I’m still pretty optimistic about downloadable content. For every horrible meeting-room gouging, for every bullshit, dollars-for-credits, booster-pack garbage that gets packed into every Madden, for every piece of horse armor, there are still worthy additions that developers have earnestly bolted on to their games. Where would we be without Mass Effect’s Shadow Broker? Or that awesome Bioshock 2 side-story from the minds that later gave us Gone Home? DLC will continue to offer some wonderful experiences, so keep that in mind throughout all the jokes I am about to make.
We are not gathered here to celebrate the successes of modern gaming. We are here to laugh at its horrific shortcomings. Why do we laugh? Well, it’s only to keep from crying. Here are the five most egregious examples of meaningless, money-hungry downloadable content.
I fucking bought Horse Armor. I spent two dollars of (my parents’) money so my horse could jog around Cyrodiil with a big piece of silver sheet metal glued to its polygons. When you rob a bank, it’s not necessarily the act itself that makes you a criminal, as much as the overbearing evidence that you were sitting around for days plotting out exactly how you were going to screw the common public. Here is the official copy of what the Horse Armor DLC Pack was: “you can choose elegant elven armor or durable steel to protect your horse from the dangers of Cyrodiil.”
You know when you’re growing up and everything an adult says is absolute gospel? Like you categorically refuse to question authority for a few years before you develop your own perception? I think that’s what my relationship was like with videogames before Horse Armor. I downloaded Horse Armor because I trusted in the collective goodwill of the industry, that they would refuse to shark me so easily. Horse Armor robbed me of my innocence.
People who defend Dead Space 3’s awful pay-to-win barriers usually say something like “whatever man, you don’t have to buy it.” This is true. I’m not actually required to spend real-life money to help beat a giant boss, or get a better gun, or upgrade my character faster. That is completely undeniable. At every moment Dead Space 3 asks you to spend money, you are allowed to say no.
But honestly, the people who think that makes it a defensible thing are probably the same people who’ll be saying “whatever man, you don’t have to pay the electrical fee, you can just use the hand-crank built right into the console!”
Man, remember when Dead Space was exciting? When it was slotted next to Mirror’s Edge as part of EA’s push into original, watershed IPs? The videogame industry destroys everything it touches.
Weapon Skins in Gears of War 3 and Elsewhere
Sometimes I take time to appreciate that I am not (or at least, no longer) the sort of person who wants my internet-gun to be painted to my liking. As someone who spent a lot of time playing Gears of War 3 multiplayer, it became clear that I was one of a small, but staunch group of resistance. All these sad Gamertags, running around with their horrible, white-person “blinged out” assault rifles.
In retrospect it would’ve been cool if Epic Games leaned all the way in, and said “you know what? Fuck it, here’s the 420 shotgun.” That’s clearly what your fans wanted! Let’s not beat around the bush!
ANY DLC THAT GIVES YOU A HOUSE
Next to “alternate costumes,” the lowest-common-denominator of videogame DLC is giving your player character a house. “Hey guys! We built you a house, that’ll be ten dollars.” This pretty much happens in every modern RPG, because apparently there are some weirdos in the world that don’t just carry all of their stuff in their backpack constantly.
Here’s the thing, though: offering housing DLC is the most universe-breaking thing you could do to your game. Let me explain.
I’ve killed countless monsters, saved the planet from an indescribable doom, I’ve run errands for every poor immobile soul I could find. Through this, I’ve accumulated a ridiculous amount of wealth. Seriously, I’m out here selling dragon bones for cold hard gold.
But somehow, I can’t buy a fucking house. Like the one thing, the first thing, I would want to buy with the money I’ve made in-game, is a no-can-do. No problem, I’ll just keep spending it all on alchemy material because clearly I NEVER NEED TO SLEEP.
The Saboteur’s Pay-for-Boobs
As crazy as it is to say, we’ve come a long way since 2009. The Saboteur is a mostly forgotten World War II-themed action-adventure romp where you play a hilariously stereotypical Irish man running around with the French resistance. It’s a classic, textbook 6/10, which is why you’ve never seen even a meek attempt at a sequel. At a certain point in development, the bigwigs at EA got the retrospectively hilarious idea of offering a DLC package called “The Midnight Show.”
The Midnight Show offered more brothels (which, to be fair, are integral to the game as hiding spots,) but most notably, it allowed you to make the strippers topless. That was literally a selling point. They charged you money so you could see those glorious polygonal tits in action.
I don’t want to spend too much time explaining why that is silly, because it pretty much speaks for itself, but like, damn. When people who don’t like videogames evaluate the canvas we so dearly love, sometimes they see that giant corporations charge money so you can see virtual women naked. These are the moments where we all look pretty stupid.
Luke Winkie is a writer living in Austin, TX. Follow him on Twitter at @luke_winkie.