Nintendo Has Now Become Part of the DLC Problem - ArticleEvan Norris , posted on 15 June 2015 / 10,563 Views
Downloadable content (DLC) has existed on consoles in one form or another since the days of Sega's Dreamcast. But only during the seventh generation, particularly with Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, did DLC become a prominent fixture of the video game landscape. More and more video games shipped with "season passes" that promised additional content in the future or, in some extreme cases, with DLC on the disc and locked behind a paywall. The days of buying a complete game at launch were coming to an end.
Nintendo, for the most part, avoided the DLC question altogether during the seventh generation. Whether by design or because it was made prohibitively difficult by its online infrastructure, Nintendo eschewed the cynical business practices that defined a large part of the generation: downloadable content, micro-transactions, and online passes, among others. If the company did offer DLC it was usually free. Thus Nintendo stood as a bulwark against overpriced and superfluous downloadable content.
That was then. Now, in 2015, the situation has changed. During the course of the eighth generation, Nintendo has made several questionable DLC moves that have realigned the Japanese gaming giant with its competitors. Those who criticized Sony, Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft, Warner Bros. and Activision for ugly DLC practices - myself included - can no longer defend Nintendo without being hypocritical. Right now, Nintendo is part of the problem.
It hasn't been all bad. New Super Luigi U, a stand-alone expansion pack with altered levels, characters, and mechanics, represents the right way to handle DLC. It's a true expansion - one that operates independently of the original game. The problem is that now, two years later, New Super Luigi U is the exception, and the DLC in games like Fire Emblem: Awakening, Mario Golf: World Tour, Mario Kart 8, and, most recently, Splatoon and Super Smash Bros. is the rule.
With Fire Emblem: Awakening, Nintendo made its boldest leap into the world of downloadable content. In the game consumers can gain access to a suite of paid DLC episodes (with accompanying characters) upon reaching a certain point in the storyline. A whole host of items, maps, and characters are locked behind a paywall in Awakening.
The situation worsened with Mario Golf: World Tour, a game that locked 108 holes and four playable characters behind a paywall. The DLC was divided into three packs, the first of which, tellingly, was available at launch.
Next up was Mario Kart 8, which offered two DLC packs that could be purchased as a season pass or individually. The Mario Kart DLC, even among diehard detractors of DLC in general, got something of a free pass. For only $12, consumers could purchase six new characters, eight new karts, and 16 new stages. That's one fifth of the cost of the base game, which launched with 32 tracks. It was seen widely as DLC done right - rich in content and low in cost. Still, the additional tracks, characters, and stages could have been included on disc, had Nintendo planned more judiciously, or at the very least provided free to consumers who paid $60 expecting a complete package.
Far worse than Mario Kart 8 DLC is the downloadable content in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS. Nintendo announced today three new characters locked behind a paywall: Ryu of Street Fighter fame for $5.99; Fire Emblem's Roy, for $3.99; and Lucas from Mother 3 for $3.99. Individual costumes are also available, for $0.75 each. If consumers so choose, they can also purchase an extra stage for $1.99.
Nintendo's newest IP, Splatoon, is another guilty party when it comes to questionable DLC practices. Nintendo, in a strange business decision, opted to release Splatoon unfinished, with free DLC updates arriving throughout the summer. The fact that the updates are free is welcome; the fact that the game arrived without all its weapons and maps is not. Whether Nintendo rushed the game to store shelves to boost hardware sales or purposely withheld content to keep players invested in the game doesn't matter. Splatoon, at launch, was incomplete.
Then there's the exclusive Splatoon gear locked behind challenges accessible only through Amiibo, Nintendo's NFC figures. Players who want to access the Amiibo area of Splatoon - yes, it's a permanent fixture of Inkopolis - should be prepared to drop $13-$35 for the privilege.
I know many video game enthusiasts have become desensitized to all the ugly business tactics deployed by video game companies, but selling a game à la carte is wrong, no matter the company that does it. When you buy a game, you should expect a complete experience. Pieces of the game shouldn't be taken out and sold piecemeal, and consumers shouldn't be made to expect a steady stream of content to be released in the days, weeks, and months after their purchase of a game.
Once upon a time, Nintendo shared this philosophy. Now, with a more stable and secure online infrastructure and emboldened by the financial success of its earlier DLC experiments, Nintendo is drifting further toward other big-name publishers. Who would have guessed in 2010 that five years later Nintendo would be responsible for things like season passes, day one DLC, and unfinished games rushed to market? If things continue this way unabated, it's only a matter of time before Nintendo is, as Rudy Baylor says in The Rainmaker, "just another shark in the dirty water."