Downloadable Content has become for gaming what bonus features has for DVD film releases, essential if you want to confirm its success. If a game doesn’t have DLC te publisher doesn’t want to know about it. DLC adds longevity to games, it allows for re-invention or re-iteration, but ultimately it allows for more money and lower distribution costs.
Other games offer you new kits, outfits, purely aesthetic downloads that do nothing to alter the game in any meaningful way. No More Heroes: Heroes Paradise let players purchase clothes and beam katanas for Travis to wear and use, yet neither altered the game in any way. Most famously of all was the extortionate price of Horse Armour in TESIV: Oblivion, something that Bethesda have tried very hard to get away from; in fairness to Bethesda they were the first to deal with DLC and so no pricing structure had really been set up yet. Needless to say was that really even a necessary piece of DLC to create?
On the other side of the spectrum you have the lazy DLC releases. These do add something to the game, but they add what should have originally been there, or indeed what was once there and then taken out, Fallout 3’s Broken Steel shows this perfectly. Adding the endgame part to the story, allowing players to continue exploring the wasteland, and allow for the changes of the main story to begin to take shape, it is strange that it had to come as DLC and wasn’t something included in its original release. The DLC that provides a full unlock for a games content seems to have replaced the now seemingly archaic cheat code, meaning that now companies can charge those too lazy, unskilled or busy to complete the game fully. Some games, like Crackdown and Crackdown 2, offer these unlocks for free (Keys to the City) so players can enjoy and explore what the game has to offer without being penalised for not being able to finish the game themselves.
For a reviewer, and massive gameplayer like myself, DLC is a double edged sword. Its offerings are tempting, but the graft to enjoy everything on offer for all the games is near impossible. With the exception of Oblivions DLC I have not finished a single piece for any other game. Fallout 3 I managed to complete 2 of the 5, having left one entirely untouched; Borderlands offered 4 packs alongside its already lengthy and impressive main game, and yet not a single pack has been finished due to sheer lack of time. I find myself skipping the more instantly enjoyable packs of DLC that would provide content like cars and multiplayer maps/levels as they don’t seem meaty enough, yet picking up a beastly expansion to an RPG tends to end up with an unfinished offering.
Ultimately DLC may be toted as content that is developed in the fans favour, but most of the time it is weighted completely in the publishers interests. Short development times, low publishing costs and high returns all shouts that it DLC is an essential component to any games portfolio. Adding to this is the hype they can generate around DLC to make it instantly marketable, people clamber over each other for the latest Call of Duty pack, despite it essentially being the same as before but with a new visual coat of paint. Most annoyingly is the announcement of DLC before the game has even launched! It seems that DLC will forever be a part of the industry as players find that new t-shirt, extra grassy knoll or virtual weapon just too enticing for their wallet to resist.