/Begin Nostalgia Rant
I've now heard a few individuals complain about spending quite a bit of money for... not quite a lot of value. And it's not like it's a lot of money up front, it's just here and there for this or that. Of course, I'm talking about DLC.
I have to assume that DLC became popular when MMOs started to pop up, especially free-to-play games, as a means of generating extra revenue, etc. And if something is marketable, chaps will sell it...
...I just see the majority of DLC as a concept generally lacking in integrity. And the reason for this is the fact that additional content for games is a very old concept indeed. And that older concept was often not one to suffer the same judgement we can lay upon DLC today - What ever happened to the expansion pack?
The simple answer is likely to be the shift in distribution methods and marketing today. The capacity to transmit vast amounts of data rapidly over the internet today is the key factor here: Prior to fast data transfer, the only economical means of distributing an expansion to a game was a physical package. That package has a few types of up-front costs, including the actual physical media as well as what must be a fraction of the cost to cover the labor involved in creating the data included within the media. Balancing the number of units created for the product so as to make some form of profit is also part of the initial process (with follow-up production as an option). Now, it's up marketing.
The marketing process is... perhaps mostly self-explanatory. Not that it's unimportant, just that it's fairly obvious for when something is recorded as doing well and when something has not... though that's not the whole story. In the case of wondering what ever happened to the full-blown expansion pack, I'm going to assume that much of it falls on the half of marketing we often do not consider - marketing feedback. At some point, if physically-transmitted digital media is of poor quality, consumer feedback will begin to undermine the attempts of the initial marketers, and the product may flop if it's bad enough. Feedback in the case of genuine risk-of-loss to the manufacturer or marketer is tremendous incentive to perform quality control on a product to ensure that it's of worthwhile value to the consumer. This is obvious for why: items which cost you money to put on store shelves and do not sell because of poor reviews will result in a net loss with respect to profit... and that's bad for business.
Fast internet thus changes things for better or worse, and DLC fits right in. DLC in most forms I hear of seems to match the "on-demand*" mentality for most of the changes it makes. For the developer, it means that they can focus on developing small elements of a product, releasing them for a fee, and hopefully succeed in providing a continual source of income. Furthermore, lack of physical media reduces a substantial margin for loss in developing the product. Tying into this is user feedback... though the feedback is much more rapid over the internet, potentially having tremendous impact on sales, losses due to poor feedback are now quite mitigated. The challenge now becomes a gamble of just how much quality control you need to exercise in a software element in order to make as much profit as one can from its sale.
...And, for better or worse, it seems to work. Previously, I noted that much effort went into expansion packs because poor feedback could result in a real financial shortcoming. "Piecemealing"-it, as DLC does, mitigates this substantially. I want to argue that the effect of this is ultimately for the worse, causing the overall quality for expansions to go down in recent years. Manufacturers and marketers simply do not consider the need to make real, full-blown expansions because it is easier to mitigate risk and circumvent mass feedback by releasing greater quantities of... typically neutral... product in an environment where scarcity does not exist, or can otherwise be artificially created. If one really wants to be cynical, it's the convenient "duping" of the consumer, and is only possible due to the current state of distribution technology.
*Anything downloaded is kind of "on-demand." The expression in that instance was relating to the fact that much DLC changes one aspect of the game in an often minor aspect, only adding superficial change to the basic software package.
/End What... May Not Have Actually Been a Nostalgia Rant
"What Ever Happened to the Expansion Pack?"
Marketing found a way to get similar or better results by selling large quantities of often unsubstantial product to a large audience. Purely digital media has very little in the way of physical loss to profit, while what can be assumed to be a volume:quality:market ratio has placed less emphasis on consumer satisfaction... simply because they don't have to. The result is DLC, which often falls far shorter in the quality field than the old expansion packs. And they do this... because it seems the majority of the consumer base (who buy DLC) just doesn't care enough to do anything about it.
I do hope this changes someday, hopefully in favor of the old expansion pack model. Or, perhaps my assessment of the state of things was wrong as of writing this - what are your thoughts?