Downloadable content (also referred to as DLC) is official additional content for a video game distributed through the Internet. Downloadable content can be of several types, ranging from a single in-game outfit to an entirely new, extensive storyline, similar to an expansion pack. As such, DLC may add new game modes, objects, levels, challenges, etc. to a complete and already released game. In the case of episodic video games, a new episode may come in the form of downloadable content, whereas music video games utilize this media to offer new songs for the players. Downloadable content became prevalent in the 21st century, and especially with the proliferation of Internet-enabled, sixth-generation video game consoles. Special edition re-releases of games often incorporate previously released DLCs along with the main title in a single package. Video game publishers sometimes offer a DLC "season pass", which allow users to purchase all of the downloadable content for a video game at a smaller price than it would cost to buy each one separately. Users can also buy such a season pass before the availability of its respective DLCs; in this case, the player will get access to the content as they get released.
Precursors to DLCEdit
The earliest form of digital distribution in video games was the Atari 2600's GameLine service, which allowed users to download games using a telephone line. A similar service, Sega Channel, allowed for the downloading of games to the Sega Genesis over a cable line.
While the GameLine and Sega Channel services allowed for the distribution of entire titles, they did not offer Downloadable Content for existing titles. Perhaps the closest the services came to offering true DLC was Shiny Entertainment's special edition of Earthworm Jim offered over the Sega Channel, though it too was still a stand-alone download.
On personal computersEdit
As the popularity and speed of internet connections rose, so did the popularity of using the internet for digital distribution of media. User-created game mods and maps were distributed exclusively online, as they were mainly created by people without the infrastructure capable of distributing the content through physical media.
The majority of such content was available for free, and the phrase "downloadable content" is rarely used to refer to such content, instead being termed "user-created content" and or "mods", for example, the Spring game engine has many downloadable content under both free and proprietary licenses.
The Dreamcast was the first console to feature online support as a standard; DLC was available, though limited in size due to the narrowband connection and the size limitations of a memory card. These online features were still considered a breakthrough in video games, but the competing PlayStation 2 did not ship with a built-in network adapter.
With the advent of the Xbox, Microsoft was the second company to implement downloadable content. Many original Xbox Live titles, including Splinter Cell, Halo 2, and Ninja Gaiden, offered varying amounts of extra content, available for download through the Xbox Live service. Most of this content, with the notable exception of content for Microsoft-published titles, was available for free.
Microsoft was the first company to charge for downloadable content, with the 2002 video game Mech Assault.
With the Xbox 360, Microsoft integrated downloadable content more fully into their console, devoting an entire section of the console's user interface to the Xbox Live Marketplace. They also removed the need for credit cards by implementing their own Microsoft Points currency, a strategy that would be adopted by Nintendo with Nintendo Points and Sony with the PlayStation Network Card.
Sony adopted much of the Xbox Live Marketplace's features into their downloadable hub, the PlayStation Store. With Gran Turismo HD, Sony planned an entirely barebones title, with the idea of requiring the bulk of the content to be purchased separately via many separate online microtransactions. The project was later canceled. Nintendo has featured a sparser amount of downloadable content on their Wii Shop Channel, the bulk of which is accounted for by digital distribution of emulated Nintendo titles from previous generations.
Music video games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band have taken significant advantage of downloadable content. Harmonix claimed that Guitar Hero II would feature "more online content than anyone has ever seen in a game to this date." Rock Band features the largest number of downloadable items of any console video game, with a steady number of new songs being added weekly. Acquiring all the downloadable content for Rock Band would cost at least $2000.
Through use of the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection users can download DLC to the Nintendo DS handheld for certain games. A good example is Picross DS, in which users can download puzzle 'packs' of classic puzzles from previous Picross games (such as Mario's Picross) as well as downloadable user generated content. Professor Layton and the Curious Village was thought to have 'bonus puzzles' that can be 'downloaded' using the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, however connecting to Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection simply unlocked the puzzles which were already stored in the game. Similarly, Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2 had hidden costumes that were unlocked using DS Download Stations for a limited time.
Due to the Nintendo DS's use of cartridges and lack of a hard drive there is limited space for DLC and developers would have to plan for storage space on the cartridge. Picross DS itself only has room for 10 puzzle packs, and Professor Layton's and Ouendan 2's DLC is already on the cartridge and is simply unlocked with a weekly code.
The Nintendo DS's downloadable content is distinct as it is currently being offered at no cost. However, the Nintendo DSi contains a Shop similar to that of the Wii that contains games and applications, most of which must be bought using Nintendo Points. It is also worth noting that, using the Wii's Nintendo Channel, various DS files, such as Game Demo's and videos can be downloaded onto the Wii console and transferred via wireless to a DSi handheld.
Starting with Apple's iPhone OS version 3.0 release, & Apple's iPhone 4, downloadable content became available for the platform via applications bought from the App Store. While this ability was initially only available to developers for paid applications, Apple eventually allowed for developers to offer this in free applications as well in October 2009.