Sunday, November 2, 2008, 02:20 AM - GamingDownloadable content (DLC) for consoles have been widely available to gamers for over three years, the significant starting point for this delivery medium being the launch of Microsoft’s remarkably successful Xbox Live Arcade service for Xbox 360. The medium has now boomed and is reaching maturity. This service is available for all major gaming platforms: Xbox 360 of course, the Playstation Network for PS3 and PSP, the Wii Shop Channel, the soon-to-be opened DSiWare Shop, or even Apple’s iPhone App Store. I thought that I’d take some time today to write about why I believe this medium is an important part of the “next-gen” experience.
The online market has progressively grown from mostly casual games (Uno, Zuma, Pinball FX…), to porting classics (Ikaruga, Rez), and has now reached the point where high quality games such as WipEout HD or Braid are only available online. This last evolution further confirms the fact that the medium is coming to maturity, making some developers nervous about the quality/price ratio becoming increasingly high – which is good news for gamers. We can also note that along with DLC came game demos, which allowed gamers to easily try out games before spending their hard-earned money.
The thing I like the most about downloadable games tough, is that unlike most of their full-fledged (and fully priced) counterparts, they can be started, played and stopped all within a very small amount of time. I often turn on my consoles just to play a couple of PacMan C.E rounds, WipEout HD races, or a game of Ikaruga. Furthermore, and unlike traditional disc or cartridge based games, starting downloaded games do not require any fumbling through boxes, or any loading of physical media. Starting the game is dead simple: grab the gamepad and turn on the television.
Besides the aforementioned reasons that make DLC so compelling, there has of course been some abuse. The worst one to date being when Ubisoft started selling character unlocks for Soul Calibur 4, even though the unlockable characters were already on the game’s disc from day one. Although DLC enables the extension of existing games through new maps, items, or even campaigns; this very powerful feature will eventually turn out to be a let down as publishers will most likely start shipping stripped-down games, forcing players to pay a premium to get the full experience. One could also complain that a lot of DLC games hide their poor quality under the “casual gaming” banner, or that they feature meager online capabilities.
Overall, DLC is a great addition to the gaming experience. It enables quick and cheap gaming scenarios, extension of existing software, and helped make game demos ubiquitous. Let's just hope that the medium is going to go the gamer's way by not being just another way to pay for what should already have been there in the first place.
Slightly changing subject, I was very pleasantly surprised to learn that Suda 51 was hard at work on a sequel to his latest game, with the announcement of No More Heroes 2 Desperate Struggle. It looks like the first game wasn’t as much as a failure as it was portrayed to be, and gamers can only rejoice that novel and politically incorrect games still have a chance to be published.