Downloadable content is tough to nail down. On one hand, you have expansions like The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone or Bloodborne: The Old Hunters, both of which expanded on the core game in unique, interesting ways. They're modestly priced, they're packed with content — basically, it's a win-win situation for both the company and gamers.
That's just one side of the issue, however: DLC in 2015 was anything but perfect. There were more than a few half-cooked games promising a wealth of upcoming content — as long as you dropped another $40-plus on the season pass. It's the worst sort of DLC — and the industry doesn't seem to be shying away from it, either.
So, where does 2015 stand when it comes to DLC? Well, to be honest, it's a bit of a mixed bag. There were some really good examples of DLC ... and there were some terrible examples, too. For simplicity's sake (and the fact that movie references are fun) let's break it down into the good, the bad and the ugly.
In a lot of ways, gamers really lucked out with DLC in 2015. It wasn't just in the content itself, either, but in how it was delivered.
Mortal Kombat X is an example of how to do relatively simple DLC right: it was a traditional character pack, with four new fighters joining an already expansive roster. It certainly didn't turn DLC on its head, but it felt like a supplement to a game that was already full of content, just like the aforementioned Witcher 3 and Bloodborne expansions — which is how more studios should approach their DLC.
Destiny is another, albeit more complicated, example of how to properly release DLC. In many gamers' minds, The Taken King was a bit expensive, but the drastic changes that it introduced actually did a lot to improve how the core game worked. Smaller timed events, such as the Sparrow Racing League and the Festival of the Lost, proved that the game doesn't need traditional expansion packs to grow.
Free DLC was also a major factor in 2015. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt featured 16 bite-sized pieces of downloadable content — they weren't the biggest pieces of post-launch content ever made, but it proved that a game doesn't necessarily need gigantic expansions to keep a community invested. Halo 5: Guardians also ditched the pay-to-play DLC model, and the game's first multiplayer expansion, The Cartographer's Gift, just recently added new maps and unlockables into 343 Industries' latest. Grand Theft Auto V hosted a number of events, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate introduced new quests ... the list goes on and on.
That being said, things were far from perfect when it came to DLC this past year ...
Oh, Star Wars: Battlefront. What wasted potential.
Even now, just a few weeks after Star Wars: Battlefront's launch, it's easy to see that EA has been holding back on content since the start. Not only was the game extremely light on modes and maps to begin with, but the game's Season Pass has been advertised in the game's main menu since Day One — oh, and did we mention that Battlefront's Season Pass is twice as expensive as other, similar DLC packs on the market?
It's not that Battlefront is bad — it's not perfect, sure, but it's far from an unplayable game. It's just that EA clearly cared more about setting up a way to make money than crafting a fully fleshed-out Star Wars title. Gaming is a business, that's understandable — but, with all of the previously-discussed free DLC, it's hard to imagine that EA really needed to slap a $50 price tag on half of Battlefront's content.
Sadly enough, Battlefront isn't the only example of such a trend: Call of Duty: Black Ops III's Season Pass also comes in at $50, and for a similar amount of content. That's not to say the content itself will be bad, but when The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt can sell a full expansion pack for less than $20, it all seems a little disingenuous.
There's season pass nonsense, and then there's bad DLC. While games like Halo and The Witcher 3 featured some of the best downloadable content of the year, some of the worst DLC actually belonged to an amazing game.
Batman: Arkham Knight is a fitting send-off to Rocksteady's take on the Dark Knight, no one is arguing that — but the game's DLC is anything but memorable. Challenge packs and character skins are one thing, but when your marquee piece of content — in this case, the A Matter of Family campaign — ends up being a boring, dumbed-down version of the main game with no impact on the plot, it's impossible to get excited. What's even worse is that A Matter of Family is the best DLC Arkham Knight has to offer — everything else in the Season Pass was somehow even more forgettable.
Simply put, who needs a wardrobe full of Batsuits or six different versions of the Batmobile if they don't do anything differently than the base versions?
At least Arkham Knight's DLC made it to market. Back in August, Square Enix announced the "Augment Your Preorder" campaign for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, and it went about as badly as a marketing campaign can go.
Preorders are nothing new to gaming, but they're quickly becoming less and less of a selling point — as such, studios are looking for new ways to try and convince gamers to put their money down early. Square Enix tried to do this by changing the preorder system to function like a crowdfunding campaign: as more preorders were sold, more rewards would be added to the full game. This included everything from small pieces of extra content to moving the game's release date forward by a week.
The backlash was legendary — rarely does the Internet ever come together in such a unified fashion. From the moment it was announced, fans called for the program's cancellation, claiming that Square Enix was basically holding some of the game's content hostage — and surprisingly, it worked. In October, Square Enix announced that the plan had been cancelled, and that all content would be available to everyone at the same time.
At the end of the day, DLC went in a lot of different directions in 2015. Yes, there was plenty to hate, but there were also a lot of really progressive decisions. "Microtransactions" may be a dirty word in the gaming world, but if it lets Halo 5 fans play all of the post-launch DLC maps for free ... maybe they're not all bad.
Going into 2016, there's a lot to be excited about — and a lot to dread. While publishers like EA and Activision are charging more and more for half-baked (or outright bad) downloadable content, more developers are pushing for free content updates — with any luck, next year will feature a few more steps in the right direction.