Today’s AAA game is developed a lot different than the AAA game a decade ago. DLC is a pillar of today’s AAA game. It’s been around for a long time. Halo 2 on the original Xbox comes to mind. I’m sure there were games with extra content even before that, but DLC didn’t take off until the Xbox 360 and PS3. Even then, it wasn’t until the consoles’ later years that DLC was expected.
New maps, new modes and continuous updates. Gamers now expect this with every big release.
“The big games drive so much engagement nowadays, because they are not games you play for a while and then walk away from. Triple-A games today have live elements to them, and things like season passes are a way of keeping people engaged,” says Moore.
Moore also touched on the investment publishers make for the DLC. “Today we’ve got what used to be the size of a whole game development team, of about 40 or 50 people, working solely on the extra content.”
How DLC is implemented into AAA games is about to change. Traditionally, publishers charge for every major new game addition. Maps, modes, etc.
But, the rise of quality free-to-play games means gamers want more bang for their buck. They aren’t as willing to shell out money for new maps. Not to mention the sheer number of quality titles released every year that may pull them away from their favorite multiplayer game.
A shift is beginning to happen. Take Halo 5: Guardians. 343 Industries will not charge for their DLC maps. 15 maps are coming before June 2016, and all of them will be free.
“When you have paid map packs and content, you divide the player base into two groups: the haves and the have-nots,” Holmes said. “The people that have the map pack can play together but the people who don’t cannot. That to us is a real problem. So we’re delivering all the maps to all players free so everybody will be able to play together. That, we feel, is really important to having a great multiplayer ecosystem.”
How is 343 justifying the development expense of the extra maps? Microtransactions. Halo 5: Guardians will include REQ Packs. They contain cosmetic items, vehicles and other gear. REQ Packs caused a bit of a controversy as many wondered if people who pay for them will have an advantage over others.
Holmes addressed these concerns as well, “Deployment of REQ items is limited by the REQ Level and Energy systems that govern the Warzone experience. Each REQ item costs a certain amount of Energy to deploy.”
Holmes added, “Energy replenishes at a set rate over time, and you gain a bonus energy point every time you level up. These systems are in place to prevent Warzone from becoming “pay to win.”
We are going to see a broader push into 343’s way of handling DLC. But, it won’t be overnight. I don’t expect EA to give up on their season passes anytime soon. The market will dictate how they approach DLC. In 343’s case, they are trying to get the Halo franchise back to where it was during Halo 3. Halo 4 saw a steep decline in online players following its launch. They want to avoid that and offering free DLC maps is a step in the right direction.
For EA, the Battlefield franchise remains incredibly popular. I love Battlefield 4 and enjoy all the content offered through the season pass. But, EA will want to watch (and they are) how gamers respond to free DLC for Halo 5: Guardians. It’s all about the value being added to the game. Right now, Battlefield 4 fans are happy with the content received from the season pass. It also helps that DICE has continuously updated the game to make it as good as they can.
DLC’s importance will only grow. More and more games are becoming a ‘service.’ Publishers want their games to make them money for years. One way is to charge for big DLC (think maps and modes). Another way is charging for cosmetic items. Charging for big DLC has been winning, but will it continue? I want to hear what you think.