Downloadable Content, DLC for short, has absolutely exploded onto the gaming scene over the past two years. Prior to this, with the exception of serious extra content in a few major titles and the bi-monthly Call of Duty Map pack, the DLC world was a desolate void, populated mostly by half-baked novelty games that weren’t really worth your time. Not to say they were all bad; some games from that fledgling DLC era were great and paved the way for this generation of fresh, exciting content that’s constantly available to anyone with an Internet connection. But how did we get here?
It all really started with expansion packs for existing PC games. Traditionally, expansions had been released on disc and purchased at your local retailer. While this method obviously worked, it only delivered the content to the hardcore players of the select games fan base, and wasn’t readily available to all gamers.
With the integration of multiplayer gaming services becoming more and more widespread, online console services (Xbox LIVE, PSN, etc.) became powerful platforms for releasing content, thus DLC was born. Now, just for being a member of these services, you get access to loads of extra content any time you’d like, day or night.
The landscape of gaming has now been changed forever, and for the better. These days, when you buy that shiny new game, you can expect not only the epic experience you bought it for, but even more down the road! Expanded adventures in our favorite game worlds have become commonplace, and it’s now expected that our games will eventually be expanded with new content. It seems to be the standard rather than the exception, and a triple-A game just simply cannot remain competitive in this entertainment medium without DLC.
There are those, however, who believe that all DLC should be included in the purchase price of the game when you buy it on disc. Seriously?
The first thing to keep in mind about these companies is this single undeniable truth: They create games to make money. No other reason. If we don’t pay, developers have no motivation to provide additional content. So why would they?
So let’s keep the complaining to a minimum on this; we’re better than that. If you want it, buy it. If you don’t, then pass on it. But don’t rant and rave about how you had to pay for some day-one DLC in Mass Effect 3, because frankly, nobody cares. (And that effin’ Prothean was awesome.)
Making the leap from disc expansions to purely digital expansions seems to have been the easy part. Now, the focus is shifting from add-on content to entirely new, digital game delivery via the DLC platforms. An obvious example of the success of this new direction is Telltale’s The Walking Dead, which garnered critical acclaim and finished the year by winning Game of the Year at SPIKE TV’s VGAs (not to mention our own Cody Awards). This lends a ton of weight to the DLC delivery system, showing that these games can be wildly successful despite not having huge development budgets or marketing campaigns.
So are we on the verge of totally digital consoles? Is the disc-based game on its way out the proverbial door?
In a word, no. I believe we are still at least two console generations away from going entirely digital. There are a multitude of reasons this is true, but the biggest is that going 100% digital alienates retailers. There is simply not enough money to be made by retailers for them to sell an all digital system. Not to mention that if a platform went digital, it would instantly alienate a large portion of their target demographic, simultaneously handing their competitor an enormous edge in the marketplace. In short, this would be console suicide, not to mention immensely idiotic. At least for the time being.
Plus, there is just something about holding that new game in your hand, just having purchased it, that digital content just can’t provide—a tangible sense of ownership, if you will. While it is inevitable that digital is the future, this is still a future that’s a little way off.
For now, I am content to purchase my new favorite titles in a store, download my DLC, and play it until my eyes bleed. (So much for moderation.) But maybe I will pick up some downloadable gems for a couple bucks on my digital outlet of choice, and when those games start to become the equal of their disc-based counterparts, perhaps I will be able to let go of my love for physical copies. Who knows?
Date: December 20, 2012