DLC is the Toyota Prius of the gaming world - for all the talk about it, most of its problems seem to be primarily those of perception.
2K Games are the latest to discover this, with the hubbub over the knowledge that Bioshock 2 "DLC" actually appears to be contained on the disc, with the downloaded content just an unlock code. This has opened up once again the debate over what kinds of extra content gamers are entitled to, and what they have to pay for.
Let's try to clear the air on some of the issues that gamers may have with DLC.
Why does DLC exist?
Simply put, because publishers need alternative revenue streams. Most forms of media have multiple ways to get your hard earned cash - TV shows, for example, are broadcast once, maybe with a repeat, then put onto DVD, sold into syndication, and sold to other markets around the world. Each step earns money - and that's sorely needed, because making TV shows is an expensive business.
Making games is also an expensive business, ever more so, but the vast majority of profit made from tentpole games comes in the first 4 weeks. Games are getting more expensive to make, but actual playtime is, if anything, getting shorter. Because of this, savvy gamersare drawn to rental and used games in order to get their money's worth.
DLC, then, is a way to grow revenue without starting from scratch, while simultaneously combating the used market. It's also attractive because it allows publishers to make profit from staff who would otherwise be in downtime waiting for other projects to spin up.
How come DLC for [Game A] is free but DLC for [Game B] is not?
Some companies choose to give DLC free away to promote a brand. Others will sell it for a certain period of time before giving it away for free. Others will charge for it forever. And others (mostly notably the market leader, Nintendo) do not dabble in DLC very much at all.
In other words, it depends on what a company wants the DLC to do. If you want it to help promote a game at retail, it makes more sense to give it away for free. If you want it as an additional revenue stream, you're going to want to charge for it.
In the case of Battlefield: Bad Company 2 versusCall of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, EA's game is decidedly the underdog. DLC is an effective tool to build goodwill and expand EA's smaller fanbase, so releasing BC 2 DLC for free is a clever decision - and not any sign that EA is more generous or awesome than Activision is.
But by the same token, charging $15 for an MW2 map-pack might also be a clever decision. For all we talk about it, the percentage of gamers who actually download DLC is surprisingly low. I imagine that Activision based their price point with the knowledge that only the most hardcore players will want it, but that most of those players will likely buy it regardless of whether it's $10 or $15.
It does not make a lot of gamers like Activision but hey - the sorry fact is that publisher brand name is almost completely meaningless to the average consumer.