With the release of several video games such as the latest Assassins' Creed I have been spending this week thinking about expansions and DLC’s (Downloadable Content) and how these affect their games. First, for those who do not know, an expansion/DLC are paid add-ons for a game. Expansions are typically used in board games while DLC can be thought of an expansion of a video game (in most cases). There are several ways that an expansion or DLC can enhance a game but others that fall short of this goal. This morning, I am going to look at expansions/DLC why designers make them, the good about them, and what happens when they do not go well.As an important note, an expansion/DLC is not meant to fix a game or balance it but to simply add to it.
So let us start off the obvious question: why would a designer make an expansion/DLC? To start, there are several reasons that I can think of that would lead me to design an expansion or DLC over a whole new game. When you design a game there are some ideas that may not fit in the initial design intent or within the time before releasing the game. Adding to these ideas some others may come to the designer post-release. These ideas can be added on for better, smoother gameplay or bring a new set of mechanics to help keep the game fresh. In addition to these creative motives there other reason for expansions/DLC to be made is to help sell the game more. Part of the problem with selling games is that once a person has the game there is no continued income expect by making more games (which is most of the fun, to be honest) or taking those ideas and making them into expansions or DLC. If these additions are beneficial to the game as a whole or detrimental depends entirely on the execution of the expansion/DLC.
When done right, expansions/DLC can add whole new layers of gameplay but is not be required to enjoy the game itself. The market for an expansion/DLC is based entirely on those players who enjoy the basic game so the best expansions/DLC takes that initial design intent and adds mechanics to reinforce and enhance that intent. Some games like Crusader Kings 2 sell DLC to add new gameplay experiences that enhance this intent but are not required to have a full gameplay experience. With board games like Carcassonne, the expansions can be as small as a 1.5 inch cube or a large box each adding new mechanics on top of the basic game allowing for more interesting choices to occur in the expanded game. In both cases, the expansions/DLC are simply add-ons to gameplay and are not required to play a balanced game.
Now with the aforementioned Assassins’ Creed, while I have not had the opportunity to play the game myself, every reviewer that I have seen has had the same criticism around the gameplay. In several areas the complaints were around levels being unbalanced but that DLC could be bought to get items that were tailored to the mission. This while loosely following the criteria of not be required means that the gameplay suffers if you do not buy these additional perks. Similarly, if a board game where to have an expansion that fixes the gameplay of a game then that expansion is in essence part of the base game and thus places a tax on the player of not only the base game but also to buy the expansion. If a designer finds themself in a place where they need to fix a game after it has been released then they should release an eterra (a set of corrections) instead and try to distribute it as much as possible.
Personally, I am working on some expansions for a few of my games as well as an eterra and see these both as valid options for benefiting a game. Where I see expansions/DLC failing is where a company decides that they are going to instead use expansions/DLC to sell additional required gameplay to the player. An expansion/DLC should be required nor a bandage for gameplay but as mentioned previously an additional experience.
These are just my thoughts though and I hope that it gives you something to think about.