DLC: Revolution or Devolution?

In recent weeks, there has been very heated discussion over the DLC price point and practices for the recently released game Evolve. For those that are unaware, Turtle Rock Studios has been offering approximately $130 worth of DLC since before launch. Some have taken this as some great sin in the gaming community, a cardinal rule broken regarding downloads. It is an interesting case however because all of that cost is entirely cosmetic skins for characters and objects in game, one look at any of the digital stores offering the DLC will tell you the same.

I’ve seen people laying claim that Turtle Rock is locking features and characters behind a paywall, which confuses me as there are no additional features or characters out as of this writing. So was this a wise choice for the company? Were they misguided in their attempts to sell character skins?

Well, it certainly got people talking about their game more. Combine that with the old adage of there being no such thing as bad publicity and you have an interesting case where DLC is once again the hot topic. I don’t mind telling you I have been seeing the “never buy DLC” crowd again and I have not seen them in years. But does that make the game bad?  Does it herald some dark time for the games industry? Of course not, no need to be some kind of mook.

Can good games have bad DLC? Of course they can. Even bad DLC practices. Take Dragon Age: Origins, for example. If you do not purchase certain DLC you will have a map point that leads to a single man and a golem telling you to purchase the DLC to get a quest to have the golem on your team. The Mass Effect series saw a similar problem when gamers discovered that the From Ashes DLC, which housed a very anticipated character, was locked content on the disc itself. Both were good games in the general opinion but both received, deservedly so, flak for their DLC practice. Still, both saw praise and profited enough to warrant more games. Neither one did anything negative for Bioware’s overall reputation and the games industry barely noticed in the long run.

What made those examples of DLC bad? People tend to like more quests and characters. The answer is obvious, it was either hidden on the disc or we had the game itself telling us to fork over money for it. It breaks the immersion and serves no true purpose. Nothing would have been lost if either case had left it to be a digital download for the game and so people naturally reacted negatively to this.

There are, of course, examples of content locked behind the DLC paywall that was not on disc and yet still considered bad. The Elder Scrolls Oblivion had its horse armor, after all. It is important to note though that this horse armour is met with mockery rather than disdain generally speaking. Then of course after that Oblivion went on to have one of the greatest examples of DLC from its time, the shivering Isles expansion so this may have calmed tempers from the time over the horse armor.

Some companies take DLC to extreme levels. Paradox Interactive has quite a few expansions, and more planned, for their their grand strategy games Crusader Kings 2 and Europa Universalis 4. Gamers eat up that DLC with seldom a complaint. Much of this DLC adds content– but there are some cases, like with EU 4’s Conquest Of Paradise, which mainly went to fixing the native North American tribes so they were more playable. Despite this shady practice, I love those two games and routinely buy the DLC for them. I often crack jokes that Paradox is kind of DLC crazy but I still support their model because I want those games to improve.

So overall, can we say that DLC has ruined the games industry? Hardly. It’s no different than expansions in the old days that one would buy on discs except for the simple fact that you have no need to go to a store to get it. Just like with games themselves, there are great examples of DLC for great games, bad DLC for great games and every other variation possible.