The following is an opinion article. You are allowed to disagree.
Recently, in the Source Gaming discord there was a huge discussion on DLC and why it even exists. I wanted to quickly share my thoughts on why I’ve come around to accept DLC as a necessary evil in the gaming industry today.
My opinion drastically changed within the last year. In particular, when I visited PlatinumGames and was granted the opportunity to take a tour (You can read about it here). The tour was pretty extensive, showing a walkthrough of taking a concept and putting it into a game (the untimely Scalebound). The process was in depth, with the tour guide explaining each stage. On the original blog post I stated the steps comprised of: concept art -> modelling -> texturing -> animation -> sound effects -> and programming. However, in reality, that’s not all there is to game design. There are a LOT more people involved with a game. There are directors, debuggers, marketers, translators, editors, human resource people…the list goes on.
The ballooning cost of development staff and the pure expense of a project is exactly why DLC is becoming a necessary evil in today’s games. Without DLC, publishers would have to look into other revenue streams to get a return on their investment. I think without DLC revenue, publishers would increase the price of games in order to still profit.
As Sakurai has stated in The Creator’s Hands are Alive and Well, “[DLC is] the easiest way to make money” which is why a lot of video game companies are utilizing DLC these days. Of course, in that column, Sakurai is speaking out against the ‘on-disc’ DLC, the DLC that is held back for the sake of increasing money. He argues that Smash for Wii U/3DS was “authentic”, and was all developed once the game was finished. I think most people are against on-disc DLC.
In some cases, companies will use on-disc DLC to maintain momentum. Sakurai even mentioned this in that column. Timed unlocks for Mario Maker and Splatoon, while free, are still a form of on-disc DLC. It’s content that was not available on Day 1. However, most people were okay with the timed unlocks, as they were free. Most people are unhappy with paid DLC being a “key” to unlock a character that’s fully finished with a game. Personally, I dislike both forms of on-disc DLC, but that’s just me. I refused to buy Splatoon on release due to not all of its’ content being available on Day 1.
Despite this, one common criticism I’ve seen of Smash for Wii U/3DS DLC is how much it costs — especially in regards to Lucas’ and Roy’s cost. I think it’s important to remember a couple of things. First, Nintendo decided the price of DLC. Secondly, video game companies are companies. Their purpose is to profit. Without profit, they cannot continue making games. No money, no games.
So even though Roy is a semi-clone, or whatever, Nintendo still needed to pay the concept artists, sound engineers, voice actors, programmers, modelers, directors, marketers, etc. There’s a lot of people to pay, and the 5 USD price tag was the price Nintendo decided they could charge, in order to pay back their investment and make a profit. And guess what? Most people bought it. Smash DLC was some of the most profitable DLC Nintendo ever produced. Even though it took quite a bit of time, energy and capital, I’m sure Nintendo, their fans, and their investors were overall satisfied with the result.
I’d like to briefly discuss the difference between planning to have DLC, and planning the DLC. I think with Smash for 3DS/Wii U Sakurai had always planned on doing DLC. Logistically, Bandai Namco would need to plan around having certain teams, or people available for other projects. We do know from data mining by yours truly, that Smash was always DLC capable. As I discussed in Sakurai Didn’t Say That!, I think DLC was planned for Smash, but particular DLC wasn’t (with the exception of Mewtwo). When exactly Lucas, Roy and Ryu were decided is still a mystery, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was shortly before the game shipped but after the game was finished.
Up until now, I’ve been focused on the commercial explanation for why DLC even exists. I’d like to briefly explore the creative side to DLC. DLC can be an avenue for creators to experiment with the game. Mario Kart 8 adding Link, Isabella/Villager, and the 200cc Mode are prime examples of this. Kosuke Yabuki, one of the game’s directors stated in an interview, “ If we’re going to make DLC, we wanted it to be something fresh and special.“ In the same interview, he also states, “this DLC is unique and special in the way it transcends the boundaries of the Mario Kart franchise. I hope that people around the world enjoy it.” I think it’s reasonable to say that without DLC being a success for Mario Kart 8, we might not have seen the Inklings in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
Sometimes DLC offers side stories, different from the main campaign. The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned from the original Borderlands was pretty well received, despite having to do little with the original story. The Grand Theft Auto 4 and 5 DLC is also pretty experimental with their DLC — focusing on new characters which bring new light to the game world. DLC can be a great way to give focus to a minor character, providing extra details to the overall lore. Plague Knight, Specter Knight and (eventually) King Knight are all boss characters from the original Shovel Knight but have received their own themed DLC content. See? DLC isn’t always bad!