Nintendo made a announcement for an expansion pass that will unlock additional content in the company’s anticipated Switch game, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Yes, even the seemingly-sacred Nintendo is selling season pass content that will be released in two waves.
Purchasing the expansion will unlock three extra treasure chests in the game’s Great Plateau area, one of them has a shirt with a Switch logo Link can wear during his adventure. The first DLC pack coming this Summer will feature a Cave of Trials challenge, access to hard mode, and a new feature for the in-game map. The second pack will be released during Holiday 2017 and include a new dungeon, a new original story, and additional challenges.
Nintendo intends to sell the contents as part of this expansion pass only, so you’re either paying $20 USD for all of it or will get none of it at all. At this point it’s difficult to make a value judgement on Breath of the Wild’s expansion pass because we don’t know enough and haven’t played the main game. It’s easy to call the Switch logo shirt silly (and it really is) but we don’t have set expectations for how long a new dungeon or a new original story set in a post-apocalypse Hyrule could be. Video game makers — from Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion to Resident Evil 7 — have been selling DLC for years, but we still don’t have a standard of expectation for add-on content.
But Nintendo didn’t suddenly come up with a DLC plan for Zelda. In fact, the company has made strides over the past few years to sell more additional content for its games. But if you skipped the Wii U era, you probably missed the bulk of it.
On Wii U, Nintendo made several compelling cases for extra content for people who play its games.
Mario Kart 8 had two waves of DLC that added new courses, playable characters, and more karts. Pre-ordering both packs got you additional color skins for Yoshi and Shy Guy.
Smash Bros. took a bolder approach by selling new/returning characters and stages. Some characters were bundled with a special stage. Some new/returning stages were sold standalone. Nintendo also offered a variety of Mii Fighter costumes involving other properties like Splatoon, Virtua Fighter, and others. You could pay a little more to unlock content in both Wii U and 3DS versions of the game.
Hyrule Warriors sold lots of special characters, weapons, and adventure mode maps. This trend continued once the 3DS version, called Hyrule Warriors Legends, released.
The list goes on: Xenoblade Chronicles, New Super Mario Bros. U, heck even Pikmin 3 took a shot at offering more content for people to buy.
On Nintendo 3DS you can see the same push: Hyrule Warriors Legend, Fire Emblem Awakening and Fates, and more all offered post launch DLC. And the additional content boosted the company’s sales. In a briefing to investors in February 2017, Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima noted that download sales were down, hitting only 23.1 billion yen compared to 30.5 billion the year prior. Falling short of the previous year, where the company released more downloadable content for Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Nintendo 3DS.
These are the top downloaded Nintendo games according to presentation by company president Tatsumi Kimishima.
Nintendo understands that DLC pulls in more digital customers and drives them towards the company’s games. And it wants to make more of it. “We will continue to release attractive add-on content maximizing features of each software title since they help maintain software usage rate and keep the title at the center of conversation,” Kimishima said.
Video game makers have been selling DLC for years, but we still don’t have a standard of expectation for add-on content.
What does that mean for the future? Well, for the immediate Breath of the Wild, not much. The expansion pass is a promise of additional content for the biggest Zelda game to date, but the details are too vague right now. And there’s just too many questions: Is hard mode substantially different? This one stings in particular since Hero mode has been Zelda’s harder difficulty for the last few games now. And what could the new map feature be? What about the additional challenges? You can pre-order the expansion pass now, but it does not come included in the Special or Master edition of the game. Still, I propose fans watch and wait for Nintendo to explain what you’re getting first before you jump in.
For the company as a whole, though, it could hint at bigger plans for DLC. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Arms, Splatoon 2, and Mario Odyssey might all get post launch content. And this would be smart for Nintendo to pursue as long as the content itself continues to make sense. No one wants to pay extra for features and modes that should’ve been included on the game disc at release. Using these updates to add more bonus surprises could keep us all playing Nintendo’s games much longer than we anticipated. But my advice to Nintendo and publishers in general is to pick the right timing and be specific about what you’re selling upfront. That way customers can make a decision and enjoy the extra features you made.