DLC (Downloadable Content): a Blessing or a Curse?I remember playing the original BioShock quite well. It was one of those games that seemed to get wedged there within your mind and I think I played it about three times. I was naturally excited about the sequel, which was released earlier in the year. That, in my opinion anyway, was equally as impressive as the first but brought with it a very touchy subject: downloadable content (DLC).

You see, BioShock 2 did something brand new in terms of downloadable content. No longer did you log on to your preferred marketplace and buy it; it needed to be unlocked from within the game. The developer has said it was to encourage gamers to finish the game, but I think there’s quite an interesting business perspective shrouded by these claims.

Gamers are quite competitive. We want to complete things and we like challenges — I think you’ll agree. Now while other games offer DLC from the get-go, BioShock 2 made us work for it. And working for things in the gaming world is fun. Gamers will work for it and unlock it because they enjoy unlocking and completing things.

Once it’s unlocked, people are going to want to buy it because they worked to actually have the option to buy it. 2K games clearly had a shrewd business plan that no other publisher had grasped onto, and it worked. Quite a high percentage of people weakened at the knees and purchased it for this sole reason. Again, this is just one dimension to downloadable content, but it’s an interesting subject and quite an explosive one, too.

Take for example Activision. When the company released the Stimulus Package, a set of five maps for its FPS giant Modern Warfare 2, it retailed on the Xbox Live Marketplace for an astounding 1200 Microsoft Points. That translated into a shockingly high $15 for a mere five maps.

What made this seem even more scandalous was the fact that these maps weren’t even new. Granted, two of them were but the other three were mere ports from the previous game — and from what I hear, bad ports, as well. Gamers were naturally outraged but gave in to Activision and purchased the pack.

But do we need DLC? The PS3 uses Blu-ray discs as its platform of choice, and they hold a massive 25 GB worth of storage — and in some cases 50 GB. Can we not add the DLC into the game instead of charging extra for content that in some cases is needed to finish off the story of a game?

At the start of the DLC craze, many would see the new form of content as a welcome addition — “addition” being the key word here, as nobody wants to pay extra to finish the story, right? But the ruthless companies wouldn’t settle for this, and they got greedy.

Quite evidently the start of these crazy micro-transactions started with Bethesda, and its premium content called “horse armor” for the game Oblivion. In the description, Bethesda was clearly trying its hardest to justify the price, but it wasn’t happening. Ultimately, all it was doing was adding a small piece of code to do nothing in the game but cover the horses with pieces of metal that did nothing — not even protect the horses!

That was the start, but it wasn’t the worst of it — not by a long shot. Microsoft started selling perks and features for its avatar system. Again, it had no effect beyond the cosmetic and gamers fell on their knees wanting “the latest Halo t-shirt” — but it wasn’t even a real t-shirt! It was a virtual t-shirt, for their virtual character… in virtual land.

Sony being Sony followed in Microsoft’s path by releasing the exact same content for avatars in its PlayStation Home stores. Yes, as ludicrous as it might sound, Sony had the nerve to create virtual stores to sell virtual content. That was easily the lowest point of this whole fiasco.

Luckily, it’s not all bad. Some of the best content you can acquire via download is available free right now, or at least very cheap. EA and DICE announced free maps for the MW2 rival Bad Company 2, and also said that they’ll never charge gamers for downloadable content.

I guess it’s just a case of people painting the entire downloadable content field as black and staying well clear, and it’s quite obvious why. The majority of cases include scandalous prices, gamers being cheated somehow, or games feeling incomplete without DLC. But still, even though free DLC is few and far between, it’s a nice thought that we can get free costumes for Sack Boy in the LittleBigPlanet section of the PlayStation Store.

My name is Robert Dillon, and I’m an Irish-based human who currently lives on planet Earth! I’m a gamer and a journalist. I love technology also, but I don’t generally write about it. I currently own and run MyInsideGamer, an industry-recognized and respected gaming website that has a loyal fan base.

Some would call me a Mac fanboy, but I’d prefer to be called a person with a larger-than-normal obsession with the company and its products.

CC licensed Flickr photo above by Justin.