Objection! – The State of DLC in Today’s Gaming Industry

Laevatein: Hey everyone, this is Laevatein and Kaushik bringing you another heated debate! This week, we’ll be discussing DLC’s (also known as downloadable content) role in the game industry.

Kaushik: So Laevatein, how do you feel about the state of DLC in today’s gaming industry?

Laevatein: Well, at first I thought it was a pretty neat idea, but I think several factors have forced DLC to become a necessary evil for many.

DLC horse armor

Kaushik: A necessary evil? What do you mean? I think DLC has been a very positive force in the gaming industry thus far.

Laevatein: I think DLC has become way too ubiquitous. It’s become impossible to sell a game without needing the revenue that comes from DLC, so much so that it has affected many aspects of not only development, but design and philosophy as well.

Kaushik: I don’t think all games are using DLC now, but you’re right that many of the top titles have begun to offer DLC. But even so, what’s wrong with that? The core content of a title remains unchanged, so what’s the problem with developers offering extra content for a price?

Laevatein: You say that the core content of a title remains unchanged, but I feel you’re only looking at a very recent time span. If you compare the content of games nowadays to games from a while back, I think you’d find games had more content, and essentially lasted longer, as a result. I don’t mind developers offering extra content for a price though, but I liked how expansions did it instead.

Kaushik: What are you defining as “a while back”? Obviously if you compare a title like Super Mario Bros. 1 to Borderlands 2, the amount of content is undeniably in Borderlands’ favor.

Laevatein: Let’s say before 2006? I can argue the other way though: the amount of content in Baldur’s Gate 2 absolutely dwarfs the amount of content in Dragon Age: Origins, for example.

Kaushik: I think it’s fallacious to compare something vague like “amount of content”. Different developers have different standards for what they want to put in games. And what people enjoy to play and have fun with can be different. I can see someone enjoying Baldur’s Gate 2 less than Dragon Age: Origins, easily.

Laevatein: But I’m not talking about amount of content or enjoyment, I’m arguing something more abstract; that games back then were built to be more “complete”, whereas nowadays games are built with the expectation that they’re going to be extended. To a point where it’s very hard to develop a game that’s considered complete nowadays.

Kaushik: Yeah, that’s exactly what I mean. It’s impossible to consider a game more “complete” or have more “content” because you don’t have any strict guidelines for what you’re talking about. You can’t draw any direct comparison since I don’t know what you’re actually comparing.

Laevatein: I’m looking at it from the developer’s side. Would it be hard to imagine that developers had to make a game that’s complete pre-2006, whereas now they think about how they can add bits and pieces to it?

Kaushik: I’m arguing that games are no less “complete” now. I’ve gotten full and enjoyable experiences from games I’ve played with and without DLC content.

Laevatein: That’s all very subjective however. In one scenario, the pre-2006 one, developers couldn’t even think about extending their games. You had very few options, expansions (if you were making games for the PC), or the Stellaview stuff, but that was Japan only.

Nowadays? You can make DLC, which is incredibly easy to deliver to consumers now. It’s not hard at all to imagine that, since developers have an easier way to extend their games, they’re more likely to make them incomplete.

The Good.

The Good.

Kaushik: I can’t agree with that. Even pre-2006 a lot of games had things like “expansion packs” and even sequels. If a developer wanted to short-change their customers by putting less content in a game, that option was still technically available to them. I agree that it may be easier now, but I can’t argue what each developer is intending, since I don’t know.

I suppose what this boils down to is a “pessimistic look” where you believe every developer is out to get you and your money, and will try to produce less content for you because they just want your money. Or the “optimistic” look, where you believe that developers are trying to provide games to the consumer, and they offer you extra optional content that you could or could not buy.

Laevatein: I don’t think that’s it at all. I’ll readily admit that the amount of content in an NES title, for instance, is smaller than the amount of content in a modern title. And you’re right that developers could easily cut content in older games. The feeling of “completeness” I’m talking about is more abstract than I think the feeling you’re talking about. And when I mentioned that the option was there, I was taking a probabilistic stance.

If developers have the option to do something, some will take advantage, and some will not. What I will argue is that, since the option is more readily there, the number of developers who wouldn’t have. So let me get back to why I think it’s a necessary evil. Many aspects of game development have become very bloated, I’m sure you’ll agree, whether it’s the average game budget, or the average development team size.

You need a model like DLC to accompany all that, as DLC won’t need as many assets as a full game, but will get you some decent revenue. DLC is also needed to accommodate very large development teams who “won’t be doing any work after their parts are done, and would likely be laid off in large parts otherwise.” It’s become increasingly clear to me over the years that DLC is something you just can’t get rid of anymore. DLC is here to stay.

Kaushik: Yeah, and I don’t have any problem with that. I think DLC is just another choice in gaming, and when I find DLC I like, I’ll get it. Otherwise, I won’t. As a consumer, that’s all I can do. As for the state of game development and increasing budgets, I think you’re right that many titles are adopting a game model that involves selling DLC. There’s nothing wrong with that either. If people are buying them, what’s wrong with a developer issuing the product?

Laevatein: I only think it’s a problem because developers are beholden to DLC now. The whole DLC model seems very volatile to me.

Kaushik: Volatile in what sense?

Laevatein: Well would you agree that the industry is in a massive state of transition, or that we’re approaching one, at the very least?

Kaushik: I feel like over the past five or six years the industry has been changing in a lot of ways, very quickly. DLC is just another one of those changes, though admittedly a very big one.

Laevatein: Well, I was thinking of the new generation of consoles.

Kaushik: Oh, well.. Yes. A new generation of consoles is approaching (already here in the Wii U’s case). What about it?

Laevatein: Well, I don’t know if DLC is very well equipped for the next generation. I think with all the weird social and content delivery mechanisms, DLC will see some massive shaking up. Yet it seems publishers think everything is fine and dandy with DLC. Now I only think it’s a problem because DLC has become so ubiquitous, and I kind of expect the model to blow up at some point in the next generation…

Kaushik: Why would DLC be incompatible with the upcoming gaming generation?

Laevatein: Do you remember that mechanism where the PS4 will download games it thinks you’re interested in?

The Bad

The Bad.

Kaushik: No, but go on.

Laevatein: Oh. Well, there’s a mechanism that does that, right? Even before you buy the game. I can see it being a logistical nightmare to factor in DLC.

Kaushik: So it would download the game before you purchased it? What’s that feature called?

Laevatein: Based on what it thinks you’re interested in, yes.

Kaushik: That seems problematic for many reasons. For example, if you have a console with a lower memory size or something. Additionally it could eat up a lot of bandwidth, etc., etc.

Laevatein: That’s not the issue here.

Kaushik: I don’t see how that feature would clash with DLC.

Laevatein: At any rate, it seems for a massive part of game delivery, DLC is in a very weird state of flux.

Kaushik: DLC is optional, so if it downloads the game for you and you like it, and thus purchase it, afterwards you might consider buying DLC.

Laevatein: I don’t know, that seems like a really iffy assumption.

Kaushik: I’m not understanding why this system would cause problems with DLC, though.

Laevatein: I suppose that feature wasn’t the best example. I guess I’m just not getting a clear sense of how the next generation is going to support DLC. I’ve gotten a pretty good idea of how games will work, but DLC? I can’t begin to say I know what’s going to happen to DLC. And for such a large part of content delivery, that’s a little scary.

The "How The Fuck Do They Make So Much Money From This?"

The “How The Fuck Do They Make So Much Money From This?” Example

Kaushik: Well, I know that there’s going to be a greater shift to digital distribution systems in the future. The Wii U is already heading that way, and the PS4 confirmed a lot of support for digital distribution. Those methods of game distribution have no problem with current DLC setups, so I don’t really have any concerns about it in the future.

Laevatein: To me though, it seemed as if everyone figures DLC will be a natural fit for sure. Like they’re taking it for granted. I suppose I’m just being paranoid though.

Kaushik: I don’t know if I’m taking it for granted, but I don’t foresee any problems for it, and I guess everyone else feels the same way. But who knows, maybe you’re right about the worrying state of DLC in the future.

Laevatein: I suppose all I can do is worry.

Kaushik: Haha. Well, that concludes another episode of Objection! Make sure to catch us next week for another heated debate!

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I write about anime and stuff. Giant robots are pretty cool, too.


I write about anime and stuff. Giant robots are pretty cool, too.


  1. All gaming companies are greedy for some extra cash so it's no surprise they'll entice suckers into forking over some more dough for visually unnecessary additions. Sadly, it is as you mentioned in your introduction, a necessary evil. Curse you gaming companies for constantly teasing me with downloadable bonus characters and bikini costumes, that are not free!

  2. Pingback: Pikmin 3 DLC Available Now | Moar Powah!

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