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February 16, 2022

It's Time For Nintendo To Embrace Live Service

I already know the hell I'm going to get for putting 'Nintendo' and 'live service' in the same sentence, but hear me out: Nintendo's online games would be so much better if they had more long term support. I'm sick of getting invested in multiplayer games like Splatoon 2, Pokken, and Arms, only for them to quickly get abandoned and lose any chance they had to develop a strong, loyal community. I see online games as an investment of my time and money, and I wish Nintendo offered a better return in the long run.

When I say 'live service', people often think of either free-to-play, microtransaction-heavy cash grabs that focus on quantity over quality, or they think of misguided, corporate-designated design pushed out to capitalize on the latest gaming trends . There's no reason to take the worst examples of live service and paint the entire industry with the same brush though. For every Clash of Clans or Marvel's Avengers, there's an Apex Legends, Destiny 2, Fortnite, and Final Fantasy 14. These games have all grown over the years, both in terms of content and the size of their communities. With Nintendo's games, the best time to play is typically the day they come out. Without further development, Nintendo just ends up leaving most of its games to die on the vine.

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Splatoon is probably the best example of a series that would thrive with a live service model. Splatoon 2 felt like a necessary sequel given that the first Splatoon was on the Wii U, but why do we need Splatoon 3 instead of ongoing support for Splatoon 2? It had a decent live service release schedule for the first two years with new weapons, map rotations, and Splatfest events, but then it just suddenly stopped. The Octo expansion was a single player campaign that only offered new character options in multiplayer when it should have been a brand new season for multiplayer as well. As excited as I am for Splatoon 3, it would be so much better than a paid update for Splatoon 2. I feel burned knowing that Splatoon 2 will completely die as soon as Splatoon 3 releases, and I'm reluctant to throw myself into Splatoon 3 knowing it will only get a little bit of support before Nintendo leaves it in the dust too.

Splatoon 2 Pearl amiibo gear

Nintendo clearly understands the importance of long term support for its games. It's the reason we're getting a Mario Kart 8 Deluxe track pass after five years instead of Mario Kart 9. Nintendo doesn't want to split the playerbase (or sales) between two different versions of the game when it can just develop more content for the game everyone already plays. This is the philosophy it should bring to all of its online titles.

The obvious argument against this is that Nintendo will make money by selling new games as opposed to developing content for a game no one plays anymore. While this is true, it's also short-sighted. The reason people fall off of Splatoon 2, Pokken, or Arms is because there isn't new content to keep them engaged. It becomes a viscous, inescapable cycle. Super Mario Party underwhelms players because it has limited features, but instead of making Super Mario Part a more valuable game, here comes Mario Party Superstars. Mario Party Superstars hasn't gotten a single update since it launched in October. Will Nintendo make Superstars a better game, or release another Mario Party in a few years? History says the latter, but I'm hoping to see more of the former.

When you treat each game like a platform that's constantly growing, it communicates to players that it's safe to invest their time into it. Nintendo games are overwhelmingly casual and family friendly, but that doesn't mean they need to sit on the shelf until your cousins ​​come over at Thanksgiving. Splatoon, Arms, Pokken, Mario Tennis Aces, Mario Golf: Super Rush, Mario Maker 2, Mario Kart, and the next Mario Strikers all have the potential to be hobby games that people continue to play for years. In reality, they're all good for a weekend or two before you put them back in the case and never think about them again.

Mario Strikers

I'll even take this a step further and include games that are primarily focused on single player campaigns. The New Pokemon Snap update that added three new courses was a welcome surprise, but I'd love consistent releases of map packs just like the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe DLC. Imagine if Super Mario 3D World got a new course every other Friday that the entire community could play and talk about the same way we bond over Wordle. I'd be so much more willing to try games like WarioWare: Get it together if I knew it was going to occasionally receive updates and be part of the conversation again.

Live service isn't going to be best for every type of game. Metroid Dread and Breath of the Wild are complete packages that will benefit much more from sequels than they would from incremental content updates stretched out over many years. But too often Nintendo releases games and quickly moves on, leaving behind any potential it would have had for long term success. It shouldn't take Mario Kart 8 Deluxe five years and 40 million sales to warrant DLC - DLC and post-launch support should be part of the development plan for almost every Nintendo game.

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