Day one DLC is a contentious part of the gaming industry. It’s pretty widely condemned as a predatory practice that scams gamers out of more of their money than they would otherwise spend by not providing the user with as much content as games would in the past and then immediately charging the user extra for that content. And it certainly has been used like that plenty in the past. But that’s not the whole story. There are legitimate uses for day one DLC that often gets put in the same camp as the rest.
It’s possible that the content released in a day one DLC was worked on after the game was completed, or the content of the DLC is a higher age rating than the base game would otherwise be, which would reduce the potential audience of the game, impacting the sales and thus impacting the amount of money the developers can put into the game.
Unfortunately though, game developers and publishers and businesses and so they ultimately have to look at monetizing their field. This can lead them down the less legitimate route of withholding content that otherwise would have been in the game to hold hostage for additional paid DLC or collectors editions. Now even the more legitimate uses of day one DLC often get slammed, as such companies won’t risk the backlash by doing them and the end-user may miss out on content they would otherwise have gotten.
Day One DLC Is Bad
There are myriad examples of predatory uses of day one DLC. A famous one was Bioshock 2, which released a DLC that fans found has the content already on the shipped disks due to the tiny download size of the DLC. This clearly shows that the content was there and could otherwise have been in the game from release but instead was held behind a paywall. This use of DLC is hard to see as anything other than a way for the company to make more money. Considering it’s a full-priced game and the series itself was already a big earner it’s understandable that people will feel cheated by this.
This kind of gated content is exactly the kind of thing to upset people, and rightly so. Why a fighting game that used to have a roster of 20 characters to play as now has a roster of 10 with others coming in with an additional cost of $5 each despite coming out at exactly the same time shows a level of contempt for the gamer by just saying them as a way to make money. Rather than using DLC to add content to the game they are simply adding cost to the player.
Day One DLC Is Good
There are legitimate uses for day one DLC that benefit the player without being a scam to get more money, although differentiating these from the user’s perspective can be impossible. This is because it is determined by what goes on behind the scene in a games company.
During a standard game production schedule, some of the first disciplines that finish first are the Design team and the Art team. This is because content like this needs to be completed early on in the project, as any changes to these will have a big knock-on effect on the rest of the schedule. This often means that they are moved onto the next project to start designing and concepting that. Sometimes the company deems it more useful for them to continue working on the game but they cannot keep adding content directly to the game or it will push back the release date. As such, during the period where the programmers are fixing the final few issues, marketing are gearing up for the release and any physical copies of the game are being produced and shipped the rest of the art team can be creating new content. Depending on the size of the content it could be quite possible to create a bonus character or some other small addition by the time the game comes to actually releasing, and as the DLC will have less marketing and will generally be a digital download it can bypass most of what slowed down the base games and release at the same time.
However, if the character, for example, was one that you would otherwise expect in the base game as they had been there in all previous games then perhaps the use of day one DLC is more predatory even though it follows the same rules. In this case, the company should have pushed the release date back to get all the expected base game content in there and be using that time for a new character. These lines can often get blurred based on people’s expectations and the opaque work practices of game companies.
A more novel way to use day one DLC is to include content that otherwise cannot be included in the base game. A great example of this, although not a day one DLC itself, was Warhammer: Total War’s ‘Blood For The Blood God’ DLC. This unlocked a more bloody and gory game that at first seems like a quick cash grab with minimal effort from the developers, withholding parts of the game that should be in the base game. In actuality, they use this DLC to get around age rating rules on the base game. Without the DLC blood and gore would not have been added as it would limit the potential player base, adding it later as a DLC only restricts people from spending that $2.99 on the DLC rather than the whole game. So the developer wins profit-wise and the players win as they get the adult content that the developers otherwise would not have put in.
DLC can be a force for good and a force for evil. Day one DLC is an even more dicey situation, with a high potential to be a quick cash grab for publishers at the expense of the player. There are good kinds of day one DLC, but they are unfortunately in the minority.
Consumers can help push developers towards the better kinds of DLC. By being aware of what you are purchasing and knowing when to withhold your money so as to not reward this behavior as well as kicking up a storm on social media they can be dissuaded from doing so. We do, however, have to be careful that it is not a witch hunt that ends up attacking a legitimate use of day one DLC otherwise we could end up with developers who are too scared to release extra content from fear of a backlash, or holding on to content until months down the line to avoid the association.