When is it worth paying extra for a video game DLC?

by Andrew Kulp

This might startle younger gamers, but there was a time when there was no such thing as downloadable content, or DLC, in games.

And here’s something that might shock you: I kinda liked it that way.

When you bought a game in the ‘80s and ‘90s, it was the full game. No extra character skins, no new weapons or maps months later, not even updates or patches. If you wanted to see something added to the game or fixed, you were waiting for the sequel. We also got our gaming news from magazines, talked to our friends on the phone about what we read, and walked 15 miles to school through the snow, uphill both ways. Wild times.

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Later, there came to be expansion packs. For a charge that is typically less than the price of a full game, expansions can inject new storylines, quests, playable characters, accessories, maps, sometimes even entire worlds to explore. These are meaningful enhancements to the original game, whether adding hours of gameplay or increasing replayability with more variety. Expansions update the game at a modest cost, which has always been and continues to be a great way to extend its life until a sequel arrives.

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There are plenty of examples of games and franchises that made proper use of expansions, with Grand Theft Auto IV, Red Dead Redemption, Elder Scrolls, Fallout and The Witcher 3 frequently heralded as having some of the best DLC out there.

Being a person who grew up in an era where a game purchase meant getting an actual game, or at least the equivalent of one, almost any other form of paid DLC just looks like unnecessary or downright useless to me.

As such, I’ve never spent a dime on any DLC that did not augment gameplay in some substantive way.

I’m not judging if you have or you do. Although I personally feel a lot of paid DLCs amount to exploitative microtransactions, nobody is forcing anybody to buy anything they don’t want or need. Should you choose to buy skins or loot or player cards or game passes, by all means, please enjoy it.

My preference is to simply ignore it. Yet, try as I might to look the other way, the manner in which companies are increasingly force-feeding DLC via the in-game experience has made that an impossible task. Boot up most any big-budget, multiplayer title these days it seems — for me, that’s Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, NBA 2K21 and Madden 21 right now — and the GUI inevitably serves as a digital billboard first, an intuitive menu screen second.

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It can be frustrating, too, to think about my opponents unlocking items at a faster rate or that I won’t have access to certain items at all because they were willing to shell out a few extra bucks. Oftentimes, these are strictly cosmetic upgrades, which, based on the opinion being expressed here, you can correctly assume I don’t care much about. Yet, even subtle competitive advantages gained by players leveling up more quickly or as a result of other DLC perks can seem unfair.

I know what some of you are thinking: “Ok, boomer.”

I swear I’m not that old, it’s just the principle of the matter. In many cases, these companies already got my money, sometimes upwards of $70. Until I buy a few season passes for CoD, some skins and whatever other DLC that serves primarily as window dressing, the total price can easily double or triple. How much money am I supposed to sink into one game?

Perhaps I should be grateful other people are paying for DLCs, as companies haven’t seen fit to dramatically raise software prices. Games are actually significantly cheaper now than they were 20-25 years ago when some new Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64 games approached $80 at release — the equivalent of more than $120 today after adjusting for inflation.

Then again, with DLC content ubiquitous nowadays, something tells me DLC sales aren’t translating into huge savings for consumers at retail.

There’s obviously a market for these items, but for my money, paid DLCs are worth it only in cases where it explicitly prolongs a game’s shelf life, but. What do you think?

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