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DLC: Value For Money Naysayers Are Looking At It All Wrong

By on January 31, 2010


A comment in this interview with Rebellion’s AvP Director, David Brickley, got me thinking recently about DLC. Largely thanks to the online capabilities of seventh gen consoles it’s a sometimes controversial revenue stream that’s grown fast over the last few years, and as a result has come under close scrutiny from industry and consumers alike.

On the one hand, paid-for DLC provides developers an opportunity to release material that didn’t make the cut, extend a game’s lifecycle and generally improve a product without upsetting the money men. On the other it’s often argued that content is intentionally held back as a sly tactic to increase a game’s price point.

Brickley has this to say: “If the content is on the disc already there’s absolutely no justification for studios to offer DLC which is essentially an unlock key or something.” He goes on to support DLC in principle by saying, “But I guess what doesn’t come across to some people is that […] while [debugging, approval and manufacturing] is going on, it tends to free up resources at the studio, so they can make items that can be added on as DLC afterwards.”

As the voice of creative idealism (or youthful naivety as it’s usually termed at GAMESbrief) I feel like I need to chip in a defence – those complaining are looking at things all wrong.

While DLC in its current form is a relatively new concept, the central principle has been around forever. Today, extending a game’s lifecycle is done with multiple paid-for downloads. Yesterday that same content was released as boxed expansion packs and semi-sequels – things PC gamers have always lived with. The issue Brickley picks up on is the one I want to challenge – the idea that pre-release DLC is in someway unfair. The big sticking point for gamers is the idea of paying for something that ‘ought’ to have been part of the retail product, and has been held back purely for financial reasons – as in the Resident Evil 5 debacle.

For certain there’s something underhanded seeming about intentionally releasing a less complete product to up your revenues, and for certain this happens regularly, but that’s not something that was invented with DLC – hard and software manufacturers, not to mention just about everyone else, has been doing that for centuries.

The trap is entirely one of perception – and it’s one gamers of all people shouldn’t be falling into. For whatever reason, consumers are judging what ‘ought’ to be charged for based largely on its delivery method. Boxed expansion pack? No problem. Unlock key for content on the original game disk? Issue.

Gamers should understand that what we’re paying for isn’t a disc, or a predefined number of gameplay hours, or an expected set of play modes. You’re paying for an experience. Complaints are often around the fact that a piece of DLC was ‘meant’ to be part of the retail product and therefore shouldn’t be paid for, but that’s assuming there’s a set of predefined rules stating what is and is not considered part of a full game, and the beauty of our medium is that there isn’t. What’s more, in an industry where some products take ten years to produce, the second you start linking pricing to development time you’re entering a whole world of hurt.

Ultimately, what should and should not be paid for is defined by gamers and their buying habits – a piece of code is only worth what we’re willing to pay for it. Personally, I’d far rather buy DLC and end up paying double for a fantastic game than have to pay the same RRP for good and bad games alike. That’s a view that’s supported by the success of releases like Left 4 Dead 2. While not strictly DLC, it was widely boycotted pre-release for being what, in a game like Team Fortress 2, might have been released as a £15 mission pack or as free staggered updates. When the game came out complaints largely evaporated because ultimately £60 for just ten hours of L4D campaigns is a lot better value than £30 for ten hours of most every other game ever made.

Capcom’s Christian Svensson hits the nail on the head. “Prior to the announcement of the Versus mode, no one complained they weren’t getting their money’s worth with [Resident Evil 5][…] So if people were already satisfied with what the package had, when we offer MORE, why is it people feel they’ve been somehow cheated? If you don’t find value in our secondary offerings, the choice is simple, don’t purchase it.”

About Tom Jubert

Tom Jubert is a freelance games writer / narrative designer, best known for his work on the Penumbra series, for which he was nominated for a Writers' Guild Award. His upcoming releases include Lost Horizon and Driver: San Francisco. He was previously the Managing Editor at, and has also spent time in production.