Downloadable expansions for video gamez aren’t exactly new as they’ve been around for PC games for years. HOWEVER, as part of a major business model, they’re brand new, especially when it comes to console games. The birth of Xbox Live brought with it downloadable expansions but until recently most of those have consisted of new multiplayer areas and typically not new chapters or extensions of the main game. Some games like ‘Elder Scrolls III’ had major expansions but these were also sold as hardcopy discs. The newly developing trend is to come up with a major expansion that is available exclusively via download. This allows publishers to set their own price point and make up for some of the lost revenue from the ever-growing used games market. For example, I bought Grand Theft Auto IV USED for only $30 instead of giving Rockstar Games $60 for a new copy but I’ll definitely be paying for the upcoming expansion, which means they’ll still make some money off of me.
GTA IV’s expansion is a good example of the shape of the new trend. Titled GTA IV The Lost and Damned, the expansion is as much of a sequel as an expansion. It uses GTA IV’s engine, obviously, but the characters, story, and missions are all new. Supposedly, the game will take up to 20 hours to complete. In other words, it’s a full damn game. The price is also high for an expansion at $20. In spite of the price, I like this approach. Instead of rushing out sequels that don’t offer much new content for $60, they can milk a current release with a few relatively low-priced expansion/sequels and give true sequels their due amount of time.
The other positive element of this system is it gives developers the chance to address legitimate criticisms. For example, the new GTA expansion will have, for the first time in the series’ history, mid-mission checkpoints. An upcoming Prince of Persia expansion is set to address many criticisms everyone had with the main game. It’s kewl! I like it. One thing that’s kind of lame, though, is: how long will these expansions be available for download? If someone buys a used Xbox 360 and copy of GTA IV in 15 years, will there still be a way to download the expansion or will it be lost in time (until the arrival of Xbox 360 emulators, of course)?