At its core the idea of downloadable content is great – utilised correctly it can dramatically extend the lifespan of a game or series in a way that benefits both the developer and the fans. The Mass Effect trilogy is the best example of this – Bioware often use DLC as a way to bridge the gaps between games, giving more content to the consumer and keeping their series relevant, the player gets more game and the developer gets more money – everybody wins.
The reason this works is that whenever a company like Bioware with Mass Effect/ Dragon Age or Gearbox with Borderlands puts out DLC it often consists of new content or at least something that approximates new content. Usually it is something that furthers the story and adds more gameplay and items – it feels like an addition to what’s already there and it’s offered as optional content with the express purpose of enhancing a game we already care about – why wouldn’t we pay more?
Sadly not all game developers take such an enlightened approach to the possibilities opened up to them by DLC as Bioware and Gearbox and instead does shit like this. Now, this has been going on since DLC has been a thing, but that doesn’t make it any less sad. Indeed the fact that it still happens makes it more so. There was a time, not all that long ago when things like costume changes and bonus levels were just in the game – they weren’t downloadable, they were just content.
There have been a few other good examples of content that should probably be included in the main game masquerading as ‘additional’ content recently - Alien Isolation’s pre-order or pay later ‘bonus’ of playing as Ripley in an Alien game springs to mind. However, for this little nugget I really want to focus on Capcom because they are arguably the worst offenders for this kind of shenanigan, yet they used to be the best for having additional features in their games.
If I throw my consciousness back in time 15 or 16 years not only am I a happier individual in general but I’m playing Capcom games with so much content I honestly have no hope of seeing it all. I see for the first time in Resident Evil 3 that upon completion I unlock an entirely separate game mode – the mercenaries. I am later elated to see that my diligence in said mode rewards me with an infinite rocket launcher, and if I run through the game fast enough I get bonus costumes. At another time and place, in Street Fighter Alpha 3 I unlock Evil Ryu and Shin Akuma and hear about a dozen other Easter eggs from my friends.
Now we are back in the present and I’m looking at the PlayStation store. I see the same characters I unlocked in Street Fighter in 1999 with a price label next to them. Another price label sits below that for a costume pack for those same characters - I see content for the mercenaries and bonus game modes locked behind a pay gate in the latest Resident Evil game and I feel like I don’t even recognise Capcom, much less their games.
This isn’t the first time Capcom has been called out on their bullshit and I very much doubt it will be the last – they aren’t the only company that sees DLC as a burrowing device to get deeper into your pockets but they are certainly one of the worst and have inspired others. They have become something unrecognisable and the crooked skeletal fingers of this once great developer that reach for my wallet at every opportunity tells me with certainty that it isn’t nostalgia making me say this.
This story in itself changes nothing – it’s catharsis for me, and maybe for you. But there is an honest message here - the only way things can change is if people vote with their wallets. So please, measure the value of content before giving over your money and don’t do it for frivolous content, like costume packs and extra modes that are yours by right. Capcom and developers like them set the precedent for such content not much more than a decade ago and now they are scaling back your right to it to fatten their own pockets. They see the industry in terms of money and quarterly statistics, which is their prerogative as a business. So vote with that – speak their language otherwise you empower them and others like them to hold back as much as they want. It won’t stop unless we stop it.