This morning, I profess, I experienced a sensation of inordinate sadness, and no, not due to my usual ruminations regarding being a millennial, or existential ennui, or depression, or any combination of the aforementioned things.
Nintendo, in a tepid mimicry of the business model of several other game publishers, have announced a Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Season Pass Expansion Pass, which will retail at $19.99 USD. This Pass, which will release content periodically over the duration of this year, will be instigated with three treasure chests containing “useful items” and one cosmetic item. This will be proceeded by the next instalment in the American Summer, with “A new Cave of Trials challenge”, “Hard mode”, “A new feature for the in-game map”, and then a later release with “a new dungeon”, “a new “original story”, and other additional “challenges”.
Cosmetic items, whilst being Machiavellian and avaricious inventions that companies employ for the sole purpose of monetary gain, are the more trivial facets of the Pass. Rather, it is inclusion of Hard mode, auxiliary dungeons and trials, and their inferred occlusion from the main retail release, that ought to be enkindling some sort of exasperation or indignation. Whilst Hard mode and Cave of Ordeal challenges are near synonymous with the Zelda series, and despite never a prerequisite for finishing the narrative of the game, they were irrefutably certainties for anyone wishing to attempt 100% completion. Even without a cynical lens, it is hardly difficult to envision how shrewd autocrats saw a lucrative and exploitable opportunity, and decreed that such mainstays be removed from the main game to guarantee an additional transaction for the consumer. One only needs to examine the phraseology employed in “Expansion Pass” to realise that this does not “expand” on the game in any way whatsoever.
It’s not the premise of DLC that I take particular umbrage with, as, after all, Nintendo have implemented it effectively in other titles, such as Hyrule Warriors, Super Smash Bros, and the like. What differentiates Smash is that, whilst we knew DLC would be an option, the game was already on shelves when it was implemented, and a variety of options were available. Wanted Bayonetta, but despised Roy? No problem. One was under no obligation to purchase anything else other than the characters one so wanted, and it was all readily available should any change of mind occur. This illusion of choice was augmented by the knowledge that the game was fundamentally complete without the additional content: all game modes were still readily available, and the experience was perfectly adequate without extraneous content. DLC was merely the salt on a deliciously gratifying caramel.
However, it’s a model that stipulates that I have no choice in choosing which DLC I might like that really raises my hackles, and if there’s one thing that raises them further, it’s the implication that without such things, my experience of the game is insufficient or lacking. Furthermore, such a model is made all the more insidious looking by being announced before the game has even launched. Despite early gameplay demonstrations of the game looking entertaining, such demonstrations have been craftily fabricated to aide in marketing the game, which bears the additional burden of being a launch title for a brand-new console. In light of the Wii U’s mishandled marketing, there is a plethora of expectations riding upon the Switch, and Breath of the Wild, and despite this, there is no telling what the final game is actually like. It is a veritable chocolate cake being presented on a silver platter; one that may be filled with luscious ganache, made with the finest single-original cacao, or complete dog shit. There is no luxury of knowing until we take the bait and experience for ourselves. I’d certainly like to maintain the somewhat naïve belief that Nintendo are committed to releasing quality products for their mainstream franchises, but then, well…somebody looked at the pitch for Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival and thought it was a rectitudinous idea.
I can’t help but experience an ominous sensation as I’m reminded acutely of Square Enix and the manner in which they managed their Season Pass for Final Fantasy XV. However, and as irksome as it is to admit to it, whilst the main narrative was certainly lacking, and one can sceptically perceive how content may have been removed for the express purpose of charging consumers more for it, I’m willing to be lenient with their management of it. Ultimately, even if I did not purchase the game’s Season Pass, I have the alternative of individually tailoring what I may or may not choose to purchase when it comes to DLC. Fuck Episode Gladiolus. Bring on Episode Prompto.
With the inevitable deluge of additional income that Season Passes have brought other companies, it’s quite frankly astonishing that Nintendo haven’t capitalised upon the opportunity to effectuate them sooner. They have certainly procured the spoils from the proliferation of preorder culture that was a precursor to Season Passes, what with the myriad special editions and preorder bonuses that have sung their Sirens’ song in order to lure consumers prematurely away from their money. Whilst this Expansion Pass doesn’t stoop to the abyssal prevalence of microtransactions found in other mainstream titles, it does seem quite the harbinger of what is already a fine line between these practises.
Naturally, I can imagine the archetypical, chorus that stridently arises in defence of a company’s business tactics, bloviating at length the usual spiel about not being coerced into buying DLC in the first place, or it being comprised of cosmetics that are not to the detriment of anyone who did not purchase them. However, that’s not the point.
That acidulous taste in one’s mouth that developed upon initially reading this news?
That fleeting reminiscence of a time when there were no ancillary elements to a game and merely a sound part of a whole?
That sigh as tremulous as a rapidly deflating circus tent, as recollection of games that existed without onerous release day patches, without the trepidation of the unknown in terms of value for money?
THAT is the point.