Sometimes, Less Is More – An Essay On Why The Current Trend of Studios Releasing Stand-alone DLC Expansions, May Be Better Than Developing A Full Blown Sequel
In November of last year, Insomniac released the follow up to their phenomenal Spider-Man game from 2018. The follow up was titled Spider-Man: Miles Morales and was a stand-alone DLC expansion, meaning that you didn’t need to own or have even played the base game in order to play through the expansion.
Just a few days ago, Sucker Punch announced an upgradable expansion for last year’s Ghost Of Tsushima, called Ghost of Ikishima. The point being, this trend of big developers releasing a stand-alone DLC expansion in lieu of a full blown sequel is a trend that isn’t going anywhere and is a something that I am all for.
After you play through something like Ghost Of Tsushima, you are left instantly wanting more. You want more time in this world and you want to spend more time with these characters, but you also know the reality of modern game development. It takes so much work from a studio to produce something as well crafted as GoT that even if Sucker Punch began working on a sequel the day after production on the first game finished, it definitely wouldn’t be available as soon as August the following year.
Instead, we usually have to wait around five or six years until the studio is happy with their sequel and even then the game will probably get delayed a few times. This is not to mention any other projects that the studio is working on simultaneously, like Insomniac currently are with Ratchet & Clank and Spider-Man 2, which means double the wait time for each franchise.
On the other hand, less than a year after the release of the initial game, the company can develop a shorter story with the same characters, within the same game engine and release it to those fans who are craving more. Sure, you won’t get a full 15-20 hours with these characters again, but spending 3-9 hours with them a few months after the last time you saw them is a lot better than waiting half a decade to see them again, at least I know which I prefer.
Once you beat a game that you really love, you want to talk about it. It becomes part of the conversation on any gaming podcast or press event over the next few months and that type of publicity can’t be beaten.
If a developer waits a few months until the praise and conversation surrounding the game dies down and then suddenly announces a stand-alone expansion, then that franchise is right back in the gamer’s mind. However, if a great game comes out and then goes dark for five years before announcing a sequel, then the momentum carrying that game is broken and it might not be as easy to get people hyped up again after five long years.
The one downfall to stand alone expansions are their length. They are always a great deal shorter than the game that they are following up. However, I have written previously about how there are too many games on the market, so maybe a shorter experience does have its benefits.
The price is lower than a full game for a start, meaning you won’t have to fork out another 60-70 dollars for the game. Also, you are in and out again within a few sittings, so that the story and characters don’t get stale, sometimes there really can be too much of a good thing. Lastly, there is the quality over quantity factor, if a developer is focusing on a few characters within a more streamlined story, then the outcome should be something tighter and make for a better told story.
I still don’t like the term, ‘stand-alone DLC expansion,’ though. Something like Episodes or Chronicles is far less of a mouthful. Even something like Mini-Sequel would work better for me, as stand-alone DLC expansion carries all of the wrong kind of connotations for a lot of gamers.
DLC is traditionally something that you purchase for the online component of a game, such as new maps or weapons packs, or maybe additional characters in a fighting game or something cosmetic that has no effect on a game’s story.
Expansion has a different meaning entirely in my book. To me, an expansion is something that you buy for an old PC game that is additional content to the preceding game, but you need to own and have played the original game to start with.
The other issue I have with the term; ‘stand-alone DLC expansion,’ is that it suggests that it is somehow less relevant than a fully fledged game. Sure, it is shorter and isn’t a full blown sequel, but answer me this – how is it that although The Order: 1886 was only four hours long, (around the same length as a stand alone DLC story,) and that was considered a full blown, AAA title that merited a 60 dollar price tag upon its release?
The price of Ratchet & Clank on release was $40, which is the same release price as Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, yet Ratchet & Clank is considered a full release and Lost Legacy is dismissed as DLC. Games such as Infamous: First Light, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, Spider-Man: Miles Morales and TLOU: Left Behind were good enough to be considered in GOTY talks in the years of their respective releases in my opinion, but they weren’t even given a passing thought as they are never mentioned the same conversation as full games.
So really the title, ‘stand-alone DLC expansion,’ makes no sense for this type of media, but you could argue that we are still in the early stages of this part of the industry being normalised, so hopefully as time goes by the gaming press will come up with a more suitable title.
Another argument for stand alone DLC can be exemplified in me as a consumer. Before stand alone DLC became a thing, I hardly ever bought DLC, other a few COD map packs back in the day. However, as a gamer that plays games mostly to experience the story, this type of additional content is perfect for me and it has meant that developers have gotten more money out of me then they would have otherwise.
Also, for the consumer that trades their games in once they are finished with them, it is such a drag to have to hold onto a game once you have completed and wait for the inevitable DLC to drop. Whereas with stand alone content, it means that the DLC can still be bought and enjoyed long after the base game has been traded in.
Overall, what I’m trying to say is, don’t dismiss these smaller stories as unimportant. They are no less necessary to a franchise than a full blown entry is and they shouldn’t be brushed aside nonchalantly. Sometimes they may even fare better than a whole new game and if this trend of following up a major title with an additional excellent story continues, I think that it will only benefit the gaming market as a whole.
If you are enjoying Dan’s AG@G series, you can check out the previous entry on Why There Is No Longer a Place For Mediocrity In The Video Game Industry right here.
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