Splatoon released last week to rave reviews and a ton of fanfare. My Twitter feed is still exploding with people posting screenshots, Miiverse posts, or just wacky squidisms. People are loving Splatoon. The biggest gripe against the game, though, is the amount of content inside. Even though the single-player campaign turned out to be a pleasant surprise, the multiplayer launched with only one mode, Turf Wars, a decent selection of gear, and 5 playable maps. Compared to your average modern shooter, that’s pretty slim. But the thing is, Splatoon isn’t your average shooter, and the way Nintendo has hinted at supporting the game is nothing like a Call of Duty or Halo game. It’s better. And even though we’re only a week into the game’s life, I think I want to see more games adopt what Splatoon is doing: consistently building on the game for months at no extra cost to the player.
With nearly every other DLC-supported game out there—including Nintendo’s own recent Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros entries— additional content costs money. Call of Duty releases map packs, weapon packs, skin packs, voice packs, back packs, snack packs, all packs, and guess what? You’re going to have to pay for each and every one of them. This business model has become the norm for online multiplayer games, and yet Nintendo is doing the complete opposite with Splatoon. They’ve already pledged to support the game for at least the next couple of months, with free DLC that includes maps, modes, weapons, and more. We’ve already seen a new mode unlock, a new map release, and a new weapon drop in the first week, and none of it has cost a dime.
So why is Nintendo doing this? Don’t they like money? Well, it’s nearly impossible to understand the business side of Nintendo, but I’m going to tell you why I think the whole thing works so well. At last week’s launch, Splatoon was a small game—perhaps indefensibly so. The multiplayer was limited to two maps every few hours, with only one mode to play them on. However, that’s kind of why I think this game is being received so well. By funneling all of your players down a narrower path, it puts everyone on a much more equal playing field. Certain maps aren’t abused by one group of people over the other because we’re all given the same sets, doled out randomly. Even the fact that you can’t change your weapons during a match, or meticulously customize your character, helps to make everyone feel like they have a fighting chance. In a nutshell, starting players out with a small amount of content makes learning the ropes easier and makes mastery feel reachable.
Now, a week out from launch, Nintendo has dished out more content, making the whole thing feel fresh and exciting again. And everyone gets the extra content, so again, every player is equal. You don’t have to go through the hassle of finding particular people who have the same set of DLC as you, and there’s no worry about your friends not being able to join in because they didn’t have the money for new maps. It’s great! Sure new players get the luxury of having more content to begin with, but those who have had the game continue to have something new to explore and dig into.
That’s what leads into the real genius of Nintendo’s Splatoon initiative. By releasing a game that’s slim to begin with but is continually improved upon and expanded, Nintendo is encouraging players to keep coming back.
And that’s exactly the kind of game the Wii U needs—the kind that will keep people playing and talking about it. As someone who used to play a new game every week but has slowed down that regimen because of fatherhood, the Splatoon model is a blessing. I don’t see myself putting this game down for months. And as backwards as it may sound, supplying your game with free content actually makes me more inclined to purchase any paid DLC that might come out. I know I’m in the minority here, but when I feel like a game respects me as a player, I’m more likely to toss it a few bones. Hearthstone, Blizzard’s free-to-play card game, has definitely gotten some money from me on multiple occasions because it doesn’t beat me over the head with microtransactions or punish me when I don’t pay. If Splatoon were to release paid DLC after or even during all of this free content, I’m more likely than I’ve ever been to spend more money it. And I’m sure there are plenty of folks out there that would love to expand their squidrobe with fresher hats, shirts, and kicks that aren’t available for just anyone.
Releasing a game with a small amount of content can be dangerous. You don’t want to burn your audience who just spent $60 by making them feel like they were ripped off. But Splatoon hasn’t felt like a rip-off in any way. The way Nintendo is handling the expansion of Splatoon’s content is both encouraging and exciting, especially coming from a company that has very little experience in the world of DLC and microtransactions. I would love to see more games and more publishers try something like what Nintendo is doing with Splatoon, but for now, Nintendo proves yet again that it’s at its best when it goes against the grain.