First Day DLC: Are You F*cking Kidding Me?
Let’s quickly address the elephant: I don’t mind downloadable content. Brood War was some of the most fun I had with the original Starcraft; the Shivering Isles and Knights of the Nine were expansive and creative additions to the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion; and more recently the Overlord and (especially) Lair of the Shadow Broker additions added delicious icing to the already quite edible Mass Effect 2. I am admittedly holding my breath for the gestating Skyrim and Dark Souls DLC.
To paraphrase Roger Ebert: No good game is too long; no bad game is short enough.
It’s as simple as this: I want more of the games I love. But I don’t want to pay for a coat of paint. In the cases I just mentioned, the developers added enough new content to justify paying for readmission. Expansion packs have been a fixture of gaming since the 90s, and DLC is its logical progeny. No one can blame developers/publishers for capitalizing on something successful; if fans want it and it makes them richer and — this is key — it’s worth adding, well, a better ‘everybody wins’ scenario is barely conceivable.
But I’m starting to feel insulted. Yeah, despite the compiments I’m looking at you, BioWare. Stay in your seat, Bethesda. We’ll talk in a minute.
Since we now live in a world where it’s infinitely easier to convey productions from developers to audiences, game makers have gotten a bit smug. They create a product people want, no fault there, and DLC offers them an opportunity to entice audiences to return to it. Sometimes, unfortunately, it’s not with a well-rounded addition to the package. It’s with Horse Armor. Or Nightwing. Or a sliver of shabby rehash of the game proper. Just because they can sell us everything doesn’t mean they should.
Take a look at the schizophrenic DLC for Mass Effect 2: Shadow Broker, spectacular; Overlord, exciting; Kasumi – Stolen Memory, whatever; Normandy Crash Site, what?; and Arrival. Oh, Arrival, what’s to be said? “Huh? BioWare is adding a chapter to my favorite game of 2010 bridging it its sequel? Lance Henriksen is doing a voice?? Lance Henricksen as in Lance Henricksen?? How soon can you take my money? Oh… oh, I see. You’ve added nothing new to the gameplay. And nothing’s really happening in this story. And I can barely tell that’s Lance Henricksen. Well, enjoy my money.”
Arrival is a bridge that should’ve been burnt. This kind of DLC output leads me to believe that BioWare emphasized quality control on Shadow Broker, while their philosophy for Arrival was: “Get it released.” And now we’re getting word of the vast amount of DLC we can expect from Mass Effect 3. I heard someone, somewhere, and wisely say, “First day DLC is the death of games.” I won’t get quite so melodramatic, but he or she had a good point. Releasing something separately that the game even somewhat requires to reach its full potential on day one hints that the game being released is not complete. Was it content originally included then removed to promote sales or discourage piracy? Catwoman suggests the answer is at least sometimes yes.
Now let’s examine the tacky DLC Bethesda — and Obsidian — added to Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. Again, not all of it was bad — Point Outlook and Old World Blues had me smiling — yet none of it felt wholly necessary. I must begin by mentioning how poorly and abruptly the original Fallout 3 ended. Disappointed? More than likely. Fortunately, a couple of months later Broken Steel was released and provided a significantly more satisfying conclusion.Far be it from me to whinge about one of the fullest and most immersive games of the current generation, but it’s hard not to feel like Broken Steel was the ending Fallout 3 should have had. Then there’s the glut of barebones, unimaginative additions to New Vegas, most of which I admittedly didn’t bother with after reading reviews.
These just a handful of examples; listing every example of misguided DLC would take the whole article. Disappointing DLC is only half the problem.
We recently got word of this doozy: Someone has already been able to purchase Mass Effect 3 DLC. Yessir, you did not misread that. He or she sauntered into a GameStop and purchased FromDust, the first piece of downloadable content for Mass Effect 3, which is set to release on March 6. Is this the day one Collector’s Edition DLC that BioWare announced, in which richer early purchasers of Mass Effect 3 will be rewarded with not just an extra mission, but an additional squad member. As an ardent lover of Mass Effect 2 and certain purchaser of Mass Effect 3, I posit that this message can be read no other way: buy FromDust, the Collector’s Edition, or risk not having the best possible Mass Effect 3 experience.
The real problem is developers and publishers exploiting the popularity of their games to sell us unnecessary DLC: Download the Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning demo! Get some DLC. Buy the Mass Effect 3 toys! Get some DLC. Buy a probably-garbage Mass Effect 3 keyboard! Get some DLC. I shit you not — and please check out this article from Destructoid’s Chris Carter which details the lecherous marketing strategy in greater depth — if you want every pre-game release that gives you Mass Effect 3 in-game content it will cost you no less than $800.
These games are good, and I want them. Oh, how I — scratch that, we — want them. Don’t take advantage of us. We’re poor. I want the same experience a person who can afford to pay $800 for a game gets, and if all that extra stuff doesn’t really effect the game in a significant way — rich as he may be — the person who can afford the $800 is probably gonna be pissed that he spent $720 more than I did. I reiterate: we want your damn game. But we are protean, your audience. Enjoy your time at the top of the heap, but shed not a tear if your successes are not replicated in the future: feast on our goodwill too greedily and too often, and we will turn on you — just ask iD, the creators of CSI, The Strokes, MC Hammer, M. Night Shyamalan, and Woody Harrelson.