Editorial: The Flip Flop of DLC and Delays

Don't look forward to my review of this game, because I suck at any fighting game besides Smash.
Mortal Kombat X might be a fine game, but the DLC racket has put a hush on any other discussion of the game.

Busy busy times in the house of Mel, readers, but not so busy that I could not spare a moment to chat with you for a bit about some current events. Well, these events have been bubbling away for quite a while now, but they still represent a current state of affairs. This week I would like to peer into the murky waters of game delays and DLC, as once upon a time the general reactions to both were the opposite of what they are today. This is simply to say that the industry has changed a lot since its early days, as both DLC and game delay announcements have been around for quite a while. So what happened to both of these concepts that makes DLC a prickly topic and delay announcements a sigh of relief?

DLC began its life as game “expansions” on discs and later, as the internet grew more robust, as actual downloadable content. These additions were usually very meaningful to the original game, and often times completely free. The business of gaming has since changed a great deal, and expansion-style DLC has become increasingly rare, as has free additional content. What we are left with today is more akin to microtransations than real content expansion, with DLC usually taking the form of additional in-game items or characters to be unlocked for a premium. Sometimes, as with the recent Mortal Kombat X, these purchases only unlock temporary perks.

This is where I generally draw the line between meaningful (if only cosmetic) and mercenary. Mortal Kombat X lets you purchase “easy fatalities” which only require a couple button presses, compared to the normal more complex and unique button combos, which grant a violent finishing move on an already defeated opponent. For the uninitiated, fatalities essentially act as skill-based taunts on defeated opponents and they take the form of very ’90s inspired gross-out gory finishing moves. The “DLC” lets you perform these without the skill element, however it only grants you the ability to do so a limited number of times before purchasing more expendable tokens is required. While it could have been much worse, it could have impacted the gameplay or involved temporary access to a character or something, the idea of spending five dollars on something like this is almost enough to make me resent its very existence.

And that is only a most recent example, as any astute gamer could recount an instance of scummy DLC practices in a game they otherwise may have enjoyed. As game sales could no longer be counted on to support a development studio’s expanded production costs, publishers have increasingly pressured (and required) developers to implement some kind of supplementary revenue source. It is not all microtransations, admittedly, as DLC can still take the form of additional campaigns or multiplayer modes. But all too often, these additions last on the order of fifteen minutes and cost closer to twenty dollars. And while it might comprise the better part of speculation, DLC as carved-out content from the final product to be sold back to consumers is becoming a cliche.

It was pretty obvious it wasn't coming out this year, but I'm still glad it isn't being rushed.
The Legend of Zelda Wii U still has no proper name.

So the DLC well has been poisoned a bit, to say the least, although it is not all bad. But to say anyone is a “fan of DLC” certainly would seem a bit odd today where before it may have been agreeable. Which brings me to the other half of this article, about game delays and delay announcements. Going back far enough, game delays still happened all the time except they were rarely made public news. In the US in the ’80s and early ’90s, game release dates were not so commonly discussed. A gaming magazine would have something in it about a new game, and one would simply have to wait until the local game or toy store had it in stock. Today, games are scheduled years in advance to the point that they are regularly only given something like “Q2 2015” as a release date, meaning second of 2015.

And as we have seen with the Wii U Legend of Zelda, games invariably still get delayed, the only difference is the public reaction to the announcement. And this time around, the change occurred in the public and not in the industry practice. Game delays, their purpose and outcome, have remained the same, but whereas more people would have been upset by a delay in the past, today game delays are celebrated and the developers thanked. This is thanks to the sad state of many game releases, from middle tier to AAA titles, which were clearly rushed out of the door. Games like the recently embarrassing Assassin’s Creed Unity have required a bevy of post release patches to get the game operating on an acceptable level. The concept of the day-one patch is now more infamous than older scandals of on-disc DLC or day-one DLC, and rightfully so.

Games are being sold to the early buying public for them to beta test the product in time for the release weekend sales, which is an atrocious prospect. Too often a day-one purchase means contenting with instability and bugs that clearly were known but could not be resolved in time for release. Even the illustrious Bloodborne suffered from this, with a bug that kept multiplayer from working for many people. With the Zelda series, the delay was doubly reassuring since that series is sadly no stranger to having cut content in time for release. I can only guess at what Skyward Sword would have been able to include in its barren overworld if it were given more time in development.

That does it for me this week, as usual, Spring-y readers. Shout out some examples of DLC or delays done wrong (or right!) in the comments! And remember we ARE HIRING still. Join us, fill that void in your life.

11 comments

  1. If during the Wii era you told me that Nintendo would be providing some of the best DLC in 2015, I would not have believed you. But Luigi U and Kart 8’s two-pronged release with secret bonus are the only DLC I’ve bought for any game in quite a while.

  2. @Ethos Biggest shock of 2015 – Nintendo finds the internet. My guess is that they are just so far behind the rest of the industry that they’re still in the let’s-release-meaningful-DLC stage and will start charging for individual tracks in a decade.

  3. Nintendo is doing it best right now because they’re doing it like it’s still 2005, when DLC was a lot less scuzzy. Unfortunately, they’re still doing a lot of other things like it’s 2005…

    But, ultimately it does mean their offerings are generally pretty good, aside from their absurd game pricing and Mii costume pricing for Smash. They’re slowly easing themselves into the bad habits Sony, MS, and the rest took residence up in a while ago. For now, enjoy it!

  4. Also, look forward to having to pay for Nintendo Network Platinum Club or some stuff, next gen!

  5. Imitanis has the right of it. Luckily, Nintendo have shown us that they can shit the bed faster than anyone. They’re already charging us per-hat per-system for Mario Kart Mii costumes. We’re not far away from blocks in Mario that say 99p instead of ?

  6. I like to think that DLC really began its life in the early days of D&D with the supplementary materials in the form of packaged adventures and player/DM guidebooks outside the core manuals. One could argue that we have TSR to blame for the concept of “expansion,” and I have seen this done, but I don’t really agree with it, or blame any one entity, really. What was born in those early days of add-on gaming was the option to buy a premixed experience along side the option to create your own. At some point a schism developed between them, resulting in the modern concept of DLC, which is business sense that is abrasive but hard to argue with, and the idea of a modding community surrounding a game.

    /tin hat theory

  7. That’s a good point about DLC origins. I tend to forget the pen and paper origins of gaming much to my embarrassment. I’ve dabbled in that world only a bit but enough to know that you’ve got the right of it.

  8. I think a lot of it has to do with an uneducated consumer base pouring money into an industry that they know little about. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen parents buying DLC or preordering games for their kids just to shut them up. The kids obviously don’t know any better, they just want the coolest new thing or whatever their friends are playing. This leads to gaming companies taking advantage in a sense, pushing out premium DLC or preorder bonuses, and cashing in whilst making substandard products. The kids are happy because they get what they want, the parents are happy because the kids are, the gaming companies are happy because they get everyone’s money, and the people left screwed are the few consumers that actually know better.

    Obviously this is an oversimplification of a complex issue, but I think it still rings mostly true.

  9. I think it’s mostly true too, and a result of the widening appeal of games. And there’s always been a greater number of people who don’t know any better (or care) over people who do, there just hasn’t been so much money the be had in targeting to former group as there is today.

    Thankfully push back is still felt, when it’s strong enough, and you can still find plenty of worthwhile examples of games that do things like DLC right. You just can’t expect those kinds of games to come to you anymore, as the industry is less about us (the sort that read and write at sites like this) now more than ever before.

  10. @Bek: I am reminded of how Imitanis’ son wanted him to buy him Destiny DLC which only included things he would not or could not use. He just wanted Imitanis to spend the money for the sake of ‘having’ the DLC, although it never would have been used.

    If companies really are targetting children to encourage this sort of thing, it is more than nasty business; it is pointedly unethical.

  11. @Bek & Lusipurr: Update, I’ve not given in to my son’s demands that I buy the Destiny DLC, but he is now asking that I buy Minecraft on the PS4 despite already owning it on the PC.

    I don’t believe these are marketed at children, children just see that something is locked away from them and they want to get at it. My son doesn’t care what is in the Destiny DLC, he just want to buy it so that he’s no longer prevented from accessing buttons that ultimately he will never use.

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