Are Expansion Packs Finally Making A Comeback?

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Another reason this May-June 2016 period is looking pretty cool is because multiple sizable expansion packs are coming out for games. I’m already in the middle of Fallout 4’s Far Harbor expansion while anticipating The Witcher 3’s Blood and Wine expansion. If there aren’t any more delays there’s also the Apex expansion for ArmA III I mentioned last time. One would think true expansion packs are starting to make a comeback after the era of little DLC packages, but it still really depends on the kind of game and publisher.

DLC packs can be pretty unpopular because a lot of people feel like they’re just tiny bits of a game that are often cut out of the main part and resold. Many of the ones we became familiar with during the PS3 and Xbox 360 era were made up of maybe one extra level or a few new weapons, sometimes a bundle of multiplayer maps. Meanwhile, Witcher 3’s Hearts of Stone expansion added a lot more space to the world map, a lengthy extra side quest that was praised for its writing, and additional game mechanics. I’ve heard it described as shocking for only $10. Blood and Wine is supposed to be a whole new world map as big as either of the existing ones, something like 20 hours of story content, a lot more new game mechanics, and major adjustments to the user interface. Apex will have a new world map, a new campaign, and supposedly major tweaks to the game engine to accommodate DirectX 12. And of course many are already in the middle of Fallout 4’s Far Harbor expansion which offers a similar amount of content to Blood and Wine. You can also count earlier examples like Wolfenstein: The Old Blood which included a lengthy new campaign, as well as Elite Dangerous: Horizons which expanded the possibilities of the open world of Elite Dangerous. I never figured out how the expansions for Destiny work.

Some of this can be compared to previous expansions and DLC from Bethesda Game Studios and Bohemia Interactive. Around 2006 or 2007 when DLC first started to show up on console games I remember Bethesda being the first and maybe only developer doing anything for console games that felt like a proper expansion pack of the PC tradition in Shivering Isles for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Nobody really seemed to follow that example. Even Bethesda’s own Fallout 3 and Obsidian’s New Vegas only got smaller add-ons, though those could be considered on some kind of borderline between DLC and expansions. The new maps and quests they provided probably felt more like expansion packs, but smaller. Bohemia’s Operation Arrowhead for ArmA II had multiple new maps and missions but also ironically paved the way for multiple smaller DLC packs.

I don’t think we’re going to start to see the same thing from EA or Ubisoft soon though. Bethesda, Bohemia, Frontier Developments, and others can do that because they don’t release new $60 editions in their game franchises annually or even every two years. Bethesda Game Studios puts out a full game every five years, and Bohemia is on a similar schedule. Frontier has a much more long-term plan for Elite. In this way they still operate more like old PC developers than blockbuster console developers that have to keep pumping out Call of DutyBattlefield, and Assassin’s Creed annually or bi-annually.

As long as that’s true for EA, Activision, and Ubisoft the most we’re gonna get from them are $15 packs of maps and missions, some of which may feel more valuable than others. Ubisoft in particular kinda stumbled into a pattern of more substantial add-ons after the success of Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon, continuing with Assassin’s Creed Freedom Cry and Call of Juarez: Gunslinger. Those were still technically $15 DLC packs but were praised for their unusual amount of value and for being purchasable standalone. I don’t know if that’s going to continue onto its current games though. Will The Division get a big expansion?

Maybe this trend might hold if it ends up making more sense for games-as-a-service. Big publishers packaging their games as more like ongoing services than as products to be replaced every other year would make bigger expansions more sensible.

BULLETS:

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