The Meaning Of DLC


CDProjekt’s announcement of what is essentially a season pass for The Witcher 3 has sparked feelings of betrayal from some customers who didn’t pay attention to what it’s been saying. More importantly though, it re-opens a debate about what the idea of additional content means for video games these days.

First, let’s establish that anyone who sees hypocrisy in CDP’s announcement that it’s charging for two pieces of what is technically DLC for Witcher 3 after announcing 16 pieces of free DLC needs to take a closer look at the company’s past statements. People have already pretty widely posted clips of a recent story where CDP said it would charge for “larger expansions,” but the company actually first said this way back in 2011 right after Witcher 2 came out. This differentiation between “DLC” and “expansions” has always been its policy. CDP is doing exactly what it said it would do.

In both of those stories, the people from CDP also seem to state an intent of reclaiming the meaning of additional content in video games. “First and foremost, I think the world ‘DLC’ has been extremely devalued,” someone from CDP told Polygon last year. “DLC” today means bits and pieces of a game like a single weapon, character, or maybe a whole side quest because of how console game publishers have sold them.

Back in 2011 CDP said, “The implication is that if we’re going to go ahead and charge for something, it’ll be significant content akin to the expansion packs of yesteryear.” Back in the day PC developers would release $20-$30 expansion packs that basically amounted to entire new story campaigns on top of the original game’s engine. A big part of the difference between then and now probably has to do with the speed at which console developers and publishers move.

Usually big PC franchises wait several years between full sequels as opposed to console franchises that put out a sequel every three or two years, or even annually in some cases. Yet they still want the revenue and player retention additional content provides, so  the publishers speed up the cycle to wring more money from consumers. CDP can do what it’s doing because there probably won’t be a “Witcher 4” for a while, if ever. Another factor is how the distinction between DLC and expansion packs came along partly because of the difference between delivery mediums. The old expansion packs mostly existed in a pre-digital world, whereas DLC is by nature digital. True expansion packs in the digital age seem to be in the minority.

In the aforementioned stories CDP pins the differentiation on the size of the content, but a lot of publishers just seem to always use “DLC,” even for very large pieces of content. Technically, expansions in the modern sense are just really big pieces of DLC. Dishonored’s two story-based add-ons, which Bethesda calls DLC, together comprise almost as much content as the base game. Grand Theft Auto IV: Episodes From Liberty City is a significant expansion. Maybe CDP just needs to inject the word “DLC” with the value that used to be associated with expansion packs, but one developer alone probably can’t do that. In any case, Witcher 3’s “expansion pass” supposedly contains around 30 hours of content for $25, and the October and early 2016 release dates suggests this is not cut content.

As for what CDP actually is calling “DLC” — the 16 pieces of additional content that will roll out following Witcher 3’s release, it’s basically following the same strategy as other publishers, but in a more consumer-friendly way. We get day-one DLC, or DLC released shortly after a game’s launch for two big reasons: 1) People are still working on the game during the several weeks it takes to manufacture and ship the discs. 2) Microsoft supposedly suggested publishers release DLC in the first 30 days after launch to keep people from trading games in so quickly. CDP is doing it for the same reasons, it just isn’t charging for that initial DLC.

One thing I guess you could take issue with is CDP’s timing. Announcing the pass before Witcher 3’s launch is the trend a lot of people don’t like. On the flip side, some have praised From Software and MachineGames for waiting months to announce the Dark Souls II and Wolfenstein season passes respectively. We’ll see how that works out sales-wise, because sales are why most developers announce these passes so soon. The amount of players interested in a game virtually always drops off in the weeks after launch, and they want to sell the pass to as big a player base as possible.

If you actually find all this a legitimate reason to not buy games like Witcher 3, I don’t know what to tell you. Do you not like seeing additional content for games at all? Or have you just been so jaded by the system that you automatically assume all additional content was ripped from the base game? I guess that’s the fault of publishers then, but at the very least don’t put that on CDP, one of the few developers actually trying to change things.


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