Downloadable Content. It is a part of our gaming lives now. When it first appeared, it was quite a welcome change. The thought of seeing ones games continue to grow and evolve after the initial purchase is an idea most welcome. New levels, new items, new places to explore - the kind of game evolution that had been the exclusive stuff of PC gamers for years was now available on consoles. At first, all was going well - most DLC packs were truly meaningful additions and prices for DLC were reasonable. A new utopia for gamers, where the game seems to live and grow as it gets older, was born.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is a prime example of DLC gone right (minus Horse Armor) - each download added notable expansions to the game that did not hinder or break the experience you were having beforehand. Fantastic story elements were added, new items and places added a fresh layer of wonder to the world, and we got to meet the mad prince Sheogorath, one of the funniest (if not completely random) characters in gaming history. Another great example of DLC is Rockstar's gem Red Dead Redemption, specifically its hilarious Undead Nightmare expansion. A brilliant twist on an already nearly flawless formula, Undead Nightmare added hours upon hours of gameplay to a game that already had enough content to make most other games blush. Even Rock Band and DJ Hero, arguably the two final powerhouses of the music gaming genre, were DLC heavyweights with new songs being released on an almost weekly basis, and best of all, they were relatively inexpensive. The Rock Band series alone boasts over 3000 songs to play, with the vast majority of them available via download.
Nowadays, most DLC that is released comes in three formats - new items, usually weapons for your character, new costumes or outfits that somehow alter the look of the game, or new levels (either single player or in the form of multiplayer maps). This is all fine and dandy...until the publisher of the game drops so much DLC on you that to be a part the games full experience will cost you double if not MORE than the initial purchase of the game. Fighting Games, the Call of Duty series and the upcoming Mass Effect 3 have become prime suspects on DLC overindulgence. Capcom's costume packs for their recent line of fighting games have been rediculously overpriced and packaged in such a way that gouges the consumer far more than it should for simple reskins of characters. To play as three, yes only three, new characters in King of Fighters 13, you must pay five dollars each, one quarter of the original games' price. In a game already loaded with over thirty characters, why should I have to pay 25% of the entry fee for about 6 or 7% more content?
Call of Duty has long been in the crosshairs of many gamers for this price gouging. Their new "Elite" package, which allows instant downloads of the game's multiplayer maps as soon as they are available, costs nearly as much as the game itself, a whopping $50. Yes, it also features its own competitions and real prizes, but that just makes it feel like playing the lottery. Fifty dollars is a lot to ask a gamer to hand over, especially when they can pretty much buy an ENTIRE game with that money. If you decide to forego this method and buy the DLC individually as it is released, you can expect to pay far more. How does this level out in ANYONE's mind other than that of he who swims in the profit? Gears of War 3 is just as bad a gouger - if you want all of the visual customizations for your weapons in one, convienient package, get ready to pay a whopping $45. For added visual flare. That has no actual effect on the game.
By far and away the worst current offender of downloadable content is a game that is not even out yet: Electronic Arts' sci fi powerhouse, Mass Effect 3. It has already been announced the game will have new content available for download day one, which to many gamers sounds like "this could have been on the disk, but we wanted a little extra cash". This is far from the worst part of it - Mass Effect 3 has a huge amount of DLC on the way, which would seem quite welcome, but it is so splintered and comes in such small chunks that very VERY few, if any players, will ever get it all. To get all of the planned DLC, you would have to pay nearly nine hundred dollars, or fifteen times the asking price for the original game.
Publishers, game developers, listen. We love your products. You turn out the entertainment that we live for, that we create our social lives around. But please, stop this. Stop making downloadable content an extreme privelage that gives the buyer an advantage. Stop pricing these add ons so highly that the player prefers to put the controller down than pay just a few dollars to expand their experience. When you release a game with tons of DLC that truly adds on to the experience like Rock Band or Oblivion, we love it. When you release so much DLC that it outweighs the original game to the point that without said DLC the game feels incomplete, then you have a problem. There are two things that a publisher can do to quickly make their audience turn on them: release an incomplete game or forget that we, the audience, hold your fate in our hands and ask for far too much from us. DLC feels like it lets these two problems walk hand in hand and many gamers have begun to awaken to this. Smarten up, developers - we are your lifeline. Most of us will happily pay for admission, but remember, we are the hand that feeds you, not the other way around.