Home > Game Overdose > Game Overdose 3: DLC Vs Expansion Packs

Game Overdose 3: DLC Vs Expansion Packs

Saturday, 3 September, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Hello, as you may have noticed from the author name above this is a special guest Game Overdose, but rather than explain it, I’ll let Steve start us off:

“Hi, it’s Steve. I’m busy overdosing on Deus Ex: Human Revolution (somewhat appropriately). Sorry for having missed a week’s Daily Dosages, but job-hunting has taken precedence! So in the mean-time is the incredibly talented Ricky Compton doing a bit of guest writing, who you might have noticed writes part of the real news on this site. Take it away Ricky!”

And so after that favourable introduction, I’m going to take you through the world of the DLC, the extinction of the expansion pack and the money-grabbing, soul sucking machine of EA. And roll the credits…or the logo…or whatever.

The phrase ‘DLC’ is one that’s only really picked up over the last couple of years, despite the fact that downloadable content has been around since the Atari 2600’s GameLine service, and has evolved from telephone line downloads to the present wave of console and PC-based downloads. DLC has gained popularity in a huge leap recently and has led to such additional injections of game substance being hailed as the new way of development.

The vast majority of game developers now have to be considering the use of DLC to increase the span of their game’s life cycle. In an industry where a game’s experience can usually last anywhere between 8-40 hours, developers found DLC an easy and now seemingly mandatory way to expand the player’s experience. DLC can range from simple one-mission packs (Such as the ‘cases’ in L.A. Noire) to entirely new sequences and mini-storylines (Such as the DLC packs for Borderlands). For some gamers and game critics, DLC is seen as a con, a new movement by the gaming industry to withhold content from a retail release only to then sell it on for an extra profit a month or two after the release date.

Image © 2011 - BioWare

I don’t see this as being true…entirely. DLC allows for a game developer to add pieces to the story that never quite fitted in. It’s their chance to explore new, stand-alone possibilities after the credits have rolled. The DLC released usually has nothing new to add to the original story and is generally based on new pieces of lore. Take the debut DLC for Dragon Age 2; Legacy takes the player into a new location, with new enemies in an attempt to gain knowledge about Hawke’s (the main character) father, and how his life affected the actions in Dragon Age 2. Everything about this screams DLC; it wouldn’t have fit seamlessly into the game, but as a standalone adventure to be played separately from the storyline it works so well.

So in the new rush of DLC, the games industry seem to be forgetting their old ways, leaving behind the ‘Expansion Pack’; retail releases of extra content for games. While many developers still do release physical copies of their DLC, it’s not the same as when games like Oblivion and Rome: Total War released their expansion packs and it’s often a secondary, higher priced alternative for those unable to download the content from their console/PC.

The expansion pack is a dying concept, although like all dying concepts there’s always at least one fanboy who never wants to let go. And in this case, it’s actually a publisher. EA are infamous for being money hungry, with their £10 map packs for Call of Duty, their disregard for pre-owned title gamers and their new stunt of charging £5 more for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 in England than comparably in all other countries; but in this article I’m focussing on their desperate hold on the expansion pack. After all, an article ranting about EA could be twice as long as this and still be incomplete.

The Sims, developed by Maxis and then consumed by EA, has always been a game that thrives off its add-ons. If people want a prime example of developers holding content, this is where you should look. Each new base title (The Sims, The Sims 2 and The Sims 3) comes with the bare essentials to run the game, and then is expanded through packs that provide holidays, pets, magic, business etc. However on each ‘reboot’ of the franchise, all of that’s taken away until you buy the next chain of updates. The Sims 3’s expansion packs also retail at full retail price, coming in at around £29.99 in the UK. And the new expansion…pets…again!

The Sims gave us expansions of all variety, from simple additional content in ‘Livin’ It Up’ to the ability to have pets and travel around in ‘Unleashed’. Perhaps the most inventive expansion pack was ‘Makin’ Magic’. The Sims 2 had a similar series of expansion packs, including ‘Pets’ that allowed you to get animals again, and my favourite expansion of all ‘Open For Business’ that allowed you to run home businesses and buy real estate. However, now that The Sims 3 is steadily rolling out expansions, we’re seeing a dire lack of imagination. It’s the same expansion packs just upgraded slightly each time. If you don’t believe me, check this.

Holidays: The Sims: Vacation, The Sims 2: Bon Voyage, The Sims 3: World Adventures.
Pets: The Sims: Unleashed, The Sims 2: Pets, The Sims 3: Pets.
Dating/Nightlife: The Sims: Hot Date, The Sims 2: Nightlife, The Sims 3: Late Night

I mean all’s well in them keeping content, but release it in the core game, save the expansion packs for original content. Those are the great ones. The Sims: Makin’ Magic,The Sims 2: Open For Business, The Sims 2: University, these were great expansion packs. So EA, drop the repetition and the shameful withdrawal of content on release, and give us originality, new and exciting ways to play and most important of all, catch up with everyone else. In this new age of added content, EA are falling out of the trends, in the hope of scoring that all important revenue stream they care about seemingly more than their gamers.

  1. Saturday, 3 September, 2011 at 3:39 PM

    I have a few issues with what you are reporting.
    It mostly seems to be a diatribe against EA rather than an introduction to the fun world of DLC. The first real/modern example of DLC would be Bethesda’s horse armour. That was a nonsense.

    To put it simply DLC you download, adds slight content to extend the life of a title whilst expansion packs extend significantly. The line between the two is blurring but if you put it in context of DLC tends to be items, arenas, the odd character, whilst expansions are whole new worlds. Most of the downloads for RPGS tend to fall into the expansion pack category. DLC just happens to be a nice catchall name for it all.

    You say EA have a total disregard to the second hand gamer, but its sales in trade-ins that are giving the games industry in the UK a huge boot whilst its down. You can pick up a brand new preowned title for about £5-10 off the RRP but none of that goes to the developers, that is pure profit for your chosen games store. Bit rubbish don’t you think.
    It would be like someone reposting this blog and encouraging folk to pay them.
    Working as a games designer and lover of games I know how pricey they can be, but knowing how little money there is on the flip side I try my best to buy games retail and not preowned. At least then those (often) hungry devs are getting some £ love.

    EA’s project ten dollar should be lauded for at least keeping second hand gamers in the loop. If you’ve picked up a new title for tenner and like it, then again what is wrong with paying a few quid to get more of it? I doubt you moan so much about a TV series like the Wire having 6 seasons and having to pay for each instead of getting access to it all for the price of one.

    What is wrong with updating your expansion packs, if I loved Sims 2 and playing with my dog I’d expect as standard to have the same expansion (with tweaks) for Sims 3. All of these are optional for extending the life of the core experiance (the base title) – you seem very down on this.

    Would you rather pay £150 for a game that had everything or installments for just the pieces that you wanted. And you don’t mention the inevitable pack sales where whole groups of DLC will be bundled together at a ‘new low price’.

    Why not discuss the multitude of expansions for Guitar Hero/Rock Band – nickel and diming at every oppurtunity. I mean would’nt it be nice if you bought a track on GH/RB you could get a copy for iTunes/your favourite music sales site.

    In an increasingly costly environment for making games, alternative revenue streams are necessary to continue the development of new ones. Brands can live or die on the success of their DLC so dont hate too hard on them.

    You should also be aware that EA have nothing to do with Call of Duty – that would be the other behemoth of games Activision-Blizzard. Who could be argued are even more cash hungry and revenue dependant than EA. Just look at the WoW subscriptions, their oversaturation of the rhythmn music DLC, callous killing of DJ Hero, etc.
    It’s a bit of shoddy reporting.

    • Stephen Harland
      Thursday, 8 September, 2011 at 1:56 AM

      While not my article, I do feel I should defend some of Ricky’s content here. You mention project 10 dollar and how it’s “keeping second hand gamers in the loop”.
      Well what about first hand gamers? So you buy a game, it’s got some content, and now you’ve gotta sign up online, register your details, and type in a code for your extra shop.
      When this is on a controller it’s even more hassle, all to get content that they’ve cut off to try and keep their profit margine up with the second hand gamer. And it’s not “for” them at all, it’s to ensure that with each resell they’re still getting a cut of the pie.
      And you know what? In and of itself I have absolutely no problem with that. The real demon here are high-street sellers, making pure profit on the hard developed, written and published games, that no writer, developer or publisher sees a penny of (as you yourself mentioned). But EA’s project 10 dollar isn’t really affecting them at all, they can still resell the game, often at the same price as a game that doesn’t come with 1-person DLC.
      I’ve already mentioned my suggested fix in a previous article. Yes, have day one DLC that doesn’t come with the base game, but at least reflect the price of that in the initial cost of the game. So rather than EA holding back black emporium if you bought second hand, don’t include it at all, just reduce the main DA2 by 3 quid or whatever. That way neither new or old players are really being dicked over, and new players that buy the game with the code don’t have the frustration of downloading something they feel they already have. Enabling your consumer greater choice and variety in their game is far more powerful than hanging it just out of reach.
      And a brief aside. Expansions and DLC almost need to be accepted as synonymous now. Expansions really came from a time that content needed to fill a disc but now we have the limitless power of the internet backing us. Hell, most expansions you see in stores now are more like collections of DLC. It’s really just extra content, some of it’s big (new maps) and some of its small (one new weapon), but trying to draw a distinction is pretty pointless.
      As for Ricky’s comment on the Sims, I see what he means. All that the Sims really tends to result in is a graphics change and a slight injection of autonomy in the AI, and as such seeing every new generation of sims follow the same pattern of expansions as the last does seem like a bit of a lazy way of going about it.
      However, the Sims isn’t really the vast intellectual frontier of game design, most people would argue that it cannot be typically ascribed to typical game design methodology. It’s more a sandbox with a heavy management system in place, with no goals other than those set in place by the player. The people that buy it again and again don’t want innovation as much as they want new but familiar.
      That being said, charging game retail price for an expansion is criminal as well. I feel the sims would do better from a micro-transaction system, plugged DIRECTLY into the game world. So you buy a sofa for the first time, it’s downloaded in real time and from then on you can buy it with in-game currency rather than real.
      As for your comment on buying guitar hero tracks and getting itunes stuff, brilliant in principle, but I think the real problem with games and a lot of the above is the capitalist nature of games. The retailers still snatch up all the deals, so pre-order DLC tends to be exclusive to them, and the Sims won’t move to a micro-trans system BECAUSE they’re obligated to produce a physical disc. Trying to co-ordinate deals between itunes, guitar hero stores, and the current cost of singles etc is a nightmare to even speculate on…
      Short of it is, that while companies work to dick each others over and squeeze the most out of their consumers we’ll see more bullshit underhanded tactics like all the above. Personally I blame retailers most, but with thin client technology, direct to drive become prevailant and people getting generally quite bored of “exclusive content, but only when you buy HERE” that they’ll soon go under and other, more consumer-centric providers will appear.
      Oh, and I agree that subscriptions are a horror, need to be replaced with micro-trans. Reward “free players” if they’re willing to put the time and effort in, and reward those that’ll buy your stuff.

  2. Stephen Harland
    Thursday, 8 September, 2011 at 1:56 AM

    While not my article, I do feel I should defend some of Ricky’s content here. You mention project 10 dollar and how it’s “keeping second hand gamers in the loop”.
    Well what about first hand gamers? So you buy a game, it’s got some content, and now you’ve gotta sign up online, register your details, and type in a code for your extra shop.
    When this is on a controller it’s even more hassle, all to get content that they’ve cut off to try and keep their profit margine up with the second hand gamer. And it’s not “for” them at all, it’s to ensure that with each resell they’re still getting a cut of the pie.

    And you know what? In and of itself I have absolutely no problem with that. The real demon here are high-street sellers, making pure profit on the hard developed, written and published games, that no writer, developer or publisher sees a penny of (as you yourself mentioned). But EA’s project 10 dollar isn’t really affecting them at all, they can still resell the game, often at the same price as a game that doesn’t come with 1-person DLC.

    I’ve already mentioned my suggested fix in a previous article. Yes, have day one DLC that doesn’t come with the base game, but at least reflect the price of that in the initial cost of the game. So rather than EA holding back black emporium if you bought second hand, don’t include it at all, just reduce the main DA2 by 3 quid or whatever. That way neither new or old players are really being dicked over, and new players that buy the game with the code don’t have the frustration of downloading something they feel they already have. Enabling your consumer greater choice and variety in their game is far more powerful than hanging it just out of reach.

    And a brief aside. Expansions and DLC almost need to be accepted as synonymous now. Expansions really came from a time that content needed to fill a disc but now we have the limitless power of the internet backing us. Hell, most expansions you see in stores now are more like collections of DLC. It’s really just extra content, some of it’s big (new maps) and some of its small (one new weapon), but trying to draw a distinction is pretty pointless.

    As for Ricky’s comment on the Sims, I see what he means. All that the Sims really tends to result in is a graphics change and a slight injection of autonomy in the AI, and as such seeing every new generation of sims follow the same pattern of expansions as the last does seem like a bit of a lazy way of going about it.
    However, the Sims isn’t really the vast intellectual frontier of game design, most people would argue that it cannot be typically ascribed to typical game design methodology. It’s more a sandbox with a heavy management system in place, with no goals other than those set in place by the player. The people that buy it again and again don’t want innovation as much as they want new but familiar.
    That being said, charging game retail price for an expansion is criminal as well. I feel the sims would do better from a micro-transaction system, plugged DIRECTLY into the game world. So you buy a sofa for the first time, it’s downloaded in real time and from then on you can buy it with in-game currency rather than real.

    As for your comment on buying guitar hero tracks and getting itunes stuff, brilliant in principle, but I think the real problem with games and a lot of the above is the capitalist nature of games. The retailers still snatch up all the deals, so pre-order DLC tends to be exclusive to them, and the Sims won’t move to a micro-trans system BECAUSE they’re obligated to produce a physical disc. Trying to co-ordinate deals between itunes, guitar hero stores, and the current cost of singles etc is a nightmare to even speculate on…

    Short of it is, that while companies work to dick each others over and squeeze the most out of their consumers we’ll see more bullshit underhanded tactics like all the above. Personally I blame retailers most, but with thin client technology, direct to drive become prevailant and people getting generally quite bored of “exclusive content, but only when you buy HERE” that they’ll soon go under and other, more consumer-centric providers will appear.

    Oh, and I agree that subscriptions are a horror, need to be replaced with micro-trans. Reward “free players” if they’re willing to put the time and effort in, and reward those that’ll buy your stuff.

    • Thursday, 13 October, 2011 at 12:29 AM

      Thanks Steve, that’s swaying towards my point. And I used EA as the main example because Project Ten Dollar was, in my opinion, the polar opposite of how this should be handled. The main reason I buy games preowned is because I’m not gaining anything by buying them new, other than for the sense of “Ooh look, I have a game on release”. The most recent game I bought new was Gears of War 3. Why? Because Epic offered some pretty awesome preorder content, and the retail-content was also enticing. Surely if anything’s taught us over the years its that your more likely to influence people with rewards for doing what you want them to do rather than punishments for opposing you.

      Plus, I consider Pre-owned games an investment for future titles. Because I don’t rent games, I find that buying games pre-owned is a better method. My main example for this is Dragon Age. I bought Origins pre-owned about a year after release. I loved it and when Dragon Age 2 was announced I thought “Yes, I’m definitely having some of this” and pre-ordered it for release. Same with Mass Effect, Red Faction (Although Armageddon was a disappointment and reverts my THQ faith) and most recently, Forza (I have Forza 4 on preorder for Friday).

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