyard.  You and the rest of the “rejects” are left playing duck, duck, goose…while the “cool” kids get to peg people in the face with a big rubber ball.  The question here simply becomes: when should content be included in the main game versus when should it be released as DLC, after the fact?  When did paid DLC become standard, especially when it’s planned well before the full game’s release?  That’s when I start feeling nickel and dimed.

Take Mortal Kombat X, for instance.  I love the game and bought the DLC.  It’s an incredibly solid fighting game and one of the best for this generation but let’s break down the “Kombat Packs.”  There were 24 characters (excluding Goro) in the main release.  This also included the story mode, towers, stages, etc.  All of that for your standard cost of $60.  This would mean $60 divided by 24 characters equals $2.50 per character, and that’s if you consider everything else in the main game as worthless.  Enter Kombat Pack 1 and you got four additional characters for $20.  Hmm…that translates to $5 dollars per character.  Sounds like highway robbery to me.

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The last example will be a positive one.  Halo 5: Guardians by 343 Industries.  They have released nine content updates including multiplayer maps, modes, and customization options since launch.  Here’s the kicker…all for free.  Josh Holmes, the head of 343 Industries, stated that he “did not want to segregate the player base by distributing maps as paid downloadable content.”  That is a company who cares about their gamers.  They see me, not my wallet.  If they can do it, why can’t Activision, or Dice, or anyone else?

Instead of companies thinking of ways to stretch out content just to squeeze more money out of its loyal fans, why not just wait and release all of the content with the main game?  When development time between games is 4 or 5 years, I totally understand extra paid content after a couple of years and I would be happy for it.  We, as gamers, deserve better.  There should not be paid DLC that is slim on content just to pad companies’ pockets, and it should not be overpriced.  It is insulting, degrading, and shows zero respect for the people that keep them in business…us.  We have to show them we will no longer pay an arm and a leg for subpar content.  Let 343 Industries set the example of what we deserve and what these companies are more than capable of.  So next time you think about jumping at the latest DLC, just consider this – look before you leap…there might be a shark in the water.

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