Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Zelda Goes Paid DLC: A step forward or a step back?

Steps Backward; It's never a good thing.

The once unthinkable has happened.  For generations the people told themselves that such madness would never come into positions of power which would allow such sweeping changes to the fundamental dynamics of the world in which we live to be implemented by the personification of abject madness that seems naught but a relic of a bygone age.  I speak of course of the contamination of the Legend of Zelda universe by DLC via a Season Pass or as Nintendo calls it, an Expansion Pass ...which does not make it better.  My god, this is the worst thing to happen... oh, wait.

Hold on, don't cry and hide under your blankets kids, just remember this is NOT the worst thing to happen to Legend of Zelda
Before you were born, something way worse happened.

Unlike 98% of all anime, the Japanese video game industry actually does have to care about international markets quite a bit.  While throughout the world DLC and expansion packs have run the gamut from a lauded grand-slam of awesomeness, to crimes against humanity that need to be tried in The Hague, some long running institutional properties seemed to operate in a world separated from such things where "no, not that one, we don't do DLC with that one" was an explicitly understood unwritten rule.  Such separation is no more. 

How earth-shattering is this?  Well with even Forbes covering it, and with still-fresh memories of some significant blunders shaking up the industry in general, such as No Man's Sky, Duke Nukem Forever, Doom, and a few others, this Zelda release is going to be the focus of a lot of a lot of attention.  Video games are a big industry.  The thing is, DLC was all the rage in 2005, but that was a long time ago.  We have since learned that (like just about every technological advancement) it isn't some magic pixie-dust that you can just sprinkle on literally everything to create boundless improvement.  It only is a positive if other conditions are right, and Zelda Breath of the Wild is missing one component that usually helps DLC fit into the "value added" category of purchases and not the "why the hell am I going to waste my money on this?" category.  Multi-player mode.  Unless it's some incarnation of Smash Brothers, Link and Zelda should never ever be in anything that's "multiplayer," which is something that anyone who has actually played the games before would instantly realize so succinctly that it would just be one of those second-nature thoughts like "don't try to breath underwater" or something like that.  Deep down in your brain, you aren't seeing the DLC as an extra thing you buy, you are seeing it as part of a game you already bought that's now behind a pay-wall.  It's going to be the source of some consumer hostility, passive-aggressive or otherwise.  Somewhere in your head there's that little voice looking at Nintendo, saying "I thought we had a good thing going?" to which Nintendo turns around and, shrugs, and keeps giving an hand-job to its preferred stockholders.

That's not to say that DLC can't be successful without multi-player mode, but it is known to provide customers motivation to buy DLC, and so this game isn't going to have that, and will need to create a motivation by other means.  Those other means are going to have to be premium game design, a story you simply can't look away from, and a few bells and whistles so addictive that they become in-game staples for all future releases.  Or they could just throw in a Hot Coffee Mod and hope for the best now that Jack Thompson and Hillary Clinton are out of the limelight.

I wouldn't hold my breath of the wild for that last one.

So is this really a regression rather than Zelda joining many other more modern game franchises?  I think it is.  It hearkens back to a way of thinking that paid DLC can be shoehorned into anything and everything.  This was very prevelent between 10 and 12 years ago.  I am sure there was once an idea of paid DLC for Tetris where you get more long ones if you buy the "expansion pack."  We have since seen enough to know that there is a right way and a wrong way to do this, and  there are some red flags here.  Most notably that the "hard mode" is part of the expansion and not part of the regular release.  What could possibly be the reason for that?  If it were free DLC then ok, it means they missed a deadline or something, but making you pay for it would only be justifiable if "hard mode" meant that a completely new type of enemy would now be included in the game where it previously was not.  The second red flag is that they're including in-game clothing...  That's lazy.  I know that sounds like a standard, but when a company throws a a whatever on a character it seems like they are using a very cheap solution to compensate for a significant shortcoming.  It's like someone giving you a free iPhone in the hopes you don't notice that they crashed your car into a tree.  With Nintendo being tight lipped and only releasing a vague "please trust us" video, there is not much to go on.  Furthermore, there is always the looming all-encompassing peril of an incongruity of sensibilities between Japan and the rest of the world.  What might have Japanese consumers ready to go into "shut up and take my money" mode, might have virtually no effect in other markets around the world.  I think they're making the right choice to make the expansions more of the same thing as the game, you can never really get enough Hyrule, it will probably be a moderate success.  But with Nintendo's world-famous ability to piss away success like a freshmen on spring break in Mexico pisses out used Corona, they've probably pinned all their hopes on this one thing, that just will not be big enough to carry it all.  It might be  helpful new revenue stream, but in the grand scheme things it's like bringing a garden hose to a house fire.  Yes it will spray water on it, but without something fundamentally different, that house is burning down.

Would this face lie to you?
Of course not, he's not saying anything of substance at all.

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