My name is Uriel. I am a GNU/Linux enthusiast, programmer, web developer and gamer.
We gamers from this generation are so used to the term 'DLC' that we often don't pay the attention we should to it. It has become so common that we fail to see the potential danger of this practice and the ultimate destiny of the path it is currently on. In the last few years we have seen several examples of why this practice is not good for anyone, neither the customer, nor the companies themselves. Remember the infamous "Horse Armor DLC" for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion? What about the DLC which isn't actually DLC but rather a paid code to unlock content already in the main game, like the ones for characters in Street Fighter X: Tekken? These are only the most notorious examples of the many, many disasters this practice is bringing to the game industry.
What is DLC?
DLC, short for "downloadable content", is a pack of resources reportedly not in the main game at the time of its release, which are set out to provide an extended gameplay or features to said game, adding replaying value to it and potentially more revenue in future sales, and distributed via Internet through many publishers. At least, that's what the definition says.
However, in practice, DLC is something else. It's a bundle of content which is released equally to all customers which own the main game, either they bought the DLC or not, as a form of an update, and the DLC pack itself is the key to unlocking the content for the customer. So, either way, we're all getting the DLC, downloading it, waiting for the download to finish, wasting space in our hard drives. The only difference is that if we don't pay for it, we don't get to use it. Of course it will still be there in our devices. After all, it's just an update.
What is the main difference between DLC and Expansion Packs?
We all get the DLC. We are required to, so we get the latest fixes and are able to play online with friends or with other people. So our versions coincide with the servers and other clients.
Expansion packs, on the other hand, are only installed on demand. You buy the expansion pack, you get to install it and play it. You're not required to download any content you don't own. Also, expansion packs tend to be longer than DLC and expand the gameplay further. Take into account games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and Starcraft II with its first Heart of the Swarm expansion. Sure, Skyrim expansions are labeled as DLC, but they act as an expansion pack. And sure, we are required to update our content to Heart of the Swarm to play Wings of Liberty, but the campaign and special units themselves are not downloaded at all unless you purchased it. You will not be able to play Heart of the Swarm games because you won't have the content installed.
Why DLC practices have gone too far
Companies are starting to charge the users for every single thing which used to be included in the main game and are, in fact and most times, included in the game already. For example, Borderlands 2 is charging people for every single character skin, several character classes, several missions and gun packs, which are already downloaded as an update because without that you won't be able to play online with people who own the DLC. Imagine you bought the main game and want to play with a friend who bought the Mechromancer pack. You will need the files with the Mechromancer model, the code for it, to be able to play with him. Thus, it's already packed with the main game. However, even though it's wasting space in your hard drive and you took the time to download it, you don't get to use it, just because you don't have the code which says "Hey, this guy paid for it, he can use it!".
These skins, classes and weapons used to be included as unlockables, making people want to play and replay the game. For example, to unlock a certain character in Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks, like Sub-Zero and Scorpion, we needed to pick up a collectible and then win the game. This made people want to search for the collectible and actually beat the game to beat it again with another character. That kept the game alive.
Other things like special guns or skins were available for people who managed to complete certain feats in-game, like reaching a certain level or defeating a certain boss without triggering a given action. Things that made the feat rewarding in some way, like a trophy. It has been now replaced by flashy texts with sounds, called "Trophies" and "Achievements", which don't give you anything at all in terms of content or replayability, but just a flashy badge you can show off to people.
However, now you just flash your credit card or wallet and you can get the character and a skins you want. You don't even have to play the game. You just pay and it's there.
Some other games, like Saint's Row: The Third and Sleeping Dogs even went as far as to sell people bundles with in-game currency, which actually removes gameplay since you can get the best stuff earlier without working your ass off in-game.
The Free-To-Play Method
Many companies have found out that selling people who already paid for the main game minimal stuff is wrong. So they found a solution, or not so much: don't charge for the main game, just make them pay for the in-game stuff.
There are so many examples of this practice that it's hard to name them. You get a limited gameplay from the game before you're asked either for your credit card or for an in-game elite currency which is... yes, with your credit card.
Of course you can get a lot of fun from the game without buying their stuff... at first. But then, after a long while, you'll start seeing people who have a complete advantage over you just because they invested real world money in-game, and will make you want to pay for the same stuff too. Finally, you will either leave the game unharmed or go down a path where you'll spend money for everything just to have the complete experience. Want to fight a certain boss? Pay up. Want that awesome dragonscale armor? Not unless you gives us your money.
The Pay-To-Play Hybrid
Some companies went even beyond that. Not only will they charge you for the main game, they will also make you pay for a lot of stuff in-game too. Take World of Warcraft as an example; you pay for the game, you pay for its expansions, you pay the monthly fee to be able to pay - which supposedly covers up the costs of server maintenance, technical and in-game support and so on -, but you'll also be asked to give them 15 bucks for a cool armor, or 25 bucks for a special mount not obtainable in-game. Seriously?
Don't forget other infamous examples, like Infestation: Survivor Stories, also known as The War Z. Not only did they charge people for the main game - even misleading several customers with promises they have yet to fulfill and promising content that would never be in the game - but they also opened an in-game store where you buy stuff for a currency you buy with your real world money. And the worst part is that if your character dies... you lose the stuff you bought! They even went as far as charging people for an early resurrection of their character because if your character dies you would have to wait 4 hours (it has since been reduced to a 1 hour cooldown, but the early revive button is still there with its fee).
The Special/Collector's/Digital Deluxe Edition/Pre-Purchase Bonus/Exclusive Retailer/Platform Method
Some of the game content is not even available for new players who were not fast enough to pre-purchase a game, or didn't have enough money to afford a collector's or special edition, or didn't have enough luck to live in a country with a certain retailer. Many of the DLC for many games are included as pre-purchase only bonuses; others are only available for people who spent more on a given game (like the Diablo III angel wings, which are not available for anyone who didn't buy the collector's edition which is no longer being sold); some of them are even only given to people who bought the game through a certain retailer, like the special Grand Theft Auto V DLC which was given only to people who pre-ordered the game through Gamestop, a game store which is available in only a few countries, leaving other people outside of the content forever; and don't forget about the Knightfall DLC Pack for Batman: Arkham Origins which is only available for the PlayStation 3 version of the game, leaving people who own other platforms without being able to even taste it.
The Tricky Season Pass Method
Some companies decide to put on sale a pass which will unlock all the content, past and future, for the customer, for a reduced price than buying it separately.
However, many times the season pass doesn't get you all the content, but only a reduced quantity of it. For example some of the season packs get you only four of the DLC and not the rest, making you buy another pack or the DLC one by one.
The Several Pack With Shared DLC Method
Games like Tomb Raider have made available several packs with discounted DLC bundled in them. However, many of the DLC found in one pack are available in another, and you either need to get the DLC separately or buy the pack with the DLC you already own, which not only doesn't reduce the price but also doesn't give you an extra copy of the DLC either. The worst part is in the rush some people don't even notice they are paying for something they already have paid for because of the insanely large amount of DLC there are, which is hard to track.
Why It's Bad For All Of Us
It may not be hard to understand why it's bad for the customer, who is constantly asked to pay for stuff or even purchasing a game through another method than the usual just to get the complete experience, and sometimes he won't be able to get the full game because of the platform restrictions.
However, it's odd that this practice is hurting the companies too. Sure, they are getting more money now. But that's just in the short-term. In the long run, customers will start losing respect for the company, which will then lose customer fidelity and will make less sales in the future. Many times people have given up to getting the full experience and are getting the game either used, or on sale, or not at all, just because they don't see the point anymore in buying their stuff if they have to keep paying to play the full game.
I for one have started the policy of not buying a game again from a company which makes excessive DLC or pointless DLC for unlocking stuff, specially if it gives advantage to people who pay more. I've stopped playing several multiplayer games I used to love because of that.
How We Can Fix It
Companies should start giving free DLC or making longer and more worthwhile expansion packs instead of insane amounts of nickle-and-dime DLC. Paying for a skin is ridiculous; make it an unlockable. Paying for a class is ridiculous too; make it unlockable as well. If you need more revenue to cover the costs, bundle them, make extra gameplay out of it, give several hours more of gameplay to the main game and then sell it as an expansion pack. People will buy an expansion pack that gives you more than 8 hours of gameplay, but won't want to pay for a gun skin.
My advice is that you always point to customer fidelity. The revenue will come alone by itself if the customer loves you. And I sincerely hope more companies adopted this again to make gaming good again.