Nintendo’s Big Splatoon Gamble Has Paid Off

Nintendo’s Big Splatoon Gamble Has Paid Off

Splatoon came out in May. It is now August. I am still talking about Splatoon with my friends. I am still delightfully tweeting pictures of outfits and hilarious Miiverse posts, even the ones with bad meme jokes. And along with all of that, I’m still playing.

Not only is Splatoon is one of my most played games of the year, it’s also selling pretty well for Nintendo, too.

This is a pretty incredible achievement for Splatoon, a game that had the odds stacked against it from the start. Nevermind the unusual ink mechanics, or the fact it’s an exclusive on a console that isn’t doing so hot. Content™-wise, Splatoon was hurting at launch. The single-player could be completed in a few hours, and the multiplayer only had five maps. Worse, Splatoon does this peculiar thing where it limits the maps you can play on, depending on the time of day. Five maps really meant two maps on rotation, which you had to play over and over again until the game decided to change them. The starting maps were pretty good, but it was pretty easy to get sick of them.

This is where Nintendo’s content support plan came in. Splatoon‘s launch came with the promise of future content: ranked mode was locked until a certain number of people reached level 10. Nintendo also promised more clear-cut regular updates as well, which would range from maps, gear, and even special events. These updates were set to drop every few weeks. Sounds like a reasonable way to try to keep a game alive, yeah?

Here’s the kicker. All of the DLC that Nintendo was promising? It was already on the disc. You could go on YouTube and see hackers playing with all sorts of unreleased toys. Meaning: Nintendo was deliberately launching a sparse game. This decision baffled much of the game’s community. Why would Nintendo do something like this? Why can’t people simply play what they paid for?

It’s an argument we see often when it comes to downloadable content; people are often worried about what’s on the disc versus what they can actually play. Fortunately, Nintendo has had the good sense not to charge for any of the new stuff they have released thus far. It also helped that, as time went on, Nintendo started releasing new goodies ahead of the schedule they initially set. It made Splatoon feel like an advent calendar; a game that constantly had something new to look forward to — and you never knew when it might drop. It’s the strangest DLC strategy I’ve ever seen…but it’s working.

As of this writing, Splatoon has released a handful of new maps, each of which bring something new to the table. I’m particularly fond of Camp Triggerfish, a map that resembles a wooden fort and features a number of dangerous rope paths. Splatoon has also received a ton of awesome weapons, including the paintbrush, the gatling gun, and the bucket. I like these DLC weapons better than the ones that the game launched with — not only are they unique, they’re a damn joy to use. Nintendo has created some of the best weapons in a shooter in recent memory, period.

The biggest update to Splatoon, however, has been the much-hyped August update. Nintendo has been talking about it since launch; it was set to be the update that would fix many of Splatoon’s problems. Notably, the update came with the ability to squad up with your teammates — something which, bafflingly, wasn’t possible when the game launched. The update also included a number of stylish new outfits, accessories, and weapons.

It all sounds good on paper, but it’s still come with a number of very… “Nintendo” decisions. Forming squads is only possible in ranked mode, a game-type that is too hardcore for casual play with friends. Isn’t Splatoon supposed to be about having fun with friends? The design here makes no sense. What makes it particularly heartbreaking, though, is that squad battles let you change your weapons in-between battles — something which, amazingly, wasn’t possible before the update. Swapping weapons mid-match or between skirmishes is such basic functionality for a shooter, and it’s galling that Splatoon still doesn’t allow it in every game mode.

Despite this, the August update has been a worthy addition to Splatoon. That’s not because of the maps, or the excellent new weapons, or the fact that private battles let you create wacky new mini-games. It’s because of the clothes. Look at this.

Nintendo’s Big Splatoon Gamble Has Paid Off
Nintendo’s Big Splatoon Gamble Has Paid Off

I want to wear that stuff. I want to make my squid look as cool as possible. I want Splatoon to go all out with the fashion stuff, because it’s a large part of what gives the game such a unique flair. I care far less about how many maps Splatoon has than I do about how to make my squid look cuter (without sacrificing utility) in battle. The first thing I did after the big August update was roam around my plaza, looking for squids with new clothes — I wanted to put in as many orders as I could for gear not available in my own game. Maybe I’m an outlier in that area. Regardless, I am ecstatic that Nintendo is putting as much care into the aesthetics of Splatoon as they are the mechanics and modes.

Splatoon’s DLC push has almost bordered on overwhelming, particularly when it comes to weapons. There are so many of them! I can’t help but wonder if Nintendo created the drip-feed for precisely that reason, to try to ease players into learning the ins and outs of a shooter that works very differently from what they may be used to. The new post-release maps and weapons are more complex than what the game initially offered, and Splatoon is, best as I can tell, Nintendo’s attempt to make the most accessible shooter ever. Given Nintendo’s insistence on trying to be your mum — recall how many Nintendo games gently tell you that maybe it’s time to stop playing? — the theory that they purposefully staggered the release of Splatoon’s already complete content for the benefit of the players doesn’t seem outrageous, anyway.

The best thing about Nintendo’s DLC strategy with Splatoon is that they’re not actually done yet. Later tonight, a new mode drops. Splatoon hackers have found that there’s a chance that the game will let us play as an entirely different race called Octolings soon, something which Splatoon’s social media accounts also seem to be hinting at pretty strongly. I have a feeling that I’m going to be playing Splatoon for a long while yet.

Aside from DLC, one of the things that have kept the game buzzing are Splatfests. Splatfest is monthly event that happens in the game, and each Splatfest centres around a certain theme. The game gives you a choice between two options — “Dogs and Cats,” for example. You can cast a vote for your favourite thing, and in doing so, you join that team. Once you join a team, you become the other team’s mortal enemy for a weekend. All battles waged during Splatfest are between the two teams, and the more you win, the more points you score for your team. At the end of the event, votes for the teams and win percentages of matches are tallied up to decide an overall Splatfest winner.

Nintendo’s Big Splatoon Gamble Has Paid Off

Splatoon’s Animal Crossing influence shines brightest during Splatfest. I have fond memories of ducking out of a Christmas party once so I could play Animal Crossing — I wanted to celebrate a rare holiday event with my town. It only happens once a year, after all! Splatfest takes a similar concept to heart, and creates regular capital-E Events that make other games’ “double XP weekend” look like uninspired garbage. The only thing that comes close is Destiny‘s Iron Banner event, though the Iron Banner has never let players duke it out as Team Dog vs. Team Cat.

During Splatfest, the entire game changes. It becomes night time, and the maps have new music. The main plaza lights up, and Marie and Callie — Splatoon’s fictional pop stars — come out to regale Inklings with their musical melodies. It’s hype as fuck. I get pumped just thinking about it. It feels like Nintendo’s take on how Japanese cities come alive at night, and it’s wonderful. My only complaint is that it puts you in the mood to dance, but Splatoon doesn’t actually have any dancing emotes. Get on that, Nintendo.

People get really heated about Splatfest, too! The Miiverse drawings that hover about Inkling’s heads all become about the different Splatfest teams. Players vie for the best joke or jab at the enemy, or try to convince you why their side is the best.

Nintendo’s Big Splatoon Gamble Has Paid Off

A couple of months ago, I said Splatoon was the most exciting shooter I’ve played in years. The big unknown was whether or not a strange Nintendo shooter starring squids could find lasting traction in a sea full of other shooters. Could Splatoon win people’s hearts? Would people still care about Splatoon in a few months?

Here we are a few months later, and so far the answer to both of those questions has been “yes.” More than anything else, Splatoon has been defined by a feeling of community. Even when you’re reading about why your Splatfest team sucks, there is a strong sense of camaraderie in Splatoon. Our wars are waged with ink, and together we make a giant mess. The chaos would not be possible without all of us pitching in. Let’s have a good time, yeah?


  • I’ve already lost interest in it. It was fun for the first two months but I’ve moved on from it.

  • I like the map rotation idea, if only because I get to see Callie every few hours. They need more than two in a rotation though as it’s not so much a rotation as a coin flip so you can play several matches in a row on the same map. I also don’t really have a problem with the way they designed the “DLC” to be on disc. Linking it to player performance (or distributed player performance) puts it in the same class as unlocking costumes or extras through gameplay.

    My interest has waned rapidly though. I exceeded level 20 and got myself into the B ranks but now it’s become a sometimes food.

  • Their promotion has been spot on too.
    Localised adverts, competitions and practical time slots was really smart.

  • If this is considered a ‘pay off’ im worried about the state of gaming now.

    Selling and incomplete game at full price. I remember we used to slam companies for this, now we’re celebrating it?

    No thanks

    • Game wasn’t incomplete though, all content was on disc, so you bought a complete game it’s just gated behind a timer.

        • Kinda makes sense to me. You’ve got a brand new IP in a genre that’s oversaturated and on a console very few are using regularly. The best way to keep people interested would be feeding new and free content on a regular basis (and not a map pack every two/three months like COD). I can understand people not liking the lack of content at first, but from a marketing and logistics perspective it makes perfect sense.

          • Maybe im just an old fuddy duddy and remember the days when you paid for a game, you got the whole game

          • I know what you mean. There are a few games (someone below mentioned Mortal Kombat which definitely falls into this trap) that follow this new mentality, which is a shame. I’m just kinda glad Nintendo hasn’t gone down that road.

        • I’m glad you were forced to get to level 10 to unlock ranked. If I had my way, I might even increase that to level 20, since a ton of people who don’t seem to be very proficient at the game are playing ranked and getting destroyed.

    • Yeah, from the things people were saying I baulked a bit with the whole “selling an incomplete game?” thing. But once I got it I saw how that really wasn’t the case. MK8, that felt more like an incomplete game that got rushed out the door only to be fixed later. This one, everything you do outside of single player is managed by the server, it dials up what gear you have available in the shops, what maps come up, what modes come up, what weapons are available to you. The game was in a highly enjoyable state from the start, and they’d left things to unlock over time to prolong the enjoyment and stop everyone burning through the entire thing right at the start.

      It’s worked for me, I’m still playing the game pretty much daily.

    • The weirdest thing is it wasn’t incomplete. The whole game was already there. All the stuff they’ve released since was on the disk. Did you even read the article actually?

    • THat’s why the headline calls it a big gamble.
      However, if all game modes and maps were playable from the start, the low population of Wii U onlie games would make matchmaking take forever. That’s why drip feeding has worked here. And, we’re not paying for it, it’s not locked disc DLC, it’s free updates, so it’s not as bad.
      However, they had to get it perfect, or it culd have killed off the game.

    • In fairness, all of the on-disc content is coming out for free. It’s not on-disc AND locked behind a paywall, like some…other companies I know *cough* Capcom *cough*

  • my 5 and 3 yr old play this more than me….

    I really should play it more as it really is a fun game.

  • I love this game soooooo much. I have been having fun with a combination of ninja squid and the sploosh’o’matic. It is not a very popular weapon, but I have been having a blast being all sneaky with it.

    • Yea my combination is ninja squid, ink resist and either dmg up or squid speed up (purely to offset the decrease from ninja squid) depending on my weapon. So much fun

  • I like the way it was set out, because it was new and it was a bit hard to change to, but I do love that even playing it 30 minutes a day is rewarding enough. I don’t have to sink 2 hours into it to get enjoyment from it.

  • They have drip fed us to keep people from quickly exhausting all features and then stopping.
    And that single player campaign is one of the most fun for me for quite a few years. Just so glad they didn’t go with the over emotional Halo 4 soapie style!

  • I just want to be able to play against my friends 🙁 1v1 and then ranked games is pretty much opposite ends of the spectrum: I want my goodtiems team battles with and against my friends only.

  • I still can’t get how people get to aim so perfectly. Are they using gyro control or stick. Some of them looks too fast to be stick control, when I’m using gyro I just can’t seem to aim as fast and sharp.

    • Majority of players use the gyro, it definitely sits somewhere between twin sticks and kb/mouse in-terms of response time / accuracy /sensitivity.

    • You gotta use them in conjunction with each other. And I suppose it’s just a matter of practice makes perfect, too.

  • I’m curious now to see if Splatoon becomes a franchise like Mario Kart with regular new editions with each new console release, or whether it might make a handheld appearance at some point. That, and if Nintendo adopts a similar DLC policy with Mario Kart in the future.

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!