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COD’s Havoc Pack Highlights the Problem with DLC… Again


Tomorrow, Sledgehammer Game’s releases their first big piece of Downloadable Content, better know as DLC, for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. The ever popular zombies game mode is a key bit of the Havoc Pack, but some have questioned if that mode should be DLC in the first place.

Making it better, without making it worse

The internet is packed to the gills with people showing disdain for DLC. It’s telling that there are over 13 million results when you do a Google search for “the problem with DLC”. With that many opinions on the topic it’s difficult to come up with a new angle for what the actual issue is and I'm certain that what I’m about to say has likely been said before somewhere in those 13 million results.

So to add to the list of results the problem with DLC, as I see it, is that the game playing community and the game development/game publishing community have very different ideas as to what constitutes DLC and whether or not it’s with worth paying for.

From the players point of view, DLC should function as an additional piece of content, whose existence enhances what's already there, but whose lack of immediate accessibility doesn’t hamstring the original experience. It should be additive, not subtractive. In other words, having DLC should make the game better, but not having it, shouldn’t make the game worse. That is a very difficult thing to get right.

For example, getting access to the DLC characters Zaeed and Kasumi in Mass Effect 2 certainly made that whole game experience a better one, but in no way did it impact on the main story of the game, thus not having them did not make the game worse. Gamers never felt like they were missing out a key piece of the experience. On the contrary, the DLC character of Javik, the Prothean, from Mass Effect 3 was viewed very differently by the community.

The contention remains, that because of that character’s links to the games massive backstory, having him feature as additional paid-for content, gated important elements of the story from the players. How important Javik actually is to the overall story of Mass Effect 3 is argument that remains ongoing within the franchise’s fandom, but the fact their is any argument at all is basically proof that a specific piece of DLC can be subtractive to an original experience.

Which brings us to the issue of Call of Duty: Advance Warfare’s Exo-Zombies. Does the Zombie mode add to the overall experience of the playing Call of Duty: Advance Warfare? I warrant most people would answer yes. Does not having access to it, somehow subtract from the original experience? That’s a bit harder to answer.

Lacking Definition

The problem with DLC (there’s that sentence again) is that it’s fairly difficult to have a blanket definition for what constitutes DLC that is purely additive, without being subtractive. In the case of Call of Duty’s Zombie mode, I imagine there are some who would say, “Well, it doesn’t impact the single-player campaign mode and/or multiplayer mode, it’s a bonus mode, so I don’t care.” But what if the reason you’ve always bought Call of Duty is specifically because of the Zombies, suddenly that DLC is subtractive to your experience of the game.

Which is the real problem with DLC. Who can say for a certainty what one piece of DLC will mean from one player to the next. I’m willing to bet there are tons of Call of Duty players that hate the idea that they are losing out on multiplayer maps, because it costs money they can’t afford to spend. To them, the very idea of map packs makes the game a lesser experience.

The additive or subtractive nature of DLC will have to dealt with on a case by case, because there isn’t that clear cut, concrete definition for what actually constitutes it. Ideally, I’d rather we didn’t have DLC, it would eliminate the discussion completely, since it seems to hurt more than it helps. However, then we would deny ourselves experiences like The Last of Us’s Left Behind, Batman: Arkham City Harley Quinn's Revenge or Skyrim’s Dawnguard. And of course, it’s clearly not going anywhere. Since it is here, we just have to hope that developers and publishers can have the forbearance to think about whether the DLC is making their game better, without making it worse.

What do you think about DLC?

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