It seems “disc-locking” downloadable content instead of actually developing and releasing meaningful expansions are now being considered the norm, no matter how much gamers call out game companies for it.
A bunch of hackers and other tech-savvy players found out a few weeks ago that 12 DLC characters planned for Street Fighter X Tekken are actually on-disc, and Capcom responded yesterday to consumers reporting them to the Better Business Bureau, justifying their choice under the argument that there is no real distinction between DLC which is locked on the disc to unlock later, and DLC released later and downloaded, “other than the delivery mechanism”.
I myself haven’t bought the game and don’t plan to, but just thinking about this unethical business practice and how Capcom treats their fans makes me wonder how DLC came to this.
I remember when Downloadable Content first started becoming the norm and how excited I was at the concept of it. To have incentive to continue a game after finishing it by adding onto and extending the content already present was not exactly a new idea to the gaming industry. Digital downloading of content was already in practice long before I grabbed my first controller, back in the old school Atari 2600 days when my cousin used to download games over a telephone line through the GameLine service, and the Sega Channel service for the Megadrive.
Though those two services provided full games and not add-ons for existing ones, they influenced the SNES, N64, Dreamcast, PS2 and original Xbox to begin implementing the idea further in various ways with the rise of the Internet, eventually leading to the fully-integrated digital downloading services of Xbox Live and the Playstation Network and their current prominence.
My first experience with DLC was in the early days of the 360’s launch. I was an early adopter of Xbox Live in the twilight months of the original Xbox, but didn’t have broadband access until I got my Xbox 360. I had just demolished my first legendary 100+ hour playthrough of Oblivion, and my character Sokoris had harassed and slaughtered Cyrodiil for all its quests and loot to the point of exhaustion. I was literally forced to scour the game world for any continuation, be it petty fetch-quests or easter-eggs, of the engrossing fantasy storyline that had captivated me for months. I was not ready to finish it just yet.
When I found out from a friend that Bethesda released Knights of the Nine and a slew of other content packages, I got it right away. The idea and actual possibility of continuing Sokoris’s adventures was exciting, and I enjoyed the depth and wealth of new content that the Knights of the Nine quest-line added to the existing game. And yes, even the shiny and questionably priced Horse Armour. It and all the accompanying smaller packages enhanced my gaming experience with Oblivion further, and it was immensely satisfying to have a new base and a whole new narrative storyline to play through.
Shivering Isles was released a few months later and showed, in its size and scope, just what DLC could do for the life of a game, and it convinced me DLC was a good thing. Both major packages were fully separate from the retail release, and added so many new things. It extended my time with Oblivion for another year.
A few weeks later, Gears of War had two free sizable DLC map-packs on the Marketplace, and that upped the average hours I clocked into Gears multiplayer into epic proportions (see what I did there?). Gnasher-fests on Raven Down and Process were the bomb, and the flashy new maps added to the overall experience, but weren’t necessarily essential for anyone missing out.
Even if a lot of the earlier DLC packs were just small file add-ons, they usually accompanied bigger ones, and most were designed around what the concept of DLC entails; additional content to extend or enhance the main game, and usually made after the game was complete. The DLC that is good are those digital add-ons that do not deprive gamers of crucial elements of the main game if they choose not to download or buy it, but instead only enhance or extend the experience for those who do.
Unfortunately, DLC has changed in many ways from its early days often not for the better. Once upon a time developers released their DLC for free, like the aforementioned Gears of War map packs, but when Microsoft (arguably) popularised microtransactions and digital content distribution, issues like license transfers and rights to the content, and getting your money's worth has become apparent.
The former is understandable and unavoidable in a business sense to curb piracy and excessive game-sharing, but the latter is not; even though I superficially liked Oblivion’s “Horse Armour” package, 200 Microsoft points wasn’t really a worthwhile use of my money. Also, there really was no excuse for Bethesda to not have included it in the original release.
What made DLC in the middle-years of the current cycle worse was when most developers started counting one or two mission or character packs as true “additional content” instead of true expansions like Shivering Isles. Essentially gamers have started paying more for less as the years have gone by.
One prominent and disappointing example is Tales of Vesperia and its available DLC. For such a great game, much of what you pay for in DLC “expansions” are just in-game level upgrades, costumes and currency, all of which you can get just through normal progression of the game. The potential was there to expand upon the game’s world, its lore and gameplay; to deliver additional content that could be meaningful for its fanbase.
Instead a few lousy upgrade packs were all fans got. I don’t know why Namco thought they could count paying to level-up as DLC, but apparently they gained a market that likes paying for quick ways to skip the grind, a main gameplay aspect of JRPGs, instead of buying actual meaningful expansion content. That is bad for the rest of us who really want some bang for our buck. The gamers who bought the content are just as bad as Namco for selling it under the guise of DLC, as they encourage companies to pass off such things as worthy of being DLC, and worthy of our money.
Perhaps the main downfall of what was once an ideal concept is the rising practice of content keys and “disc-locking” or “content-locking”, which certain game developers have undertaken. Both refer to the way developers use DLC as an incentive, leaving out certain content or elements of their game and selling them later on as “add-ons”.
Bioware’s recent success with Mass Effect 3 hasn’t gone completely smoothly, with EA issuing a response to the accusations of the From Ashes DLC character being already on-disc and usable in a limited capacity. They explained his presence by stating that “certain framework elements and character models needed to be put on disc”. This just defeats the purpose of DLC, as EA obviously already had it planned as part of the game, and whether or not EA and Bioware could choose to withhold it as DLC for business reasons, it’s still a disappointing approach to it and slap to the fans.
Even before the current Street Fighter X Tekken issue, Capcom was selling locked content as DLC. When Resident Evil 5 was released and the “Versus” mode was announced, the question of the file’s size, a mere 2MB, raised awareness about what it was actually adding on, if at all anything, and if the DLC was actually just a key to unlock it from the disc. Turns out that it was, and even after heavy criticism, many of Capcom’s later titles exhibit this stupid practice, with Street Fighter X Tekken just being the most recent disappointment. What’s worse about SFxT is that the PS3 exclusive characters are also locked on the 360 version, so there is clearly no effort on their part to provide their consumers with meaningful and well-executed content.
Gamers shouldn’t have to put up with these kind of approaches to DLC. Sure, there’s the argument that it makes it easier for players without said DLC to play with those that do through compatibility packs. But if most developers follow Capcom’s logic - that there is no difference between on-disc and downloading a pack later - then companies can essentially steal our money by selling us content we should already have access to when we buy their games, most of which the average gamer will never know. They already have been stealing our money because gamers seem to be falling for the trend, willingly or unknowingly, and it doesn’t look like companies will be stopping this disc-locking business anytime soon.
In the end, many of us will continue to give in just to enjoy our game to the fullest. I am guilty of doing so with Gears of War 3, buying the Season Pass just for the superficial character and weapon skins that were proven time and time again that they were already on-disc. The ton of money we spend on downloadable content shouldn’t be stuff already on disc, level-boosts, pre-order bonuses or Horse Armour; it should be on meaningful and rich additional content for the games we love to play and want to continue playing.
A few key developers like Gearbox, Rockstar, Bethesda and Bungie are notable exceptions, still giving us fully-fledged expansions rather than selling on-disc items, all for fair prices. But the wave of shoddy, lazy and questionable DLC is overwhelming, and it has distorted the ideal and the potential DLC could have had on all of the gaming landscape. Don’t even get me started on companies passing on Online Passes as DLC or to gain access to DLC (such as EA’s online passes), pre-order bonuses, or the popularisation of the Season Pass concept; those deserve a whole other article.
Perhaps I’m being too nostalgic on what never existed, but DLC is now just a chore to me. It’s no longer exciting to hear a game has future DLC plans. I instead get mad, bro. I still fall for the pre-order incentives once in a while, but these days I’m weary of any developer announcing “post-release support” or “pre-order bonuses” because I know it’ll be some BS character armour, weapon skin or mission locked on disc and being sold for the price of the few premium DLC packages available on the market, and that we should have just got in the first place.
If we continue to miss out on content just because a company was too lazy to develop a sizable add-on and instead lock already made content to sell, then I say screw the future of DLC. It’s almost always going to be a headache trying to work out what’s worth my buck and what’s just another example of a developer or publisher withholding content and selling it under the pathetic guise of additional downloadable content.
What do you think about DLC, the “Capcom fiasco” and the future of DLC in general?
By Nathan Misa- - Bio