Before the current generation of consoles there was no such thing as ‘DLC’ (downloadable Content), at least not in the sense that the term is used today.  Developers tried give gamers the most out of their product through expansion packs with the purpose of adding additional ‘content’ to the core experience of a game.  Usually this equated to several new levels and an expanded/alternate story line.  Expansion packs usually cost about a half or a third of the original game and like DLC require you to have the original installed.

Aside from the obvious key difference of the delivery method of the content (just try to download 1GB of content on a 56k modem in 2000!) the quality of the content has dramatically changed.  Note I’m not referring to the few traditional expansion packs out there such as those for the Warhammer Dawn of War series, Dragon Age, or those for the many MMOs available.  The type of micro DLC popularized by Microsoft and Sony on their home consoles has found it’s way into computer games over the past few years, both with good and bad effect -though honestly…mostly bad.

Cost of Content

The first negative to DLC on PC’s is the cost to content ratio, or the value of the content.  Microsoft charges gamers an average of 800 MS points (or about $10) for the majority of downloadable content, though some small DLC packs like extra weapons or character skins can go for around 200-500 MS points.  $10-15 sometimes nets you a few multi-player maps or single player levels though rarely add a significant amount of game-play or additional story.  Whereas Half-Life 2 episode 1 and 2 offered several hours of new and expanded game-play and added insight to the series mythos. I would gladly be willing to pay $15 or $20 for 6-7 hours of quality content that expands a games story arc or adds significant multi-player enhancements.  In the case of multi-player, Valve software have given away an enormous amount of multi-player content for Team Fortress 2 (though have also introduced one of the most egregious and overpriced micro-transaction systems to date) Sadly, much some publishers have the nerve to charge $5-10 to play as a particular character or unlock certain stages or extra’s included on the disk.  Luckily this is a mostly console exclusive effect as I have seen few PC publishers with the audacity to attempt something so low.

Delivery

The way the content gets on your computer has changed considerably thanks to much higher internet speed, but is it really all that much more convenient?  The problem with most DLC delivery methods is that most companies offering DLC do it through the less than stellar Games For Windows Live.  Having to buy MS points while wrestling with the in-game GFWL application can range from arduous to downright painful when something goes wrong with it.  Some publishers have easier methods involving CD keys -which can work better in many cases- but still lack an easy and universal method.  Even steam users who purchase a Games for Windows title must go through Micosoft’s app to get the DLC.

Much of the DLC content available on consoles never makes to to the PC version of a game, especially if it isn’t a GFW title.  In some cases it simply takes a long time. Minerva’s Den and the Protector Trials DLC packs for BioShock 2 took more than a year to finally arrive on the PC.  for GTA IV, The Ballad of Gay Tony and The Lost and the Damned also took over a year to make it to the PC.  Obviously Microsoft and the other publishers do not see a big enough market for DLC on the PC front and have devoted resources to making the most from the consoles.  It’s a sad state of affairs but with the way GFWL is going I predict it won’t get any better any time soon.  The one hope for easy DLC remains with Steam if they can somehow convince publishers to avoid GFWL.

Digital delivery is the future of content whether we like it or not; hopefully publishers will push out meaningful content in a streamlined way in the near future.  There’s always the modding communities for us PC gamers who don’t want to jump on the micro-transaction bandwagon, though even that unfortunately has a questionable future given the small amount of modifiable games out in the market now.

Advertisements