Have I got DLC all wrong?

Baron Richenbaum’s comment on my article about Capcom’s DLC for Marvel vs Capcom Infinite got me thinking (take a look at the comment thread here). I got on my high horse about Capcom detailing their DLC plans before the game was even released, saying that they should concentrate on getting the game finalised. But the Baron pointed out that DLC characters are pretty much standard for fighting games, if not expected.

Then Nintendo announced the forthcoming DLC characters – and a season pass, no less – for Fire Emblem Warriors, well in advance of the game’s release. And rather than feeling outraged, I was overjoyed at the prospect of buying all of these new characters and – yes – receiving the bonus of Lucina in a wedding dress for buying the season pass. So why is it OK in my mind for Nintendo to announce DLC prior to release, and yet it’s a hateful crime for Capcom to do the same? It got me thinking about my overall attitude to DLC – and my inherent biases.

Regarding the two companies’ announcements, it’s helpful to look at each in isolation. Nintendo is a relatively new player in the DLC market, and so far their DLC offerings have been mostly generous and excellent value. For example, the DLC for Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U added loads of great characters and tracks for a very reasonable price, and they also threw in a free bonus of the ultra-fast 200 cc mode. Nintendo has a reputation for quality, and that shone through in their DLC offerings, as it does in the games themselves.

Capcom, meanwhile, are still shaking off the stigma of the botched Street Fighter V launch. The game was released without much of the single-player content, and many cynically saw it as a way to prop up the company’s balance sheet before the end of the tax year. The game has since been patched significantly to add in the missing content, but the launch didn’t do much for the company’s reputation. More recently, Capcom took a lot of flak for the underwhelming demo for Marvel vs Capcom Infinite and the strange art direction of the game, which is a marked departure from the more cartoony looks of the previous entries. (Indeed, Chun-Li’s face was ‘fixed’ prior to the game’s launch, such was the backlash against her odd looks in the preview build.) Then there’s the fact that Infinite has fewer characters: Marvel vs Capcom 3 launched with 36 characters, whereas Infinite launched with just 30.

All of this has meant that, in my eyes, Capcom’s reputation has sunk a little over the past few months. So when the company announced extra, paid-for characters for a game that seemingly looks worse and has fewer characters than the previous title, I couldn’t help but shoot a withering look at the firm and point out the error of their ways.

(Just for the record, the Baron reviewed Marvel vs Capcom Infinite last week and thought it was fantastic.)

If anything, this little episode proves that reputation is everything. If you’re riding high on the goodwill of your customers, they’ll be prepared to forgive you just about anything. But if questionable business practices cause people to regard you with suspicion, then expect every little flaw or perceived fault to be pointed out and vilified publicly.

The whole thing has made me appreciate just how much inherent bias I have. Although I try to remain as objective as I can when reviewing games on this site, I have to acknowledge that, like everyone, I have internal biases. For example, I’m a big fan of Nintendo, yet I’m always a bit suspicious of Microsoft. In an ideal world, all reviewers would be completely objective. But that will never be the case, so the only thing I can do is be aware of my biases, point them out when necessary, and attempt to correct them if I think I’m being unfair.

And I think I was being a little unfair to Capcom in my previous article. As the Baron pointed out, all fighting games have DLC characters nowadays, and often DLC is announced before launch. And DLC in general is in a much better state than it used to be.

Long gone are the days of ‘DLC on disc‘, when extra content for a game was shipped on the disc but locked behind a paywall, essentially meaning you had to pay for something you already owned. As far as I’m aware no publisher has committed this heinous act in the current console generation. Likewise, companies can no longer get away with shoddy DLC, like the infamous horse armour released for The Elder Scrolls IV; Oblivion back in 2006. That’s not to say that all DLC is good nowadays – undoubtedly, some extra content is not worth the money you pay for it. But then the same can be said about full-price video games, and my response is the same: read the reviews before you buy.

I’ve been thinking a lot about DLC recently, and I’ve come to the conclusion that, for the large part, DLC is a very good thing indeed. In the past, publishers have been accused of chopping up game content and selling it back to us in bits, charging extra for things that should have been in the game in the first place. But that is rarely the case any more. Often DLC can be a great way to tell interesting stories from a different perspective in the same gameworld (for example, the Minerva’s Den DLC for Bioshock 2) or can cause you to play the same game in an entirely different way (Undead Nightmare for Red Dead Redemption). DLC can even be an act of fan service or simple fun, like when Nintendo added Cloud and Bayonetta to Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, or when the Alien and Predator ended up in Mortal Kombat X. If done right, DLC can extend the lifespan of a game and maybe even change the way you perceive it.

And, in the end, you don’t have to buy it. As with everything in capitalist society, the consumer has the ultimate choice over whether something succeeds or fails. The very fact that the worst excesses of DLC money-grabbing are behind us (see above) and that DLC is an ever expanding market (DLC was worth $1.2 billion to EA last year) shows that companies have responded to consumer pressure and that customers generally really like buying DLC. Overall, DLC is a GOOD THING.

In-game microtransactions, on the other hand… well that’s an article for another day.