A Better Way: DLC

There has to be a better way to do downloadable content! That is, tonight, the premise (also: gin).

I’m just yelling like everybody else because, fuck, we read about the Evolve DLC: 15 dollars per monster, 7.50 dollars per hunter. With two DLC monsters planned (bringing the total to 5) and four DLC hunters planned (bringing that total to 16), that’s already 60 dollars! And just over the next couple of months!

evolve-launch-day-skins-1

What!?

Look, just the other night I spent approximately 10 dollars in Riot Points to pick up the Arcade Miss Fortune skin. And that’s just aesthetic! Except, wait: that’s just aesthetic! If you’re an MF main reading this without the Arcade skin, woe be unto you, but you know and I know and we all know that you aren’t locked out from any gameplay content… so it’s actually ok. Additionally, the Arcade Miss Fortune skin wasn’t announced before the release of League of Legends, and at base League of Legends is also a free game for which one need not spend a dime (and for years I didn’t, but I’m no longer a newb – POW, POW!).

So I know that I can spend money on DLC and be glad to do so, but I can also think of far more instances for far more games for which the DLC has turned me away in frustration. See our next example: Destiny.

Um, ok, so if you haven’t played Destiny it’s a lot like Halo 5 but, like, where when you’re done, you play Halo 5 again. And then you just keep doing that. Oh, and then right now you can buy Halo 5 again for an additional 20 dollars.

I’ll call that a moderately sour description of Destiny; it can also be said that Destiny is a beautiful game with exquisite shooting mechanics and a light smattering of interesting ideas from E3, circa 2000. Ha. Ha. Just can’t stop. Ok, it’s Halo 5, it’s sweet, but it does use a lot of recycled locations, enemies, and mechanics. All good, so did Dragon Age 2 and I actually think that was an incredible game (but I’m only allowed to hate what you love and love what you can’t… understand).

There is a real problem with Destiny DLC, however, in that for an atypical 20 dollars one purchases three multiplayer maps, an extra strike (+1 on PS4), an extra raid (largely the only meaningful content), and a few extra single player missions using the same recycled content as before. That reads out alright as a list, but it doesn’t translate very well into gameplay – particularly for an already content starved multiplayer game. There’s also a lack of theming tying any and all of this together (which is really where we’re going with all of this… stay tuned).

I’ll quickly note a third edge of terrible DLC most often seen in FPS games like Call of Duty: the map pack! Ahhh! Map packs are bad because they split the community into those that have the map pack and those that do not, ultimately reducing the number of players in each matchmaking list and thereby reducing the overall quality of multiplayer centric games (such as, again, Call of Duty).

The sad thing about all of this is that individual pieces of this content aren’t bad and we, the players and consumers, aren’t exclusively opposed to the practice of DLC.

DLC is just often done in the wrong way.

So what is right? I don’t think the answer is just “less cost” or “more content” or “obviously don’t split the community” (ok, I do think that’s an answer, because it’s obvious); I think the right answer is triangulated somewhere between the expansions of yore, Telltale seasons of today, and recent League of Legends updates.

Old-school expansions and Telltale seasons share a similarity in that they offer content that is extensive and unified. There may be a new campaign, classes, or mechanics – but whatever is there cohesively contributes to an extension of the game world in terms of character, story, and lore. Picking up Season 2 of the Walking Dead, you can expect new characters with a fleshed out story within the already established lore of the Walking Dead franchise; picking up Diablo 2: The Lord of Destruction, you can expect new classes, items, upgrades, and a campaign and boss – all of which work together to further the world of Diablo.

LoD Back of Box

League of Legends is a different kind of game which doesn’t really tell a unified story and doesn’t have a unified lore. As such, its content updates of characters, skins, and game modes doesn’t inherently expand the world of League outside of gameplay. Or at least they didn’t used to. New updates for League are now often multimedia affairs that combine enigmatic previews (see: The Wonder Above), character driven reveals, and game modes partnered with champion releases (see: Azir and Ascension). All of these elements come together over a couple of weeks and make each champion release feel like an event within the game. It also works to encourage players to pick up this DLC not just because of how the champion will play, but because of the art, the story, and the thirst for revenge – XERAAAATH!

On the other hand of all of this, with the upcoming Evolve DLC, all we’ve got to go on is the way the new hunters and monster play. We’re talking video games, so that’s great to an extent, but we’re also talking an expensive, individual product for which there ought to be a little more soul.

So here’s the idea:

Combine the best of these examples for the following framework:

  • DLC should feel like an event and something not to be missed. Consider multimedia previews like short comics introducing a character or two, as well as time sensitive gameplay changes like new temporary modes or rulesets.
  • DLC should contribute to the game world. Looking at Evolve in particular, why are there new hunters? Where were they before? Are we still evacuating Shear in the same timeline? These kinds of questions should be presented and answered in ways that make the world more interesting. Maybe the new hunters don’t get along with the original set, but are the real veterans, and so have been called on in the final hour. That kind of information can be presented in a text preview, a new cinematic on release, or extensive new dialogue among both the new and old hunters.
  • DLC should feel extensive. This is Evolves most obvious problem. Offering hunters and monsters individually and for a high price point makes the DLC feel slim. Bundling everything together for a greatly reduced cost could help (I do not mean Season Passes), as could bundling new characters with new skins for old characters, or other kinds of small additions that wouldn’t take too much development. Another option here is to release both free and paid content at the same time, which can be both a sort of alms and also contribute to DLC feeling like an event. In the case of Evolve, we already know that Turtle Rock plans to release new maps for free, so releasing them for free at the launch of the DLC could be easily arranged; add in a new mode that makes for new uses for old characters and, voila, it might be a good DLC.

Otherwise I’ll just buy some more gin.

Oh, and for more on DLC, check out SnackieCakes Podcast 6 – our DLC special (also on Itunes): http://www.snackiecakes.com/sc-podcast-6-the-dlc-special/