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Horse Armour To Go: DLC Comes To Steam...

...and while that DLC isn't anywhere near as menial as Bethesda's infamously insulting initial extra content for Oblivion, I do so love that the phrase "horse armour" has become a part of the gaming vernacular. It's games' "jumping the shark".

Anyway, to get to the point - while the hard drive-equipped consoles enjoy/suffer from ubiquitous in-game systems to download extra content, free and otherwise, it's not something that's been anywhere near standardised on PC. There's a raft of separate, competing and often clunky stores and services for the games that do offer it, and it's partially for that reason that we haven't suffered the deluge of crapshoot that PCs' ever-online nature could otherwise enable.

(I probably shouldn't be quite so down on DLC at large - it's just that so much of what I've seen on 360 seems to be tokenistic and/or overpriced. I've little doubt it will eventually yield excellent content, but it still seems a little stuck in the faddish stage for now. There's also the risk that the bonus maps we often get in free patches might dry up in favour of micropayments, and that would be a tragedy).

Games For Windows Live would love to be that standard, but the wide-ranging venom for it from PC gamers and the complete disinterest from any publisher/developer with at least half an ear to the community ground means that's unlikely to happen. When Steam jumps onboard the DLC bandwagon though - well, then we sit up and take trepidatious notice. Such is the download store's power that it introducing something can be deemed a trend-starter.

First out the gate is indie-ish puzzler The Maw (which I wrote about rather enthusiastically about last week, but haven't had the chance to complete yet. Sadly, comrades reckon its initial inventiveness drops sharply in the game's latter half, which is itself deterring me from going back). One of the stock criticisms of the eating-based curio is that, at around three hours, it's far too short. So, appropriately, Steam's first-ever DLC is a couple of a extra levels, which when bought are slipstreamed into the game's running order. It's worth noting these extra levels have previously been released for the XBLA version of the Maw, so it's grand to know PC gamers aren't missing out on any Mawing. It seems to be a fairly noble first move for Steam DLC.

The price doesn't seem bad for Americans at $1.25, but just like the main game ($10 there, £9 here), we Britishers are miserably mistreated - I know the exchange rate isn't on much to our favour these days, £1.10 is scarcely equivalent to $1.25. But this is incidental moaning. More important is how much of a precedent this is. Does this herald a new era of DLC? A few weeks ago, I might have said "nah, Steam's not that trend-setting", but given how integrated it was with big third party releases such as Dawn of War II and Empire: Total War, it very probably is the start of a mechanism to drop micro-payment DLC into other, bigger games. (In fact, I do wonder if, in a couple of months, we'll see all those store-exclusive units, paints and armour for those two games - e.g. - crop up as DLC on Steam for those purchasers who missed out on them).

Here's the key phrase from the press release:

"DLC can now be added to any game on Steam, regardless of whether it was originally purchased via Steam, at retail, or via other digital outlets"

How do we feel about that? Well, depends on the quality of the extra stuff, really. Right now, I don't want to see a surfeit of buy this! spend that! messages in and around my beloved tower of Steam games, but if it's all good stuff then I'm all for it. In a way, it's the natural evolution of the episodic model that Valve have tried to bring about, but messed up somewhat by being so (agreeably) perfectionist about the Half-Life 2 episodes.

In short: don't let this option to directly flog DLC to the vast Steam masses be a cue for horse armour mk.2. Let's see someone really make something special out of this opportunity.

Oh, and have an official press release:

March 16, 2009 - Valve, creators of best-selling entertainment products and advanced technologies, today announced the arrival of in-game downloadable content to Steam, their massively popular PC gaming platform. In-game DLC allows developers and publishers to use their own games as a platform for selling additional content to gamers.

The first game to take advantage of this new in-game DLC capability is The Maw, by Twisted Pixel Games. Their first DLC releases are levels entitled The Maw: Brute Force and The Maw: River Redirect. Each DLC level expands The Maw storyline by fitting in-between the original levels as "deleted scenes."

Twisted Pixel CEO, Michael Wilford, says "We're happy that we can now offer Steam customers significant expansions to the Maw story, delivering more Maw directly to gamers while they're still playing the game."

DLC can now be added to any game on Steam, regardless of whether it was originally purchased via Steam, at retail, or via other digital outlets. It is also a feature of Steamworks, the suite of free tools and services available to game developers and publishers.

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