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Game Overdose 3: DLC Vs Expansion Packs

Saturday, 3 September, 2011 4 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.