As video games have evolved into one of the entertainment industry’s most successful brands, developers and publishers have sought to capitalize on this phenomenon by introducing and expanding the concept of “downloadable content.” Often taking the form of new story missions, multiplayer maps, or cosmetic items, this additional content can vary widely from money-grubbing cash grabs that simply prolong playing time to dedicated, finely crafted new approaches that truly expand the experience. We, as gamers, have often been quick to lap up this new content, as we cannot contain our excitement at the prospect of new content for our favorite games.
However, in recent years, the potential pitfalls of the DLC craze have become apparent, with companies taking advantage of consumer trust and loyalty to make a quick buck. Whether it was the controversial nature of Street Fighter X Tekken’s on-disc DLC, the expansion-drive nature of EA’s recent Sims titles, or the day-one Mass Effect 3 fiasco (in which a major character was held behind a paywall at launch), the practice of charging for extra content has now become an exercise in gauging consumer loyalty.
This is not to say that all iterations of downloadable content are guilty of this phenomenon. Indeed, there have been plenty of examples of finely crafted, appropriately priced new content that offer gamers some real bang for their buck. Even the aforementioned Mass Effect 3 contained a valuable form of additional content with its Citadel DLC. Developer Bioware made effective use of its resources, cramming hours of engaging content into one final add-on that provided longtime fans with more of the gameplay they loved as well as a heartwarming sendoff to the series’ beloved characters.
Just last year, Naughty Dog released a small, but incredibly deep expansion to their critically acclaimed apocalyptic title, The Last of Us. Left Behind provided fans with another interesting perspective into one of the game’s richest characters, Ellie; it also brought back the title’s brutal gameplay with an added sense of stealth and tension. World of Warcraft, no stranger to additional content, provides another excellent example of effective DLC. While the game only receives expansions every few years, they come packed with whole new areas to explore, quests to complete, and loot to obtain.
Indeed, Blizzard have shown themselves to be masters at maintaining consumer interest through their appropriate use of the concept of additional content. And yet, despite these fair practices, the modern gaming industry is also plagued by shady approaches to DLC that show a distinct lack of concern for the monetary welfare of consumers.
Consider Activision’s 2014 entry into the Call of Duty franchise, Advanced Warfare. Revolutionary in its own right, when it was revealed that this entry would indeed contain the beloved Zombies mode, CoD gamers everywhere rejoiced. And yet, that exultant feeling was quickly suppressed by the announcement that this popular mode would in fact be paid DLC.
Gamers were once again being forced to pay for new content, even though this content had been included on-disc in previous entries of the franchise. It was as if Activision believed that it was repaying consumer loyalty by even including the Zombies mode in the first place, let alone behind a paywall.
Most recently, Turtle Rock Studios’ asymmetrical multiplayer title, Evolve, has been met with much criticism, due to its own shady DLC practices. The game contains more than $130 in additional content, most of which is skins and costumes for the playable characters. A season pass also exists, providing players with the opportunity to play as four new characters and obtain even more skins. All of these transactions are on top of the game’s initial $59.99 price tag.
Thus, should consumers want to experience everything the game has to offer, they will have to commit over $200 to the developers in exchange for the content. Turtle Rock co-founder Chris Ashton has been open about the team’s vision for the future of the game, stating that it would be supported with DLC “more so than any game ever before.” However, it is hard to imagine that gamers anticipated such a monetized “future,” where the limited content received at launch would only expand behind an evolving paywall.
With these recent corporate missteps in mind, CD Projekt Red (the developers behind the critically acclaimed The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt), have taken a bold stand against paid DLC in favor of adding new content, namely 16 additional content packages, for free. In an overtly pro-consumer statement, CEO of CD Projekt Red Marcin Iwinski defended this practice, saying “”As gamers, we nowadays have to hold on tight to our wallets, as surprisingly right after release, lots of tiny pieces of tempting content materialize with a steep price tag attached…
This is our way of saying thank you for buying our game.” (IGN) The first two free DLCs have already been released and include a new armor set and a plethora of new hairstyles for players to customize Geralt. CD Projekt Red has not yet revealed what the remainder of the fourteen content packs contain and we, as gamers, should remain cautious of offering resounding praise just yet. However, that simple act of thanks presents an aura of trust between developer and consumer, a concept quickly losing relevance in the wake of the industry’s aforementioned shady practices.
Although they are thanking us, it is we the gamers who should be thanking CD Projekt Red; thanking them for respecting our intelligence as individuals and our wallets as consumers. With this bold decision, the minds behind Witcher 3 have put other developers to shame, calling out their DLC practices as unjustifiable for the consumer in the wake of an initial $60 price tag and an economy still in recovery. That last expression of thanks thus stands as both an appraisal of the gamer and a condemnation of modern industry practices.
Ultimately, this radical approach to downloadable content can only benefit all parties involved in the production, distribution, and consumption of video games. Developers can establish a new atmosphere of trust with those who buy their games, ensuring that consumer loyalty will always remain high. Publishers would no longer have to shamefully explain to consumers the reasoning behind a shady distribution practice such as on-disc DLC, as that content would remain free of charge.
And consumers, already burdened by a tight economy, ridiculously high game prices, and a growing lack of faith in the industry, would be more willing to support the vision of developers in the future with such friendly practices from the start. The mere concept of receiving 16 free DLC packages for a video game in today’s economy is simply unheard of and will likely upset established corporate methods; however, for the sake of the consumer and the future of this industry, one can only hope that CD Projekt Red’s wild gamble pays off.