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With “Mass Effect 2,” DLC Stands For “Downloadable Continuity”

With “Mass Effect 2,” DLC Stands For “Downloadable Continuity” (photo)

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If any trend’s been rising to prominence in big-studio console video games this year, it’s been the offering of downloadable content.

Though digital distribution’s making inroads toward becoming a viable release strategy, most high-profile games still come out as packaged products on discs. Usually, after a player’s done with the content on the disc, they’ll amble on down to their local Gamestop and get some cash back or credit towards another purchase. There’s a robust secondhand market in the video game business that traffics in buying those discs back and selling them again below the MSRP. This has been a troubling practice for game publishers and developers, who don’t get any money from those second, third or fourth purchases.

Part of the rise of DLC has been to combat this aftermarket. Additional characters, unlockable maps or exclusive weapons get offered to people who buy the game new, most often via a single-use code that comes in the box. The other reason DLC’s become such an important pillar is the increasing ubiquity of multiplayer game modes.

07022010_borderlands.jpgAs recently as five years ago, single-player games in the vein of “God of War” or “Devil May Cry” could dominate the sales charts. But multiplayer blockbusters like “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2,” “Halo 3,” “Left 4 Dead” and “Borderlands” have re-aligned the kind of success major game publishers are shooting for.

Multiplayer-centric titles set up an ecosystem that’s self-perpetuating: players show up just to face off against each other and all they need to keep doing that is a trickle of shiny new somethings that keep the experience fresh. What’s happened in the aftermath of the secondhand and multiplayer shift is a mandate for DLC from console makers, one which requires a fresh batch of content as soon as a month after a game releases.

I realize that all of the above makes sounds terribly dry and business-like. But that’s where the motivations are coming from: get the player, stop the player from trading in that game a week after he buys it, keep the player tethered into the ecosystem. DLC makes business sense, because it’s a way to keep earning money from the original investment from developing the original disc release.

07022010_splintercell.jpgThe graphics engine, the artificial intelligence algorithms, the data miners for multiplayer match-making… whether they’re licensed from other entities or crafted in-house, they cost time and money to implement. If dev studios and publishers can squeeze more out of those tools, then they stand to get a greater return on investment.

For example, Ubisoft announced that they’d be pumping out free weekly DLC for their recent hit “Splinter Cell: Conviction.” It’s a genius move, one that guarantees fans are popping that disc in once a week, if only to see what the new stuff is. While the offerings have been as varied as new guns, maps and multiplayer missions, there’s been nothing that continues Sam Fisher’s story as told in the game.

And, to me, that’s where the missed opportunity is. Not enough of the DLC getting dangled in front of players is built with the goal of extending the storytelling experience. But, one company’s doing exactly that, and it’s paying off in spades.

07022010_zaaed.jpg“Mass Effect 2” was released by Bioware (and Electronic Arts) in January of this year, coming pre-loaded with around 50 hours of story and gameplay. It’s the second part of the Edmonton-based developers’ sci-fi trilogy, continuing the story of Commander Shepard, a paramilitary avatar you create and make unique depending on how you respond to the choices the game gives you.

The way Bioware’s approached DLC has been to grow out the universe you’re playing through. The free launch-day DLC was a new character — grizzled merceneary Zaeed — who you could add to your squad. But beyond just the tactical option his manpower provides on your missions, Zaeed also gives you a new story to experience with its own backstory, complications and hard choices.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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