Point / Counterpoint: Is DLC a Good Thing?

I contribute to a site that writes about gaming, so it seems obvious that I play a lot of games.  As such, I’ve been exposed to more than my fair share of DLC.  In general, I’m not a fan.  Not all DLC is created equal, and while some DLC certainly expands on a game in some meaningful ways, most DLC simply leaves me feeling ripped off.

DLC feels hollow.

Skyrim is one of my favorite games of the last generation, and maybe of all time.  I own all three DLC packs for that game, and have them all.  The Skyrim DLC represents to me the best implementation of DLC I’ve ever played.  It adds new story, quests, gameplay mechanics, and gear, and all of that can be used in accomplishing the main quest, assuming you haven’t already finished it.

All that praise aside, that DLC still has some major issues.  First off, the story lines that it adds to the game never quite fit into the epic narrative of the main story.  When the main quest involves saving the entire world from an ancient dragon, it’s hard to make other confrontations feel as epic.  Secondly, Skyrim proper was released without the DLC, so the game is completely playable without any of that extra gear or levels you might gain the DLC.  Becoming a vampire might be cool, but it doesn’t feel necessary.  This makes the DLC feel hollow, like you’re just playing extra content for no real reason.

But it gets a lot worse.

The bigger problem here is that most DLC is actually a lot worse than what Skyrim offers.  For all of my issues with the Skyrim DLC, it’s leaps and bounds ahead of most of the other offerings out there.  Most other games present  players with DLC side missions completely separate from the main game, items that trivialize gameplay, or cosmetic updates that do absolutely nothing.  Some DLC can even cheapen a game’s overall experience.  For example, The Last of Us will be releasing some DLC soon wherein you’ll play as Ellie before the events of the game, fleshing out her backstory.  Honestly, I don’t want that.  The story in The Last of Us stands on its own perfectly,  and I can’t see a reason change a thing.  I won’t be playing that DLC, and it irks me that there is talent at Naughty Dog working on it instead of working on something else.

It drains your pockets.

In these point / counterpoint articles, I’ve begun to notice a trend in my own writing.  I mention money a lot.  It’s important to me.  I’m an adult gamer, on a budget.  I have a mortgage, a car payment, and all the bills that adults have.  When it comes to my favorite hobby, I have to be choosey about what I spend my money on, so when I see DLC that is very sup-bar, even in really good games, it’s hard to justify dropping money on it instead of saving for the next great release.

More than anything, the problem that I have with DLC — and the problem I think DLC has struggled with since its inception — is that people feel gouged by it.  When I plop down $60 for a brand new game, I want to believe that what I’m paying for is 100% of the effort of the development team, not 80%, with the other 20% costing me another $10 later.  What’s even more upsetting is this trend of “Day One DLC”.  Really?  Day one DLC?  So you’re telling me is that you worked on this stuff whilst working on the main game, decided not to include it, and then charged me extra for it on the same day I bought your game?  No thanks, I’ll pass.  In fact, to some degree that makes me not want to buy a game at all.

An idea for the industry.

As a final aside, I think the industry as a whole should take a page from Telltale Games.  DLC feels out of place because it’s tacked on to an already finished game.  Why not take the DLC, weave it into the main game, and release the game episodically, like Telltale does.  I honestly don’t see a reason why a game like Skyrim couldn’t have been released in several parts over the course of a year.  You could still allow players to continue leveling up, and give them plenty of side quests and dungeons to explore while they wait for the next episode, but have each episode push the main story forward.  That way, each part feels important, since the main plot thread hasn’t yet been resolved.