Monday, March 19, 2012

A discussion about DLC and its very nature


Downloadable content, along with digital distribution, is commonplace among contemporary gaming. Not only does it allow developers to fix issues with their game post-release, but it also gives gamers the ability to augment their experience with extra features and content, if they so choose. Great as it may be, what about flagrant issues that prevent a game from being completely playable? How much content do developers hold back, so as to put it on the marketplace at a later date? When do we say that enough is enough?

Ever since the launch of Microsoft's original Xbox, DLC has blossomed into essential material that every game must embrace. As a matter of fact, it's such a decisive feature that, upon release, some games that have yet to release any DLC already have a section of the marketplace dedicated to it. At the extreme opposite end of the spectrum, some games have DLC available on their release day, a sin that many gamers regard as unacceptable. And for good reason.


Hey, I'll totally help you up here for like, you know, five bucks.

Gaming isn't a cheap hobby. Whilst you can certainly wait for games to come down in price in sales or on the used market, it's still something that you dedicate ample time to and pay for with your hard earned money. That's why when a game releases and, on day one, it already has DLC available for purchase, gamers froth with anger. Shouldn't that DLC be contained within the game itself? Take Resident Evil 5 as an example; not long after launch, a multiplayer mode became available that was found to already be on the disk. Needless to say, no one was happy about that.

One can blame BioWare and their flagship Mass Effect 3 for the current resurgence in DLC hate. Following in Resi 5's shameful footsteps, ME3 will contain day-one DLC, entitled From Ashes, at a cost of $10 or 800 Microsoft Astral Credits. However, for those who are willing to fork over the extra cash for the N7 Collector's Edition (or Digital Deluxe Edition) the DLC will come at no additional cost. BioWare has already stated their reasoning for the day-one content, but that hasn't stopped people from outright boycotting the game entirely. Overzealous as it may seem, I still see where they're coming from.

Allow me a few humble words. We are gamers; we are not developers. As much as we may see and read about it on the internet, we don't know what it's like to build a game from scratch. We don't know the ins-and-outs of working with certain engines and other design protocol, and we don't work at an office where we answer to the producer at every waking moment. However, as the consumer, we cherish a quality product and when something is wrong, our voice is usually heard. There still isn't a amiable way of accepting an additional fee for content on top of what we just paid for, and I expect there never will be. On day one, I expect to have everything out of the box that's core to the game world in question. Sure, I might miss out on a multitude of space rifles, colourful armor and other transforming oddities of doom (since you can't pre-order everywhere), but special missions that actually contain an interactive, core character is not something I'd want to lose out on.


That's right, baby! This punch will finish you and... the game dropped. Cool.

Saying that, BioWare's decision to implement this day one DLC does trouble me somewhat. I'm incredibly excited about ME3, but I definitely won't be purchasing a different version of the game just so I can get that extra content. Acquiescing in this way lets the developer and distributor know that what they're doing is somewhat acceptable. It's something that I just can't do.

This whole debacle poses several other questions brought on by this console generation, including one that still pertains to Mass Effect; are developers purposely holding back core game content so as to sell it to us later? If we're using ME3 as an example, that answer would surely be a resounding yes. However, I don't feel that every developer takes advantage of the DLC system in this way. Take, for instance, Rockstar and their exquisite, high-quality DLC for Grand Theft Auto IV. It was a bit pricey, yes, but the content and effort put into The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony cannot be denied.

Other developers, like Mortal Kombat's NetherRealm Studios, use DLC in ways that were both accepted and not. NetherRealm provided excellent support for their game well past its launch day, with a slew of DLC and hot fixes to make the game as balanced as it possibly could be. Whilst that's a struggle in itself, NetherRealm did a commendable job and I wish other studios showed as much passion as they have. Unfortunately, NetherRealm also used DLC to cover up the brittle multiplayer infrastructure. If you had a chance to play MK online, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Constant input lag, match slowdown, dropped games, broken lobbies - everything a fighting game considers critical to a great experience was entirely screwed.


Think I can summon you to fight this crazy boar thing? The network is still down? You can't let me die to this thing!

Fun as it was, I hold errors like MK's high on my sin list, and that leads us directly into another argument; what's acceptable when flagrant errors prevent a game from being completely playable? DLC can help this matter as unforeseen circumstances arise; issues naturally happen. For this reason, DLC can be a boon to certain games. Even still, there's no denying the embarrassing amount of games that rely on DLC to correct post-release issues. LittleBigPlanet and SOCOM: Confrontation threw up several patches just to allow you to play correctly. Gears of War 2 has its own special place in hell for what it did to its players on launch day and several months after. The point is, DLC allows games like MK to release with the intention of fixing the problem later. Dark Souls, one of my favourite games of last year, released with completely broken multiplayer functionality. It took From Software months to come out with the necessary fixes and even then, there were some mechanics that just didn't work in the way that it was intended they should.

DLC isn't the end of all things; it's just the opposite. Developers may not be using the system in ways that we would like to see, but its flashes of brilliance make gaming today a thing of beauty. It'll take time to weed out the issues but we can do our part by voting with our wallets and voicing our opinions on official message boards about what we think is acceptable. I'll never come out and say that day one DLC is ever 'alright', but I will always take a working game over something that requires several thousand title updates.

What do you think about day-one DLC? Do you have issues with patches coming in late or requiring several for you to even play your game? Voice your opinions below!

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