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Filed under: Industry People, Masahiro Sakurai, Super Bros. Smash For 3DS, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Super Smash Bros. Series, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Why DLC Even Exists

Thanks to Wolfman_J and Cart Boy for their suggestions and edits when writing this article!

The following is an opinion article. You are allowed to disagree.

Recently, in the Source Gaming discord there was a huge discussion on DLC and why it even exists. I wanted to quickly share my thoughts on why I’ve come around to accept DLC as a necessary evil in the gaming industry today.

My opinion drastically changed within the last year. In particular, when I visited PlatinumGames and was granted the opportunity to take a tour (You can read about it here). The tour was pretty extensive, showing a walkthrough of taking a concept and putting it into a game (the untimely Scalebound). The process was in depth, with the tour guide explaining each stage. On the original blog post I stated the steps comprised of: concept art -> modelling -> texturing -> animation -> sound effects -> and programming. However, in reality, that’s not all there is to game design. There are a LOT more people involved with a game. There are directors, debuggers, marketers, translators, editors, human resource people…the list goes on.

The ballooning cost of development staff and the pure expense of a project is exactly why DLC is becoming a necessary evil in today’s games. Without DLC, publishers would have to look into other revenue streams to get a return on their investment. I think without DLC revenue, publishers would increase the price of games in order to still profit.

As Sakurai has stated in The Creator’s Hands are Alive and Well, “[DLC is] the easiest way to make money” which is why a lot of video game companies are utilizing DLC these days. Of course, in that column, Sakurai is speaking out against the ‘on-disc’ DLC, the DLC that is held back for the sake of increasing money. He argues that Smash for Wii U/3DS was “authentic”, and was all developed once the game was finished. I think most people are against on-disc DLC.

In some cases, companies will use on-disc DLC to maintain momentum. Sakurai even mentioned this in that column. Timed unlocks for Mario Maker and Splatoon, while free, are still a form of on-disc DLC. It’s content that was not available on Day 1. However, most people were okay with the timed unlocks, as they were free. Most people are unhappy with paid DLC being a “key” to unlock a character that’s fully finished with a game. Personally, I dislike both forms of on-disc DLC, but that’s just me. I refused to buy Splatoon on release due to not all of its’ content being available on Day 1.

Despite this, one common criticism I’ve seen of Smash for Wii U/3DS DLC is how much it costs — especially in regards to Lucas’ and Roy’s cost. I think it’s important to remember a couple of things. First, Nintendo decided the price of DLC. Secondly, video game companies are companies. Their purpose is to profit. Without profit, they cannot continue making games. No money, no games.

So even though Roy is a semi-clone, or whatever, Nintendo still needed to pay the concept artists, sound engineers, voice actors, programmers, modelers, directors, marketers, etc. There’s a lot of people to pay, and the 5 USD price tag was the price Nintendo decided they could charge, in order to pay back their investment and make a profit. And guess what? Most people bought it. Smash DLC was some of the most profitable DLC Nintendo ever produced. Even though it took quite a bit of time, energy and capital, I’m sure Nintendo, their fans, and their investors were overall satisfied with the result.

I’d like to briefly discuss the difference between planning to have DLC, and planning the DLC. I think with Smash for 3DS/Wii U Sakurai had always planned on doing DLC. Logistically, Bandai Namco would need to plan around having certain teams, or people available for other projects. We do know from data mining by yours truly, that Smash was always DLC capable. As I discussed in Sakurai Didn’t Say That!, I think DLC was planned for Smash, but particular DLC wasn’t (with the exception of Mewtwo). When exactly Lucas, Roy and Ryu were decided is still a mystery, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was shortly before the game shipped but after the game was finished.

Up until now, I’ve been focused on the commercial explanation for why DLC even exists. I’d like to briefly explore the creative side to DLC. DLC can be an avenue for creators to experiment with the game. Mario Kart 8 adding Link, Isabella/Villager, and the 200cc Mode are prime examples of this. Kosuke Yabuki, one of the game’s directors stated in an interview, “ If we’re going to make DLC, we wanted it to be something fresh and special.“ In the same interview, he also states, “this DLC is unique and special in the way it transcends the boundaries of the Mario Kart franchise. I hope that people around the world enjoy it.” I think it’s reasonable to say that without DLC being a success for Mario Kart 8, we might not have seen the Inklings in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.  

Sometimes DLC offers side stories, different from the main campaign. The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned from the original Borderlands was pretty well received, despite having to do little with the original story. The Grand Theft Auto 4 and 5 DLC is also pretty experimental with their DLC — focusing on new characters which bring new light to the game world. DLC can be a great way to give focus to a minor character, providing extra details to the overall lore. Plague Knight, Specter Knight and (eventually) King Knight are all boss characters from the original Shovel Knight but have received their own themed DLC content. See? DLC isn’t always bad!

Anyway, that’s my two cents on what DLC even exists. What do you think about the great DLC debate? Let us know in the comments below, or on Twitter.


Note: I wrote this before the whole Korok Seeds debate. I largely agree with André, from GameXplain so you if you haven’t watched his thoughts on the matter, you can listen to them here.

  1. On-disk DLC is an ethical problem because it involves being charged for content you already technically bought along with the rest of the game’s data. Outside of that, there’s nothing inherently good or evil about DLC as a business model–it’s just another business model.

    When it comes to entertainment like video games, the free market pretty much works as intended (not getting into politics here; it’s just basic economics). People vote with their wallets. If you don’t think a game is a good deal, you can simply not buy it. If you don’t think add-on content for a game is a good deal, you can simply not buy it. That’s it. Nobody is a victim. If a company wants to add content free of charge, that’s great, but you’re not entitled to something just because it exists.

    Claiming a game is “incomplete” just because it has paid DLC is an arbitrary and self-serving argument that invokes fear of new media and conveniently ignores how we’ve had expansion packs and enhanced rereleases for decades with much less drama. You don’t get toppings on your pizza for free. When you go to a movie, you don’t get a ticket to the sequel for free. You don’t get a full set of controllers and accessories when you buy a game console. What difference does digital distribution make? Take away the novelty of it being downloadable, and you’re left with people literally complaining about the idea that content costs money.

    Igiulaw on May 5 |
  2. DLC exists in SSB so we no longer have the excuse “so and so was cut due to time constraints, and the game has been released, so its too late”. DLC saved veterans Roy, Lucas, and Mewtwo from being cut from the roster.

    However, Sakurai didn’t make that move with Wolf (for unexplained reasons) and the Ice Climbers (much less FucKonami’s Snake and various Pokemon reps). Go figure.

    2071Johnny on May 5 |
    • Sakurai was planning to bring Ice Climbers back in Smash 3DS/Wii U, as they were working perfectly during the Wii U’s testing. But they decided to reject them because their gimmicks didn’t work on the 3DS due to its lack of machine power. Even if they’d planned to bring them for the DLC, it still wouldn’t work. Much more they wouldn’t want them to become Wii U exclusive because they want all characters equally to both games, while maybe their gimmicks wouldn’t still work because of 8-player Smash (which I still think it’s worthless).

      zoniken on May 5 |
      • I think this story has been told 1 million times now.

        2071Johnny on May 6 |
    • Wolf was probably planned and possibly worked on for the base game. There are some possible evidence to go with it. So, Sakurai probably didn’t want Wolf as DLC because he didn’t want to sell cut content along with the Ice Climbers and the Rhythm Haven Character. Possibly Squirtle and Ivysaur as well since the PKMN Trainer had to be cut due to 3DS limitations. What about Lucas? He was probably cut way earlier than Wolf, and the two pokemon because his series is dead and less recognizable than them. So, I don’t think he was worked on. Maybe he was planned to be in it as one of the bonus characters (like the forbidden 7 in brawl), but time constraints happened. That goes to Wolf, Squirtle, and Ivysaur as well. As for Snake, no idea….

      Rosalinatehplumber on May 8 |
      • This has probably been said a lot before, sorry if you’re tired of it, but my guess for Snake getting cut is because Kojima left Konami and said company had little to no interest in adding Snake in the game.

        Iron Toad on May 15 |
  3. I do think DLC is quite important in many cases. Sure nobody wants to waste money as they wanna keep everything free (just like many lazy people says they want life to be extremely thus terribly easy as we have such miserable beings called NEET in Japan), but even then, that’s not how business work. DLC is the proof that the game has become successful, and that’s the reward they should provide to the gamers who have credited the game with positive ratings. Sure, its up to those who want to purchase it or not, thus it may be a waste of money if there’s gonna be a port with all previous DLC contents added in the first place. For my case, I’ve purchased only on DLC characters and stages while I simply ignored the Mii costumes since it was personally worthless. DLC may be rewarding, but its not the must thing.

    But admitting reality, not every DLCs were successful. Dead Rising 4 didn’t receive positive ratings due to fan criticism, and even they added DLCs, it just made it worse. There may be other games that even having DLC wasn’t successful, but I can’t figure which title was that. Furthermore, as DLC may be rewarding, its also a risk taker for the creators, whether to lose money on creating something that was meant to be worthless from the start.

    Money can be risk taking for many ways, but there is no such thing as “free” in the world of business. They cannot keep everything free or else they’ll lose the business. There won’t be anymore new things unless people would pay for certain product or content they’ve created. It cannot be a give-and-take routine, its a way to market and trade wisely. But think about it; 500 yen or $5.00 worth of one content may sound expensive but ain’t a bad deal. Just like how the Switch’s internet connection became $20 per year isn’t that bad. If one DLC character were worth of $100, then that’s a damned ripoff! But having a content worth a reliable price isn’t really a bad deal, if the company thinks that amount still help their business alive. And I’d say this harshly and seriously; if people still think even one dollar or a single penny is still expensive to their life, then they should start looking for a job…

    zoniken on May 5 |
  4. I’m working on translating an interview from a few years ago involving Fire Emblem where they talk at length at the advantages of DLC and such. It pretty much echoes the sort of sentiment that others have too.

    xkan on May 5 |