"Downloadable Content," or DLC has both benefits and costs for the publishers and the gamers they serve. This article by Red Fox Insights takes a look at both sides of the argument and discusses how how developers can properly position DLC to ensure it’s well received by fans.
The Down Side of DLC
Cost Gamers More
Gaming can be an expensive hobby. Purchasing a new release is exciting, but the shadow cast by DLC can dampen that excitement. Realizing that pieces of the game may be locked behind collections of unfinished DLC (Season Passes), and additional costs, like $10-20 can raise questions about the purchase being made.
For example, Call of Duty: Black Ops III’s first DLC pack Awakening launched yesterday (on PS4 anyway) and includes four new multiplayer maps, and a new zombies map. It’s included in the $50 Season Pass, or can be picked up for $15 on its own.
In the worst cases, it feels like chunks of an otherwise complete experience are withheld from release, only to later be shoveled out in the form of DLC.
Splintered Player Base
If you’re a multiplayer focused game today, you’ve got your hands full. How do you balance development costs? Do you remove single player campaigns? How do you fight off competitors? How do you cultivate and sustain a healthy, active player base?
Some of these questions are too big to cover here, but one thing you shouldn’t do is splinter the player base you have. We’ve seen that done in the past by releasing map packs for multiplayer games. The likely already declining player base by the time DLC launches, will be further fragmented into two player groups. Players dedicated enough to spend extra on maps, and players who are not.
The result is a divided player base. An even worse case is if the players who purchased the DLC are unable to play it, because the larger portion of the community does not own it. Matches are then funneled into maps which everyone has, i.e., maps the game launched with instead of cycling through the new content.
Pre-Order DLC, Retailer Specific DLC
We recently spoke about the good and bad of game exclusivity, but when it comes to DLC, the negative seems to outweigh the positive. We understand why this works, as platforms and retailers strive to make their console the place to play. But spreading DLC across retailers as pre-order bonuses leaves players feeling like they’ve gotten less depending on where they purchase like with Batman: Arkham Knight. For the latest entry in the Arkham franchise, fans had to navigate the following web of content:
- Pre-ordering the game allows player to play as Harley Quinn
- Gotham's Future Skin Pack was a Steam-only bundle
- The Red Hood Story Pack was available at GameStop
- The First Appearance Skin Pack was earned by pre-ordering on Amazon
- The WayneTech Booster Pack was a Best Buy exclusive
- The Prototype Batmobile could be found at Wal-Mart
- To add insult, this DLC is normally made available for purchase a few weeks after launch or included when players spend more for premium editions.
The Up Side of DLC
DLC support can do great things for the games we love. We noted how hard it is to keep a player base engaged with all of the distraction and competition from other games. DLC is a great way for creators to remind players that their game exists, and to pull them back in with new, exciting gameplay offerings. Whether it’s new multiplayer maps in an FPS, new single player content for your favorite RPG, or new characters for a fighting game - creators are getting better at supporting the games we love, long after they launch.
During campaigns, we often experience the story of one or a few characters. These characters have arcs, and are the primary focus of gameplay and narrative. Throughout the journey, we are exposed to secondary characters, or information about the world or events that intrigue us.
While it might not make sense for a developer to include full, fleshed out stories of those events or secondary characters during the campaign, answering those questions through DLC is an exciting proposition. More games explore side stories, origins and unexplored narrative threads through DLC. The Last of Us: Left Behind is a perfect example of telling new stories using existing characters and setting - things that may otherwise not exist if not for DLC.
It’s Sometimes Free
DLC has proven itself an effective way to sustain community, remain relevant and explore new story and gameplay scenarios. What’s most exciting is that some developers of our favorite games do this for FREE. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt recently won fans over with huge amounts of free, post launch content. Halo 5: Guardians has done an excellent job of engaging their players with free DLC ranging from new multiplayer maps through new weapon and armor pieces, every month. Getting more of the games you love for free is a sign of how wonderful DLC can be, and illustrates a promising future for DLC .
The Bottom Line
Fans can expect many high profile releases to have DLC of some kind attached to them. One thing that developers and publishers should not do is sour the reveal of a game by announcing DLC plans on the same day (or month).
Players want to be excited about your announcement, but don't necessarily want to hear about the content that’s not going to make the game’s release. If you have great new content that may not make release, delay the game and include it, or detail your plans to support the game after launch closer to the game’s release.