As more high-profile games become live services and try to incorporate procedurally generated open worlds, it’s not hard to see how the idea of single-player DLC may be dying off as a result. While not gone for good, as last year's well-received Marvel’s Spider-Man DLC packs proved, video game culture as a whole has appeared to have moved on from extra paid story content in favor of constant online multiplayer, as well as the addition of microtransactions. From Bethesda's infamous Horse Armor to CD Projekt Red's Blood & Wine, downloadable content in video games has had an extensive, and at many times controversial, history, but many players still hold out hopes that the next Undead Nightmare is just around the corner for Red Dead Redemption 2.
Speaking of Undead Nightmare, one need only look at Rockstar Games itself to see that the cultural conversation surrounding paid DLC has drastically changed in the past decade. Once the forerunners of some of the most well-regarded DLC packs ever made, when faced with the choice of how to add additional content to Grand Theft Auto V, the best-selling piece of entertainment ever, Rockstar opted instead for the live, persistent world of GTA Online. Gone were the $10 and $20 full expansions; instead what players got in GTAO was free but with the added choice of paying a little extra to enhance the in-game experience. These microtransactions, combined with the massive player base that GTAV already had, brought in millions for the company on less than a quarter of the budget that it would have taken them to do a full single-player campaign expansion, and the launch of Red Dead Online without a mention of story-based DLC only shows that this is the way Rockstar would prefer to do business moving forward.
It isn’t just Rockstar Games that has seemingly abandoned single-player post-game content, either. EA and Ubisoft both have been delivering fewer single-player DLC stories as of late, opting instead for additional multiplayer maps, weapons, and various forms of cosmetic items for their well-known franchises like Battlefield and Rainbow Six - though both of those franchise are, understandably, multiplayer-focused.
In multiplayer games such as Call of Duty, such a distinction makes sense. Competitive games of this nature rely heavily on balance, and if one group of players has a higher disposable income than the other, such content could result in a splitting player base. MMORPGs, more than any other genre, struggle with maintaining this balance through multiple expansion packs and thousands (or millions) of concurrent users. These days, with nearly every large publisher trying to have their own personal version of an online world, the last thing they want is to create even smaller groups within their own players. Keeping games as a service, and keeping the opportunities of that service the same for everyone, is in any publisher’s best interests.
There is also a small stigma attached to having too much post-game content planned out in advance. When a game's Ultimate Pre-Order edition includes DLC that promises extra story and/or characters before the game has even been released, players begin to wonder why that content wasn't just included in the game in the first place. Perhaps most importantly, in only the past few years there have been multiple cases of DLC being promised, pre-paid for by players, and then never delivered, both in stand-alone single-player games and in extended serial experiences. The disheartening disappearance of cult classics like D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die and the final season of Telltale Games' The Walking Dead have made players, quite understandably, more reticent to take developers at their word when they ask for money up front for the promise of content later.
While it may no longer be common, there is still some hope for quality single-player DLC experiences in the near future. Monster Hunter World has a purportedly massive expansion coming at the end of the year titled Iceborne, and fans of Civilization VI can look forward to Gathering Storm, a DLC pack which adds new civilizations, new gameplay systems, and natural disasters. Red Dead Redemption 2 fans might not ever get that open world zombie cowboy sequel they always wanted, but if they keep buying Shark Cards and Gold Bars then they will get the open world cowboy game they deserve.
Correction: We've removed a paragraph that incorrectly stated Far Cry: Primal and Far Cry: New Dawn were originally conceived as DLC for previous games.