One of the many staples of Nintendo, when compared to the other “big three” was its insistence on being a provider of offline systems. They never really suffered for this decision, because they knew their audience. With children and families being their primary market, at least in the West, parents didn’t mind that their kids didn’t have access to other people on the internet – and why becomes clear the second you get on voice chat with either a Playstation or an Xbox. With no need for online play, and in a time where post-release patches weren’t possible with the console’s current infrastructure, Nintendo had no pressure to be online. But as consoles became more broadly connected to the internet, and kids sought to play with their friends sans voice chat, Nintendo had to adapt.
Skip ahead a few years. Nintendo, with their first fully Internet-capable device in hand, was suddenly bombarded with questions as to whether they would conform to the new Paid DLC paradigm. Having to answer not only to inquiring customers and game journalists but, Nintendo’s shareholders, Nintendo President and CEO Satoru Iwata finally opened up.
In a Third Quarter Conference call (2012) Iwata explained “we cannot, and should not, ask our consumers to embrace the situation where they are required to make excessive payments. Doing such things might be good for short-term profit, but it will not serve our mid-term and long-term business developments.” He then went on to say, in an interview with Kotaku that they would not be a company that released an unfinished game to later add the completed content in DLC. That “when the player has exhausted what’s in an existing piece of software when there are no more challenges, and there is nothing more they can do…” then that is when Nintendo can offer up something, simply as further motivation to come back and enjoy the game world they loved so much. Satoru Iwata was clear that only AFTER a game was entirely complete, would they even consider adding something to their game. Adding, again, that they as a company would never “create a full game and then say, ‘let’s hold this back for DLC.'”
Almost a year after that 2012 conference call with investors Fire Emblem: Awakening was released, and six months after that it was the first Nintendo game to ever have Paid DLC. It was a move that Nintendo made tactfully and with full cognizance of what they were doing. Nintendo knows what they’re good at, and one of the leading things being their first party offerings. No one could claim that their first party franchises sold consoles as well as Nintendo’s did, and Nintendo knew their audience well enough to surmise that they could sell them nostalgia in a bottle. (Un)fortunately, nothing evoked those feelings and the memories that came with them like playing the character all over again as if for the first time.
By selling characters (along with other things) as DLC President Iwata was not going against his own words, and Nintendo continued with that legacy well after his passing. But some might say that that legacy ended yesterday; well this is what all of my pontificating has led up to.
Both the press release and the linked video, by Eiji Aonuma, have one central theme: them guaranteeing the DLC was created solely to add more activities to an incredibly expansive world. With players quickly engaging with and finishing, the central quests in this new playground, they wanted to give players more things to do. And they made sure to reiterate it to get the point across. The first paragraph of the press release reads:
While the main game offers players an engrossing quest that will keep them entertained for hours, as well as the freedom to explore the vast Hyrule at their own pace, the game world provides a rich canvas that offers the opportunity for additional adventures. As a result, the first-ever downloadable content for the main-line Legend of Zelda series is in development…
The second and consequential paragraph goes on to talk about the things that will be included in the DLC. They then finish off the press release by jumping back to the topic of the first paragraph: punctuating the claim “rich canvas + additional content” with Nintendo developer Eiji Aonuma saying:
The world of Hyrule, which we created for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, is so large and vibrant that we wanted to offer more for players to experience within it…With this new Expansion Pass, we hope that fans will play, explore and enjoy the game even more.
With two people vehemently telling us the same thing, its hard to ascertain if what they’re trying to communicate is sincere. Its as if this DLC was something they genuinely wanted to do, while also showing continued respect towards the late President and CEO Satoru Iwata. It just so happens that they did it in a way that seemed more awkward than a genuine assurance.
When reading the press release again, through the eyes of an excited Zelda fan, I finally saw what the true fans did. When you are excited about a new release, whether or not you have to spend money is – at the moment – besides the point, you are happy there is more of the game to be played, you want to know what’s so special about it and why it’s worth your $20. But as I read with that feeling of excitement it was instantly apparent that the tone of the press release did not match the level of energy I was experiencing. A game that I’ve always enjoyed playing, that I regret to see the credits roll – has just announced that their game will not only be bigger than any game before it, but they’re expanding it even further. But the two gentlemen making the announcement are speaking to me as if they’re reading the weather. There is no excitement in their voice; there is no flare in the presentation. THM (can I use your full name?) said it was as if they’d just come up with the idea, and were presenting it for their shareholders, and not their fans.
The second paragraph of the press release lists the things in the Expansion Pass as if it’s the outline of a paper that you’ve yet to do the research for. The information is there, but it’s stripped bare bones, there is no emotion or not hint at what it might be. A company has decided to tell me that I should pay $20 extra before I can even get my hands on the initial game, but they have yet to say why I should spend that money, or why I should be interested. I am not saying that the ones announcing this Expansion Pass should be cheerleaders, but if one is going to persuade me to spend my money, they can at least try and convince me it’s going to be a worthwhile experience.
– Iwata said they would never be the company that chose not to complete a game upon shipping simply so they could later release the finished product as downloadable content ‘DLC.’
– Tuesday’s announcement had many fans upset that Nintendo had strayed far from one of their tenets and was suddenly reaching into EA’s textbook and borrowing a lesson or two on “milking your audience for max cash.”
– By selling the characters as DLC instead of narrative content, they’ve managed to keep their principles along the lines of Iwata’s promise.
– Said they were only adding additional content to an already huge game. “The world is so large and vibrant that we wanted to offer more for players to experience within it… we hope fans will play, explore, and enjoy even more.”
– Audience’s response to the press release: The announcement lacked any and all emotion, interest in the announcement itself, or any pertinent information about the Expansion Pass other than the date and the dollar amount. “Were they trying to pitch it to their players, or their shareholders?”
Satoru Iwata on Paid DLC referenced Stephen Totilo @ Kotaku’s piece “Nintendo Chief: Mario Is Part Of Gamers’ DNA“
UPDATE: On last week’s episode of IGN’s Nintendo Podcast Nintendo’s Senior Product Marketing Manager Bill Trinen weighed in on the public’s response to the announced Zelda DLC:
It was tough, because we actually had a lot of debate in terms of do we announce it, how do we announce it. I think one of the things that’s unique about the way Nintendo develops games is when we’re working on a game, and certainly just knowing the history of Nintendo games, you guys know that it’s essentially we use every last minute to make the game as good as we possibly can, and really what that means is that the dev team was working on the main game, finished the main game, and as they’re starting to get to the very end and wrap it up, really they said, ‘You know we’ve made this massive world of Hyrule, we’ve spent a long time building it. It would be a waste to just make one game and have that be it.’ We want people to be able to enjoy exploring this world, and so they started thinking about, ‘Well, if we were going to do DLC, what would we do, how would we do it?’ And you can see that in the fact that it’s not… the DLC is not launching the day after the game or the week after. It’s coming out several months later in the form of the first pack and then several months after that in the form of the second pack. And that’s because the content is in development.
And so I think from my perspective, obviously if we were able to share more details, that would have been easier, but I think if you look to the example of something like a Mario Kart-type of a DLC approach, really what the goal is is let’s give people the option to purchase it when they’re at the store buying the game and give them something to look forward to, and kind of let them know there’s more to come in this world. And if you’re a Zelda fan buying Nintendo Switch at launch and really you’re buying it for Zelda, I mean how happy are you to know that hey, I’m going to be able to play more Zelda in this world again later this year.