When Amplitude announced its Shadows DLC for Endless Legend, it touched off a debate inside the eXplorminate internal forums. What exactly is a DLC anyway? Isn’t Shadows more of an expansion? Is it going to be expensive enough to be called an expansion? How do you classify these things to begin with? The staff at eXplorminate debated these questions, and out of that came the idea for this article. We hope it sheds some light on the subject.
DLC, the death of the eXpansion, or vice versa
Written by: Nate “Nasarog” Lobos
When I talk to my gaming friends about additional, post-release gaming content, I am constantly faced with a quandary: Is it a DLC or an expansion? What’s the difference? How much does it cost? Will you buy it for me?!?!?!?
The initial use of expansions came from board games and paper role playing games in the 70’s. It was later co-opted into video games and card-based games in the early 90’s. However, a long long time ago, in days gone by, when a video game came out with additional content, it was usually in the form of an actual disc. The disc was full of minor/major bug fixes, new gameplay mechanics, art and whatever else they put into it. Sometimes these expansions were necessary to fix issues that had long plagued the players and the developers. Other times they brought forth highly requested features. Once in awhile they even added a lot of content that amounted to very little actual changes to gameplay and, in turn, resulted in an unhappy audience. Not because of newly introduced bugs, which has also happened in the past, but with poorly thought out gameplay features that ruined the experience.
All of this disc-based content was in the 80’s and 90’s when the Internet was not found in private homes. Even when it was found there, it was usually very slow. Once the calendar hit the year 2000, and the Y2K disaster didn’t happen, the world breathed a collective sigh of relief and it got back to making the future happen. Internet speeds started to pick up and Valve’s Steam was born (‘05). Around the same time, you also had other platforms that competed with Steam like Stardock’s Impulse, the App store for the Sony Playstation and Microsoft Xbox, as well as a few others.
Let’s call this era the birth of downloadable content, or DLC, for short. No longer were the big box stores reserving space for PC/MAC/LINUX titles. Little by little, the consoles took over retail outlets completely and the PC gamer was left out in the cold. PC gaming was pronounced dead. Except it wasn’t. It was about to go through a resurgence. The online gaming community was getting strong and the online marketplace was about to explode.
Steam brought it all home and here we are now. But what happened to all the store bought games? They went the way of the dinosaurs, well, at least in most places in North America. You can still find a copy of a game here or there, but almost all computer games are now directly downloaded through Steam, GoG, and proprietary sites like Battle.net, UPlay and Origin, the new EA store.
But what is the difference between an expansion and DLC? An expansion can come in two forms: the first is additional content that extends the main game but requires the original game (and/or disc) like Gods and Kings/Brave New World for Civilization V. The second is of the stand-alone variety where the original game is not needed to play because the expansion has all of the necessary content to function on its own like Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion.
What about price? Well, usually the price of the expansion pack is less than the original game, but when you add the two or more together, it can get rather expensive. This is especially true for games released by 2K/Firaxis, because their expansions are pretty close in price, if not the same as the original titles. Many times, the new expansion renders the original almost unplayable without the upgrades. In a situation like Civilization and the new addition, Beyond Earth, it might take several expansions to flesh out the game. This wouldn’t be such an issue if the expansions were stand-alone products like some of the Total War titles from Creative Assembly, though they, too, are guilty of flooding us with useless expansions. Then you have Paradox Interactive that takes a middle of the road approach with both expansions and free updates.
So, an expansion can be on the expensive side, just ask any loyal Distant Worlds player about that. Historically though, expansions were priced in such a way as to compensate the developers and fuel further development on the current title or new games altogether.
So how does DLC fit in? Easy, or it used to be. As I stated above, it wasn’t until the late 90’s that DLC started to gain steam, but it was strictly for PC gaming. The first game I can recall that I played that had DLC was Total Annihilation. The first console to offer DLC was the Sega Dreamcast, a personal favorite of mine. Xbox and Playstation soon followed with their own offerings and that’s where the digital marketplace really took off.
DLC can be something as little as an outfit, a weapon, an avatar to a full game, or some kind of a special one-off super rare item that can go for thousands of dollars in a real money auction house. That’s right, you read me correctly. But these days the delineation between a full fledged expansion and DLC content is hard to distinguish. Since you download practically everything from an online delivery system, everything is DLC these days.
But for me, I like to look at it differently. Here’s how I distinguish them.
Expansions are DLC that add gameplay mechanics like new factions, whole modules like diplomacy and espionage, terrain and unit types and, finally, whole new dimensions to existing games like aquatic gameplay or additional mechanics. They can also revisit old mechanics and change them to improve overall gameplay.
DLC, on the other hand, is what Paradox does with Crusader Kings II and Europa Universalis 4. Every couple of months, they release expansions like Horse Lords and Common Sense that add gameplay features, and release DLC that adds music, alternate faces/costumes and flags to accompany the expansions.
This is something that Amplitude seems to be adopting, as well. It recently released three pieces of DLC: A seven track DLC soundtrack called Echoes of Auriga, which is great by the way. A free DLC called Forges of Creation that adds mod support, bug fixes and a free AI update. Finally, the Lost Tales content that adds all kinds of flavor with 20 different minor faction-focused quests.
Now that I’ve thought about it some more, I don’t think it matters what we call DLCs/expansions. For the games that I love, I will pay for more content. For the games that I don’t? I won’t even bother getting them in the first place. If these expansions and DLCs help extend the life of the game with official support from the developers? I say bring them on. Just don’t forget to reward the players that can’t afford all of this paid content with additional free stuff. Don’t forget to put in the option to turn off the additional content so the games could still be played with people that don’t have the expansions, or let the game’s host share the content in a MP game like in Endless Legend or Armello. That’s the best kind of advertising out there. All in all, we are gaming in a wonderful time for the 4X genre.
So, stop arguing, and go out and play instead!!!
eXpansion vs. DLC – A Fight to the Death
Written By: Troy “TC” Costisick
So we’ve been debating the expansion/DLC conundrum in the moderator forums of eXplorminate, just as Nate mentions. He and I decided to co-write an article on the topic with our different views. Mine is similar to his but subtly different.
I contend that the term “DLC” has become almost completely detached from its original meaning – similar to how “App” is hardly recognized anymore as shorthand for “application.” DLC has evolved to mean any additional content for a game that requires a separate download from a patch or original game purchase.
Let’s face it, in the realm of PC/Mac/LINUX games, the idea of going to Walmart and buying a box with a disc in it is as quaint as buying a new rock album on vinyl LP. It’s an anachronism, at least in America, and the rest of the world is quickly catching up. Consequently, labeling something as DLC simply because it’s “downloadable” is absurd. All games are downloadable now and I think we can all agree that a complete game is not DLC… it’s a game! With that in mind, a DLC must be more than something that is just a download and must be something that is less than a full game. It must also be something that doesn’t automatically come with the initial purchase: it has to have its own entry in the vendor’s store.
Let’s put DLC aside for a moment and focus on expansion. The word “expansion” suggests that you are expanding the game. For me, a game is more than just character or setting, so giving me more factions or more planet types is not enough to warrant the “expansion” label. You have to expand the game-PLAY. Therefore, unlike Nate, I do not consider adding new factions to be enough of a gameplay change on their own to warrant the expansion label. They’re just more flavor.
DLC seems to be a less loaded word than expansion. Perhaps studios feel “expansion” puts too much pressure on them and using “DLC” instead makes the additional content feel more friendly to the consumer. It’s clear that the way game companies want to present themselves is changing rapidly for PC Games. As the move to full-download accelerates to the point where it is almost the only way to buy games, we may see the eXtinction of the word “expansion” and the rise of DLC as the new nom du jour.
“The play’s the thing…” a famous poet once wrote, and, for me, if gameplay doesn’t tangibly and mechanically change with a new module, then it doesn’t rank as an expansion. There must be new game code that gives you something different to do that you couldn’t do before. Now, don’t split hairs with me and question, “If a new patch adds new options to a game, does that patch count as an expansion?” No. That’s just the base game being fully implemented. I regard that as the developer finishing the job, not expanding the game from its original vision. Therefore, like DLC, an expansion must be a separate product from the game.
All this taken into consideration, my own preference for defining these two add-ons is as such: a DLC is any separate download that increases one or more aspects of a game without altering how the player plays. An expansion can increase one or more aspects of a game AND alters how players play with/and or use the different aspects of the game.
Now, that’s just my preference. Let’s deal with reality. Game companies don’t care one iota about whether we call something a DLC or an expansion. They just want to market their products the best way they know how. So they’ll call their extra content whatever they want if they think it will help them sell a few more units, or charge a little more money. For some reason the term “DLC” seems to be more popular with companies, so I really respect Stardock labeling Mercenaries as an actual expansion.
Which brings me to Endless Legend: Shadows… Personally, I’d call it an expansion. It’s adding not just one new sub-system to the game, but two: espionage and stealth. It’s not like Guardians that just added a few extra monsters, some new tech, and a couple other minor things.
Shadows changes the way you play, or can choose to play, in a tangible and mechanical way in much the same way Rising Tide and Eternal Lords changed the way you played Civilization, Beyond Earth and Age of Wonders 3 respectively. I compare it to Pandora’s Eclipse of Nashira, which is also labeled a DLC, but has a drastic impact on the game. Price is immaterial to me. So what if Shadows costs as much as Guardians? It’s an expansion, in my opinion. Amplitude can call it whatever they like, but for my purposes, I’ll be calling it an expansion.
Now, those are our thoughts. What are yours? Tell us what you think the distinction between DLC and eXpansions is. Or if there even is one!