Nintendo has announced a few plans to enter free-to-play arena with the Nintendo 3DS. They’ve released a free copy of Steel Diver on the Nitnendo eShop earlier today with paid missions and have announced an interesting mini game shop in which users can haggle their way to lower priced add-ons. This is not entirely new as Sega had already announced a free-to-play game (Initial D: Perfect Shift Online) and a plan to release more free-to-play games on the console back in December. However, this signals that Nintendo themselves may embrace the model soon enough.
Historically, Nintendo has been quite adverse to the new revenue models that are being used by other companies. They have not implemented downloadable content until very recently and their online infrastructure continues to be two steps behind their competitors. Nintendo has now incorporated DLCs and has embraced the model and their recent roll out of Nintendo ID can only be a signal of a stronger online community in the near future.
This new stance is at least partially the result of the missed sales targets for the WiiU and 3DS that had Nintendo executives take pay cuts and a number of gamers have taken to online forums to complain about Nintendo’s recent actions. With regards to downloadable content and free-to-play, I cannot help but echo many of the same concerns. Some publishers have obviously abused the system and increased their profits at the expense of the consumer and will continue to do so until gamers rally together. There are many handheld mobile games that feature the pay-to-win model in which games are free and players pay to gain an advantage. Other games have had content carved out and sold separately in a sly attempt to increase prices without changing the sticker price.
Even with such a horrible track record of companies abusing consumers to increase revenues, I have a glimmer of hope with Nintendo. They have tried to resist the trend for long enough and it could actually have a positive influence for consumers as well. I’ve always maintained the opinion that DLCs and free-to-play are great avenues of distribution if they are done properly.
Nintendo’s short history with DLCs has been generally positive. I can’t hide the fact that Fire Emblem: Awakening has created far too many additional levels at a higher price than I’d like, but the DLC levels for New Super Mario Bros. 2 is priced quite reasonably. Other developers have also been quite conscientious of their approaches, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Dual Destinies has an additional case that is priced at 1/5 of the original game with 5 cases, and I also enjoyed the additional lessons that are being sold with Art Academy. If game companies continue to approach DLCs with reasonable prices, I see no reason why this cannot be the new expansion packs of old.
Assuming Nintendo continues with their conservative and rational approach to digital content, I see no reason to judge Nintendo’s free-to-play games based on what other companies have done. Instead, we should remain open minded and hope that Nintendo continues to approach the strategy with the integrity that they have shown so far.