With the internet being such a big part of our day to day lives, developers have been patching and updating their games after they have been released for years. From as far back as Star Craft there have been expansion packs for games which have added extra content for an additional cost. Today however, the expansion packs or ‘dlcs’, are far more abundant with each company believing that they have the superior business model. But which one is the most appealing to players, and which model is worth the consumer’s money?
Since the second year of Battlefield 3’s life EA has imposed its Premium program on the franchise. Typically, Premium costs around $79.99 AUD (I know, and I’m sorry you’ll have to do the conversion) and gains you 5 individual DLC’s which will be released over the course of a year. Each DLC comes with 4 maps, an assortment of new weapons and gadgets, and often unique skins or packs for the Premium player. The same DLC doctrine was used by EA in Battlefield: Hardline, Battlefront (though not explicitly called premium), Battlefield 4, and now Battlefield 1. Being a casual player of battlefield there is an inexcusable issue that arises with charging money for extra maps; community segregation. With 5 DLC packs totaling an extra 20 maps this method of releasing DLC forms divides between the community as not all players can play together. On release, there is one server browser containing all the maps released and any free maps go into that browser. This means players have servers which cycle through all the maps allowing for variety in the playing environment in an attempt to keep players interested longer. When a DLC is released a new playlist is added with just the four DLC maps. Those who do not own Premium cannot access this playlist and those that do can only play those four maps on rotation. The maps are never added to the standard server browser. This process continues the longer the game has been out and the more maps released. Before long there are only small contingents of players in each playlist and the community feels fractured. Towards the release of Battlefield 1 EA began to make the DLC packs for Battlefield 4 free and this saw a resurgence in the community as now they could come together and play as a group. Personally, I feel that this method of releasing downloadable content is the least effective from a player’s perspective. While advertising the content before the initial release of the game is a good way to get consumers to put money down early the overall effect damages the community and gameplay experience as a whole.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Witcher 3 employed a very different system for releasing downloadable content. The Witcher 3 draws a fantastically clear line between DLC’s and expansion packs. On release the developers informed players that there would be 16 free DLC’s, most containing armor sets and potentially quests to go along with them. This was a great step in the right direction for the industry with ‘micro-transactions’ being so prevalent. Whilst not adding a ton of gameplay, the 16 free armor sets is a great show of faith to the community of the game. Though, free DLC was not the only extra content for the Witcher 3. The developers also announced 2 expansion packs. These were available individually or bundled for $50 AUD and added a significant amount of content into the game, almost 40 hours. They added new story quest lines, characters, new regions, and populated some of the more barren areas of the base map. These provide an excellent example of what makes the difference between an expansion pack and DLC. Furthermore, the value and quality of content you receive for the extra money is easily on par with the stock game and is entirely unessential for the completion of the original content. In my opinion this is an incredibly smart method to releasing extra content. I realize that Battlefield is an online multiplayer games and the Witcher 3 is an entirely singeplayer experience which brings me to my next point; what I believe to be the new direction for online DLC.
Ubisoft released Rainbow Six: Siege just over a year ago, and since then have release 4 DLC packs. There is a Season Pass (Premium) available but it is not essential to continue enjoying the game. For R6: Siege, and confirmed to be the DLC method in For Honor, Ubisoft has made all maps, game modes, and characters free. Though the Season Pass grants you these a week early there is no significant advantage other than map knowledge. The one disadvantage you have in not owning the Season Pass is that DLC characters’ prices are set at a much higher price (using in game currency) but are still relatively easily obtainable if you really want them. Releasing maps and game modes for free shows through in the community. Even after being out for 12 months there servers are still populated and finding a match, in my experience, is just as quick as it was 6 months ago. Furthermore, with each DLC the developers release fixes and updates for their other maps to keep the game balanced and evolving. This method of releasing DLC is by far the most superior from a player’s perspective. You can buy the game and then never spend another cent on it, whilst receiving all of the patching support and maps that are released. It also means that you don’t put down $70 and then stop playing the game and lose that money. It keeps the community together and always has the largest numbers of players matchmaking. The only drawback to this method is the lack of appeal in purchasing a Season Pass. The only exclusive content you receive are unique packs and skins, plus the content a week early and the characters at a cheaper price. But if you play the game enough to care about the maps and characters then earning enough in game currency to purchase them would not be a problem.
Downloadable content and expansion packs are a prevalent feature in the gaming industry today. Developers are always looking to extend the lives of their games and keep players interested. But charging for specific features and maps tends to have the inverse effect by breaking up the community. In a part 2 of this opinion series I will be looking at micro-transactions in games such as Call of Duty, and how developers are achieving more in keeping a high number of players in their games such as in Destiny.