Op-Ed: Defending the Mercedes-Benz DLC in Mario Kart 8

Or, “How I learned to stop complaining and love free content.”

By Marc Deschamps. Posted 08/28/2014 09:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

This week, Mario Kart 8 players will have three new karts to choose from when they download the game’s first substantial update. While the idea of Nintendo finally embracing downloadable content should excite Nintendo fans, those aforementioned karts are licensed Mercedes-Benz vehicles, and they’ve led to quite a bit of debate in the gaming community. Free downloadable content is usually considered a good thing, but a number of pundits are condemning Nintendo for the product placement. Personally, I think fans should embrace this week’s update. I’m pretty excited about the new additions to the game, and I think you should be too.

Downloadable content has been a cause for concern since it was first introduced. The concept of extending the lifespan of our games might sound good on paper, but the potential for abuse has always made it a controversial topic. After all, why should publishers reward players with unlockable extras when they can charge for them, instead? It’s something we’ve frequently seen, and it’s an unfortunate reality of the industry in its current form. We’ve seen plenty of content that publishers have locked away on-disc, with no way to access it without paying more money. It’s a practice that often leaves a bad taste in the mouths of console gamers, and it isn’t a far cry from the sort of thing we see in Facebook games like Candy Crush.

What really amazes me about the negative reaction to the Mercedes-Benz DLC is the fact that fans are complaining about a free extra. This isn’t something that was already on disc (in which case the complaining would probably be way worse): this is a free download that adds three new vehicles for fans to use. Or not use. It’s totally possible to ignore that the cars even exist. This isn’t a new billboard added to Peach’s Castle course. It’s three racers with their own sets of attributes and abilities. As far as in-game advertising goes, it’s probably one of the least offensive I’ve ever seen.

Could be worse…

The Mercedes-Benz deal shouldn’t be that unusual to gamers, either. In-game advertising has existed since the days of the original Nintendo (Pizza Hut in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game, anyone?). In fact, it’s only become more common over the last decade or so. While Nintendo-published games are usually an exception, this type of advertising isn’t unprecedented for the company. Kawasaki was an official sponsor of Wave Race 64, and there was a good deal of in-game advertising to remind players of that fact. Those Kawasaki logos didn’t hurt the game. In fact, few people probably even remember that they existed, since they’ve been removed from the game’s Virtual Console release. That extra licensing money probably helped Nintendo at the time, and the publisher could use those extra coins with Wii U sales the way that they are.

If the fact that Mercedes-Benz vehicles are being added to the roster doesn’t appeal to you, the rest of the changes coming this week should. The new vehicles will be accompanied by a number of patches and options that will improve the overall experience. Every person playing Mario Kart 8 knows the frustration that comes from accidentally pressing “show replay” when you’re just trying to start the next track. Nintendo fixed that. It didn’t have to, of course. In the past, it would have been something we were stuck dealing with. Instead, Nintendo took the extra development time, and the Mercedes-Benz promotion likely helped pay for that. I’ll gladly take that trade-off. And all of this ignores the fact that Mario Kart 8 owners now have two extremely inexpensive DLC packs on the way in November and May.

Mario Kart 8 is easily one of the best games on Wii U. Adding a couple of licensed cars to the roster won’t change that. If it helps sell more copies of the game, or the Wii U, I’d call it a very worthwhile trade-off. Everyone should remember that we didn’t all start out as Nintendo fans. There was something that hooked us. Whether it was a Happy Meal toy, or the Super Mario Bros. Super Show, we all found a love for Nintendo somehow. I, for one, am happy to see Nintendo making a strong effort to make the public aware of Wii U and Mario Kart 8. It’s something that the company could stand to do more of if it wants to be successful. And isn’t a more successful Nintendo something we’d all like to see?

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