In recent years, game developers have made a habit of releasing DLC really soon after a game releases. While this sometimes feels like a blatant money grab -- and sometimes is -- there's more to early DLC than is always apparent.
1. In A Lot Of Cases, Games Were 'Certified' A Long Time Ago
This is what I like to call the "No Man's Sky" situation. Many moons ago, #NoMansSky had yet to establish its unfortunate legacy of letting down nearly all of its fans (though, personally, I enjoyed it for what it was). Shortly before its release, someone paid $2,000 for an early copy, and this person's footage and feedback led some to worry.
But Sean Murray came in to clarify that many of these issues were on the radar and would be addressed in a day-1 patch. Many wondered why the heck the game needed a day-1 patch to change the game so drastically. Elsewhere in Internetland, Rami Ismail made a lengthy post discussing why day-1 patches happen.
It's worth checking out in full, but here are the cliffnotes:
- Being "gold certified" is only from a technical standpoint, not an experiential standpoint (i.e., Does clicking start bring up the start menu?).
- To get certified, you have to schedule certification months in advance.
- When you are finally certified, it's still usually 1-3 months before release.
- Those 1-3 months are used to make the game what developers envisioned and had always intended.
In other words, if you're getting DLC right after launch, there's a good chance it was something the developers wanted to include from the beginning but had to work on post-certification. This is the most optimistic view of DLC and (hopefully) is the kind that comes in a patch or free update rather than paid DLC.
2. Sadly, Sometimes It Really Is Just A Money-Grab
Look, I love Resident Evil 7. It's a great game that has made me nope out of more situations than any game in recent memory. But it's hard to make a case for its DLC not having been included in the base game. Fansided has a good roundup of all the content previous Resident Evil games have included, but the short version is, a hell of a lot more than what came with RE7.
To clarify: RE7 didn't come with anything outside of the main story. And the type of content included in the Banned Footage DLCs are the exact types of content that previous Resident Evil games included with the base package. On top of that, the DLCs were announced mere days after launch and in total will be released less than a month of the game's launch.
What I'm getting at here is that these are pretty obviously DLC packages that not only could have launched with the game, but should have been free once Capcom decided to launch them post-release. It's an unfortunately negative mark on an otherwise stellar return to form for the series — however, it's a slight consolation knowing the DLC isn't half bad.
I don't mean to harp solely on RE7 here, as Capcom certainly isn't the first or only company to release paid DLC so shortly after launch. Rather, it's just the most recent in a growing list of games that didn't need to charge for the extra content. In the future, paid DLC will hopefully either be a significant addition to the base game or inexpensive enough that it feels like we're not getting milked for all we're worth.
3. Still, Other Cases Are A Bit More Complicated
This one is a bit harder to quantify, as it does come down to money, albeit in a different way. For newer game developers or titles that aren't guaranteed to succeed, early DLC can be a way to soften the blow of a hemorrhaging player base. Yes, it's still technically a way of earning more money, but it's not entirely the same.
The difference here is that if the future of a game is uncertain, developers can more easily work to make it better if they're able to front-load the extra costs. To put it in different terms, if a game releases and has 5 million players at launch but winds up with less than half that three months later, when would have been the best time to release DLC?
No, this is not an argument in favor of that tactic, but in my mind there's a clear difference between a AAA company with a history of bonuses suddenly adding paid DLC a week after launch and a new developer trying to strike while the iron's hot. In the end, unless I'm getting something like a 50% increase in content (a la Mario Kart 8), I'd prefer my paid content to be purely cosmetic. Though I'm not sure the industry is moving in that direction anytime soon.
How To Tell Good DLC From Bad DLC
With all of the above in mind, it doesn't hurt to talk about games that have (or have not) done DLC well in the past. After all, feedback both positive and negative is imperative in making sure the future of DLC doesn't wind up turning $60 games into $100 games.
I mentioned it above, but I was really happy with the way Nintendo approached the DLC for #MarioKart8. The DLC released in two separate packs, both several months apart (i.e., not so soon after release that they felt intentionally delayed) and added 8 tracks, 3 characters, and 4 karts each. In total, players were given a 50% increase in courses alone for $12. On top of that, new modes (like the 200cc option) were released as DLC — but didn't cost a thing.
Similarly, The Witcher 3's approach to DLC was pretty much universally lauded. Every week for 16 weeks, players were given free DLC that ranged from side missions to cosmetic options to armor. While these were steadily released, players also knew that had two expansions to look forward to, both of which would be out within a year of the original release.
Compare both of these with DLC like Street Figher X Tekken's, which...ooph. The game released with a decent-sized roster of characters — except some of those were considered "DLC," which you had to pay for. Yes, you had to pay for a game that included complete content which was locked behind an additional paywall. Needless to say, this did not go over well.
In the end, players don't want to pay for content that literally could have been released with the base game. DLC that needs extra development time does not release less than a month after a game launches, and if it does, it should be free. Sadly, a lot of it comes down to money — if a company is getting away with it now, it'll probably continue to do so until it stops being financially viable.
What does it take for post-launch paid DLC to be worth it for you? What are some games that have/have not done DLC right?