Does Zelda’s Paid DLC Betray Iwata’s Promise?

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

I also owe a thank you to hamptonthemonkey for aiding me with some fact checking and Rocky1138 for reminding me why I have a few more grammar classes to take before they hand me my degree.

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.

@Unscripted Crisis

10 thoughts on “Does Zelda’s Paid DLC Betray Iwata’s Promise?

  1. I play Zelda and am upset that there is an added cost. I also hope it is a good game..I don’t like that they’re breaking tradition.


    1. Agreed. As a long time Nintendo and Zelda fan, I’m extremely unhappy that the game being released in March is unfinished. Not only are they wanting me to pay more money for the rest of the story, but they’re also telling me that I have to wait another nine months after release to be able to play the rest of the story. This gives me the impression that the game was not going to be finished until December, but executives forced them to cut content in order for it to be a Switch launch title and then sell the rest of the content as DLC. Nintendo has a long tradition of not publishing a game until it is finished and polished to perfection. Breath of the Wild officially ends that tradition and we will only see it get worse.

      I have a Switch pre-order and a Zelda special edition pre-order. Now I have to decide if I’m going to cancel them, play part of Zelda and the rest in December, or simply have Zelda sit on the shelf until the full game is released in December. Regardless of which option I end up choosing, I lose and my hype for the Switch launch is completely gone.


  2. Darryl,

    The fact that they’re working on “extra content” before the game even ships. That absolutely screams that this was cut content being sold on the side. Regardless of what the reality it, by announcing it before release, they are creating the impression that the game being sold in stores on March 3rd is incomplete.


    1. You obviously don’t know how game development works if you actually believe this is cut content.

      First: working on “extra content” before the game even ships
      Yes they are. EVERY COMPANY THAT HAS DLC EVER DOES THIS, You don’t just go “oh we just released the game, people like it. LETS MAKE DLC.” You plan for the DLC during development. The game went gold a few weeks ago, this means all development for the release is done, they are producing the game as we speak. Now if they weren’t going to do DLC all of the assets besides assets for the day one patch will be re-allocated. Art directors are usually first. This is why day one cosmetic dlc is so common. This means they get the art directors and such working on DLC during the debug time of development, anti-aliasing and the such. Then once the game goes gold a dev studio will start production on larger DLC.

      Second: cut content being sold on the side
      What was cut from the game? The only side that holds value is for the switch shirt and the 2 other chests. The New hard mode and cave of trials, which isn’t a huge amount of content, even if the hard mode is more attune to a master quest, still requires at minimum 4 months of development if we go by the release scheduled. Then the story content and new dungeon won’t release until CHRISTMAS TIME. Also the lack of details in the DLC seems to point to them not having a concrete direction for these. “Additional Challenges”. Not a picture of concept for the new dungeon or story.

      Third: You didn’t say this but I would like to mention it
      Fire emblem DLC actually was story DLC. The future past dlc was a full story line that was woven into the main games plot. The other dlc was more “reason to show off the fanservice of old characters” Just thought I should mention this since fire emblem is a single player game other then the double battle system that required local play, never even tried it.

      Finally: The idea that the game is incomplete once the DLC is out
      Yes, yes it is. Same thing with every story based sequel ever created. You could argue that FF13 (pretty sure its 13) was incomplete when 13 2 came out. You could argue that the wii U version of hyrule warriors was incomplete when legends came out. Does this diminish the value of your game, no.

      Overall we don’t know with this DLC. It is very vague. If we get the game and the ending is ala Mass effect 3 then we riot. If the New Hard mode is just a hero mode (more damage and less hearts) we riot. Also no idea how they are going to justify the map feature. That I will agree with the anti-dlc crowd. Also to anyone who thinks they should of told us after the game release… I would be more pist if they held back information about the full cost of the full experience until it was to late to cancel my pre-order (if I had one). (Still getting Botw just I don’t pre-order software)


    2. I actually won’t be able to get zelda day one, however I can tell you what I would do if I could. Not pre-order it, it is digital so there is no issue getting it later. I also wouldn’t buy it until one of two things happen. One, I finish the game and the ending is complete, maybe a few plot lines not finished but overall satisfaction in the ending (not a mass effect 3). Two, I hear from other people that the ending is not a mass effect three ending so the story dlc isn’t mandatory. I have no issue supporting games by buying dlc earlier, even before all of it is out, as long as the base game is complete. Now I won’t recommend others to just buy the dlc because we don’t know that much about the first pack, which could be a major anti-consumer dlc (keyword could). The second pack, however, makes the dlc worth it to me. I probably won’t be getting zelda till april or may since I would rather get the switch version over the wii u and I can’t get a switch yet. This makes knowing if pack one is anti-consumer easier because by then more information will be out about it.

      Also NEVER pre-order software. Hardware is fine, limited editions usually have hardware (aka switch case, coin, map) so I view those as fine. However, pre-ordering a game that you don’t know if you should really buy isn’t a good choice, especially when if you really have to you can just download the games.


  3. Usually with any game with story DLC, I wait until the full game is released until I play it. I really don’t want to just have Zelda sit on the shelf for nine months, but I also don’t want my enjoyment ruined by having a several month “pause” during the game. As for reddit, there are so many fanboys who will excuse anything. Blind hatred is just a bad as blind loyalty. Nintendo keeps making mistake after mistake and this is getting to the point of being the last straw for me, despite my almost 30 year history of owning Nintendo systems.


    1. There’s only one other game in the first few months that interests me and it comes out a month after release (Has Been Heroes). I just hate that, even if I play it at launch, I now know that I’m missing out into December. The game released in two weeks is likely A complete game with a coherent story, but it clearly is no longer THE complete game since more is being released later. It’s like seeing a new movie in theaters and being told beforehand that there’s a better version coming with more character development coming out at the end of the year. Your enjoyment is decreased purely by having advanced knowledge that the experience you’re getting is not the optimal experience. If you saw it first and later found out about the superior version, it wouldn’t retroactively taint your enjoyment, but knowing in advance makes it less enjoyable.


  4. I am a longtime Zelda fan. I do not think that the DLC content is cut and held for later release. The game that will release on March 3 is a complete game. (Though, by December, will no longer be the definitive edition). My disappointment towards the announcement has less to do with the specifics of the deal, and more to do with a disapproval of the concept in general.

    I’m just worried that the mystique of the game will be hurt by me knowing that there will ultimately be a part of the game that, to access, I need not rupees, but additional dollars. Zelda games are expected to be classics. I worry that acts such as making Link a potential walking promotion (the Nintendo Switch tunic) and inserting purchasable content post-publication will just trivialize the game by sacrificing some of the engrossing nature of the experience in favor of transparent ploys to make more money.

    I also get the impression that this is something that Nintendo is doing to emulate the popular trends of the industry, without stopping to ask whether or not said trends of worthy of emulating in a particular title. DLC is sensible for online multilplayer titles such as Mario Kart and Splatoon, as it keeps the online player base interested, but not necessarily for a single-player experience such as Zelda. I also believe the addition of voice acting in Breath of the Wild is a result of the “get with the times!” attitude directed towards Nintendo, albeit, assuming it is of high quality, the introduction of voice acting in cutscenes may actually be a great evolution to the series.

    I do understand that this is a rather unpragmatic and overly-purist way of looking at the game. I am just nostalgic for the times that, when a game was released, that version of the game was guaranteed to be the definitive version. Ideas that developers were not able to fit in the game would sometimes be recycled in other projects, but never in post-publication extensions of the existing game.


    1. I agree entirely. The content may be cut content and announcing it pre-release definitely gives that impression, but regardless, DLC in general is not a policy Nintendo should be embracing. Complete, single player story driven games are vastly superior to ones split into dozens of pieces and released over multiple months or years.


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