Mewtwo may not be for mew-you
Nintendo recently announced that classic Pokémon character and fan favorite Mewtwo will be in Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U and 3DS, but only for those who buy both games. Immediately, fans wondered if this meant that one or both games would get additional DLC characters. Maybe the 3DS would get exclusive DLC characters like Chorus Kids, Roy, Chibi Robo, or Lucas, and the Wii U would get Ice Climbers, Snake, the Advance Wars trio, or someone from Fatal Frame?
Of course, that discussion led to people upset at the idea that they’d be “forced” to buy the 3DS version if they wanted to play as Lucas, or the Wii U version if they wanted the Ice Climbers. This was just an extension of the anger that swelled when people were told that they’ll have to get both versions of the game to have Mewtwo. Others rationalized that Nintendo would have to sell Mewtwo separately at one point or another. I mean, they’d have to, right? If the fans want it, and are willing to pay for it, then surely they’d give them that opportunity.
Maybe not. Nintendo has a long history of distributing both physical and digital products in extremely limited quantities. They know the only reason anyone cares about event Pokémon is that not everyone can get them. This is just one example of their long history of creating fictional economies, driven by the allure of “Super Exclusives” that are unobtainable for most, but exciting for all. At least in theory.
The GameCube entry in the Animal Crossing series had NES games that could only be unlocked by those who bought a Game Boy Advance, a Game Boy Advance e-Reader, and got lucky enough to get an NES game card in a pack of random Animal Crossing trading cards. Ironically, one of those games was Ice Climbers, the game featuring the titular Arctic scalers that many are hoping will be made playable through future Super Smash Bros. Wii U DLC. Nintendo required that you buy a GameCube, a GameCube game, a Game Boy Advance, an e-Reader, and god knows how many packs of Animal Crossing cards to play the God Damn Ice Climbers. I have no doubt that they might make people work just as hard to play Mewtwo in Smash.
There were other NES games in Animal Crossing that Nintendo never provided us with “official” methods to unlock. You can get Punch-Out via a cheat, but The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. remain walled off to this day. then there was the four game Zelda compilation for the GameCube, containing Zelda 1, Zelda 2, Ocarina of Time, and Majora’s Mask. It was never made available in stores, and was instead given out as a free gift to Nintendo Power subscribers. The same goes for the Ocarina of Time: Master’s Quest disc for the GameCube. One could only obtain that by pre-ordering Wind Waker.
One of my favorite examples of Nintendo creating scarcity is Deoxys, the Game Boy Advance-era event Pokémon. It was only available to people who could visit the Nintendo World Store in New York between June 21st and July 8th, 2008, or to those who lived in Europe and were willing to mail their Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald carts to Nintendo Headquarters. I missed the boat on that one, so I hatched an elaborate scheme to trick Nintendo of Europe into believing I was not one, but two Pokémon-loving British children in order to get double the Deoxys. Needless to say, those two Deoxys are the most interesting Pokémon in my collection.
You might think this kind of stuff would have stopped after we entered the world of high speed internet, but you’d be wrong. Not that long ago, Nintendo released a DSiWare game called Nintendoji, but only for Club Nintendo members in Japan. Before that they did the same with Doc Louis’s Punch-Out on WiiWare, but at least that wasn’t Japan only. There were also several DS carts that were only available as Club Nintendo gifts, like Tingle’s Balloon Fight and Zekkyō Senshi Sakeburein. These are all games Nintendo could have sold at some point after the fact. They haven’t. They either don’t want to diminish their value to collectors, don’t care about those potential sales, or both.
More recently they released a special edition of Hyrule Warriors with a scarf. It wasn’t cheap, but many people still wanted this scarf. Some wanted it more than the game. It’s fair to guess that Nintendo could have sold ten thousand of these special edition game-and-scarf bundles. Instead, they put them on sale for one night only, in one place. Reports state they sold 500. There were around 600 people in line. As of today, they have announced no plans to produce and distribute more. They know the demand is there. They know they could make a profit off more game-and-scarfs. They are consciously walking away from money in the bank.
And don’t even get me started on the 3DS Ambassador program’s GBA games.
Knowing this makes me less than confident that Nintendo will make the Mewtwo DLC available as a separate purchase at a later date. Sure, they would make money from it. They’d also risk betraying all the people who are going to buy the 3DS and Wii U games because that’s the only way they know for sure they’ll get Mewtwo. They’ve created an economy where Mewtwo is the most valuable character in the current Smash Bros. world. Is it worth it to diminish that value by putting him up for sale later? It all depends on how many more copies of the Wii U and 3DS games they’ll sell because of this deal, and how much they want to instill the idea that they mean it when they say the only way to get (blank special Nintendo thing) is to (do blank ridiculous task or buy blank amount of stuff).
I can see both sides of it from a business perspective, and from a consumer perspective. As a consumer, it feels kind of awesome to have a story attached to your virtual possessions, to know that you went through extraordinary means to obtain some relatively useless code on a Game Boy Advance cartridge. Would I feel the same way if I didn’t have those means at my disposal? If that were the case, would I find some other way to get that Pokémon? More so, would we be as motivated to work and create if everything we wanted was always on-hand? Would the developers of Project M have bothered to put so much time and energy into their amazing fan project if Super Smash Bros. Brawl had all the characters from prior games in the series, and played “pretty much” like Super Smash Bros. Melee?
It’s undeniable that some people feel bad when Nintendo sets up barriers between their games and their potential players, but that doesn’t mean it’s an entirely bad strategy. Those barriers can sometimes lead to interesting things. Like a lot of big business concepts, it’s not a black or white, all pros or all cons scenario. What are the pros and cons for you, and how does your perspective reflect what you value?