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[Editorial] The History of DLC and Its Hold On Video Gaming

Downloadable Content or DLC has become the route for which all popular (and some Indie) games have taken to further the life of their product. The biggest impact that this poses for gamers is that the “complete” experience ends up costing upwards of $100 or more. Of course, later in the life of the console a “Game of the Year” edition may be sold and with it all of the DLC that was given as a pre-order bonus or not. Just recently have gamers been greeted with the “HD Remaster” or “HD Collection”, which is essentially a game (or games) with updated graphics for the newer console. Both of these SKUs seem like thinly veiled cash grabs by both the developers and the publishers.

In the heydays of video games we were given the option to purchase “Expansion Packs” in physical form or simply wait for the sequel. Now, games like Mass Effect are given whole new endings in DLC form. We have entered an era where you don’t get the full experience from the product you purchased without several (sometimes expensive) add-ons to the original. The practice of adding onto a video games has its roots in the PC arena. Games like The Sims, Half-Life, and Diablo had expansion packs that sold at the same pace as their counterpart. In the console arena, the first games to require a separate disc or cartridges to expand the experience were Sonic & Knuckles and Grand Theft Auto: London, 1969.

With the popularity of online services like Playstation Network and XBOX Live, a whole stream of DLC content has begun to take root in the console side of the spectrum. Steam, Origin, and GoG all offer DLC for PC games as well. Since an extremely large number of console games can be found on PC, this creates an even bigger cashout for the publishers of these game franchises. Now if you want the full experience on the game on all forms, you have to buy sometimes 2-3 copies of the DLC to go with the game. Unless of course you buy the “Game of the Year Edition” or something similar. But you’d have to wait at least a year and a half in order to experience everything that was released for one game.

In its defense however, it is pleasing sometimes to see that these companies don’t give up on a franchise that may have a limited number of fans. The fans will eat the DLC up in order to continue playing the game in which they’ve probably beaten ten times or more. A shorter wait time than a full-fledged sequel keeps the game fresh in everyone’s mind. That way when a sequel is released, it feels as though no time has passed between the first game and the next. There has to be some sort of give by the publishers however in order to make DLC seem like more of a bargain and less of an evil. Even with “Season Passes” for games, you are still expected to spend $20+ for the DLC to a $60+ game. Perhaps offering some content for free instead of as a perk for preordering the game would help. Even offering the first couple episodic packs for free would be a relief. Those suggestions seem like pipe dreams however when aligned with what the bottom line of the publishers really is, money.