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After following Nintendo for a number of years certain trends jump to the fore. Introducing new IPs is a minefield - Splatoon had buzz from day one, but Code Name: S.T.E.A.M's 2014 reveal was greeted with 'where's Advance Wars' questions and it struggled at retail. Too much of one franchise does lead to some burn-out, unless it's The Legend of Zelda, and sequels that play too safe and are predictable struggle to inspire fans - see the muted overall reaction to Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam among vocal gamers online, which was a roll-call of well-known characters rather than quirky new arrivals.

It becomes fairly easy to discern what pleases most of us, too, especially in a landscape that's been evolving along with technology and the marketplace. For one thing, we all love a good deal - obviously - but plenty of buzz and positivity also greets updates and DLC that expand a game's content. Value is key with all three, whether in small but neat free updates in the likes of Splatoon or Super Mario Maker, or with the likes of Fire Emblem Fates and its three separate campaigns that provide all of the gameplay any sane person could ever want.

Of course, it's obvious that people like cheap stuff, but it's not always that simple - sometimes it's about considering market realities and how people want to buy and enjoy their content. Paid DLC, when done right, can be a major incentive in helping games become mini-platforms of their own, and keep them in gamer's minds months after they originally hit stores. Nintendo's done this to great effect - and emphasized as much to investors - with Super Smash Bros. on Wii U / 3DS and Mario Kart 8, with extras for those delivering the company's leading download content sellers. They're top-ticket, full price games that sell themselves every generation, but their varied DLC offerings - which were particularly good value in MK8 - meant we were arguably playing them for longer and, in the process, paying more money for the privilege. A scenario where, arguably, everyone wins.

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What we've seen with Fire Emblem Fates is particularly interesting. Despite the - entirely fair - initial fears that a dual release (triple, if you then include the download-only 'Revelation') was a ruse to nickel and dime more cash from consumers, the end result has been a success. Nintendo has boasted about seriously impressive launch sales (it was the third best-selling game in the US for February when combining the three SKUs) and fans had all the gaming they could possibly want. On top of this Nintendo was clever in structuring the three campaigns in a fair way - in the US you pick one of the core retail games (Birthright / Conquest) for $39.99, but then download the other for $19.99. Then you can add Revelation for another $19.99 - for a total of a $79.97 you have three campaigns. As we remarked in our Revelation DLC review - "holy moly, that's a lot of Fire Emblem".

Now, $80 is a lot of money, but it's all relative. On the one hand those that want to can just buy one of the retail options for $40 and have their fill, and in typical Intelligent Systems fashion there's good value for money in doing that. By giving the option to download the extras at $20 each (or to try in vain to find the limited edition) Nintendo is saying you can have pretty much all the extra core content you want at a nice discount; as a strategy it seems to be working. The other side of Fates DLC - the many, many maps - are a little more debatable in terms of their value, but the real meat of the experience is in Nintendo / Intelligent Systems producing a lot of content and incentivising us to jump in wholeheartedly. Rather than sell Birthright / Conquest at $40 each and then Revelation at $30, Nintendo realised it needed to be smarter and use the download add-on model to offer a good deal.

Then we have Nintendo Selects, new ranges of which never fail to get fans talking - it normally consists of high quality first-party games that are over 18 months old being offered at handsome price points. In Europe the new prices are also applied to the eShop, too, and absolute gems like Super Mario 3D World (NA) and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD (EU) will have excellent price-points. The buzz around the range is pretty simple - we all love discounts on great games, and Nintendo Selects can provide handsome rewards to fence sitters of all stripes and, in some cases, encourage us to take a punt on a game we've previously resisted.


Yet the lessons about how a lower price range can work at retail should be considered beyond older top-shelf titles, but could perhaps apply to second-tier releases that, while decent, have little appeal at full price. Examples that spring to mind in recent times include Chibi-Robo!: Zip Lash and Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash; the former tried to make a retail success out of a small IP (and an amiibo figure) and struggled, while the latter was a project with strong foundations but phoned-in and woefully lacking content. Both had weaknesses that made strong sales a long shot, yet both were pitched at relatively high prices - Ultra Smash, for example, has a recommended price of $49.99 in the US, less than a full Wii U retail title but still too high for the content on offer.

The challenge for Nintendo, for the remainder of this generation and into the next, is getting away from an annual routine of heavily relying on two or three blockbuster hits to compensate for some other under-performers. While having a few major hits every year is a nice strength to have, a key to selling hardware on a consistent basis is to have a steady stream of hits. For Sony and Microsoft this is a little easier thanks to the consistent turnaround of major third party releases; if that's not the case for Nintendo it needs to find other ways to sustain momentum.

There's scope, then, for trying to turn almost guaranteed strugglers into successes of a different nature - major releases that have a harder job of winning a big number of fans may need a different kind of push. Lower entry points, yes, but allied to content additions to tempt those that have jumped in due to that initial value. Parts can be episodic, other can simply be chunks of extra content at a price, or there can be a mix of free and paid DLC additions on a regular basis.

Will Hitman's episodic approach pay off?
Will Hitman's episodic approach pay off?

None of this is revolutionary, but these are ideas that have largely been kept away from Nintendo's own standard approach to pricing with major retail releases. Yet they're seen elsewhere, and a prominent current example - which has attracted both praise and criticism - is with Square Enix breaking up the new Hitman into regular episodes; that's a series that was rigidly 'major retail' in its approach until now. Nintendo's also dabbled with free-to-start and low price-of-entry + DLC models on a frequent basis with download-only titles and smaller spin-offs. The question is whether some mid-tier retail games, those for whom failure can be safely predicted before they even arrive, can benefit from alternative approaches.

For a number of games that are destined to struggle there's surely little to lose. Titles like Chibi-Robo's doomed platformer may get rapid price-cuts to grab late sales as retailers desperately try to get rid of stock, but by then the dye is cast and momentum is gone. A game's launch period is so vital, so integral to whether a title can be deemed to be a success, that a high price-point / poor value on day one can scupper a title before it's truly had a chance. Few win in that case - Nintendo sees trouble coming and minimises marketing spend, development studios lose confidence, franchises lose credibility and perhaps their future, and gamers tut and complain at lower tier games failing to grab their attention. Perspective can do much to change these factors; if a title's sales strategy is structured differently and gamers feel less risk in the purchase, perhaps those consumers feel more inclined to look upon a game favourably.

We should end with an acknowledgement that Nintendo is unlikely to want to experiment too much with sales approaches at retail, particularly. If you sell a game in stores with a low price of entry that's then reliant on DLC purchases you're messing with the general norms of retail, and gambling even more on the product. What if a development team makes $60 worth of game but users only buy (on average) $30 of it? There are financial risks. Square Enix is committed to a full retail game's worth of content with Hitman - which will eventually be available on disc in 2017 - but if a lot of players skip the season pass, buy the first episode and then pack it in the publisher has a potential problem.

Everything is a risk, though, and sending out full-price games that are easily predicted as retail failures is a problem of its own. Nintendo may as well experiment with some titles rather than send them out to an inevitable retail doom.