This morning, Nintendo announced that they’re offering a season pass for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. That pass, called an “expansion pass,” will be $19.99, and it will include three waves of content.
The gaming community criticizes Nintendo a lot for the ways it handles industry trends. That especially applies to how Nintendo deals with just about anything relating to online interactions. Whether that’s their silly friend code system, their lack of online services or their Virtual Console, Nintendo is routinely called out for being multiple steps behind their competitors in the online space.
The company has always been cagey about DLC. They opened the door to DLC with Fire Emblem, and they continued the trend with Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U. Now they’re applying it to Zelda.
I’m happy that Nintendo’s rolling DLC for their games. DLC is important in the modern age, it allows gamers to continue playing games long after their launch day, and it helps developers since gamers are less likely to trade games back into places like GameStop for used sales that hurt long-term profits.
It’s the season pass DLC thing that really bothers me. Let me explain. I think there’s a difference between what Nintendo did with Mario Kart 8 and what they’re going to do with the new Zelda .
Put plainly, I don’t like season passes because I think the practice is anti-consumer. Publishers and developers are asking consumers to buy content before they know what it actually is. They’ll say, “we’re going to release a lot of DLC for this game, and you can buy it right now before even knowing exactly what it is or how valuable it’ll be for the low price of $20.”
Game publishers ask for money from consumers before revealing the product. It’s the same reason why I don’t like the prospect of pre-ordering games in the digital age. Pre-ordering used to happen because games were scarce, and if you wanted that game, like Tales of Symphonia on the GameCube, you would have had to pre-order it in order to get it at launch. Retailers simply didn’t have enough stock. Now that games are digital, pre-ordering really only benefits the publisher. And they’ll throw in tiny bonuses like in-game clothes or weaponry in order to get players to buy in.
I didn’t mind the season pass prospect for Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U because we were getting a known quantity of items. Nintendo announced up front exactly how many tracks and characters we would get with each piece of DLC before they launched it. And they also announced that we would get a discount and characters right away if we picked up the season pass DLC. Yes, I still didn’t like how shady the season pass DLC idea is, but Nintendo it was transparent enough that I was okay with the purchase.
Zelda is different. Nintendo has outlined exactly what’s coming, but we don’t know how big it is, how much length it will provide, or how much effort Nintendo’s putting into it. Is it worth $20? We have no idea. Without the finite numbers like what we had and Mario Kart 8, we’re being asked to buy into the DLC without much in the way of consumer knowledge.
There’s a harder difficulty, chests with undescribed items, a shirt with a Nintendo switch logo on it for Link, some story stuff and the DLC that’s going to come out in the holiday, map features (whatever that means) and a few other things.
I want Nintendo to step into the modern age of online gaming just as much as anyone else. I want them to offer an online system that makes sense, a marketplace that regularly holds fantastic sales, intelligently designed smartphone applications and a friend system that isn’t completely tone-deaf. I want all those things. I even want DLC.
I don’t want the season pass. It asks me as a consumer to put up money without knowing what I’m getting. So, I’ll speak with my wallet, and I won’t buy it.
Here’s the thing: Nintendo’s trying this model because they’re seeing that it works for other companies. Season passes wouldn’t exist if consumers weren’t buying them. So, Nintendo sees the money on the table, and they’re going for it. I’m frustrated, but I don’t blame them.
Are you going to pick up the expansion pass?