Many hot-button topics exist within the gaming community. One of the more volatile issues, however, rivaled only by Gamergate and microtransactions (future topic, perhaps) is downloadable content.
Buying games is an already expensive hobby with your average AAA title asking your wallet for around sixty U.S. dollars. Naturally, consumers are becoming hugely pensive toward the alarming rate of incoming DLC promised with each new title. The question is: what makes DLC bad, and can it ever be done well?
Earlier this year, developer Rocksteady Studios and publisher Warner Brothers released their newest title Batman Arkham Knight along with a now standard season pass costing players an additional 39.99 USD. Altogether, gamers were looking at a ninety dollar price tag if they wanted the full Batman experience. The pass would include things like exclusive costumes, Batmobile skins, the Batwoman chapter, playable Nightwing, and so on. In addition, the Red Hood and Harley Quinn scenarios were locked behind a Gamestop purchase and preorder of the title respectively. A game so riddled with behind-the-scenes marketing left many fans skeptical from the get-go, but others forked over the cash to play as Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson without question.
Things quickly began to go downhill as Arkham Knight debuted to a huge mix of review scores, not to mention a completely unplayable PC port (surprise, surprise). Warner Brothers recently began issuing refunds to gamers who purchased the title for the computer, stating that the game may never be fixable. In business terms, it is no longer financially worthwhile to spend more resources fixing the broken game. Additionally, the DLC campaigns were embarrassingly short and completely lackluster in all regards. What could have easily been included as extra or unlockable modes in the base game cost players 2/3 the price of the title itself. While this is more a reflection of WB’s disingenuous business practices, it does not bode well for Rocksteady either, creating the image that they were more focused on profiting from the Batman name rather than releasing a high-quality (or even working) game.
Now, let’s examine for comparison’s sake CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The title also launched with a season pass, running players about thirty USD. Additionally, there were sixteen free DLC items to be released each week after the game’s release. Included in this free run were armors, weapons, and even fan-requested changes such as storage, an alternate movement option, and a New Game + mode. While free content is great and the developer’s thanks is appreciated, one can’t help but wonder if these items couldn’t have been released with the full game. It’s a shame that due to the current state of marketing, players cannot accurately assess a genuine action versus a manipulative one. However, due to CD Projekt Red’s history, I like to believe that their actions were of good intention. It would be unfair to not again take issue with the idea of a season pass. Unfortunately, they’re not going away as the measure of success in the industry is becoming more and more dependent on pre-sales.
However, in this case, the cost’s impact is seemingly mitigated by two factors. The Witcher 3 is a two hundred plus hour adventure that is unquestionably a shoe-in for Game of the Year. The point is that CD Projekt Red in no way cut or detracted from the game’s quality while bearing in mind any future DLC options. Secondly, Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine, the title’s two DLC’s, are less in the way of typical additional content, and more in the way of full-fledged expansions that add an additional thirty plus hours collectively to the base experience. The side-branching nature of the material also serves to indicate that it was indeed developed post finishing The Witcher 3 rather than severing it, repackaging it, and selling it later. The game is complete without the added content.
I write about these scenarios as it is an effective way to assess DLC, while seeing several truths emerge from the fallout (hey, that’s a fun game). The most important questions to ask about DLC are: “Does it add to the gaming experience rather than fill an incomplete whole,” and, obviously, “Is it worth it?” While the Arkham Knight scenarios arguably did add something to the title, they completely failed to be worthwhile at their absurd price tags. In contrast, CD Projekt Red not only gave gamers new content to enjoy after they likely finished the base game, but also gave them more value for their dollar than most games ever do.
Additionally, there is something to be said about the length of time between initial release and DLC release. If there’s Day One DLC, you can almost assuredly assume that it is in fact disc-locked content. It’s a catch-22 regarding the price of those as well. If you charge for it, you’re robbing the customer, and if you give it away, you’re acting out fake generosity by giving fans what they already paid for. This is my worry with The Witcher 3‘s free DLC.
In the same respect, abolish the season pass. Simply make the game, and make it well. Should the developer create a meaningful expansion to the title later, the gamer can assess the situation and buy accordingly based on its own reviews of length, quality, and cost. The double-dipping and capitalizing on preorder hype is disingenuous to gamers, and we all lose as a result. Some developers at the very least price the season pass lower than the collective planned price of all the content. However, it still feels as though we need to make developers earn each profit rather than hand it over blindly. That being said, gamers are also share responsibility in regards to being smarter with their purchases. Our only vote is with our wallets. DLC can make great games even better, or they can be terrible wastes of resources should we blindly buy every season pass before the content is even created. We simply need to vote on a case by case basis, rather than being either lethargic or vitriolic in all of our opinions.