DLC – Quick Explanation for Busy Parents

What Is DLC?

“So, what are you playing right now?”
“The new DLC for Horizon Zero Dawn came out.  Thought I check it out.”
“That’s the game with the robot dinosaurs?”
“… Yes.”
“Can I ask another question?”
“Is it about the robot dinosaurs?”
“No.  It’s about the DLC.”
“Sure.  What’s the question?”
“What is DLC?”

Yeah… What is DLC?

Parents have lots of questions about gaming.  What is is DLC is a pretty common one. DLC in an abbreviated form of Downloadable Content.  Basically, it’s things you can get for a game after you’ve purchased it.  It comes in all sorts of forms: new cosmetic items (outfits, character models, hairstyles, colors, etc…), new maps, new game modes, really — just about anything that builds on the existing game.

Some games – particularly the Free to Play variety (like most games played on your phone) – build their entire business around Downloadable Content. Others offer some of it for free just to reignite interest the title or to boost player count, particularly useful in games that are primarily played online.

Do I have to buy DLC for a game?

No.  It’s entirely optional content.  Most games released now will have patches, and while those aren’t required either, they’re usually a good idea, as they fix bugs and issues – and they’re free.  DLC, though, is additional game – in some form or fashion, but it’s not required for your kiddos to play or enjoy the game itself.

Now, sometimes, if a game has been out for a while it’s repackaged with the DLC included in the purchase price.  In those cases, if you buy that version of the game, you are buying the additional content as well.  Usually, though, the game is the same price (sometimes you see a variance of 2-5$) as the original game.  And even better, stores usually discount older games, so this is often a great deal.

If your kiddos are looking to get an older game, keep an eye out for Game of the Year or Collected Editions of those games.  Those tend to have the DLC already included.

Okay, my kiddos say they want DLC for their favorite game.  Can I just buy that at the same store I bought the game?

That’s a great question, and the answer is, unfortunately, no.  At least, not usually.  In most cases, you buy it digitally from an online storefront – usually connected to the platform.  So, XBox Live, Playstation Network, Steam, etc…  Sometimes you can find a gift card in a store – but you still need to be online to redeem it and download the content.

Other times, depending on the game, there’s a link to any available DLC in the game itself.  Usually under a menu option that says something like “Extras” or “Downloadable Content”.  Other times you have to buy it directly from an electronic store.

DLC Purchase Example
Grim Dawn – Link To Purchase DLC

Is DLC the same thing as the Microtransactions and Lootboxes that have been in the news?

Sometimes, but not always.  It depends on how the game is set up.  Some games have Microtransactions – letting you spend small amounts of money to purchase small pieces of content.  So, like a single costume, or piece of equipment.  Other things, like lootboxes, are usually designed as a progression system – meaning you get them through the normal course of play and it unlocks content that you already have in the game.  In cases like this, games sometimes offer the ability to buy loot boxes so that you can unlock that content faster or have a greater chance of unlocking better equipment sooner – but again, what you’re paying for here is convenience, not actually new content.  

Loot boxes and monetization is a pretty large and controversial topic, one that we’ll cover in a dedicated post.

Interesting.  Say I do buy DLC, what happens if my kiddo trades in the game?

Unfortunately, it isn’t transferable, so if your kiddo trades in the game for another one, they can’t do anything with the DLC.  The good news is, if you ever re-acquire the game, you’ll still have access to everything you purchased.

Can I buy just some of a Game’s DLC or do you have to buy all it?

You can buy just what you or your kiddos want.  DLC is typically built and sold as discrete digital products.  So, in some ways it’s like buying music online, you can buy individual songs.  

Extending the analogy, many of the biggest games produce a lot of content after release, and sell a “Season Pass”.  A “Season Pass” get you all the DLC as it released, and is often cheaper than buying each piece individually.  This is like buying an album.

Something to watch out for here, though, is that a season pass does not necessarily mean you get ALL the DLC for a game.  So, make sure to read the description to know what you’ll get with the bundle.

Okay, I get all that, and my kiddos really want the DLC for their favorite game – is it worth it?

That entirely depends.  If your kiddos have really enjoyed a game and played it through and through, having unlocked everything there is to unlock and are still enjoying it, it might make sense to take a look, as it can offer a cost-effective way to get more of what they really enjoy.

Conversely, especially for kiddos, I personally would stay away from lootbox based purchases.  One of the things your kiddos have, particularly when playing games, is time.  Letting them play the game to unlock content based on the normal progression plan works well.  That said, this is entirely a “your decision” as a parent.  This article provides information and context so you can make the decision that best works for you and your family.

How Can I Talk about DLC With My Kids?

If your kiddos are asking for DLC for a game, there’s a lot of ways to use that open up a conversation.  First, you can ask what game, specifically, the DLC is for.  You can also ask if they’ve completed the game, and what the DLC is.  Lastly, another good question to ask (aside from, how much does it cost?) is what kind of DLC it is and if that content can be earned in game.  This is a good way to determine if you’re actually buying new content, or simply increasing the rate in which your kiddos unlock content that’s already available.  Again, nothing wrong with that, but it’s good to know what you’re spending money on.

If you’ve had any interesting experiences (good or bad) with DLC – or if you still have questions, please leave a comment below.


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