DLC: What is it? What does it mean to me?

Most of us have at least heard the term DLC. It’s an acronym that stands for “downloadable content” and refers to additional content to a game that is downloaded from the internet.

DLC comes in a few types; we have:

  • Day-one DLC: DLC released with the game
  • Free DLC: DLC that is released with no charge
  • On-Disc DLC: Content already on the game but you need to purchase a key to unlock it
  • Bugfixing: DLC intended to fix bugs in the game
  • Exclusive Content: Content that can only be unlocked by buying a game at specific stores like Gamestop.
  • Microtransactions: Content added to the game to give the player an advantage, be it cosmetic or otherwise, if they’re willing to pay the price

On-Disc and Day-One DLCs

On-disc DLC and day-one DLC are comprised of content that would have normally come as part of the game, but where along the way it was pulled from the game and sold alongside it. This is the big ugly of DLC, and it is largely assumed that publishers will ask developers to take content out of their games specifically so that they can squeeze more money out of the public. In fact, they might even leave out content entirely for various reasons; maybe they don’t like it and know they can rework it later and add it in as DLC for extra money.

Free DLCs

Free DLC is exactly what it sounds like, DLC that is given to the consumer for free should they want it. While it’s usually small, it’s always good to see a developer put in extra work for no extra benefit to them just to give their consumers more content to play with.

Bugfixing DLCs

Bugfixing in DLCs are both positive and negative. Once upon a time, if you shipped a product, that’s what was sent out. Now that everyone is connected to the internet, even consoles, if you ship something out you can change the product at a moments notice. This means that any horrible bugs that you’d normally just have to live with can be fixed with a patch. The downside to this? It makes developers less likely to check for bugs before sending a product out because they know they can just change it later.

Exclusive Content DLCs

Exclusive content was created as a way for stores to bribe publishers to lock out part of their game to anyone who doesn’t buy the game at the store in question. The only people this ever benefits are the store and the publisher. It’s completely anti-consumer but unless you want to boycott every single store that does this there’s no way to convince publishers to stop doing it. Assassins Creed 4 was a recent example of this, having missions that could only be unlocked by buying the game at specific retailers.


The most offensive DLC of them all are microtransactions.

Let’s say you’re playing an adventure game and the main character has a sword that does 2 damage.  That’s nice and all but for some people that 2 damage isn’t enough for you, you mighty warrior. What do you do then? You send 50 cents over to whoever made the game and now you have a new sword that does 4 damage.  You can kill things twice as fast and not have as much of a problem!

The problem with microtransactions is that less-successful players can still succeed if they’re willing to pay extra money. This has led to something called “freemium” games that are designed to allow you to only get so much of an in-game material a day but you can buy as much as you want with real money. These games are generally designed to be addicting so that you want to keep playing, but you need to buy those materials if you want to continue. The end result is that they can suck up more money than a $60 AAA game.

Of course, these aren’t the only games with microtransactions in them, even AAA games have them, like Oblivion’s infamous “horse armor”.  Now, that “horse armor” pack wouldn’t even be looked at twice since microtransactions have become that prevalent in modern gaming.

The grand-pooh-ba of DLC's - SIMS

The grand-pooh-ba of DLC’s – SIMS

Expansion Pack DLCs

Not all DLC’s are bad, many DLC’s are used to add additional missions, levels, maps, characters, or so on into a game. Sometimes it’s small like the extra missions for Assassins Creed 4, sometimes it’s large like the Luigi U DLC for New Super Mario Bros U.

When a game ends up with a large DLC, sometimes it is labeled as an expansion pack.  Back in the day, Diablo 2 released an expansion pack called Diablo 2: Lords of Destruction. This unlocked a whole new act, 2 characters, and a new tier of equipment.  In fact, if Diablo 2 was released in the modern day, Lords of Destruction would have been DLC.

It is worth noting that some DLC’s on their own can be big enough to be a new game and might end up saving you money.  For instance, kids back in the early 90s would have liked each new Street Fighter 2 to be DLC instead of a brand-new game.

So I hope those reading have a better idea of how DLC can be both bad and good for the consumer.  Remember, you’re the consumer and what you have to say matters, even if other people tell you it doesn’t.