Nintendo’s approach to DLC is frustrating

Nintendo DLC strategy frustrating on Switch with single-player and online multiplayer live-service-ish games, short timeline DLC support

Nintendo’s legacy is undeniable, but in many respects, it lags behind the curve with features that are expected in modern gaming. For instance, whereas most developers have plans to implement a roadmap of DLC and keep games fresh, Nintendo is frustratingly consistent about keeping DLC support short and sweet, at best. Splatoon 2 received a fantastic cadence of updates for a while, and single-player games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild enjoyed DLC expansions. Yet regardless of the type of game, Nintendo inevitably ends support earlier than players wanted, with the rare exceptions of games like Super Mario Odyssey that surprisingly received no major DLC.

So, why does Nintendo approach DLC this way? Perhaps it has little impact on its bottom line, but it’s frustrating for players that want more from their games. It’s also strange for Nintendo to not capitalize on its evergreen darlings with new paid content.

The live-service-ish games

Nintendo has been trying to adapt to the times in some places. Mobile titles like Mario Kart Tour now have about 135 characters via updates, and console games like Splatoon 2 were given new maps, weapons, and limited-time events called Splatfests. In either case, the new content strengthened the communities around these games and sustained long-term interest in them. Yet in July 2019, Nintendo officially ended its support of Splatoon 2, and Super Mario Maker 2 support has long since ceased as well. For a game that is driven by community-created content, it seemed strange that Nintendo would abruptly cut off support of Super Mario Maker 2, especially after a consistent slew of great updates like a playable Link and only one additional game style.

Nintendo DLC strategy frustrating on Switch with single-player and online multiplayer live-service-ish games, short timeline DLC support

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate recently came to the end of its second Fighters Pass. No one can begrudge Masahiro Sakurai a well-deserved break, but it’s hard not to wonder why Nintendo wouldn’t want someone to keep making DLC and continue the hype around one of its bestselling titles. It’s clear that Nintendo can pump out a consistent roadmap of quality content for its live-service-ish games when it wants to. But for the most part, the company chooses seemingly arbitrary dates to end its support.

Outside of halting support of a game to focus on a sequel, which I suspect was the case for Splatoon 2, it’s difficult to understand Nintendo’s thought process behind these missed opportunities. In an age where online games like Fortnite continue to thrive year after year and dominate the mindshare of gamers, Nintendo is leaving a lot of potential sales and attention on the table by not adopting more long-term DLC strategies.

The single-player Nintendo DLC expansions

Nintendo’s other approach has been to release traditional DLC expansions that add significant new content to a game. Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country DLC added a new story to experience while Cindered Shadows gave Fire Emblem: Three Houses players a fourth house to choose from. Pokémon Sword and Shield provided new areas and Pokémon that alleviated complaints about the National Dex, and Breath of the Wild presented new shrines, story content, and bonuses like the Master Cycle Zero. Most recently, the final DLC for Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Happy Home Paradise, included fan-favorite features such as designing themed archipelago islands for villagers. DLC expansions like these are content-rich and release more infrequently. However, just like with its more live-service-ish games, Nintendo also ends support for these games far earlier than expected.

We know that many DLC ideas for Breath of the Wild never came to fruition because Nintendo diverted them into the sequel, but it doesn’t explain why Nintendo leaves other games with traditional DLC out to dry. Animal Crossing: New Horizons likely isn’t getting a sequel any time soon, and its tremendous sales provide ample justification to keep the content train rolling. It’s exactly the kind of game that would benefit most from seasonal updates and limited-time crossovers with other Nintendo franchises, like having a Metroid Dread-themed event with unique furniture.

Nintendo DLC strategy frustrating on Switch with single-player and online multiplayer live-service-ish games, short timeline DLC support

So long as the games in question are still popular and selling, which is typically the case on Switch, Nintendo has no reason to not support them for longer, short of diverting resources to sequels. Sustained support likely benefits online games like Splatoon 2 more, but I also have no doubt that Animal Crossing players would jump for joy with more expansions in the mold of Happy Home Paradise.

The bizarrely abandoned games

Nintendo can create DLC for live-service-ish or traditional games without issue, so long as it wants to, but what about the times where it does neither? The seminal Super Mario Odyssey received exactly zero additional worlds despite how well its structure would accommodate that. Luigi’s Mansion 3 enjoyed similar critical praise and sales success, but it only received relatively minor multiplayer DLC. The meager four boards in Super Mario Party were never expanded upon, and it’s clear that Nintendo shifted focus to making the superior Mario Party Superstars instead. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe was recently confirmed to be the highest-selling entry in the series, but outside of the Wii U DLC tracks and minor additions like Breath of the Wild Link, there’s been no real extra support despite how much of a no-brainer it would be.

Games like these are perfectly primed to have their sales bolstered by new content, but it just hasn’t happened. DLC has its place in modern gaming. That might be supporting an online game with seasonal updates, adding significant expansions to single-player games, or testing the waters for new gameplay ideas. It’s easy enough to understand that Nintendo halted support for Super Mario Party, Breath of the Wild, and Splatoon 2 to focus on fully fledged sequels. But the same can’t be said for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Super Mario Odyssey, or Animal Crossing: New Horizons, considering how well they continue to sell.

It begs the question — does DLC not have a significant enough impact on sales for Nintendo to care about in the long term? Looking at how Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has sold despite its frustrating lack of support lends credence to that theory, but Nintendo itself has admitted that DLC can be both financially profitable and maintain high player counts in its games. It’s difficult to discern the true impact of DLC on sales, and it may just be the case that Nintendo prefers to strike it big with new game releases that sell in the multi-millions rather than focusing on DLC that likely isn’t boosting its profits anywhere near as much. Regardless of what the reason may be, Nintendo is still leaving money on the table by not supporting these games for longer, and fans would prefer that Nintendo changes its approach on this sooner rather than later.

Which Nintendo games do you wish had more DLC?

Chirag Pattni
Psychologist and long time gamer. Has a love-hate relationship with technology and enjoys all things Japanese.