Nintendo and their Half-Measures with DLC

Nintendo whipped up a fanboy fervor with the announcement that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild would be receiving downloadable content. In a vacuum, no one would bat an eye at such a remark. DLC is an industry standard. Yet because it was Nintendo, it seemed to incite more fervor than a Gobbo who hasn’t gotten a steam bath in some time.

Before the licorice red color left people’s faces, they examined the fine print from Nintendo’s release that stated the two downloadable content packs they would be releasing were only available as a single, standalone purchase of $19.99. Ignoring for a second the lunacy of that type of blatant disregard for modern consumerism, the content itself feels more suspect than drinking milk left in your bag for a hefty stretch of a journey.

The first content pack will include a “hard mode” and a Nintendo Switch shirt that Link could wear. The second provides additional content to the world. The dichotomy between the two feels indicative of Nintendo’s strides as a company struggling to adjust to the modern gaming landscape. For a company so willing to leap forward with expensive full-measures on the hardware side, they’re just as prone to piddly half-measures with everything else.

Motion controls. Game while someone’s watching television. Game after a sweaty pick-up match in the park. Each Nintendo hardware iteration the last three generations has taken a firm zag while Microsoft and Sony comfortably zigged. They’re an oddity, their non-conformity and beloved franchises making them comfortably beloved by an ardent group of supporters.

Even with these peculiar forays into hardware whose fundamental logline isn’t just “it plays games,” it’s “here’s a gimmick, it plays games,” Nintendo’s risk-taking on the hardware sign feels entirely at odds with the core software experience they’re delivering. From their inability to conform to modern online infrastructure to slowly rolling out downloadable content with an aesthetic prize merely asking for horse armor comparisons, Nintendo is throwing the pot of spaghetti at the wall and pouring the sauce on as it drips down the linoleum walls.

Circling back to the outrage, what’s so peculiar about the way Nintendo approaches projects like Zelda is that there are clear templates to follow. Best practices have been established. DLC is a decade old concept, so why not harvest from lessons already learned.

What’s most interesting about Nintendo’s half-measured approach to supplementing their core entries is that they were probably reticent for the exact reason this Zelda game elicited: outrage. The simple fact change was coming sprouted an outpour of anger, a reaction that may only feed into Nintendo’s hesitance to bring their games into the 21st Century.

Even further, they happen to have the franchise that’s perhaps the most ideal fit for DLC imaginable: Mario. The Super Mario Maker was a smashing success for them despite some of the peculiarly stringent nature with which they controlled player content. The fact remains, if Nintendo simply launched a 2D Mario or 3D Mario game at launch, and used that as a platform to continually release new level packs over the game’s existence, that would be the most logical use of DLC for the entire organization. Even if players cried wolf at the outset, the fan fervor for their franchises has proven time and again they’ll shell out money for consoles to ensure they can play their exclusives. The same principle is at play with Mario, and if they charged a five dollar subscription fee per month for new level packs, you would have people playing that game continually throughout the console’s lifecycle.

Nintendo seems to constantly find new ways to divert itself from the pack and roll out content in counter intuitive ways. Their left brain is cracking moonshots while the right just upgraded from dial-up. If they hope to find their way back into the scrum, they’d be wise to get the scope of their hardware and software goals working in consort.