The Evolution of DLC

I think we’ve all come to accept that DLC (downloadable content) is a standard part of gaming here in 2009.  It certainly wasn’t always the case.  If you told me 10 years ago or even 5 years ago that I was going to be paying for add-ons to games I’d purchased I would have looked at you like you told me to eat a shit sandwich.  Even in the early stages of the DLC rollout I wasn’t an enthusiastic participate.  Why?  Well who wants to pay for things like alternate jerseys for their sports teams?  I’m looking at you EA.  Much of the early DLC consisted of things I had no interest in whatsoever.  I dismissed it as a gimmick.

Then they got me.  The first Halo 2 map pack came out.  Half of the maps were free, but you had to pay if you wanted the Killtacular Map Pack which consisted of Turf and Sanctuary.  With a 5.99 price tag it wasn’t exactly breaking the bank, but it did pop my DLC cherry.  It was the first DLC I shelled out for but it definitely wouldn’t be the last.  Since then I’ve shelled out for content added for a variety of games including Halo 2 and 3, Bioshock, Mass Effect, Skate 2 and Call of Duty:  World at War.  Not to mention a handful of Premium Themes.

So here were are in 2009.  Game companies are beginning to acknowledge more openly that they are withholding content that could be included at the release point in order to release it in episodic form later on as DLC.  Needless to say, this can be pretty frustrating as a gamer.  Take Halo 3 for example.  The first installment of the Mythic Map Pack hit the streets in April of 2009, but thanks to an achievement leak in the fall prior it’s easy to speculate that said maps were completed as much as eight months prior to their release.  After all, Assembly was a finished product at PAX 2008 in late August.  It’s unlikely that achievements for an item would be determined on an unfinished product, much less published to Microsoft’s website.  Microsoft set a release schedule for the DLC for whatever reason, and that was that.  Despite the fact that Halo went a full calendar year without any DLC content, an unheard of length of time for a major shooter.

Then you have games like Tomb Raider:  Underworld or Halo Wars where DLC was developed alongside the standalone game itself.  I think this is something that will be pretty commonplace in the next few years.  Afterall, it’s a great revenue stream for the development houses and the publishers alike.  It also helps them battle against one of their least favorite things; the used game market.   The hatred of used game sales by the gaming industry is pretty well known.  I can understand their point of view but I think they approach the issue all wrong.  They should be embracing second-hand game sales as a way to get older product into the hands of new players.

Where It Could Go From Here

While we will never see game companies distributing second-hand copies of their marquee titles, I think there is an area where the gaming industry could make some inroads.  A DLC exchange system of sorts.

Here’s an example.  I bought Skate 2.  I proceeded to spend 1400 points on Skate 2 DLC.  That’s around 20 bucks out of my pocket, and I have no problem with that.  I enjoyed the additional content.  I feel like I got my money’s worth from the game.  But what happens when Skate 3 comes out?  My Skate 2 will most likely get sold or traded in either for Skate 3, or another of the many superb games coming up for the 360.  Then what?  Well then I’ve got a bunch of DLC that is completely useless to me sitting on my hard drive.  I think this is an opportunity for both the gaming industry and the gaming community to get something positive from this orphaned DLC.

Here’s how it would work:  Microsoft (or Sony, if you’re on PSN) would offer a service where you could de-license your now unwanted DLC.  Thus removing it from your 360.  In return, you would gain a percentage of the original Microsoft Points that you paid for the item to use towards future DLC purchases.  So say I cash in my 1400 points worth of Skate 2 DLC in exchange for 20 percent of the original cost.  That would net me 280 points.  Your typical 400 point DLC purchase would net you 80 points in return.  It might sound like a small number, but to those who use the Marketplace frequently it isn’t.

Think of all the themes, arcade games and full Xbox titles you have on your hard drive.  Wouldn’t you consider cashing those in if you could gain credit towards new DLC purchases?  I certainly would.  Especially with the new Premium Themes rendering all my old themes completely useless.

So what do game companies get out of this deal?  They get two things.  First they get an increase in goodwill towards DLC.  This is something they could certainly use, given the view of many that DLC is a nickle-and-dime game used to extort additional money for the same amount of content.  The second thing they get is more DLC sales than they would otherwise see.  Even factoring in the MS points redeemed by de-licensing old DLC, you would see people purchasing items that they normally would never purchase.  How many gaming websites have we been on where we’ve seen someone lamenting the 800 points they need for a map pack, or the 240 points they need for a new theme?  Many gamers might refuse to spend that amount.  But when you’re talking about spending half as much that same DLC suddenly looks like a bargain.  You feel as though you’re getting more value for your hard-earned money.  Given the current fiscal climate I think that’s a point that all three gaming consoles and their various backers should consider.