Author Topic: What Ever Happened to the Expansion Pack?  (Read 2698 times)

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Offline Thaeris

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What Ever Happened to the Expansion Pack?
/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

*****

So, TL,DR:

"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?
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Offline headdie

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Re: What Ever Happened to the Expansion Pack?
tbh I consider any dlc a form of expansion pack under a more relevant term for the current era.

End of the day in real terms as seen by the player nothing has changed except that many companies choose to distribute the content in smaller chunks which is easier to market to specific sections of a game's fan base, but the end result is the same, you dont get access to this post release content unless you buy/qualify for it.

To make things better just like the expansion pack days of old, modern games are still re-released after the fact with "Complete/GOTY" editions which has most/all the expansion content included for a slight discount on buying it all seperate.

edit

DLC for my mind became main stream with consoles gaining hard drives and internet connections speeding up to make it a viable on demand service rather than MMOs, look at WoW, they still use something akin to old school expansion packs to make big changes to the setting
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Offline NGTM-1R

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Re: What Ever Happened to the Expansion Pack?
You have interesting memories of the "substantial" nature of many expansions. They frequently weren't.
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Offline Thaeris

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Re: What Ever Happened to the Expansion Pack?
Maybe, maybe not.

I grew up with flight sims, so an expansion pack would often add a great deal of content, if not for raw data but what was done with it. I never played Falcon 3.0, though to make a point the game developers released not only new theaters but entirely new modules of the sim where you could do everything in the original program with the exception of flying a completely different airframe.

...In effect, you still get that same thing with DLC, but seldom does it seem to be the "entire package" as seen above - just a minor, often rough element therein.
"trolls are clearly social rejects and therefore should be isolated from society, or perhaps impaled."

-Nuke



"Look on the bright side, how many release dates have been given for Doomsday, and it still isn't out yet.

It's the Duke Nukem Forever of prophecies..."


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Everyone else takes normal damage.
"

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"pirating software is a lesser evil than stealing but its still evil. but since i pride myself for being evil, almost anything is fair game."


"i never understood why women get the creeps so ****ing easily. i mean most serial killers act perfectly normal, until they kill you."


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Offline Klaustrophobia

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Re: What Ever Happened to the Expansion Pack?
DLC sucks.  but it's not going away until people stop giving publishers assloads of cash for that new weapon pack or multiplayer map.  which means never.
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Offline deathfun

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Re: What Ever Happened to the Expansion Pack?
DLC sucks.  but it's not going away until people stop giving publishers assloads of cash for that new weapon pack or multiplayer map.  which means never.

I disagree that DLC sucks
I agree that the types of DLCs that are coming out suck.

Sidenote: Why buy a disc which contains everything, when you can pick and choose what parts of that disc you want, and forget the rest? That's the main selling point I'd find of the small DLC type things
While larger such as Episodes from Liberty City, are more in line with what you remember expansions to be




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Offline BloodEagle

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Re: What Ever Happened to the Expansion Pack?
Expansion packs are still being done, although not very often.  And I can't really attest to the quality of them. You know, Mist of Pandabearia and whatnot.

DLC (as game publishers know it today) really started to get popular when the likes of Zygna (may they burn in eternal Hellfire for the damage they've done) started their micro-transaction bull****.

---

The few good expansion packs that I can remember are....
  • Zero Hour (C&C:G): Air Force General? HELL YES.
  • Tribunal (TES III): It fixed the damned journal, among other things.
  • Secret Weapons of WWII (B 1942): Jet. Freaking. Pack.
  • Huh. That was a short list.

I might be forgetting a few, of course.  It's been quite some time since I've actually bought one.

 

Offline General Battuta

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Re: What Ever Happened to the Expansion Pack?
Expansion packs are still being done, although not very often.  And I can't really attest to the quality of them. You know, Mist of Pandabearia and whatnot.

DLC (as game publishers know it today) really started to get popular when the likes of Zygna (may they burn in eternal Hellfire for the damage they've done) started their micro-transaction bull****.

This is far from correct. Zynga (may they suffer no particular punishment beyond their ongoing financial woes for the limited effects they've had) was important for pushing the value of microtransactions, but this is quite a different phenomenon from DLC - more closely tied to the whole design and economic phenomenon of free-to-play games.

While we're getting disproportionately mad about video games, one thing that may be contributing to the financial pressure to push DLC and microtransactions is the fact that games are much cheaper now days than they were back in the 90s. The big-box model may not be viable because we're no longer willing to pay enough for it.
« Last Edit: March 26, 2013, 11:16:31 pm by General Battuta »

 

Offline Ace

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Re: What Ever Happened to the Expansion Pack?
DLC seems like a mixed bag. In some cases it's been great, providing small episodic content and in other cases it's a pure cash grab.

Look at Fallout: New Vegas, each DLC is a nice experiment in gameplay, setting, and story.

Other times, it's very subpar or outright "pay money for a few items" (A good deal of Saint's Row's DLC, the Sims, etc...)
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Offline BloodEagle

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Re: What Ever Happened to the Expansion Pack?
Expansion packs are still being done, although not very often.  And I can't really attest to the quality of them. You know, Mist of Pandabearia and whatnot.

DLC (as game publishers know it today) really started to get popular when the likes of Zygna (may they burn in eternal Hellfire for the damage they've done) started their micro-transaction bull****.

This is far from correct. Zynga (may they suffer no particular punishment beyond their ongoing financial woes for the limited effects they've had) was important for pushing the value of microtransactions, but this is quite a different phenomenon from DLC - more closely tied to the whole design and economic phenomenon of free-to-play games.

The points I was trying to make were:
1) DLC started to get really popular at around the same time as Micro-transactions.
2) Most content developers lately, when marketing DLC, seem to be offering Micro-transactions instead (Dead Space 3, et al.).

I assure you that I do, in fact, recognize the difference between the two.

And the (righteous) hatred I have for Zynga was mainly an aside.

While we're getting disproportionately mad about video games, one thing that may be contributing to the financial pressure to push DLC and microtransactions is the fact that games are much cheaper now days than they were back in the 90s. The big-box model may not be viable because we're no longer willing to pay enough for it.

The original high prices back then were due (in part) to the relatively niche market at the time.  After realtime 3D rendering got cheaper to produce and the consumer base expanded, it was suddenly much more feasible to lower prices (considerably) after costs were met.  Remember Player's Choice games?

The real problem isn't that games are cheaper (They've come back to their older peaks (sans-inflation) from the SNES era), it's that there's this cancerous need to spend more and more on their creation.  I mean, some Triple-A (:/) games can cost upwards of forty million dollars to produce before marketing costs are added.

----

DLC seems like a mixed bag. In some cases it's been great, providing small episodic content and in other cases it's a pure cash grab.

The real funny thing is that, if it weren't for day-one DLC or online passes gating content (and crap like that), DLC wouldn't be seen as much of a cash grab as it is.

 

Offline Mongoose

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Re: What Ever Happened to the Expansion Pack?
I think Thaeris has a good point that anything labeled an "expansion pack" tended to be somewhat heftier than a lot of what's labeled "DLC" today, just by nature of it needing to sell as a separate physical unit on store shelves.  However, I don't think "DLC" as an overall concept is necessarily bad, and there have been plenty of DLC offerings substantial enough to be expansions in all but name.  Even with the smaller stuff, while we may mock stuff like $3 horse armor, and rightly so, the fact remains that people out there are paying money for that sort of thing, and we always have the option of speaking with our wallets and not buying it ourselves.

I have fond memories of a few expansions back in the day, though.  Descent 2's Vertigo add-on had a new campaign about as long as the original retail one, full of brand-new bots.  Descent 3's Mercenary expansion added a new ship and had a pretty hefty singleplayer campaign with some really cool level design.  And while Silent Threat gave us...well...Silent Threat, I definitely got my money's worth out of all those fan-made missions included with it.

 

Offline The E

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Re: What Ever Happened to the Expansion Pack?
I looooove DLC.

Way I see it, DLC was enabled by a few things, fast secure online financial transactions and ubiquitous broadband access among them. The thing with the old expansion pack model was that making one was only viable in very limited situations (That is, a game that was proven to be a commercial success, an audience that actually was willing to buy a mission pack of sorts, a creative team that wasn't disbanded when the original game shipped.....).

Granted, not all DLC is worth buying (Horse Armor, anyone?), but it's not like every expansion pack of old was worth the price either (Oh hi Silent Threat); but then noone is forcing you to buy it, right?

Regarding Day One DLC: I find the argument that they're supposed to be just a giant cash-grab for things that should have been in the game already goddammit to be flawed. Sure, there are developers who do this (BioWare with the Warden's Keep and Javik nonsense springs to mind), but it's not like we can't see thesee things coming. For the most part, I subscribe to the belief that these pieces of DLC are a good way to keep the designers and programmers who would have been laid off at the end of principal development around.

Oh, and by the way: The games industry is painfully aware that ballooning budgets are not the way into the future. I would expect average budgets to stagnate or even drop, given that the largest budget game to date (SW:TOR) was also one of the poorest performers overall, and given that the major gaming platforms are becoming increasingly similar to each other.
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Offline Fury

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Re: What Ever Happened to the Expansion Pack?
Funny, I think old proverb "Time goldens memories" applies very well here. I have not missed expansion packs at all. They weren't any better than today's DLC's. Only that DLC's are have far more variety, ranging from simple addons to full blown "expansion packs".


TL,DR: Meh, moving on.

 

Offline Thaeris

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Re: What Ever Happened to the Expansion Pack?
I suppose I should tack on the statement that I don't hate DLC for the sake of hating DLC, if someone was going to diverge into that field. I think it has a place, when issued with that degree of "integrity" I brought up in the first post.

However, I stand by the expansion pack model under the belief that fulfilling content is worthwhile - and I do mean fulfilling content. As several have noted, there were indeed many examples of poor expansions, but even still, they offered a complete, new set of life to a program (even if it was a pretty shoddy life). In that regard, I feel that a good amount of DLC falls short, and I think it will continue to cause truly expansive content to decline over time as the trend continues.
"trolls are clearly social rejects and therefore should be isolated from society, or perhaps impaled."

-Nuke



"Look on the bright side, how many release dates have been given for Doomsday, and it still isn't out yet.

It's the Duke Nukem Forever of prophecies..."


"Jesus saves.

Everyone else takes normal damage.
"

-Flipside

"pirating software is a lesser evil than stealing but its still evil. but since i pride myself for being evil, almost anything is fair game."


"i never understood why women get the creeps so ****ing easily. i mean most serial killers act perfectly normal, until they kill you."


-Nuke

 

Offline The E

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Re: What Ever Happened to the Expansion Pack?
Let's take a look at Mass Effect 2 then, since that's one of the games where the DLC worked pretty well. Aside from the cosmetic DLC, like alternate appearances and weapons, there were three big story DLCs, Overlord, Lair of the Shadow Broker, and Arrival, as well as two optional companions (Zaeed and Kasumi), and a little mission pack (Firewalker).

Taken together, they would amount to what in the old days would have been one expansion; but the way they were distributed over the course of the development time of Mass Effect 3, they were able to keep the ME franchise alive in people's minds; every few months, there would be one of the DLC packs, or more news about ME3.

That would be the "new set of life" thing you're talking about, by the way.

Personally, I find the DLC model of smaller, more frequent releases to be better than the single monolithic expansion model. It's what Valve promised us with the Half Life 2 Episodes, only done right.
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Offline Spoon

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Re: What Ever Happened to the Expansion Pack?
Warning, anger inside
It's **** like the above that should be banned by law. It's just a down right scam to include content on the disk and then letting you pay extra to unlock the content that is already on the disk.

Regarding Day One DLC: I find the argument that they're supposed to be just a giant cash-grab for things that should have been in the game already goddammit to be flawed. Sure, there are developers who do this (BioWare with the Warden's Keep and Javik nonsense springs to mind), but it's not like we can't see thesee things coming. For the most part, I subscribe to the belief that these pieces of DLC are a good way to keep the designers and programmers who would have been laid off at the end of principal development around.
Its just down right bad marketing to have day one DLC though. The backlash Bioware got for its day one DLC with mass effect was pretty darn horrendous for Bioware. They lost a good bit of early sales because so many people decided to boycot.
Even if it was ready by release day, they should have just held it back for a month or so. Or hell, give it for free during the first week after release if you own the game. There are many ways to not piss off your customers. But all of this is probably way to sensible for the money grubbing machine that is EA.

All of that aside, I've slowly come to terms with having DLC replacing expansion packs. I've bought a good amount of Orcs must die 2 DLC because I really liked that game and just wanted more of it. The DLC they offered imho was good value when it came to price&content. And it's often easy to get DLC at a reduced price during a steam sale.
It's also easy as **** to obtain (yay for high speed internet), I dont even have to leave my house.

You just have to decide for yourself if the content that is being offered in a DLC is worth it for you.

tl;dr DLC is good except when its being abused.
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Offline MP-Ryan

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Re: What Ever Happened to the Expansion Pack?
I like DLC over the Expansion Pack model, because many DLCs actually are expansion packs without all the bloat.

The best part about DLC is that you pay for specific content.  Did I want more SP weapons and appearances for ME3?  Absolutely not.  So I didn't buy them.  But instead of the story expansions costing $30, they cost $10-15 because all the other stuff wasn't bundled.

Obviously some developers have abused the DLC system somewhat, but recent DLC has actually been a better model than past expansions.  The E is right - DLC is what Valve was supposed to do with HL2 episodic releases done right.  Are there going to be some developers that abuse it?  Sure.  But we can vote with our wallets now much more easily than we used to be able to - you can now preview an entire DLC in YouTube on the day its released.

I agree that alternate appearance or unlocks in cheap mini DLCs are bull**** cash grabs, but they're totally optional.  I would much rather DLC than bull**** microtransactions.

As for Day 1 DLC, I don't have as much issue with that if it's content produced after the final copy of the game went for publishing.  If said content ends up delivered to the customer through the same package as the retail product and just requires an unlock code, that is cash grab bull****.  But the Javik DLC for ME3 I wasn't as perturbed about.  I do think publishers would be smart to discount Day 1 DLC produced in the legitimate model to all customers who had purchased the retail game on or before the date the DLC is released, though, as an incentive and an acknowledgement to those people who buy on release day.  Charging full price for a DLC the day the game is released to people who already bought the game seems unfair.
« Last Edit: March 27, 2013, 12:56:13 pm by MP-Ryan »
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Offline Lorric

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Re: What Ever Happened to the Expansion Pack?
I don't have a great deal of experience with DLC, but when a pile of DLC gets released, I've looked at it and thought how all combined it would be like an expansion pack. Except if you grab it all it costs something like triple what an expansion would cost. I don't like that at all.

In fact now I think of it, I have yet to purchase any DLC. Always thought it's not worth the cost.

  

Offline Dragon

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Re: What Ever Happened to the Expansion Pack?
If they're numerous enough, DLCs are sometimes bundled into what is essentially expansion packs, priced similarly and sometimes even released on physical mediums. It depends on a company (some prefer to include DLC with the base game in a "special edition", for instance), but it's still occasionally seen.

 

Offline Mongoose

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Re: What Ever Happened to the Expansion Pack?
Yeah, usually you'll see it packaged in a "Game of the Year" or "Ultimate" edition.  I honestly can't think of any DLC packs I've purchased on their own, since by the time I get around to buying most games, those collective versions are usually all that are available anyway.