Let me start by saying that I have been a supporter of Pokémon Sword and Shield since the first trailer. I have defended Game Freak throughout this entire debate over whether or not the latest generation of Pokémon games is good or not. I am happy with the graphics. I am happy with the number of Pokémon that were originally included. I am fine with the story, though I do miss a Team Rocket style villain narrative. I purchased the double pack on launch day and have put 80 hours into Pokémon Sword at the time of originally writing this. By the time of publishing it will be considerably more. I still maintain that Pokémon Sword and Shield, though far from perfect games, are good additions to the Pokémon main franchise. And I would have said this was a successful generation . . . until this latest Nintendo Direct.
On January 9th, Nintendo announced that Pokémon Sword and Shield would be getting a paid DLC expansion pass. Now we don’t have all the information yet but what we do know from the presentation is that two additional wild areas are being added to the games with additional story, characters, clothing, and Pokémon. Supposedly 200 or more additional Pokémon will be added to the games comprised of mostly older Pokémon, some with Galar versions, and a few new additions. Both new areas and content will be added to your version of the game with the purchase of a single $30 expansion pass. A different expansion pass is required for purchase for Sword and Shield meaning that if you want the expansion pass for both games you have to purchase two $30 DLC expansion passes. I’m sorry but I can’t defend Game Freak on this decision.
I have a lot of problems with the way Pokémon Sword and Shield are being managed. At face value I was fine with the games at launch but in light of this new information I’m very unhappy. I always buy both games in the Pokémon generations I participate in. There’s little reason for this. You could always trade to get the Pokémon missing from your version. And with the ability to keep multiple saves you could make sure to get all the starters and legendaries. Sadly you can no longer have multiple saves in one account. So while you can build multiple accounts and trade between them, if you can find another Switch or friend to be a middle man, you can’t do everything with the simplicity that you once could. I don’t agree with that but I guess I understand it. But with this generation the differences between the two games are more than just Pokémon available. There are legitimate differences in the content for each game such as the gym leaders. I really don’t like this change. Even though I bought both versions, I am against the idea that players who only bought one version didn’t get to experience all the content this generation of Pokémon has to offer, even before an expansion pass was announced. But I could at least acknowledge that in differentiating the content, there’s more value in buying both versions.
The problem with adding additional content, paid or otherwise, is that while it adds value to purchasing one version it decreases the possibility/value/necessity of buying both. As I said, I’ve put 80 hours into Sword and I still haven’t completed the Pokedex or the Battle Tower. The longer it takes me to complete Sword, the less likely I am to play Shield. Because one can only play the same game for so long. Especially with so many other games to play. But more importantly the expansion pass is paid content. It’s one thing to ask someone to buy two versions of the same base game. It’s a much different discussion when paid DLC comes into play because now you’re turning an already big $120 purchase into an exponentially higher one by adding divergent paid DLC to both versions. Suddenly $120 becomes $180. Then another expansion pass turns into $240 and so on. If they had told me from the beginning that they were going to continue updating the games at cost I would have never bought both versions because either version would have been sufficiently long enough and continuously growing to the point of making a second playthrough unnecessary and undesirable. Yet at the same time the content is different thus adding to the amount of missed content by not playing and paying for both versions plus DLC.
Continuously adding content to a single Pokémon game is a great idea in theory. But if that was going to happen then there shouldn’t have been two different versions. Think about Pokémon Yellow, Crystal, and Emerald. There was always only one version of the extended content games for that very reason. It’s too much to ask players to play the game up to four times. Really it’s too much to ask players to play the game two times and really that’s what’s good about the expansion pass. Players can now go straight into the additional content without replaying the base game. But that content should be the same for both versions of the game. Or really there should just be one version of the game so everyone gets to play all the content in a manageable amount of time for a manageable cost. At the very least the DLC should be the same for both versions or you should get both versions of DLC for buying the expansion pass once. Never before in any game on any platform have people been asked to purchase the same DLC twice to experience everything a game has to offer. That’s ludicrous even by EA standards. The fact that I’m citing EA as the good guy versus Nintendo is sad and appalling for so many reasons.
Another issue I have with the expansion pass is that now we actually do have a responsibility to be honest and acknowledge that all those gen 8 nay-sayers were right. I defended Game Freak’s decision to limit the number of Pokémon to just 400 because of limited resources and time. That made sense to me and seemed fair. But now less than two months after release I’m being told that 200+ Pokémon are being added less than a year after release at cost? That’s fishy. That timeline does not say to me that Game Freak didn’t have time to add more Pokémon. That tells me they purposely left Pokémon out so they could then justify adding paid DLC. If this was more than a year after release and the game was already basically dead and they were trying to bring new life into it and they said they had spent the last year working to create more content I could buy that. I’d still not be happy with being asked to spend an additional $30/$60 for the additional Pokémon but the added areas and story would make it seem more justifiable. But not even half a year after release I’m being told more than half the currently available Pokémon are almost ready at a 50% markup from the base price. I’m sorry but that is just flat out predatory capitalism. Sure you don’t technically have to spend money to get them because you could trade for them but come one. Who in their right mind will trade for more than 200 Pokémon and what would even be the point? The fun is in catching them. This could have been managed way better. At the very least it should have been announced before launch so people could make a more informed decision about buying the games. Especially when you consider how Nintendo handles pricing for games and DLC.
If I had been told about this DLC before launch I would have only bought Pokémon Sword and I probably wouldn’t have even bought that at launch. Because we all know there’s going to be a Pokémon Sword “Full Version” that includes the DLC. And we know that while the base version and expansion pass prices will never go down separately, the full version will get slight discounts for holiday sales. Look at Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle as a relevant example. If you bought the vanilla version of the game like I did then you were forced to buy the DLC at full price to get the additional content because the season pass never went down in price on the e-shop. But if you waited then you could have gotten the gold version of the game that includes the season pass at a major discount. That’s exactly what’s going to eventually happen with Pokémon Sword and Shield. And that’s fine when you’re made aware of it before making an initial purchase. Take Ubisoft games not on Nintendo Switch for example. They are extremely transparent about their content cycle so you know almost exactly what you are and aren’t getting when you buy their games at launch and choose the vanilla version over the gold version. But Game Freak didn’t give us the ability to make an informed and financially sound purchasing decision for this gen. I would much rather have bought one version of the game and DLC for $90 than bought two versions of the base game and no DLC for $120 plus one or possibly both expansion passes for an additional $30 or $60.
From Nintendo’s point of view this is all working according to plan. They wanted us to buy both versions of the game and at least one if not both expansion passes. That’s more money for them. But we’ve seen countless times that screwing over your user base with backhanded pricing models only works so well in the long term. I don’t see many people buying into gen nine knowing how things now work with the franchise. I know I won’t be buying another Pokémon game at launch. And I certainly won’t be buying both versions if I’m going to have to account for paid DLC as well. So while they may have made more money in the short run, they’re only hurting themselves in the long run. And again I’m speaking as someone who defended the release versions of Sword and Shield. I supported Game Freak’s initial product. But I can’t in good conscience do that now. Because it’s now clear that they did just cheap out and pull content to charge us for it soon after release.
Let us also remember that this is just the beginning of the profiteering. Pokémon Home, which was mentioned in the Direct as well, is a paid service that will let you bring your other Pokémon into the games. You can’t trade with yourself to get all the Pokémon even if you do buy both versions unless you take the time to create a second account and install it onto another Switch. This makes the idea of picking up a second Switch seem way more sensible than in the Gameboy days. Because now trading with yourself is way more trouble and a security risk when you do it with a borrowed console. It’s like every aspect of Pokémon has become more inconvenient and costly while the overall quality of the experience has gone down. And the worst part is that it didn’t have to be this way. There are a few very simple measures that could have been implemented to make the entire experience way more user friendly and cost effective so that it didn’t seem like Game Freak was taking advantage.
For starters, Pokémon Home, which I personally wouldn’t be using either way, should absolutely be a free service when all Pokémon aren’t in the latest game to begin with. That should have been used as an apology not a means of profit. If all the old Pokémon were available in the base game then it would be totally justifiable to charge for the luxury of bringing Pokémon over from another platform and generation to the Switch. The DLC should not be different between both versions. Even if the base games are different, they should not be asking players to purchase DLC twice. It should be that once you’ve played through both versions of the base game then you just commit to one version as the games continue to grow. Or at the very least buying the expansion pass should give you all the content for both versions at a single $30 price tag, which is already too high a price for DLC, Nintendo or otherwise.
At this point they really need to do away with the dual versions model if they’re going to run on a paid DLC profit model from here on out. There should just be a single version in each gen that contains all the available Pokémon, including legendaries, and then you just buy the game and additional DLC once each time to experience all the content. I’m honestly shocked that Game Freak actively did literally everything in their power to poison the well in this way when they already had about a 50% disapproval rating for these games at launch. The audience was split down the middle on whether or not Sword and Shield were good at release. Now that is going to shift considerably. And their long term profits will suffer because of it. In fact, these decisions really only make sense in a scenario where this is the very last new generation of Pokémon. I doubt that’s the case but imagine if it is. Suddenly all this blatant greed makes perfect sense. Because you would logically squeeze every dime you could out of the public before killing off the franchise. You wouldn’t have to care about long term customers because you’d know that you didn’t need them anymore. You could just milk them dry one last time and then not care if they were never going to buy another Pokémon game because you’d secretly know that they weren’t going to have the chance to regardless. Again, I don’t think that’s what is happening here, but it would make way more sense than what we’re currently seeing.
Honestly I no longer know what direction I’m going in with Pokémon this gen. I was happy playing Sword and was almost done with the Pokedex. Then I was going to play Shield and be done for this gen after finishing that game and Pokedex. But now I have to decide if I buy the DLC, do I even take the time to play Shield, and how to manage all this divergent content. I’ve never regretted buying a Pokémon game before this gen. But the fun has all been sucked away with all these decisions that we’ve never had to make before while also having Game Freak spit in our faces. It’s an odd time to be a Pokémon fan. Maybe I too won’t be buying into gen 9 after this whole ordeal.
Update: Ultimately I sold my unused copy of Pokémon Shield at a financial loss and used the money to buy the Sword expansion pass. I will never buy two versions of a Pokémon game ever again.