Downloadable content done right

Many gamers probably didn’t notice, but Burnout Paradise came out this week for PC in the form of the Ultimate Box. Why should you care? Put simply, Burnout Paradise has become one of the best examples of downloadable content done right. I never imagined that I’d still be talking about the game over a year after its console release, but here we are.

Downloadable content is a tricky issue with both game publishers and developers. Some just don’t want to touch the idea, while others have embraced it to the point of exploitation. Case in point: Namco, or as some gamers affectionately call it, Scamco. That firm will crank out any little piece of bonus content just to score a couple of extra bucks off of customers.

Now, I’m not arguing that all DLC should be free—far from it. But here’s an example of Namco’s despicable DLC habits: Beautiful Katamari was released for the Xbox 360 in late 2007, and almost immediately afterward, four bonus levels (priced at $2.50 each) went up on the Xbox Live Marketplace. It turns out that these pieces of bonus content were only 384KB in size, meaning the levels were already on the disc, and you were really only buying an unlock code for that extra content. To add insult to injury, one of Beautiful Katamari‘s achievements required purchasing these bonus stages. Essentially, Namco just decided to lock away the last few levels of the game and sell them to gamers who had already paid $60 for the title.

There have been countless other DLC flubs, from Oblivion‘s much publicized "horse armor" to premium characters in the Tiger Woods series, which people could use in online play as effective paid-for cheat codes. Those examples are all from several years ago, however, when publishers were still figuring out how to make DLC serve both their interests and those of customers. Since then, publishers like EA have cleaned up their acts and begun offering truly compelling downloadable content, both as free and so-called premium (purchased) content packs. After all, Burnout Paradise is an Electronic Arts title.

So, what makes Burnout Paradise‘s DLC worthy of praise? Criterion Games, with EA’s support, has released several content updates over the last 13 months to help extend the life of this arcade racer. The first update brought bug fixes, but Criterion quickly started delivering additional multiplayer modes, challenges, and even a new class of vehicles—motorcycles. And all of it has been free. This week will see the largest update for the game yet, introducing several community-requested features and a built-in content browser for future DLC. This new browser can’t come soon enough, either, because Burnout Paradise will soon receive several premium additions, including new vehicles and possibly the much desired pursuit mode.

Burnout Paradise isn’t the first game to do DLC so well that it needs its own built-in store; the Rock Band series has become one of the most successful DLC vehicles of all time. By the latest official count, Harmonix and EA have sold more than 28 million songs through digital means, and considering songs cost $1.99 a pop, that’s a sizable chunk of change. With hundreds of available songs and new additions coming every week, the game continues to stay relevant without quarterly installations like the Guitar Hero series.

Of course, PC gamers are accustomed to this sort of treatment—official and user-created additions have built upon PC games for decades now. Team Fortress 2 might be the best example of DLC support on the PC in recent history, since Valve has stayed committed to expanding TF2‘s gameplay free of charge from day one. Though the initial offering was arguably a bit on the light side, it came as part of The Orange Box, so it was tough to criticize for a shortage of maps. Since its release, the title has grown thanks to new gameplay modes, new maps, and additions to existing classes.

Updates for the Xbox 360 version of TF2 have yet to come, and though Valve would like to publish them for free, Microsoft won’t allow it. Instead, Valve plans to publish new content packs for the Xbox 360 as inexpensively as possible, ensuring that Xbox 360 customers don’t have to pay too much for the additions. Talk about rewarding your clientele. And of course, Valve’s other popular multiplayer shooter, Left 4 Dead, had its first downloadable content pack announced today (we’ll have to see if it’s free for PC users).

Some of the holiday season’s biggest hits will receive their own premium updates in the coming months, as well, with digital expansion packs due for both Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia and Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto IV. MMORPGs are equally privileged, with Mythic to launch the first "live-expansion" for Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning in the coming months. Now that companies like Valve and EA are leading the way and making DLC a viable alternative to a constant stream of sequels, the outlook for digital distribution looks better and better each day. What’s your take on it? Would you rather buy one $60 sequel every year or dole out $5 a month to expand an already released game? I’m personally sold on the latter concept, as my Xbox Live account can attest.

Comments closed
    • Mumrik
    • 11 years ago

    There is a “timesaver” pack for Burnout that lets you pay to unlock all the cars already in the game.

    That is DLC done the wrong way.

    • onlycodered
    • 11 years ago

    Just got this game yesterday and I have to say, it’s VERY impressive! I can’t wait for the Cops and Robbers addon pack.

    • Prion
    • 11 years ago

    Glad to see someone’s doing it right, as there are plenty of examples of poor execution

    Any game which I can buy new for $20 and used at maybe 1/4 of that should not still be selling its DLC for full price (Project Gotham Racing 3)

    Also, games that basically require the DLC (or any paid-for expansion/addition, for that matter) for online matches really yanks my chain. Bomberman Online, 800 MS Points (~$10) for the game, but have fun fully enjoying it without the three 250 MSP each add-on packs

    • Madman
    • 11 years ago

    Well, I personally don’t like this approach. Buying some small shit for 5$, so that you can:
    1) register a game
    2) create an account
    3) verify if the credit card transaction is secure
    4) perform the actual transaction through some ugly skinned application
    5) download the content and figure if it’s backupable and if it is how to do so
    6) enjoy the upgraded form of DRM with the new texture update

    The only exception to this rule has been LFS. They copy protection scheme is not very hostile to user and downloadable content is really worth the price they are asking. I got the L2 and I’m waiting for L3 to appear.

      • CasbahBoy
      • 11 years ago

      I have bought Live for Speed as well. I really hope it comes to Steam someday, that game would really benefit from the extra exposure.

      • Usacomp2k3
      • 11 years ago

      I assume you are talking about PC only?

    • Meadows
    • 11 years ago

    This depends on whether it’s a repetitive, schematic game (such as a racing one), or a game with a story worth working on more.

    For instance, I’d prefer sequels to immersive FPS games or the like (or even immersive TPS games like Max Payne), and I’d prefer the story to continue just as fluidly and for an equally long time at least. This is where you can’t get away with $5 packs to any degree.

    But when it’s about a relatively aimless game that repeats itself, for example Rock Band, any racing games, MMORPGs (I’m a WoW fan) and the like, small chunks of updates once in a while are enough to keep you hooked and giving your dough. MMORPGs are an exception though, as they can be just as fun with expansions or larger updates too, and in fact you could create an (online-) world-shattering event in which players may enter a sudden new expanse of land in awe – total profit.

    Anyway, that’s what I think. Epical games that deserve a fitting sequel should not be plagued with worthless bonuses (unless the bonuses come with the sequel itself), and primitive games, such as soccer titles, really have nothing to show for a “sequel” or even an expansion. Sports and racing titles should be handled like MMORPGs, with graphics updates once every 5 years, and only content updates in between, with very inexpensive update chunks available in stores to people who still can’t be bothered with internet (a good way to deliver paid bonuses).

      • rhema83
      • 11 years ago

      Agreed. If the DLC integrates with the existing content seamlessly, and adds significant entertainment value to the game, then it is worth it. I would rather have the developer release 6 DLC’s, once every two months at $5, than to release an expansion pack one year later at $30. The former will keep the game installed on my computer and possibly keep me hooked to the game. The latter will make me think twice – should I buy this expansion pack or spend slightly more on a totally new game that uses better graphics and has possibly better gameplay?

      The original post mentioned the “Horse Armor” DLC for Oblivion. That was probably the worst DLC of Oblivion, followed by the “Spell Tomes”. The dwelling DLCs were not much better. But there were also notable DLC / expansions, such as “Mehrune’s Razor”, “Knights of the Nine” and “Shivering Isles”.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 11 years ago

      HL2 Ep1 and Ep2 say “o hai!”

        • Meadows
        • 11 years ago

        I was waiting for someone to pop that balloon, and yes, I’ve thought of them while writing that. They’re something very weird, actually, but successful as always.

          • derFunkenstein
          • 11 years ago

          You could have argued that HL2 was a “repetitive, schematic game” and I’d have gone along with that. Every FPS I’ve ever played has felt repetitive and schematic, and HL2 is no exception. But I knew that I had to take the “correct” answer as deemed by the gazillion drooling Valve fanboy knob-gobblers and point out your “obvious” omission. ๐Ÿ˜‰

        • AxMi-24
        • 11 years ago

        Did people actually buy them that much? It does help that it continues HL2 story line.

        Somehow I think most peeps got it as part of orange box (that is at least how I got it but I was buying it for TF2 mostly).

          • derFunkenstein
          • 11 years ago

          did you read the post I was responding to before writing this? You can’t possibly have done so.

    • TheEmrys
    • 11 years ago

    Steam has this down pretty well already….. They’ve been updating content there forever. Moreover, they took Day of Defeat: Source which was modeled on the HL2 engine and updated it for the Team Fortress 2 engine. All for free.

      • shaq_mobile
      • 11 years ago

      is dod source cell shaded now?

      they need to stop pissing all over dod. original dod has a way higher skill cap and far more interesting gunplay. every gun and its mom shoots like garbage after 15 feet. it made class selection paramount. im just grouchy when folks think they have the midas touch and misrepresent classics for a sale (i cant really blame them i suppose).

      jj abrams with star trek 11 anyone? the new bridge of the enterprise looks newer than the most recent (in star trek timeline) bridges and operations centers.

      its not taht dod:s is bad or the new star trek movie may fail, i just hate to see someone ride a classics coat tails to blockbusterville and popularize a complete misrepresentation. people are going to associate star trek with a bunch of preppy, hair-jelling premadonnas who fly around in space where “first contact” is a gay joke and they give each other hair tips all day.

      first gene, then majel, now the series.

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 11 years ago

    i guess my biff i have even larger than DLC its self is the freaking bull sorounding it, when DLC hit the console scene all of the sudden publications every where went crazy for it, raving how great a idea it was, pay money for more content post release, you can’t watch a interview with a dev. were the interviewer doesn’t ask if the upcoming title in question will have DLC or not, that is such a bogus question, they alway say “you gonna have some DLC, everyone loves it, you really should!” i call shenanigans on that, i don’t want it, as a matter of fact i’m pretty much sure that if you asked any gamer, would you rather a game released with more content for the money or came out rushed at full price and then charged you money for patches and stupid content later, or better yet would you like a Dev to block content on the disk and charge you extra for that. i’m sorry but burnout paradise was great but 99 percent of the revisions they put out should have been done in beta testing not now.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 11 years ago

      I think you’re misrepresenting the common feelings surrounding DLC. I don’t think anybody thinks it’s awesome, but in the case of Burnout Paradise, they’re certainly doing it “right”. All the DLC updates for the game were free up until the most recent release, and they weren’t just patches and gameplay fixes either.

      And clearly you weren’t paying attention when Microsoft started to pimp the idea of micro-transactions on the 360, either.

      • Corrado
      • 11 years ago

      If everyone hated it, as you seem to believe, why is it making MILLIONS if not BILLIONS of dollars for MS on Live?

        • AxMi-24
        • 11 years ago

        Console users are stupid and probably have too much cash on their hands?

        Valves TF2 is the correct way to go. The game is just getting better all the time. That kind of support really justifies buying their games (even though I hate steam). Few other (if any) offer that kind of support. Most just release some buggy POS and once you have payed for it they ignore the crap out of you.

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 11 years ago

    i know games cost alot to make but honestly they are the most expensive form of entertainment, look at it this way you can buy a box set of lord of the rings for the same price and it has well over 20, probably close to 40 hours or more of content inside it. mean while you can buy mirror edge for 60 dollars and enjoy 5 hours of gameplay. honestly the problem isn’t even with downloadable content it’s with the pricing for the original content, if you payed 10 dollars for a game or got it for free you wouldn’t mind shovling out money for more content the problem is that most console DLC is a honest rip off. not to mention that most DLC is like 90 percent patches any way and shouldn’t really count, 9/10ths of the content for burnout paradise has been patches and fixes and tweaks, stuff that should have been done prior to launch. that is the whole bif i have i guess, it’s that really all DLC is used for is ripping cosotumers off 9/10 times, seriously name 1 good DLC example and i can give you 10-20 bad examples. DLC used to be done right, i mean look back to when epic put out two packs of content, or was it three for ut 2003 for free, adding dozens of mapps, like 5 or 7 new vehicles, and like 12 game modes, that is awesome, ya know what it did, it gave a major boost at retail, what it’s supposed to do.

      • travbrad
      • 11 years ago

      Good job choosing the longest possible movie/extras and the shortest possible game. Not exactly the fairest comparison is it? Also, if you are going to include the extras from LOTR, maybe you should also include the time trial mode from Mirror’s Edge (which some people may spend many hours playing, and some may skip, much like movie extras).

      We can also go the other extreme and buy a generic comedy movie that’s 80mins long for $15, compared to buying Fallout3 for $50 and getting 100hours of gameplay out of it.

      I bought the HL2 gold pack when it came out for about $50, and have spent literally hundreds of hours playing those games (HL2, HL2:DM, CS:S, DOD, and various mods based on HL2).

      I generally agree new games are too short and way too easy, but even the shortest games are probably a better value than your average movie (in terms of hours of entertainment per dollar). On the other hand, books probably have them both beat. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • OneArmedScissor
    • 11 years ago

    I think monthly subscription fees per game are a terrible model that would eventually kill the video game industry, should it make its way beyond MMORPGs. Lol you think that helped Hellgate? I wouldn’t touch that game after I found out you had to pay an exorbitant MONTHLY fee just for stuff that was already built into the game.

    But given the OPTION, I’d pay a few dollars for NEW downloadable content that is worth it. It’d be kind of like going back to the days of endless expansion packs for Doom.

    The problem is that I can’t really see that moving to the PC, because with all the level editors and mods, we’re used to free stuff, and we’ll get it whether the developers do it themselves, or not.

    The fact that some developers will bother with it for free is a convincing reason to buy a game, rather than pirating it IMO, and I think that’s why they keep at it. It’s a good sign the game is actually supported, which is a selling point to me, because I’m completely sick of buying broken games that are just left for dead, which makes me sick of buying games, period.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 11 years ago

    Yeah I’m excited to see how relic will handle Dawn of War II’s DLC. New(returning) playable race? Another singleplayer campaign? More maps or multiplayer modes? Their imagination/resources is the limit!

      • Philldoe
      • 11 years ago

      Relic is doing DLC a bit differant from what I’ve read. Generally, they will add maps and do other changes via free patches. adn More races will be added in Purchasable expansion packs wich you can get throught Steam and I think through retail. So pretty much their DLC are the expansions.

      Read the shasknews interview with the DoW2 dev, it’s a very good read.

        • ssidbroadcast
        • 11 years ago

        Yeah I already read that, and yeah it’s a fantastic read.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This