Digital goods are not something entirely new to Nintendo. In fact, the Virtual Console existed on the Wii way back in 2006, before there was an iPhone let alone an App Store. The company has been selling consumers digital products for almost ten years now, but something amazing has happened over the past couple of years: Nintendo has went above and beyond most other gaming companies with free updates to many of its games that not only improve the experiences, but often expand them as well.
Almost overnight, Nintendo has gone from a company that releases a product and moves onto the next, to an organization that listens to reviewer and customer feedback to improve a game post-launch. In addition to tweaking gameplay mechanics, many of its games have received free content packs; almost unheard of in today’s gaming world of season passes. Take a look at the games released by Nintendo this year to see how they’re leveraging digital updates to improve their products.
This past spring, Nintendo released a new IP from Intelligent Systems called Codename S.T.E.A.M. for the 3DS. It featured a zany cast of characters in a tactical strategy RPG that many people, including myself, were excited to play. In the days leading up to the launch the reviews began trickling out, and almost every single one of them had a complaint regarding the turn-based battles: the enemy’s turn took way too long. Taking that feedback into consideration, Nintendo released an update to the game that allowed players to speed up the enemy’s turn times. Regular 3DS owners were able to speed them up by double, and those with a New 3DS could plow through them at triple speed. This small enhancement did wonders for the game, fixing one of the major complaints surrounding it.
A few months later, Nintendo released one of its biggest hits of the year, Splatoon for the Wii U. Prior to the game’s launch, Nintendo had promised free updates would be coming throughout the year, with a major one planned for August. Once the game hit store shelves and the reviews poured in, most were favorable, but many of them mentioned the lack of stages, low variety of weaponry, and limited play modes as negatives. Whether part of the plan or in response to these criticisms, Nintendo hurriedly released updates in succession that addressed the issues brought up by the various publications. It seemed like every week there was a new weapon, outfit, or stage being announced. New modes of play have also been introduced over the past few months, keeping the game fresh and exciting. All of these updates helped keep Splatoon a news item on most sites covering Nintendo, and has no doubt remained a key factor in keeping its user base more active, since players often logged in every week to see what had been added. The free updates are set to continue through the end of January 2016.
Another game, which prior to its release Nintendo seemed to indicate wouldn’t receive any DLC, has already seen one software update. That game is Super Mario Maker for Wii U. With some critics and many players lamenting the lack of a checkpoint option, Nintendo went to work on a fix to include that functionality into the game. Roughly two months after it launched, the update was released. In addition to the checkpoint system, Nintendo created the ability for power-ups to change depending on if Mario is small or big when a power-up block is hit. Event Courses were added, allowing for players to access and try special levels that Nintendo’s partners have created. Some of these even unlock new Mystery Mushroom costumes that can be used in the creation of new levels. Next month a new portal site will launch, allowing users to search for courses more efficiently with added filters. The stages can then be marked as favorites, which can be sent to the game to play.
The recently released title, The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes for the 3DS, is also receiving a free update soon. This add-on will give players two new costumes to create, giving Link new powers, such as the ability to see inside treasure chests before opening them. In addition, a brand new mode called Den of Trials will be introduced, showcasing more than 30 new stages. Every enemy has to be defeated in a stage to proceed, so luckily there will be checkpoints to aid in this endeavor.
As you can see, Nintendo has done an excellent job of supporting its games after release with free content updates. That’s not to say that they don’t have in-game purchases, DLC, or even season passes, because they do. Nintendo isn’t immune to having to charge for premium content, such as new tracks in Mario Kart 8 or additional fighters in Super Smash Bros. However, when looking at the entirety of games released, Nintendo has been pretty fair in pricing its add-on content, with many of them (like the ones mentioned above) enjoying free updates to add longevity to the experience. I’m glad the days are gone where Nintendo released a game and called it a day, oblivious to criticism. More than ever, the developers seem to be listening to feedback and addressing some of the concerns with free updates. I like this new and improved digital Nintendo.