Everyone loved expansion packs ‘back in the day’ (we’re talking less than a decade ago). They offered extremely good value for money, essentially giving you an entirely new game to play. Take Rome: Total War; the Barbarian Invasion expansion pack breathed new life into the fantastic game with a whole set of completely new units and factions and a new campaign that played completely differently to the original one . Although not quite as content-rich out as the source game it was half the price and worth every penny. Expansion packs were the developers making what we would now call some games a sequel. They created a new set of rules, new character models but used the same engine and similar gameplay and groundwork as the original game. If a true sequel was to be made, it would introduce a whole new ground-up approach and the game would be very different from it’s former self.
Now, things have changed. Whereas before people found it acceptable to spend £15 on a fresh gaming experience in the past, people are happy to spend the same amount on a Call of Duty map pack that offers three ‘brand new’ maps with re-used assets and textures and two old maps that are left almost completely unchanged. Want to put some camo on your gun? Before, skilled players would be able to unlock skins for various objects and accessories. These had no real use, but showed other players that you were skilled/determined enough to unlock them. Now, you can pay extortionate prices to make your gun pink; for what?To show your opponent how much money you’ve got?
Now this is when people come in and say, ‘but games are more expensive now, it’s only fair’. This is true and in some cases a very fair argument. Gamers demand better and better looking and functioning games and the price to develop these games just become higher. More skilled programmers are needed, more artists, developers. Not to mention the price of the assets they are making. Low quality 3D models aren’t cheap to make; let alone high quality models. If a game has been made, it’s good quality and it is worthy of DLC, that’s fine. Develop some DLC using assets you already have, arrange them in a funky way and add an optional experience to the game, that’s fine. It would be nice to be fairly priced but if it’s optional I don’t mind. It’s when parts of the game are taken out and ‘saved’ for DLC further down the pipeline I begin to question the publishers business model.
A famous (infamous) example of DLC gone bad is Destiny. Destiny has a great premise and should be good. It could have been a great game with regular expansions and updates which makes the game not require a sequel as it keeps giving out fresh content, like an MMO. In fact, this was actually supposed to be the whole point but the price point and business morals were/are so wrong, it failed tremendously. For starters, the raw game is bare-bones to say the least. The story is rough, which would be acceptable if there was content to back it up… but there isn’t. This would be absolutely fine if the game was priced at £20. Instead, it was (and still is) priced at £40 upwards for essentially an empty hub which must be filled with expansions to make the investment worth while. This, to a degree, is OK. The entrance fee was high, but now there’s going to be great, frequent support with lots of fairly priced DLC, right? Wrong. The first expansion, The Dark Below, was a monstrosity. The content had great backlash before release due to a bug in the game that hinted that the new DLC was created before the game’s release. Then, when the ‘Expansion pack’ was released it was small on content with little new assets and no new planet. Priced at £20, it is one of the biggest rip-off in the history of gaming. Not only that, the US got the pack for $20- that’s £12.
Then there’s Season Passes, possibly one of the ugliest gaming trends of recent times. Nothing takes away the excitement of a new game knowing that you’ve paid more than £20 extra for content that should have been in the game originally. Not only that, you’ll have to wait a year for it all to come out, by which point you’ve moved on from the game. When the DLC does come around it is short, tasteless and dull, offering more of the same gameplay that you’ve already experienced. Nothing takes you out of a game more than eagerly hoping that the game was worth all the money you paid and having a deep feeling inside you that you need to get your money’s worth when you know that you won’t. Speaking of which: micro transactions. Typically, these little runts are found in the mobile games industry. You get a game for free, you pay for little things with little money. These games make their money on constant wallet dippers, the ones who pay £50 for more lives in Candy Crush. These games are not aimed at being immersive, so I can deal with the constant punishment of being waved carrots in front of my face behind a pay wall. But when I pay £45 for a solid, AAA console game- I expect an Ad-free, immersive experience. However, booting up Mortal Kombat X will defy this common logic, and spit overpriced new characters and unlockables that can be fast-tracked for cash. No, no, no! It would seem the mobile games industry’s micro-transactions are beginning to slither into the world of immersive, paid video game experiences. So I beg the question, why are we paying full whack for these titles?
Some Expansions and DLC have managed to avoid this plague. Red Dead Redemption, for example. I wouldn’t expect any different from Rockstar; who are known for their generosity and authenticity in-game making. The Undead Nightmare expansion is one of the best expansion packs ever. It took the world of Red Dead Redemption and changed it into an entirely new game with very different mechanics, weapons and even turning it into a pseudo-survival game. There was a completely new and fleshed out (pardon the pun) zombie story and a decent handful of secrets to find. All the animals turned to zombies too, inspiring you to go out and hunt all the animals once again. It even added several new online game modes. In fact, the expansion was so full, it spawned an independent Blu-Ray release. Then more recently is Mario Kart 8’s generous DLC, giving you 8 new characters, several new karts and 16 more tracks (that’s essentially 50% of a Mario Kart game added on) for less than a third of the game’s price. Astonishing. Not only that, the each track was lovingly created with effort gone into bringing characters and tracks from other Nintendo games and even remixing their respective themes for the tracks. This is what DLC is for: offering extra content that is special from the core game. Zelda, Animal Crossing, Excitebike and 2 F-Zero track’s are special and would have been worth the £11 alone, without the other 11 tracks, characters and karts. These aren’t the only examples either, and they are testament to what game expansions can be.
The current trend of DLC is out of control and is ruining the childhood magic of games. I do not want to be given the burden of actual money when I’m playing the Elder Scrolls VI. I want to be fighting demons, knights, plundering strongholds. I want a full roster of fighters available on disc when I play Street Fighter V. I want to be immersed and enjoy my game that I have pre-ordered, hyped and purchased. I want to marvel in the value and power of my new console, not be littered with adverts, add-ons and new skins. DLC should and can be a great thing. It is supposed to replace the days of having to go to your local game shop and get an expansion pack on a throw-away disc. It is supposed to encourage developers to support the games that they have spent so much time on, instead of rushing ahead to go and make a sequel when they can recharge and let a good game prosper. Instead they (the publishers) are throttling us with unfinished games that have needless DLC and then a sequel which doesn’t bring much to the table.
The games I have described above prove that AAA games don’t need to be in your face and overpriced so that the developers can turn a profit. That is the main argument for defenders of this pricing strategy, after all. Yes, I understand that games aren’t cheap to make these days. But nor are AAA films, and the price I pay for a cinema ticket has remained the same for years. Sure, the cinema may aggressively try to serve you popcorn, but it doesn’t detract from the experience of the film. Can you imagine going to the cinema and having to pay extra to see the entire film? Naturally, the two industries are very different and yet video games are becoming more and more important in every day life, like films. Videogames will one day catch up to the long running film industry, and we’ll all be asking the same question: “Why is the Batman game ten times more expensive than the film?”
So I am proposing this: DLC (as it stands) is killing the industry. There is only so much I can tolerate, and whilst Nintendo is bringing out quality games with fair DLC, I still want my 3rd party blockbusters. The same can be said for indie games; they are fantastic and often beautiful, but I love to indulge in big fat AAA games once in a while. Why should I have to feel like a bag of money? My opinion may sound very doom and gloom: it is. Whilst there are still plenty of great games that don’t ask for unfair DLC, more and more games are slowly going down that route. I don’t want to see that. Even if If I am made to pay more for my ‘base’ games, I’ll bite my tongue and enjoy that game- as long as it is pure and without constant reminders of real world cash. The poor-quality and expensive DLC needs to stop for the industry to continue thriving. There will never be a video game crash again, the industry is too big for that now, but it is entirely possible for games to lose the spark they used to have.