Experienced Points

DLC for Dummies


In the process of writing this column, my blog, my webcomic, and my video series, I get to hear from a lot of really interesting people from a lot of different areas of gaming. Kids. Senior citizens. Casual players. Developers. Journalists. Fans. Critics. PC players. Console players. Handheld players. Tabletop players. I love hearing from people. I love discovering new folks and I enjoy finding new ideas and new ways of thinking about games that I’ve never encountered before. It’s a great reminder that videogames are like Disney World – nobody, nobody can know the whole thing. The best you can do is to pick a spot that interests you and explore it as far as you can.

The only group I don’t like hearing from are the aggrieved idiots. Now, rude, narrow-minded, self-important people aren’t usually very creative and so I’m rarely surprised by what idiots have to say. If I hate on a game, I know I’ll have three idiots to deal with: The one who insults me because I didn’t like the game, one who insults me because I didn’t hate the game enough, and one who insults me because I hated the game for the wrong reasons. I know, boo hoo. That’s life on the internet. We all have to deal with this sort of thing now and again. Nothing to be done about it. But this week I discovered a new and astoundingly virulent strain of idiocy and so I thought I’d share.

Portal 2 is out and the game has DLC that you can buy. If you like, you can go to the Valve store and buy little clothing items for your character. To be honest, you might never notice this DLC. You can play through the single-player game and get the full experience and you’ll never see a single sales pitch. There will be no holes in the game, no missing characters, no locked levels. It’s all there. It’s all good. If you like, you can play multiplayer, where you have the option to buy little bits and pieces for your avatar. Nothing fancy. Nothing that affects the game. It’s all cosmetic.

Idiots – and there really is no other way to refer to these people – stormed onto Metacritic on launch day and review-bombed Portal 2 with a bunch of zero scores, thus lowering the ranking of the game. The reason? Let me quote one of them:

“Pay for gestures, pay for hats, pay for a 1 **** day DLC and pay for 4 **** hours of gameplay. It isn’t a bad game but i don’t wanna pay for things that I ACTUALLY PAYED FOR. And yes, i liked valve until this game but this is just pathetic. You lost all that users that trusted you valve, all of them.”

(For the record: Note how this person claims the game is four hours long. I played through the game and it took me about eight real-world hours. Now, maybe if you’re some kind of super-genius you might be able to knock that down to five. Feel free to read that comment again and reflect on whether or not you think the author is that smart.)

Reviews like this one go on for page after page, a parade of cognitively crippled imbeciles proudly strutting their ignorance for all to see. To these idiots, I’d like to pose a question:

Where the hell have you been for the last three years?

I’ve been talking about the downside of DLC for a while now, and I don’t remember you guys showing up to review-bomb anyone back then. Let’s talk about what DLC should not do:

1. DLC should not change the balance of a game.

We do not want a grim future where player-versus-player is decided by who is willing to spend the most real-world money on weapons. I’m sure publishers wouldn’t mind acting as virtual arms dealers, gradually releasing increasingly more powerful weapons to an online game and forcing players to pony up if they want to remain competitive.

We also don’t want developers to balance games based on DLC goodies. When they die in-game, players shouldn’t feel like they’re being punished for not buying more powerful items at the online store.


2. Ideally, DLC should be multiplayer-only.

Remember the mess a couple of weeks ago when the servers went down at BioWare and suddenly all non-pirates were locked out of their game of Dragon Age? That sucked. Servers going down should not impact a single-player game. Being unable to reach the internet should not impact a single-player game.

But if the DLC is part of the multiplayer portion of the game, no problem. If you can’t reach the servers then you can’t play anyway.

3. DLC should NOT be sold within the gameworld.

This should be obvious. Characters inside of a game should not refer to the online store, particularly if the game is serious in nature.

People get irritated with product placement in movies. You know, suddenly Bruce Willis decides to have a Coke, and he holds the can so we can see the label. Or James Bond drives around in some hot-rod and we’re treated to a bunch of close-ups of the car’s logo. Imagine how much worse it would be if Bruce Willis turned to the camera and asked the audience if they could like to buy a Coke right now. Because this is something that is happening in games already.

4. DLC shouldn’t be integral to the experience.

This one is a little subjective, but basically you shouldn’t need to purchase DLC to get a full experience. Lack of DLC shouldn’t leave plot holes, loose ends, and the feeling that stuff is “missing” from the core game. Think of it like deleted scenes in a movie. The movie should still make sense and come to a satisfying conclusion without them.

Getting back to Portal 2

Really, idiots? This is where you’ve decided to draw the line? Portal 2? See, Portal 2 is the first game in years to actually handle DLC properly. Where were you guys when Electronic Arts rolled out “Project Ten Dollar”, where aspects of a single-player game would be locked to the original buyer and people buying the game used would need to fork over more money? Where were you when BioWare put a virtual DLC salesman inside of the gameworld? Where were you when Fallout: New Vegas started handing out overpowered cheat items to people who pre-ordered the game?

Portal 2 is the most innocuous use of DLC, ever. There is no reason to be upset over this. You have not made a principled stand with your childish review-bomb. You’ve only shown yourself to be spoiled, entitled brats who have no grasp of the core concepts involved here. If this protest had any sort of reason or coherence, then you would have aimed it at some other game.

You can hate Portal 2 if you like. Hate it for being only about 50% longer than the average shooter. Hate it for having fantastical pseudo-science setting instead of a gritty, ultra-brown motif. Hate it for being playful and witty instead of macho and serious. Hate it for having puzzles instead of murder as its core mechanic. Hate it because protagonist Chell is just a boring analytical Latina woman instead of an awesome white Ex-Navy SEAL dude with short brown hair. Hate it because it allows console and PC gamers to play together instead of maintaining the firm platform segregation that’s made the gaming community such a joy these last few decades. Hate it for experimenting with new ideas instead of sticking to what already works and has been done elsewhere. Hate it because you’re an indignant little rage-bot and you know deep down you don’t deserve something this good. But don’t hate Portal 2 for actually moving against the prevailing DLC trends. If you’re on a crusade against DLC, start with EA. Start with BioWare. Start with Blizzard.

Start with figuring out exactly what you believe in, and then take your stand.

Shamus Young is a writer and programmer. He also really hates that one game you love.

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