Back before the dark ages, there was a time when character and weapon skins were built into a game. An age where the gaudiest assets in any character’s arsenal were available for no extra charge. Unfortunately, that history is long since passed. Nowadays, the most interesting items a game has to offer are cut away and resold in ‘packs’. The single most sickening term in the lexicon of gaming.
Most games launch with anywhere between three and eight ‘packs’ containing these repackaged cosmetics. They serve to fill content quotas and justify season passes, deluxe editions and anything capable of justifying higher prices. It’s one of many industry practices that used to be rightly lambasted. However, in the wake of many more egregious forms of monetization, it’s fallen by the wayside. But it’s no better practice than it was then, even in the shadow of greater atrocities. And more importantly, it’s still happening. So, let’s unearth this old gripe.
They Used to be Part of the Experience
Packs are almost always comprised of content cut from the game, resold for a little extra profit. In the very rare instances where that’s not the case, they’re comprised of things that should’ve been. Weapon and player skins, bonus items, in-game resources, things that have been features of many games for years. They used to be offered as rewards, either for completing collections or for finishing special missions.
Things that were once iconic features of many series have been removed and repackaged. From the tuxedo in Metal Gear Solid being resold in Metal Gear Solid 5 to Dynasty Warriors’ most iconic weapons being removed for future DLC in Dynasty Warriors 9, as part of the game’s almost 170 DLC items.
It might not be the biggest sins those games committed, but it remains a spit in the face. And it’s something even games lacking any meaningful content like Dynasty Warriors 9 have the audacity to pull. This practice actively detracts from the experience and its that kind of quality that makes for a notably inferior product.
Even games that still feature the kinds of cosmetic or gameplay items offered in ‘packs’ ensure that the paid products either compete with the in-game gear or best it completely to incentivise sales. Gear with tangible gameplay advantages then ends up completely undermining the difficulty curve of titles, being markedly better. Otherwise, it doesn’t seem worth purchasing at all.
Packs Take the Place of Superior DLC
Games used to offer meaningful additions as content to incentivise DLC purchases and season passes. But when they advertise dozens of DLCs to make the price hike seem reasonable, there’s no room for that. Instead, most of it is comprised of ‘packs’ designed to round out the numbers.
Most Ubisoft titles have one-story addition, paired with anywhere between five and ten packs of nothing. That way, you can advertise tons of upcoming content, while having something impressive to feature centre stage. It gives the false illusion that all the content will be of the same calibre.
The quality of the content contained within packs themselves has declined as well. The number of items within each has been steadily falling as the content is divided across more individual sales. Dragon Ball Xenoverse had three content packs. They contained most characters of note from GT and some from the latest movie at the time, Resurrection F. Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 had eight, now nine, with more coming. Most contain only two characters, from the latter seasons of Dragon Ball Super. Not to mention the fact they’re over six pounds each.
They’re Never Worth the Price
No pack is ever worth it’s asking price. They’re almost designed not to be, as buying them all at once can double a game’s asking price. It encourages you to buy them all at once, either through a season pass or a non-standard edition. Or, failing that, they’re released gradually, so the series of small investments doesn’t seem all that expensive. Then, by the time there’s a dozen of them, you’ve forked up over fifty quid.
All that for what essentially boils down to a couple of re-skins per pack. And since they’re normally either skins or upgrades, you can only use one at a time. So, the vast majority of what you’ve paid extra for, you barely use, as you’ll inevitably find a favourite. This is as opposed to when they’re earned throughout the course of a game. That way, they’re allowed to fit into the balance. They’re better than previous weapons and worse than subsequent ones and therefore see use. But when lumped together all at once, most never will.
Bonus Mission Packs
While most packs revolve around cosmetics or minor upgrades, there are a few terrible exceptions. Obviously genuine story and mission expansions are worth the money, but that’s not what we’re referring too here. Rather, things like bonus hunting missions in Borderlands 2 or the awful mammoth missions in Far Cry Primal. Content not meaningful enough to have been developed post-launch so was presumably shaved away from the base game. Or at the very least, content that should’ve been present in the base game. Especially when compared to legitimate expansions like those found in The Witcher 3.
Even phenomenal titles like Nier: Automata are guilty of shaving off content. The sole DLC is a series of glorified arena fights against pre-existing enemies. The only reason it’s being resold is because it’s attached to a few skimpier costumes. It’s something that easily could’ve been part of the base experience, and should’ve been replaced by a worthwhile addition. If they wanted downloadable content that badly, then they should’ve made actual content, instead of something that barely qualifies.
There are so Many of Them
As detailed above, Ubisoft titles release with frequently up to a dozen miscellaneous packs. Each of which features some pointless buzzwords and the word iconic eight times, to make it seem important. Dynasty Warriors 9 has precisely one hundred and sixty-four cosmetic DLCs, split across three forty-pound season passes. Borderlands 2 has thirty cosmetic DLC packs, eight generic mission packs, and six actually meaningful DLC. It’s absolutely ridiculous.
Not to mention the number of games that feature these ‘packs’. Almost every single game with DLC has some variation of pack attached to it. Scour steam and you’ll find it to be true. Even the best games do this. It’s become so ubiquitous that it’s almost universally accepted now. But it shouldn’t and it doesn’t have to be.
This all used to be things handled much better, or just in the damn game to begin with. The Witcher 3 gave out its pointless cosmetic DLC for free. Do that, if you want to argue it’s a worthwhile addition. Or, do what South Park The Fractured But Whole did and attach your pointless cosmetics to fun missions. Or do what Grand Theft Auto V does and implement them as free updates to the game itself. Granted, they’re only doing it so there’s cool stuff to buy with your micro-transaction money. Don’t do that bit. But do the rest. Do more than just cut things away and try to peddle them back to us.
Maybe this is simply a pet peeve. Maybe cosmetic DLC is simply an accepted part of the industry and my grudge against it is petty. But there was a time when it wasn’t. There was a time when carving horse armour out of your game and trying to resell constituted a controversy. And it still bloody should.
If you want to make more money from a game, develop more content for the game worth paying for. If you want enough content to justify a season pass, make some capable of justifying it. It’s not a difficult concept. You did it for years. CDProjekt Red and Bethesda (sometimes) still do it.
But if you must do this. If someone’s got a gun to your balls. For the love of God, stop calling them packs.