Super Mario Maker is on the cusp - at the time of writing - of receiving its first major update. It solves one of the most notable quibbles that fans have had by adding level checkpoints, in addition to features such as dedicated areas for official Nintendo courses and 'event' courses contributed by companies such as Facebook. In summary, it adds content and makes the game better, and is due on 4th November in North America and 5th November in Europe.
Arriving a little under two months after the game's launch, it's the latest example in Nintendo's recent run of continually adding new content to key titles; Super Mario Maker undoubtedly counts as one of the Wii U's most important games this year and going forward into 2016. If this update is an indication of what could come, especially with its scope for consistent new levels from Nintendo and its partners, then this level-making treat could join the likes of Super Smash Bros., Splatoon and even Mario Kart 8 as the latest 'platform within a platform' title from the company. These are games that continue to evolve and keep players coming back.
We're following up on a feature from earlier in the year in which we discussed Nintendo's evolution of the idea around 'evergreen' games. The general point was that continual change and increased content in a game is an increasingly modern way to satisfy fans while managing development teams and resources carefully. The principle is simple - find a game that system owners enjoy the most and keep it going for as long as it makes sense to do so.
It's a popular idea, too - thousands of you voted in our polls on the topic and a vast majority showed enthusiasm for the idea that games like these continue to expand and grow long after their initial release. Though that voting didn't tackle it directly, there seems to be an instinct that it's better to have focused but A-grade expansions from Nintendo than, dare we say, underwhelming spin-offs and smaller retail releases.
Of course, Nintendo will always need to keep regular releases coming to stores, but its strategy of extending the lifespans of the biggest games seems to be paying dividends. It keeps fans engaged, makes the title increasingly attractive to those yet to dive in and, in some cases, makes Nintendo extra money.
Perhaps unlike the 'season pass' model followed with little variation by many major publishers - though there are exceptions such as developer CD Projekt Red - Nintendo seems open to being flexible with its strategies. Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS have both delivered a mix of free and paid updates. In MK8 we had amiibo outfits and 200cc for free, with DLC tracks coming in generously priced extras. It's our view that pricing is less generous in Super Smash Bros., with relatively high-end prices for new fighters, outfits and stages; nevertheless the fighter has had free updates, including the promised Tourney mode.
It's evidently been paying off for Nintendo; in the recent President's Presentation given to investors by Tatsumi Kimishima, add-on content from these releases was leading the way in download sales.
Splatoon, on the other hand, perhaps due to its role as a new IP aiming to establish an audience, has followed a model of free content and updates on a weekly basis. Some of this content has been in the form of on-the-disc unlocks, but major updates have enabled us to download new game modes, guns and stages. Whether this was a necessity due to a tight development deadline - which is possible considering the fact that the launch day release was arguably light in terms of online content - or part of a strategic plan is open to debate; perhaps it was a bit of both. In any case, the continual updates leave us with a shooter that's packed full of quality content.
It'll be interesting to see how Super Mario Maker evolves; while it perhaps won't be as frequent as Splatoon, Nintendo could generate plenty of interest in populating its official areas - first- and third-party - with a variety of new levels. Should big names like Shigeru Miyamoto, as an example, upload new stages it'll generate publicity and keep players active. That's a key point with all of these DLC strategies - they keep us playing.
Beyond new stages, there are still gaps in the creation tool that could make fans extremely happy in terms of item and environment types. Every Mario fan will have their own wishlists on those points, and there are also demands for bigger stages, too.
It'll be intriguing to follow, in any case. Splatoon is still active, meanwhile, and Super Smash Bros. has exciting updates to come as we await the final outcomes from the Fighter Ballot, the voting for which closed just recently.
These four games highlight trends that we think will become prevalent in major evergreen titles of the future. As some of the biggest selling titles on Wii U (and 3DS in the case of Smash Bros.) they've become key sources of revenue and real highlights for gamers, with DLC and updates filling some release gaps and, perhaps most importantly, making top-notch games even better.
It's tempting to yearn for the good-old days at times, when you just put a cartridge in a system and the game never changed. Yet while day one updates, micro-transactions and season passes can sometimes upset many gamers - though not always - it's worth remembering that Nintendo has largely gone its own way. Not all of its DLC is benevolent and generous in its pricing - though much of it is - but the key is that fans have enjoyed the content on offer. The sales evidently tell the story.
Nintendo keeps expanding, updating and improving its most important games - it seems that we, as the fans and gamers, are the big winners.