I'd like to introduce our latest Guest Blogger, Andrew Baxter! He's a game enthusiast with a great sense of history. He and I talked after a past post, and he offered to look at the history of DLC. Lots of insights here, so take your time.
DLC has a very promising future in gaming and offers amazing potential to extend the lifespan of a product. With the inevitable move towards digital distribution, this is one area developers simply cannot afford to overlook. Keeping a customer base loyal and interested in your product can only lead to increased future sales through good word of mouth and should be encouraged heavily. A quick Google search on 'Team Fortress 2' shows the appreciation gamers can and will show for developers that go the extra mile.
It hasn't always looked as bright as this however. Over recent years we've seen many questionable forms of extra content released.
Back in 2006, Bethesda released a DLC pack for Oblivion that added horse armour to the game for 200 MS points. Rightfully so, gamers questioned the value for money of such a download and it was a source of amusement for some time amongst many gaming websites.
EA arguably topped this in 2007 by charging for NCAA 07 Football, and Madden NFL07 tutorial videos that were previously included as part of the game in older titles.
The next DLC disaster was something a little more suspect and seems to have been a more common complaint recently.
Destructoid posted an article in 2007 about extra content for the XBLA title, Beautiful Katamari. Four extra levels were available for purchase on the very same day the title released, each one only taking up 384kb of HD space. This sparked debate as to whether this content was actually on the disk already and the DLC was merely an unlock code to open up content already contained within the game. I'm sure it seemed like a good idea to include DLC content within the disk to keep download sizes down for the customer, but a little application of logic and it's not hard to see how customers may believe they're getting short changed.
Recently, more and more developers have been accused of holding back content purely to sell on at a later date. Even Square Enix drew some bad press as a result of having two content packs available for Gyromancer only two days after the game was made available.
Bioware also faced similar criticism when Dragon Age: Origins DLC was made available for purchase the day the game launched. A feature of this content was a central storage area for players to store items and equipment. As this is usually a standard feature in most RPG's popular opinion seems to be that this feature may have been purposely removed from the game in order to push sales of the launch DLC pack.
Not to be left out, Capcom helped fuel the fires burning around DLC by charging to unlock alternate costumes already contained on the retail copy of Streetfighter IV. They also patched a VS mode into Resident Evil 5 using existing resources on the disk, prompting some gamers to ask why this feature was not included from the start.
On the other side of the DLC debate, we have Rocksteady and Batman Arkham Asylum. Two free content packs were released for the title shortly after the games release, adding a reasonable amount of content in the form of challenge maps. A console exclusive download for the 360 added a Scarecrow challenge map, and on the PS3 added the Joker as a playable character for a challenge map. The free content and speed of release have worked well for Rocksteady's public image amongst gamers, and that will hopefully translate to improved sales in the future. A great example of how to use free DLC to build brand loyalty.
With the Fallout 3 expansions, Bethesda showed they had learnt valuable lessons about DLC from their prior Oblivion content downloads. The extra content for Fallout 3 helped increase the lifespan of the title considerably whilst keeping interest in the franchise consistent.
Rounding all this off, we have the L4D2 boycott which has been interesting to watch unfold. L4D2 started out life as little more than a DLC expansion for the original title but eventually grew so large it was not possible to implement without scaling back the new content considerably. The decision to release L4D2 as a full sequel, coupled with the fact that many L4D1 fans had hoped for more support to the original title, resulted in months of online petitions.
Even now there are L4D fans that still claim Valve have given them the short end of the stick. Personally, after playing both titles, I can definitely say the second game was worthy of a full retail release and is a good example of a company trying to give the customer so much content it becomes impossible to follow the DLC distribution model.
In conclusion I'd say some developers are handling DLC very well, and others hopefully are learning from past mistakes. Releasing content already contained on the retail disk may be an efficient way to deliver that content but customers will always suspect foul play if not handled correctly and for good reason. The same can be said in regards to releasing content on the very same day the game launches. If not handled correctly, as has been seen in the past, gamers will nearly always suspect the paid content has been held back in order to squeeze a little extra cash from gamers looking for a complete experience. EA are already looking at a tiered pricing structure for the future, with games to perhaps "go down the route of smaller up-front experiences and lower prices at the beginning and then the ability to extend the game through episodic material or future feature material"
I think DLC can have a very promising future just as long as developers continue implementing it correctly. Even I find myself topping up MS points on the Xbox more and more, despite my original opinions on paying for extras, and I'm sure many other gamers are finding themselves in similar situations, so there is definitely a growing market for DLC if it can be marketed and handled correctly. All in all, it's an exciting time for gaming and I look forward to seeing where this all goes.
Andrew Baxter is a blogger and game enthusiast. You can find his bog at http://www.eckyman.com/.