some assembly required

Just when I think I’ve seen the complete progression of a particular branch of gaming evolution, another step appears just to surprise me. As if the industry hadn’t already been overly focused on DLC, in the past few years they seem determined to take it to its logical conclusion, stepping even beyond the sad reality we’ve grown accustomed to.

Earlier this year, Warner Bros Interactive went back on their plans to provide DLC support for Arkham Origins on Wii U and canned all story DLC that had previously been planned. Apparently feeling screwing over the maligned Wii U was not enough, they decided to shaft their other customers in a different way: bugs and performance issues that had been prevalent in Arkham Origins would be ignored in favor of the aforementioned story DLC. Not only is WB comfortable with releasing an incomplete game, they’re clearly very okay with leaving it that way. At least Bethesda (eventually) patches its games.

In another part of the realm, Ubisoft’s reputation as a top independent has been slipping rather quickly of late. With Rainbow Six: Patriots languishing before being leaked (and then cancelled), and Siege not even in alpha, it’s now been six years since the franchise last showed a major entry. Meanwhile, the Splinter Cell games–once a hallmark of stealth tactical action–have slowly been corrupted, with Blacklist being a fairly boilerplate shooter game in which stealth is an afterthought. The Division has looked promising, but its release remains nebulous, and in fact this is mostly irrelevant after issues with Ubisoft’s other major release: Watch Dogs. A very ambitious title, early trailers show a gorgeously detailed, living world for the player to explore; but actual gameplay videos are considerably less impressive. More damning was when modders found a way to restore the game to its previous level of graphical quality, which didn’t stop Ubisoft reps from denying that such a downgrade had ever occurred. In video reviews, both TotalBiscuit and birgirpall have noted glaring issues with the game (to be fair, birgirpall’s whole draw basically revolves around the “I broke <insert game>” schtick). Ubisoft isn’t letting such trivialities stall their plans, however, and rolled out the first piece of Watch Dogs DLC just ten days after the game itself was released.

Even smaller developers are feeling the fever. Until recently, From Software held the (publicly stated) belief that games should be released as whole products and had denied any plans to release DLC for their games. As of two weeks ago, that position radically reversed, with not just DLC, but a DLC trilogy announced for Dark Souls II. This could easily have been marketed as a form of episodic content, but these days “DLC” is the buzzword, so I guess that worked just as well for them, except that “DLC” is increasingly carrying a negative connotation among gamers, who often feel defrauded or let down by such content.

No list of gaming sins would be complete without two-time national champion EA included. At the height of the anti-Call of Duty movement, DICE boldly declared that they would “never charge for Battlefield map packs“. While the DLC released for Battlefield 3 was certainly more than just maps, it still left a bitter taste in my mouth to pay $15 a pop for each of them. To date I have not purchased a single one; the two I do have were only acquired because they were given out as freebies. For the same reason, I chose not to throw my money at Battlefield 4, which was itself little more than a major patch for Battlefield 3. Nevertheless, they managed to thoroughly break the game, and eight months later EA and DICE are still cleaning up the mess. Even after this, and after stating as recently as last winter that Battlefield would never be an annual franchise, DICE and Visceral Games are preparing for the release of Battlefield: Hardline, which is regarded as little more than DLC packaged and marketed as a separate product.

At this point, it’s pretty clear that DLC is taking priority over actual products. If developers at least tried to steer closer to episodic content, it might be understandable. But this is a different trend, one I can’t see ending well for gaming in general. It seems like it’s up to the hyperconservatives to hold the line on this one…which is an odd feeling for a liberal.

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