Downloadable Content has been a large part of the business model of many gaming releases in the industry for a while now and contributes to a shorter release window in the development of a variety of games. Role Playing Games, Fighting Games, MMOs, Strategy and even Puzzle games have had DLC releases in recent years; yet not all DLC is created equal. Here is a rundown of terrible DLC practices and what developers could do in order to avoid these problems.
Paying for a single character
If I am playing a fighting game, or even an RPG; I may very well want to experience and enjoy an entire cast of characters with a variety of skill-sets. If a developer releases a character as DLC, I’m not going to feel great about spending $5 or even $10 dollars on a single character that won’t realistically have an impact on the game’s plotline, or may even simply be less effective than characters I have learned to use in skillful ways.
Character Packs, like the ones used in Mortal Kombat X, are a great alternative to the single character payout; as buying multiple characters for $10 is a much better deal than paying $5 for a single combatant.
Underpowered Pre-Order Bonuses or Side Content
I often pre-order games to get the extra content that many games offer if you buy the game before its release date. Sadly many pre-order weapons and armor are only useful in the early game, making them somewhat useless during long-term play. While this encourages you to experiment and use other armor and weapons given to you in the game, it makes me feel as though my early purchase was an unnecessary expense as I am not satisfied with the usefulness of my investment.
Dragon Age: Inquisition did their pre-order bonuses in a very useful way, as you were given the blueprint to the pre-order bonus gear in an early level form, as well as one for higher levels so that if you wanted to rebuild a higher level version of the armor and weapons you could easily do so. This was a great alternative for those players who might not want to use the same armor for an entire playthrough, but it also gave an option to those of us who invested in the equipment and WANTED to use it in a long term way without sacrificing overall combat effectiveness.
Overpowered DLC Characters
A great example of this is the Hyperdimension Neptunia series, which has a variety of characters that can be purchased as DLC (at a reasonable price.) These characters are more powerful than the main characters in the game and defeat the purpose of having the main party members in your party, encouraging you to swap out characters like Compa and IF in exchange for the more overpowered DLC characters. This is made more troubling by the fact that the DLC characters in the Neptunia games don’t necessarily have a bearing on the plotlines of the games making it feel as though you are moving through the main storyline with your main heroes in the back seat.
Revamp the entire cast of characters and rebalance them so that the DLC characters are appealing but not overpowered. Another great option is to add some story content with the DLC characters as well (which I have seen in a few games over the past year or two like the Disgaea franchise) which may add side levels or content that tell how each DLC character fits into the overall narrative of the game’s plotline.
Short/Disconnected Story DLC
A good Story DLC has to at least reference elements of the story it is building on; whether that means it references lore of the world, past characters, or even simply just referencing “Hey, remember when you did that thing? Here are some consequences.” When a DLC refuses to acknowledge the source material, or simply just doesn’t last very long; it tends to make gamers rather upset at paying so much for so little.
An example of this is the commonly used “Arena DLC” where games offer DLC in the form of an arena where the player can either face off against already defeated enemies or bosses, or can face off with other players in a shoddy attempt at adding a multiplayer element to the game. While these DLC options can be fun to some, most people would rather sink their teeth into more content like what they fell in love with.
Take a page out of Obsidian Entertainment’s Book. The White March Expansion Part 1 and Part 2 for Pillars of Eternity not only added 40 hours of extra content but also added enhancements to the overall game and new mechanics as well.
Purely Cosmetic DLC
Before I dive into this I know what you are thinking “Some people can afford to pay for Cosmetic DLC! Some people want Cosmetic DLC!” and believe me, I understand where you are coming from, but let’s stop for a minute and think about something. It would be just as simple to add the costumes, cosmetic skins, hair, weapons skins and whatever else into other DLC Packs, or even make them an optional purchase with an alternative of finding them out in the world or saving up tons of in-game currency to purchase them in a different way. I despise being forced to pay for a pack that may only contain one or two cosmetic items that I would use (I’m looking at you Saints Row Franchise.)
If you really and truly think about it, a decade ago these costumes would have been free, unlockable with cheat codes or collecting all of some magical item in a game. They would have been hidden, but that was part of the fun of what is now considered retro gaming, as we could find all sorts of secrets, like the unlockable costumes for Lara Croft in the earlier games of the Tomb Raider Franchise (pre-reboot of course).
Marvel Heroes (the MMO-ish game) approaches this in a brilliant sort of way. You can easily purchase the costumes for your characters if you want with real money; however these costumes are also available in the world if you want to grind for them long enough. There are also forms of special currency that drop off of enemies in the form of “eternity splinters” which can be saved up and used to purchase characters, costumes, cosmetic pets, and all sorts of other goodies.
There are plenty of other terrible DLC practices in the gaming industry and the Downloadable Content market but for now, these are some of the most glaring ones that are blatantly affecting video games today.