Downloadable Content is the Anakin Skywalker of video gaming. A small addition which was meant to make things even better, but instead destroyed the good we already had.
Light sabers and X-Wings are okay, but what Star Wars really needs is an annoying kid!
It should have been great. If you like a game, pay for more game! That is exactly what the entire video game industry is for. For the gamers. Unfortunately the industry only heard the word “pay” and the rest was just the noise of a cash register opening and closing. Potential awesomeness hasn’t been so crippled by beancounting since an accountant decided that monster trucks would be cheaper with regular sized tyres. The idea of DLC has been destroyed so thoroughly it’s actively ruining the original games. They couldn’t screw you harder for money without legalizing sex work.
The first few attempts at DLC were disasters, but were forgiven as early mistakes. Which was like saying “it’s just the wind” at the start of a horror movie. In 2006 the true intentions of DLC were heralded by “horse armor”. Bethesda’s Oblivion was a giant open-ended role-playing game. Bethesda’s horse armor was an insult they wanted you to pay for. The content was a virtual paint job for a fake horse, and just to make sure they were calling you stupid, the horse armor didn’t even armor your horse. It just changed its color and cost $2.50.
This was massively, publicly mocked and very quickly undone, and certainly not still available for sale right now. Because that would mean we were all stupid. Bethesda backed off and started offering updates which actually included gameplay, but people should have stayed suspicious. That offer wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t accidentally released by an intern wackily slipping on a banana peel and hitting the keyboard. That was a precisely calculated mercenary raid to find out much shit the players would put up with. And the answer was “more than the New York sewer system”.
Since then we’ve suffered through more ridiculous offers than Jack taking his cow to the market. You can now pay to level up your character (instead of playing the game), to start the game with better weapons (because screw difficulty curves), or even to paint your gun a different color (because setting fire to your own money is too much effort). You can spend real money on fake game money, or magical ingredients, or even for clothes for your Xbox icon. It’s like someone is trying to make “exchanging cash for goods” divide by zero.
Why did DLC go so badly wrong?
The problem is that while games are worlds of wonderful fantasy, game production is a world of brutal reality. Making video games is the exact opposite of playing them. The company spends all its time working and worrying money and doing all the things we play games to forget about. Putting in extra effort for less money simply doesn’t make sense for them, and the result is even worse than horse armor. Because at least horse armor required extra effort from the developers. And companies decided that extra effort was too much effort.
The result is a video game Hannibal Lecter: they chop chunks off their own game and then feed it to itself through its own online store. Instead of creating extra content for the games, companies mercenarily dismember them and holding what’s left hostage for money. If a character did that inside the game, they’d be the bad guy. It’d be your job to hunt them down and quicktime their face off. Outside the game you just give them more money.
The most obvious example is “Day One DLC” , content available to buy on launch day, and a stupider oxymoron than a cow trying to out-think a sausage-making machine face-first. Because it’s also shredded and sold for cash. Day One DLC is by definition ready at the same time as the game, aka it was part of the game. Often it’s already on the disc you just paid for, but you have to pay more to play that bit. Some companies explain that it makes sense to develop the bonus material in parallel with the main game, how it’s an optional purchase, how it offers levels of experience, and various other things that are also calling you a moron and hoping you fall for it.
You could believe that the development team worked extra-hard just before game launch, in the same way you could believe in Santa Claus: you’re gullible and it’s a scam to make people pay for toys. In the weeks before release a development team couldn’t work harder if they were downloaded into titanium robot bodies. The result is games getting smaller and more expensive as larger chunks are carved off and charged separately.
The worst example of this was Street Fighter x Tekken. Capcom proved that they equate “how beloved a franchise is” with “how much we can rip these suckers off”. The last thing to pull itself to pieces so hard for money was LEGO. Capcom have long experience with ripping people off for minor updates. They were making DLC before that was even a thing. Street Fighter II Turbo was a minor character updated released for the price of a full game. So was Super Street Fighter II. So was every Street Fighter which didn’t have a new number or Greek letter in its name. Which may explain why they’re being such pricks about more recent DLC – they’re annoyed that they can’t charge the price of a full game for it like they used to. (Or, in the case of Dead Rising 2: Off The Record, still do.)
Hey, you liked Dead Rising 2? Why not pay for it again! Now starring a slightly different sprite, Frank West, as cosplayed by Jason Statham!
In a game where people have mastered every form of combat known to man, the game itself chose “nagging”. It’s impossible to get through a single menu without being harangued for paid updates. You had to pay for extra characters, for extra costumes, for extra gems to boost your character, everything. You used to be able to choose different colors, but in this game they even stole different colors to make more money. That is the exact plot of a My Little Pony villain. And that still wasn’t their most ludicrously villainous crime.
This one was so stupid they backed off and made colors free, but you still need to go to the store to get each set. Consider it a pilgrimage to how stupid they think you are.
They added Day One DLC which you couldn’t buy on Day One. Eight extra characters were imprisoned on the disc, and you weren’t even allowed to buy them until the PS Vita version of the game got them first. The PS Vita version which didn’t even exist yet, and wouldn’t for several months. They screwed up your money-making scheme so hard that buyers aren’t even allowed to give you money. Delaying characters for the handheld version of an arcade fighter is launched like delaying a spaceship until the pilot’s kid finishing learning to pee standing up.
These weren’t minor bonus characters like Birdie or Gon. These were series staples like Blanka and Bryan Fury. If you don’t play those games, imagine buying a tuxedo and walking out of the store, only to find your crotch flapping in the breeze because groins are an optional extra. Then not being allowed to buy the missing bits.
Look like fun? Then wait half a year and pay twice!
Capcom actually made players hold out their money, begging for permission to buy characters who were already part of the game in the first place. That’s not even training a dog, that’s how you train a sado-masochistic submissive dog that you hate. When you’re refusing to even let people give you money to play your game, you may have forgotten what your job is.
Companies aren’t just getting away with this, they’re shoveling out so much crap that they can offer the ultimate scam, the “Season Pass”. This is where you pay money now and just hope that the company will make content worth it later.
DLC makes so much money many companies don’t bother to charge for the game any more. A horde of “Free 2 Lose” infest the internet, lazy flash disasters which claim to be “Free 2 Play”, but
a) the usual exchange rate is three days of play to earn the same rewards as one dollar
b) those rewards are “this grey box turns red, but you need another week or two dollars to turn it green”
c) people actually play this
d) depression with the state of humanity.
It’s a perfect reversal of the capitalist dream, where you pay more to make things better. Because someone has already combined the above to make things even worse. Dead Space 3 is a big-budget sequel to an established franchise. And no franchise has undergone so much brutal slaughter since Hellraiser. And just like Hellraiser, the original was destroyed by sequels made only for the money. As well as turning an atmospheric survival horror into a co-op buddy cover shooter, DS3 is a big-budget game which wants you to pay for weapons. The word is “microtransactions”, and you should treat that word like garlic at a vampire dentist’s.
Hold on, I’m getting my credit card!
You’ve already paid for the game, and now you have three energy bars as you fight the battles: your health, your ammunition, and your bank balance. Even Pokemon never directly connected your credit card to the outcome of the fights.
This is inevitable. People have already paid for these powerups, and a corporation’s job is to make money, not feel bad about how stupid their customers have gotten. But like any giant evil boss, their new weapon also has a fatal weakness. These DLC donations to the executive bank balance assume an always-on internet connection. And that same connection allows you to pay companies which don’t even have executives.
For less than the price of the Gears of War color schemes, you can buy the most beautiful role playing game of the last decade. For less than a single Street Fighter’s alternate costumes, you can explore an entire galaxy of interstellar combat. We’ll always buy the big games, because they’re rather a lot of fun. But the next time you’ve offered the chance to give a corporation free money, remember that you can buy an entire game instead. A game that remembers that you’ve already paid for it, and that you don’t want to be reminded of real money while you’re playing.