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Zelda's Breath of the Wild Season Pass is Setting a Dangerous Precedent for Nintendo

Breath of the Wild is getting an expansion. Is that a good thing?

Poor Nintendo.

It's the company fun to hate on for fans and commoners alike, the outlier of the gaming giants, and often the most endearing despite its apparent lack of control as of late. All these qualities have been bumped up a notch now that their new console is but days away, and all eyes are on Nintendo to do everything right.

An emblematic move of this hot mess of a modern Nintendo, with its questionable messaging activities, comes by way of the recent announcement of an expansion pass for the highly anticipated Zelda title, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a first-ever for the series known for its beefy puzzles and clever game design. It's easy to simultaneously dismiss the move as yet another Nintendo foible and grasp it with the unwavering praise of a fanboy.

Poor Nintendo.

It took a leaked video to show us what the Switch UI looks like.

To save ourselves from the pity game and the endless ocean of haters and apologists, let's take a slight step back and assess the announcement of the DLC from a little more of a critical perspective. We're better than those forum crawlers looking to pick an argument, aren't we?

Now, before we go back to greeting Reggie with pitchforks, let's outline both the positives and negatives of Nintendo's new stance on DLC. Then my opinion will be revealed on how Nintendo is or isn't extracting dollars from our Switch-devoured wallets.

A look at Nintendo's DLC history

In the past Nintendo have taken a clear stance on adding paid content to games. Simply put, the games company would never hold content back from a game, to then release it later as DLC. These motives were clear and well-adhered to.

To the best of my knowledge, there haven't been tons of games that have had turbulent DLC plans. All the DLC that Nintendo has created for 3DS and WiiU games -- titles like Mario Golf: World Tour, Pikmin 3, Super Smash Bros. WiiU/3DS, Mario kart 8, and New Super Mario Bros. 2 -- has been cautiously delivered thus far.

Unlike the traditional DLC or season passes you'd find from today's triple-A studios, it is hard to pick out a Nintendo title that offered ridiculously priced or unfairly marketed add-on content -- a few of them made you pay for silly things like skins or ability buffs. Yes, Nintendo has always been judicious about its delivery of DLC, and to pick on a particularly good piece of content, Mario Kart 8 boasts probably their best effort at DLC, from its fair price to its quality of content to its delivery of the announcement.

The Mario Kart 8 DLC, though not the same content type of what will come out for Zelda, is what sticks in my mind as a formidable piece of Nintendo DLC. With a measly $12, you'd be treated to four additional cups in the game and a bunch of new characters and karts.

To this day, I am still surprised at the generosity in this offering; it amounted to a big chunk of the game for a fraction of the cost. The DLC courses were not poorly designed either -- some of the entirely new tracks are my favorite in the game! Certainly no one could say they were afterthoughts conjured to exploit our wallets.

Source: Attack of the Fanboy

Something I don't think enough people think about is how the announcement of DLC is delivered. It's an important thing to acknowledge as it sets the tone for whether or not we think a company is trying to pull a fast one on us. What made the Mario Kart 8 DLC so special was that we knew enough about the contents, without having the look and layout of the tracks spoiled.

That is, at the time, we knew the overview of what we were getting, but we didn't know exactly what it was. We knew that it would be beefy enough to warrant our purchase -- so that we didn’t feel ripped off. The feeling of not being ripped off was known as the DLC was announced months after launch, which points to Nintendo developing this DLC after completing the base game.

A positive outlook on Zelda's Expansion Pass

But what does all this say about the recent announcement of the Breath of the Wild Expansion Pass? Well, speaking from a positive perspective, I’m sure we can agree that given Nintendo’s past, we are in for a treat.

If we overlook the first two pieces of content, there seems to be content on offer that will be well worth the price of admission. An entire dungeon and a new original story is promising, and knowing Nintendo, it will be of high quality. We have no reason to believe it won’t be.

Again, if we continue to assess the final piece of Zelda DLC based on the model used for Mario Kart 8, I'd say that it's priced generously at $20. And the good thing about the announcement is that an outline was given for the release plan of the DLC.

Though a little shaky, the second piece of DLC -- the one that includes the new modes and the map feature -- has the potential to be something else worthwhile. It by no means seems like something I'd be willing to pay $20 for without the final piece of content, but as an addition it's not a terrible proposition.

So by ignoring the first piece of DLC, which is merely a bonus for buying the Expansion Pass, we can see that Nintendo isn't tacking on content that should have been released day one. Though it's arguable whether or not a hard mode or a new Cave of Trials challenge really requires all that much time to produce, it's likely that the two content packs in discussion are not taken from the base game.

A negative outlook on Zelda's Expansion Pass

Now that we've established the promising things about the Expansion Pass, including the price and development cycle, what is it that is upsetting?

Well, most of the bad is in the messaging of Nintendo’s plans -- did you notice how I dodged the day-one DLC in the previous section? I’m not going to suggest that we ease up on the established organization that has operated for over a century, but we must take into consideration the fact that Nintendo is trying to veer the company in a different direction and did recently suffer from the loss of their previous president.

So perhaps that sheds some light on some of their current difficulties, but that doesn't mean it acquits them from learning from the messaging mistakes of other games companies, and realizing that they handled DLC more competently in the past (Nintendo need to ensure they do learn from messaging mistakes).

Unlike the announcement of the Mario Kart 8 DLC, what is particularly troublesome about this announcement is that it was timed just before the release of the title. The content that came to Mario Kart 8 was announced so late after launch that players couldn't argue that they were being asked to pay more on launch day.

Not only is it befuddling that the $20 spent now won't yield the brunt of the content until it's released near the year's end, but it's rather jarring that the so-called bonus isn't just given out for free. The content is useless and serves as nothing more than a pre-order bonus, and that sets a dangerous precedent for this future Nintendo.

Nintendo knows that you are really plunking down the cash for the new dungeon and story, but they want your money now, so they figure that by giving you a bit of throw-away content, you'll be willing give them more cash upfront. This is what feels the most un-Nintendo.

Source: Polygon

Even though it's true that Nintendo offered a similar bonus to those who pre-ordered the Mario kart 8 DLC, at least the game was already in our hands for some time and the pre-order option landed consumers a discount.

It's important to note that, because the Zelda content was announced before the actual release of the base game, we can't appropriately gauge what its contents are. It's quite obvious what additional tracks are in a Mario Kart game or what more links mean for a Mario Golf title, but dungeons and a story have a high rate of variability. We can only assume that the dungeon will be as robust as the ones from older titles, and we can't at all narrow a guess about what the new story will be.

For as good as it was that we didn’t know exactly what to expect from the Mario Kart DLC, we at least knew how robust the contents would be based on the contents of the base game. We don't have that advantage this time.

Now to sheathe the Master Sword

Surely Nintendo has been the topic of discussion for many a gamer as of late. From the announcement of an annual subscription for online play devoid of any proper outlining of all its features, to releasing new hardware with scant details about certain sought-after features, Nintendo struggles to embrace the slick modernity of current games hardware while balancing their history of quality, unmatched fun.

That being said, we must take caution not to combine all of Nintendo's curious functions into one potential disaster after another. Specifically, when discussing the Expansion Pass for Breath of the Wild, I'd say that their track record means they shouldn't be dismissed as just another greedy publisher looking to profit from DLC.

We can somewhat safely assume that the content will be robust even though we don't have much to go by; we also know that Nintendo has done a great job in the past in delivering content that very much exceeds their asking price, and we know enough about the Zelda universe -- and the expansiveness of the latest title -- to accept that the main two DLC offerings are not simple additions that were cut out of the original game.

However, what should frustrate us is the vague messaging, the timing, and the overt means to get our money early... too early. 

If we take all this into account, I'd say that the bold direction of offering Expansion Passes is good for Nintendo and good for fans, but only if they continue their trend of delivering excellent content and improve their future messaging tactics. I'm confident that they will pull through on making the $20 worth it for the Expansion Pass, but my confidence wanes when it comes to their somewhat aggressive attempt at getting our money early. And that makes all the difference in setting the mood.

Published Feb. 22nd 2017

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