Before the current generation of consoles, when you bought a video game, the game you bought was the game you had, forever and ever. Today, though, the game you buy is just a shell of what it can become down the line.
Downloadable Content, or DLC, lets you extend your game and add new characters, scenarios, or even all-new game modes into old games.
Last year’s Mass Effect 3 utilized DLC in an all-new way: because fans were not pleased with the game’s ending, the game’s developers were able to craft a new ending that they hoped would please fans more. (It didn’t help much, but it was a nice try.)
Many popular multi-player games are augmented after launch with new maps and weapons to keep the gameplay fresh for months after the game has been released. With thousands of individual songs available, the Rock Band series would likely win the award for the most prolific DLC collection. Each person who has a copy of Rock Band can have a slightly (or radically) different music library, which makes playing the game with different people wholly distinct experiences.
But some have complained that DLC makes developers lazy. The argument is that the developers will push out a half-baked game and fix the problems with DLC later. Sometimes, this works. However, often a game that sells poorly because of weak content won’t sell well enough in the first place to justify releasing DLC, and the game remains broken forever.
Additionally, some people consider it a cash grab, especially if the DLC lets people who pay extra have an advantage in the game.
In either case, whether you see it as a way to keep your game fun longer or for developers to milk just a little more money from you, Downloadable Content is now a fixture of the video game industry. I hope it will be an engine to press developers to find innovative and fun ways to use this new technology, rather than push useless updates and trinkets.