Downloadable content – expensive but worth it?

Posted By | On 07th, May. 2010

Having just forked out for a brand new game, it’s never too long before the gaming faithful like myself are faced with a dilemma… After handing over our hard-earned cash, should we then spend a small fortune on additional downloadable content (DLC)?

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is a fine example of this quandary. Not only had we paid a premium for Infinity Ward’s epic shooter compared with the cost of most games but we were then teased with a new map pack. Well, I say new – in fact, it contained only a few new maps, merely recycling two from the original Modern Warfare! It also proved to be some of the most expensive DLC released so far. The cheek of it.

It seems, however, that millions of us gamers were perfectly content to part with our hard-earned cash no matter what the price or content. To capitalise on its success, the word on the street is that Activision now plans to release a second batch of DLC later this year…

Suffice to say, games developers are a canny lot. They nurture their audience and get us hooked, teasing us with additional maps, costumes or missions. And we lap it up.

There have been plenty of stories on this very site in the past month announcing the release of fresh downloadable content for recent or upcoming releases.

Lucky Just Cause 2 players are now able take a ride in a “pimped-out ice cream van – the Chevalier Ice Breaker” while Left 4 Dead 2 has also seen its first DLC package emerge, the Passing adding more of the same to the zombie slaughter simulator.

Namco’s Dead to Rights Retribution is to get two new gameplay modes, while upcoming thriller Alan Wake will soon also be blessed with some additional content. Even more exciting perhaps is the promise of some co-op DLC for Rockstar’s rootin’ tootin’ cowboy sandbox game Red Dead Redemption.

DLC is a powerful vehicle for games firms. Not only does it add to their bottom line and boost profits, but it can also significantly prolong the lifespan of a title.

However, there are some more discerning gamers out there who still aren’t adding the glut of content – free or otherwise – to their download queues.

A survey of some 800 people earlier this year by consultancy Frank N. Magid Associates found that a mere 15% of gamers actually opt for DLC. However, perhaps more revealing, it said that 41% were aware that DLC existed but had never bought any, while 43% had never even heard of it! (Not sure what happened to the remaining 1%!)

For all the work and effort that goes into a game’s production, few can object to a game’s initial outlay too much – particularly seeing that it buys us a shiny little disc, accompanied by a plastic box, cover and a manual.

But do gamers really want to pay yet more money for DLC as well – especially when they get nothing physical to show for it? Not only that, but when you’re done you can’t even lend it to your friends, trade it in or sell it on.

We’re clearly in the midst of a big push by developers and the likes of Microsoft and Sony to encourage the uptake of DLC. Larger hard drives are forever being released and movies, complete games and demos are now available. Microsoft has even relented after much criticism and campaigning, and released an update to allow USB drives to be used as a storage medium (all be it with a 16GB limitation). Add to this the US giant’s refusal to go down the Blu-ray route like Sony, and downloads look likely to gain prevalence in the future.

At least the quality of DLC seems to be improving now. Where the majority of content would have once left us disappointed with overhyped and ridiculously small new levels, pointless extra characters, colourful costumes or ultimately useless weaponry (remember the horse armour in Oblivion, anyone?), the add-ons for the likes of Grand Theft Auto IV and Fallout 3 are far better value for money. Activision, take note.

Whatever your view, it looks like DLC is here to stay…


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