Nintendo will welcome DLC in the future. Should they?
DLC, downloadable content, is now an established part of the gaming industry, but not quite so much for Nintendo gamers. While DLC services have been available to developers and customers on the Wii, it hasn’t been utilized as widely as on other systems. But with the 3DS having a relaunch of sorts, and the Wii-U just around the corner, Nintendo have announced that both systems will make better use of DLC in the future. So, what does this mean for Nintendo? Why jump on the bandwagon? What are the advantages and disadvantages? Should Nintendo fans be happy about this or not? DLC is a very divisive topic, so we better provide some perspective.
PC gaming has influenced modern games and consoles more than anything else has. In previous generations, the PC (or Mac etc) was seen as a very different gaming platform than consoles. PC games were the first to really get proper online functionality available to everyone. PCs pushed forward LAN gaming (gaming in a local network of computers) and then eventually online gaming. The likes of Sony and Nintendo did try to tackle online gaming most notably with the PS2 and Gamecube, but they fell quite short. It wasn’t until Microsoft’s Xbox and the creation of Xbox Live that games consoles could stand up to PCs as true online gaming systems. Sony and Nintendo have attempted to catch up and their newest consoles have most of the same features that made online gaming so popular on the PC. You can find friends all over the world and play together, even with hundreds of thousands of people in some cases. Because PC gaming was so far ahead of the game consoles when it came to online functionality, it saw the creation of many features we see and consider relatively new today on the consoles. DLC is one of them. Depending on your views regarding DLC, you can choose to thank or blame PC gaming for the idea.
In a nutshell, DLC is extra content you can download for your games. What kind of content? Any. It’s entirely up to the developers. Some DLC provides extra levels/maps for games, others provide episodic content to lengthen a game’s story. Other DLC focuses on micro-transactions, selling individual items that can be used in games (e.g. a weapon or vehicle otherwise unobtainable within a game). Extra content? Fantastic! Who could be against that? Well, a huge proportion of the gaming community, that’s who. DLC generally isn’t free. Companies can make money from selling their games, but with a DLC model can continue to make money from those same customers for the same game by charging for extra content. Opinions about DLC aren’t black and white. Going into a lot of detail, there’s a whole myriad of arguments and positions on the subject. But zooming out to the bigger picture, there are two fundamental arguments for and against charging for DLC.
The most common argument against DLC is that when a gamer purchases a game, that should be the full cost. They shouldn’t be expected to keep paying over and over. It never worked like that in the past, and the game creators are just getting greedy and desperate for new ways to pull cash from their customers.
The most common argument for DLC is that if a developer is willing to create extra content to make a game ever more playable, then they should be able to charge for it as creating extra content is a costly business and it has to be worth their time.
There are examples that can be cited to put either argument in a favourable position. Let’s look at The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, available for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, as this is a game that demonstrates the good and bad of DLC. When Bethesda began making DLC available, they received harsh criticism. They had very minor items available, such as horse armor, which cost about £1.50 each. That may not seem a lot of money, but gamers were unhappy that it would get them such a small addition to their game. If they wanted to keep purchasing items made available as DLC, it would eventually cost them a small fortune. Of course, nobody was forcing anyone to purchase DLC, but if it is to be a successful model then it should be cheap enough that gamers are interested and expensive enough that it’s worth the developer’s time. This first attempt was clearly more than gamers were willing to pay. Bethesda are a very fan-friendly developer, often relying on fan suggestions and criticisms when developing their next games. Eventually, they released entire expansion packs as DLC. These cost a lot more than the previous micro-transaction items, but customers were ecstatic. One expansion pack, Shivering Isles, added about 30 hours of gameplay to the game. Many full games don’t last that long. It was like receiving a whole new game, while paying substantially less than any new game would cost. Through experimentation Bethesda discovered what their customers wanted, and what will make them money at the same time. For Skyirm, their newest Elder Scrolls game released this November, they have promised that DLC will be less frequent but will be of a substantial size and filled with rich content. Early opinions from fans of the series is that this is exactly the type of DLC they want. So just looking at one developer and one game series, we can see DLC can be extremely divisive among fans.
It is clear to see why people would pay for DLC. If you love a game, you don’t want it to end. Stories can be lengthened by downloading extra episodic content. Gamers getting bored of multiplayer maps, but not bored of a game itself, can download a new pack of maps to keep things interesting. The key for developers is in finding the balance. Where do I stand? I can’t really say, as it depends on each specific case. Sometimes I am against DLC, sometimes I am for it. In the case of Bethesda spending time creating massive lands with many characters and full stories in one considerable upgrade, I think this is fantastic. When it comes to micro-transactions, it really depends on pricing and what you can get. I often purchase extra maps and episodes, but rarely extra weapons or items. I prefer DLC that adds to the length of a game rather than providing advantages during gameplay. But I feel even my own opinion can become distorted when we look at DLC in more detail. When a developer releases extra content as DLC, is it really extra content? Sometimes a developer begins working on extra content, spends time and money making it happen, then releases it to the gamers. This is the DLC I support. Other times, developers can simply leave certain parts of a completed game out of the final product, and then make them available as extra content to get a bit more money. This is technically extra content for the gamer, but not something I approve of. This type of DLC makes money for doing no extra work. I don’t mind supporting a developer for their hard work and art, but I will not purchase content that was already created and merely removed from the finished game. Sometimes this content is left from the full game because it is weaker anyway. That’s where I stand on this rather complicated issue. But enough about me. What about Nintendo?
Nintendo and Sony pushed for better online functionality when Xbox Live became so popular. Each of the consoles innovates with great new functions, and the best inspire the other consoles in the next generation. Microsoft’s biggest contribution is definitely the online functionality, in the same way that the Nintendo’s has been motion-based controllers. If it works really well and gamers love it, the other consoles will want it. It is fair to say Sony has really caught up with Microsoft, and that Nintendo have been a little more cautious with adopting the same levels of online functionality. The Wii and 3DS can play games online, and that is surely the most important thing, but Nintendo haven’t pushed much further than that. Even their latest gaming system, the 3DS, falls short of Sony and Microsoft’s much older systems with social features much more fleshed-out. So it has to be said that Nintendo has been a little behind. Until now.
Nintendo is very Japanese. Microsoft is very American. Japanese gamers do play games online, but not in the same way or numbers as Americans do. Previous Nintendo consoles have taken the Japanese gamers into account more than other systems have, and in the past the Xbox 360 simply couldn’t compete in Japan despite being the most popular in America. Gaming culture varies across the globe. It seems Nintendo have realised that if they want to beat the other systems globally, they need to tap into the full online experience that western gamers now expect. Nintendo have promised that the Wii-U will be able to compete with both Sony and Microsoft’s consoles when it comes to online functionality. If that is true, then we should expect all the same features than have proven popular on the competitor’s systems, including DLC. Nintendo have been quite strict with downloadable content in the past. The Wii has missed out on a lot of amazing games that have been released for download on other systems because they are stricter about things like filesize. When it comes to being online, Nintendo have shown that they like to be in full control of what the gamer has access to. Will Nintendo’s strictness over online content also apply to DLC? Could they decide only certain types of DLC are allowed? It’s too early to say, but it’s important to point out that on all other gaming systems the price of DLC is entirely up to the creators of the content. Will Nintendo be strict on what is available as DLC or will they be open to variable content and pricing?
Like it or not, your next Nintendo home console is going to feature DLC a lot more than the current Nintendo generation does. How does this make you feel? Would you prefer they didn’t follow in the footsteps of other consoles? Or do you think only a certain type of DLC should be available? Expansion packs or micro-transactions? We would love to know where you stand on DLC, and how you feel Nintendo should handle it on the Wii-U. If you’ve got anything to add, please leave a comment. Would you buy extra Mario Kart tracks or characters? Why?
- Nintendo announces DLC coming to 3DS (nintendoscene.com)
- Xenoblade Chronicles Stock Shortage (nintendoscene.com)