Monday, September 30, 2013

Downloadable Content

Downloadable content (DLC) has been a major part of current generation of consoles. I generally like the idea of downloadable content but I feel like some developers have been abusing it. I don’t mind paying for new content that helps invigorate my desire to play the game by adding content that enriches my experience. It does bother me when a company tries to make a cash grab by removing features that should have already been in the game only to force users to pay for it later on.

My earliest experience with DLC goes back to the very first Splinter Cell on the original Xbox. I didn’t have Xbox live at the time but I was able to bring my xbox to a friend’s house and download the new levels. Surprisingly, the extra levels were all free which is something you rarely find nowadays. I remember when I was reading up on the original Xbox, Microsoft stated that developers would be able to update games such as sports titles with current rosters and updated stats through downloadable content. Obviously most sports titles just release a new edition every year instead of using DLC but it certainly was an interesting approach.

While DLC may have its origins in providing players with more content for their favorite games, it has been used more recently as a passive deterrent to used game sales. Developers hope that players will hold on to their copy of a game until all the DLC is released therefore reducing the supply of used games available. Other developers figured out that they could attach DLC to brand new copies which would also dissuade people from purchasing a used copy. Some developers even decided that they would use online game passes to convince users to buy new or at least for used copies to provide some revenue through purchasing an online pass from the developer. Fortunately online passes are becoming a thing of the past since companies like EA are removing them from current games and finding alternatives to deter used game sales.

My current issue with DLC is the idea of season passes. It sounds great on paper, the player get a discount on a set of DLC and the developer gets the money early to produce the DLC. However what happens if the developer goes under before all the DLC is made. Does the player get a refund for the amount of DLC they are missing or are they just out of luck? While there haven’t been any cases of this occurring yet, it still makes me weary about purchasing any season passes from developers that aren't as well known.

Another issue I have with more recent DLC is the fact that costumes are becoming more related to micro transaction instead of as incentives to completing the game in unique ways. In Ninja Gaiden Black for the Xbox, the player would be awarded different costumes based on the difficulty they beat. Harder difficulties usually had the more popular costume choices that ended up looking amazing and helped the player feel rewarded for beating the harder difficulties. However in Ninja Gaiden II for the Xbox 360 the costume rewards for beating the harder difficulty were just color swaps whereas the purchasable costumes were significantly different. I don’t mind the idea of adding new costumes that let player personalize their character, it just seems like developers are getting rid of any incentives that players used to have before the days of DLC. Imagine if you played Metal Gear Solid and you weren't rewarded for either of the endings. You would have to buy the active camo or bandanna off the games marketplace in order to be able to use them. It doesn't really make a huge difference in gameplay but you also don’t have any rewards that make subsequent play through more enjoyable.

I would like to see DLC as a way for developers to try out new ideas that might have not worked in the original game. Developers could experiment with ideas that didn't make it in the retail copy because of time shortages or budget restraints. They could use it as a test for ideas that may be incorporated in sequels. Alan Wake is a good example of how the developers were able to throw in a new idea into the DLC that definitely kept the gameplay refreshing. Remedy, the developers of Alan Wake tossed in the idea that the player could shine light on words that would then spawn safe areas or even items for the player to use. It was a risk but since the DLC is much shorter than the campaign, it wouldn't be a huge issue if the player disliked the new mechanic.

DLC is definitely something that will continue long into the next generation of gaming consoles. I like to support developers, especially ones that seem to want to provide quality experiences instead just trying to make a quick buck by releasing the latest version of their game. I honestly don’t mind the idea of buying costumes if it will help the developer continue to create more games. While I do miss the old days of unlocking new costumes and accessories in games, I understand that game development costs have risen with each new generation and developers could use the extra cash to help offset those costs. I just hope developers are not trying to nickel and dime the consumer by taking apart a finished game and selling it as extra content.