A little over a month after launching, Borderlands 3 has already released its first DLC in the form of Bloody Harvest, an event that tasks players with traveling through a haunted version of Athenas. One of the most notable aspects of this DLC event, though, is that it is completely free to any players that already own Borderlands 3.
Free content updates like this are nothing new in the industry, but it certainly is far from the norm for content updates with all new enemies, as well as brand new cosmetic items and DLC specific gear, including a SHIFT code unlocked spooky head cosmetics, to show up without a price tag. One of the more notable examples of this strategy in recent history comes from Monster Hunter: World with the free title updates releasing throughout the game's first year, leading up to the much larger Iceborne expansion.
With the next DLC for Borderlands 3, Takedown at Maliwan's Blacksite, already announced as another free update, it would seem that Gearbox is following Capcom's example by prepping fans with free events and small updates filled with new content leading up until the paid DLC included in the Season Pass arrives. These takedowns that each add about 30 minutes worth of content offer players engaging in the endgame a fresh source of grinding anointed and legendary weapons. This method mirrors the way new monsters were added to Monster Hunter: World perfectly, offering new armor and weapons to be farmed from their parts in the same way. Considering that this tactic has been responsible for 14 million sales, it's clear that the strategy works to some degree.
It is possible that this could be the start of a new marketing and DLC strategy for AAA games in the future, using free updates to keep players invested with fresh content and loot events. This method may see new players try out the ever growing title, all the while offering small cosmetic add-ons that players can buy separately to continue bringing in steady revenue after the game has been sold.
The way that companies are beginning to embrace this concept is similar to how new norms are usually formed, with one company making an innovation to some success, and others jumping on the bandwagon to see how well it works for them. This is how loot boxes began, for example, starting with Maple Story's Gachapon ticket from 2004 before moving on to mobile games and eventually proliferating into mainstream titles like Call of Duty and Star Wars: Battlefront.
This doesn't exactly mean that this approach of offering small freebies will catch like fire in the coming months or years, but it's something companies should do more. The practice does have a positive effect on PR and a company's reputation, and a PR boost can have positive effects on a games sales, too.
An important note about both developers that have been taking the "small free updates" approach is that neither one has been at the top of their respective games for the past few years. After the rocky launch of Battleborn that released alongside fierce competition like Overwatch, Gearbox has been looking for a large-scale success, similar to that of Borderlands 2, which Borderlands 3's impressive sales numbers seems to have been. Similarly, the success of Monster Hunter: World, as well as Devil May Cry 5, led Capcom to announce that the company is "back" after a few years of marginal growth.
While it's difficult to say yet what effect this strategy is having on sales for Borderlands 3, considering plenty of fans have been flocking to the game for namesake alone, there is some merit to attribute some of the game's future growth and how well it surges during the holiday season to the way that Gearbox is approaching these updates. After all, more content for players who have beaten Borderlands 3 is welcome. With Monster Hunter World's rampant success already showing this model to be a feasible example for companies to keep players engaged, catching the same lightning in a bottle for Borderlands 3 would begin to develop a pattern for other studios and publishers to take notice of and try to recreate themselves.
Borderlands 3 is available now on PC, PS4, and Xbox One, with a Stadia version also in development.