Red Dead Redemption saw its fair share of costume and weapon packs, but also saw Undead Nightmare, which took the old west setting and flooded the world with zombies for an all-new campaign. It broke the usual DLC rules, but also broke the rules of sanity. Nobody ever demanded a wild west zombie apocalypse sim, but once Red Dead Redemption was in players' hands Rockstar were able to make a hugely self-indulgent game and release it as DLC.
PUSH THE BOUNDARIES
The best DLC pushes people out of their comfort zone a little. Face it, if it weren't riding on the back of the hugely successful GTA IV, few young male gamers would have gone to their local store to buy The Ballad Of Gay Tony. This did two things for GTA that GTA IV couldn't: first, it put 'gay' in the title, and instantly shattered the minds of everyone who ever called someone gay as an insult; second, it broke the rules established by GTA IV.
GTA IV was serious and told a story filled with semi-credible action sequences that never stretched the reality of Niko's world too far. In Gay Tony you're chasing men in golf carts and base-jumping from rooftops onto moving trucks. It's a step outside the reality Rockstar created for their biggest game, and a return to classic GTA lunacy - and players loved it.
But not everyone has Rockstar's following, and Bioshock 2's Minerva's Den is both a great demonstration of what DLC can do and its potential pitfalls. Minerva's Den was a brand new story set in a hitherto unseen bit of the underwater city of Rapture, with a new hero, new areas to explore, some new toys, and a brand new story - tracking down the control room for the world's first sentient computer. At least, that's the pitch. In practice, Minerva's Den turns out to be a more socially relevant story, revolving around just how equal a black man would be in the one city on 1950s Earth where all men are treated the same - or are they?
Minerva's Den is a three-hour campaign wrapped around a tight story, building on its core game in interesting ways and challenging players to think differently about Rapture. It received unanimous praise from critics and got 2K Marin's designer Steve Gaynor a job on Bioshock Infinite at Irrational.
Gaynor has talked candidly about Minerva's Den, and practically wrote the textbook definition of why DLC can be great. "DLC benefits from the stable base of a AAA game to build on top of, and the strong support framework of a full-size AAA studio to keep the production running smoothly, while allowing a small sub-team to follow its own creativity, making a new experience within the possibility space of the main game's premise," he says.
But Minerva also showed how short most games' shelf-lives are, and how easy it is to lose an audience just six months after release. When Minerva's Den hit PSN and Live Marketplace in August 2010, Bioshock 2 was long-forgotten. It didn't help that the DLC up to this point had consisted of content for the unplayed multiplayer mode, with the only previous single-player content being a Horde-style survival mode expansion.