It's easy to be a little blasé and spoilt as gamers, but it's been striking once again that, with a combination of economic savvy and a clear love for its products, Nintendo is making the most of key releases on the Wii U. Three of the system's biggest games have transformed since launch with a mix of new content and vital updates, improving the experiences on offer.
We're talking primarily about Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (and on 3DS, with a few less features) and Splatoon - all are games that keep giving for a mix of no cost, generously priced DLC and the occasional over-priced outfits and / or characters. It's all a matter of taste and opinion when it comes to pricing for some of the Super Smash Bros. DLC, but we think most would be happy to acknowledge that even the free extras in that title have fleshed it out nicely. Mario Kart 8 may or may not be finished - its extras did much to boost the overall content - and Splatoon is the shining example above all else. Weekly extras and frequent additions of new modes, maps and balancing tweaks all do much to keep us playing the colourful shooter.
It's been a brave new world for Nintendo. These titles haven't represented the company's first dalliances with DLC, but they've been the most sustained and impressive efforts yet in that particular frontier. When you consider the features and content all three of these Wii U games had at launch to the present day scenario - with Splatoon's next notable update coming on 6th August - it's clear that Nintendo's gone far in changing how it approaches not only sustaining value in its games, but also monetising its biggest hits while keeping fans happy.
There has, quite rightly, been praise for Nintendo's revitalisation of its games in this way. The MK8 content was excellent value, though the Smash Bros. content is up for debate. Splatoon, though, has been the most interesting approach. It's the opinion of some - but by no means all - that the shooter was light on content at launch, lacking key features to take it from being excellent to truly outstanding. In principle Nintendo could have simply released it at a later date with everything included on day one, yet the need for a major late Spring / early Summer release was perhaps greater than the requirement to wrap up all development. Or, alternatively, this gradual roll-out of content was the plan right from day one.
If the Splatoon strategy was planned from day one, it seems to have paid off - at least within the Nintendo bubble of fans. Every week there are new outfits, weapons or stages, which gives keen players something new to see and keeps us interested. There was also an element of anticipation at launch around the unlocking of Ranked Battles, while the addition of Tower Control mode shook things up further. It can be argued that more player freedom in choosing stages and modes - which are driven by cyclical rotation - would be a welcome addition, but all-in-all the content on offer has expanded a great deal.
There is a sense, more with Splatoon than MK8 or Smash Bros., that some of the updates are really just phasing in features that had no business being absent in an online-centric game. While this week's update will boost level caps and include new weapons and outfits in Splatoon, much of the buzz is around finally having the freedom to choose our own teams and set up private lobbies. Playing with friends has always been limited in the shooter due to random team assignments, particularly, so the chance for groups - maybe even 'clans' if you want to go that far - to get together is undoubtedly a big draw. Likewise with Tourneys in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, a mode long in demand since it was announced last year; not all are happy with its execution, however.
All of these updates serve Wii U gamers well, with varying degrees of paid and free DLC and/or updates keeping games active in our roster. Yet the latter part of our headline highlights a niggling source of frustration - these enhancements to the games get relatively little attention. We mentioned a Nintendo bubble of fans earlier, and updates like these are big news with that audience, but in the broader industry and public it's questionable how much awareness there is of these enhancements. Are Street Fighter and Capcom fans all aware that Ryu is now in Smash Bros.? Are potential Mario Kart 8 fans aware of the Legend of Zelda, F-Zero and Animal Crossing tie-ins? Are gamers aware of how much Splatoon has expanded, and how much it will continue to do so in weeks and months to come?
We're not sure, on all counts, but there's a marked difference in the attention Nintendo's updates and DLC get in comparison to 'triple A', multi-platform games. For better and worse, it's hard to escape coverage around season passes for the likes of Batman: Arkham Knight, free and paid DLC for The Witcher III, while expansions like Destiny: The Taken King have a clout on par with a full retail release. There are more examples out there, and in each of these cases publishers are able to make an event of these extra releases and updates, earning publicity and attention from a userbase notably bigger than the Nintendo bubble.
This is one of those examples where we're bemoaning market realities rather than believing a solution is at hand, though. The trouble for all three Wii U titles is that they're on the poorest selling of the current gen systems, a console largely isolated from the multi-platform and third-party scene. If the Wii U was a Wii-scale sales phenomenon we have little doubt that the evolution of these games would be hotter news to more than the most dedicated Nintendo fans.
Nintendo, from a marketing point of view, can't be accused of entirely failing in efforts to highlight the content it's delivering, either. Mario Kart 8 was perhaps the most successful at spreading the message of the DLC, with the popularity of the game at a mainstream level helping its cause. Smash Bros. is also given its own platform on occasion, such as Masahiro Sakurai's pre-E3 presentation.
That said, as Nintendo looks to a potential new generation with the NX, or even just to maximising the impact of its current efforts, it can learn from companies that have been in this particular game for longer. As we've suggested, Nintendo's relatively new in terms of placing so much focus on DLC and updates, and as a result often treats them more as product roll-outs for existing owners than marketing events to draw in more sales. When you look at examples like some of those third-party efforts above, there's notable branding and structure in place designed to have an impact in media and at retail. Not all of the tactics employed are particularly savoury, but they sure work.
Mario Kart 8 aped these well with its own 'season pass', but there's felt like less structure with Smash and Splatoon, which has given their respective additions a little more randomness and less sustained hype. This writer's slightly fed up of seeing headlines about The Taken King, and as a Batman fan is frustrated by the underwhelming DLC offered to date for Arkham Knight, but there's no denying the presence of these products within the broader gaming community's agenda. It's marketing as an event, as opposed to bonus goodies that only those paying attention hear about.
Nintendo can perhaps master this a little better, then, especially in the cases where - internally - it has long term DLC and update plans in place. Placing particular branding on updates, scheduling them further ahead and treating them almost like new game launches - these seem to be the tactics that work well with a number of blockbuster games. Nintendo's IPs and the quality of its content, when combined with what will hopefully be successful hardware in the future, can help this strategy of evergreen games as 'platforms' flourish even more.
Overall, though, and considering the strides Nintendo's taken in these areas with the Wii U, the company has enjoyed some successes. It seems that the Mario Kart 8 DLC was a major success commercially, Super Smash Bros. continues to excite with new content - helped by the Fan Fighter Ballot and its role - while Splatoon has evolved rather well. These are big positives, and provide foundations for Nintendo to push on and continue to improve on its approaches in the years to come.
Nintendo DLC and updates are becoming significant parts of our gaming routine; perhaps in years to come more will hear about what's on offer and join in.