Was DLC Planned for Smash 4?

Or does he?

DLC.  A three letter acronym that many gamers consider to be the dirtiest word a video game publisher can utter.   It’s no wonder really, as many companies ship incomplete piece meal titles to consumers only to charge them later for content that should have been included in the game to begin with.  Some publishers (*cough* Capcom *cough*) have even been known to charge for content that was already present on the game disk to begin with.  These sort of practices have caused a rift in the trust between the gaming populace and the giant companies that produce many of their favorite titles.  This has ultimately lead to a negative perception of downloadable content as a whole.

The view point that “DLC is bad” is understandable, but it is also very short sighted.  DLC provides developers with a tool to continually provide their fans with fresh content, thus greatly increasing the life span of a game.  It also allows them to fix problems within a title after launch.  Shigeru Miyamoto himself has famously said that “a delayed game is eventually good; a bad game is bad forever.”  That is no longer necessarily true.  It is for these reasons that fans of the Smash Bros. series had long been looking forward to news about DLC for the franchise.  Well, that wait is now over.   Nintendo’s April 2015 Direct showed us that paid character DLC will now be a part of Smash Bros. moving forward.

Just how long has that DLC been in the works for, though?  We were all lead to believe that Mewtwo was primarily what the team has been working on post launch, but Lucas’ trailer shows a character that is much further along in development than that line of thought would suggest.  So, has Nintendo been planning for Smash DLC all along?   Let’s look at the evidence.

What Sakurai has said about DLC

Back in 2008, Smash Bros. director Masahiro Sakurai was noted as saying that he would have included DLC in Smash Bros. Brawl, but was unable to do so due to the lack of a hard drive on the original Wii.   A lot has changed since Brawl’s launch, and Sakurai’s attitude on the subject of DLC reflects this.  He has had quite a lot to say about the subject since Smash 4 was revealed at E3 2013.  Let’s take a look at a few quotes from that time period.

“At the current time we have no plans. I consider my job at this point, and my main responsibility, to make the Wii U and 3DS versions the best and the fullest experience possible. That said, once finished, it’s the type of thing we could take into consideration, but for now, you could consider DLC as not being in the cards.”

This quote makes it seem like DLC was not on his mind in one way or another at the time.  It seems believable enough.  He also had this to say:

“I am not opposed to DLC. I loved those proposed for the game Fallout 3, for example.”

It’s almost like he’s trying to leave the door open for DLC without confirming  it.   He might as well have said “Hey, not all DLC is bad, right?  I mean Fallout 3 DLC was cool and worth the money, so keep that in mind!”

The next bit of interesting news came in November of 2014, after the final Smash Wii U Nintendo Direct.  That Direct confirmed what many of us had long since suspected, that Nintendo would support the game in some form post launch.  Nintendo showed off Mewtwo, as part of a promotional deal that involved purchasing both the Wii U and 3DS versions of the game and registering them with Club Nintendo, as well as a new Miiverse stage and tournament game mode.  None of these features were paid DLC, however, so future content beyond them still seemed uncertain.  Let us look at Sakurai’s quotes from this time period.

“What I can say now about paid DLC is that we aren’t working on anything at the moment. We’ve put all our efforts into making the actual game. Creating DLC would involve large additional costs and require the involvement of a lot of people.”

This seems pretty self explanatory.  He goes on to say the following.

“Creating a single fighter involves a huge investment, and we’ve already been giving it our all and investing a lot of work in the characters currently available in the game, and I think it’s an incredible package in terms of the sheer amount of content in the game. But it might be that people may not understand and may think that I am not offering enough just by looking at DLC itself.”

“As for why Mewtwo isn’t paid content from the start, releasing that character is an experiment meant to act as a foothold in content distribution; thus it’s simply meant as part of the service we’re providing to gamers.”

No DLC for a while then?  Or maybe he just didn’t want gamers to unfairly (in his opinion) judge him based on the common conception of DLC practices.  Take a look at the following quote that was taken from the same interview and judge for yourself.

“However, I think there might be criticism that we are cutting up content to sell characters one by one, or that we are adding things later that should have been there from the start.”

Gematsu Leak and DLC

Sal Romano, editor of Gematsu.com, firmly entrenched himself in the annals of Smash Bros speculation history due to the infamous “Gematsu Leak.”  A day before E3 2013 he posted his “unlikely predictions” for Smash Wii U character reveals. They were:

  • Mega Man
  • Animal Crossing Guy
  • Wii Fit Trainer
  • Little Mac
  • Pac-Man
  • Mii

After 3 of the 6 were revealed the following day at E3, Sal stepped forward with information of a purported “leaker” that had e-mailed him the information.  Sal eventually received a second e-mail in April of 2014 which added even more new characters to the leaked roster.  There characters were:

  • Shulk
  • Palutena
  • Chrom
  • Chorus Men
  • Pokemon from Pokemon X and Y

The legitimacy of this leak is still being fought over, but there are a few interesting things to note.   9 out of the 11 fighters on the list ended up making it into the game.  Of the two that did not make, one (Chrom) was mentioned by Sakurai to at least have been considered for playable status.  The other fighter(s) that did not make the final cut are the Chorus Men.   It should be noted that datamining the Wii U Smash Bros. game revealed that placeholder data for a franchise entitled “Rhythm” was found near the emblems for playable franchises.  (See more here https://sourcegaming.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/smash-4-wii-u-data-discoveries/ This likely points to a character from the Chorus Men’s home series, Rhythm Heaven, having been planned and cut at some point in development.  All in all, it seems very likely that Sal’s leaker had at least some insider knowledge.

What does this have to do with Smash Bros. DLC?  Well, Sal’s source sent a third e-mail which is of particular interest to this discussion.   It states that:

  • There has been internal debate about keeping Lucas versus Ness, apparently Lucas is likely to get the cut
  • Nintendo is planning post-launch character DLC, source doesn’t like this as he thinks it’s greedy

After this e-mail was released, many people made the logical assumption that Lucas had been cut but would return as DLC.  If we are to assume that the Gematsu leaker had actual information then it would appear that Smash DLC had been in the works for quite some time.

Smash 6

In April 2014,  Bandai Namco posted an ad for programmers for a “Smash Bros. 6.”  The post was on e-Career FA, a Japanese career board which is routinely used by many Japanese video game developers to recruit talent.  Interestingly enough, the job posting was for work to be done in 2015 even though Smash Bros. for Wii U was scheduled to (and indeed did) launch in 2014.

The ad stated the following:

“Social games are currently a big hit, but the current state of job opportunities for making retail games is critically low. In the midst of this, this will likely be your only chance to be part of a development project for the Smash Bros. [series], which has surpassed a total of 10 million in worldwide sales. And Bandai Namco believes that now is the best time to recruit programmers for retail games.”

The ad was taken down within a day, shortly after major video game news outlets began reporting on it.  The listing itself was posted by a consultant by the name of Tatsuya Matsumura.  He also uploaded career opportunities for other major video game clients, so odds are that it was not a hoax post.  Sakurai stated in an interview dated sometime after this job listing was posted that he thought of Smash Bros. Wii U and Smash Bros. 3DS as Smash Bros. 4 and 5.   This would make the proposed Smash Bros. 6 title make a bit more sense, but what was it?  Perhaps it was a job listing for Smash DLC?

 Datamining and DLC

Our own PushDustin has found quite a few items while perusing the files of the 3DS and Wii U versions of Smash that point towards possible DLC.

Let’s have a look at a few of the more curious items.

3DS Additional Page Arrows

What appears to be next page arrows were found with the both the stage and character icons, and seem to fit very well on the empty spaces on both the character selection and stage selection screens.  One would expect to see these sort of icons on the 3DS as shrinking the icons any further would result in them being almost unreadable on the classic 3DS model.  The following two images are for use on the character selection screen.

This next Icon is from the stage selection screen.  This one is particularly convincing, largely because the 3DS stage selection screen has that odd empty space.  The icon looks like it was literally made to fit on the bottom right portion of the screen.  Probably because it was.  Here, look at this mock up:

Look at how well the arrow fits on the screen.  Why else would the bottom row not be centered?  That arrow could easily lead to a second page of downloaded stages.  To further reinforce this theory, the following unused line of text was also found in the files: “See stages you have downloaded.”  This could possibly be a relic from a time when stage builder was feature on the 3DS, but it is doubtful as no other traces of the mode can be found.

In Game Shop and Extra All Star Stages

There is also evidence of an in game shop.  These lines of text are found in the 3DS version of the game and are currently unused:

Unable to connect.
You’ve been disconnected.
You will need to update the software via Nintendo eShop before using the in-game shop.

There is very little doubt in my mind that this refers to a DLC shop much like the one found in another Nintendo game, Mario Kart 8.

While this text is absent from the Wii U version, we do have a mysterious texture that is likely related to downloadable content.  Below you will see a mock up of where it may go.

Finally we come to the extra Stage Clear icons.

These icons are used whenever a player completes All Star mode on the 3DS.  Stages 1-6 are used in the final game, while stages 7-9 do not appear at all.  If they ever were implemented, however, the game could host up to 22 additional characters in All Star mode.

Was it planned all along?

Reviewing all the evidence, it becomes readily apparent that Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS was made with the ability to receive DLC from the start, even if paid DLC was not a certainty at the time of its release.  It is very hard for me personally, knowing how much Nintendo has embraced DLC in the last few years (in titles such as Mario Kart 8, Fire Emblem: Awakening, and Mario Golf,) to believe that DLC plans were not laid out far in advance of Smash 4’s completion.   I cannot say with any sort of certainty that Smash Bros. was always meant to have DLC.   I do not, after all, have any sort of insider knowledge of the industry in general or of Smash development in particular.  Instead I will say nothing, and leave you with this.

Take it for what it’s worth.

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  1. FInally an article worth reading that has actual facts and was well thought out. I’ve seen many shitty articles, but this one was actually really informative. A+

  2. First off I would like to say thank you for writing this article. While I had already known about this being part of the speculation scene from June, 2011 until mid-December 2014 (and recently coming back thanks to the announcement of the Smash Ballot), it is nice to receive a refresher on this. However, this article has substantiated my fear that Nintendo has held back certain popular veterans as DLC over newcomers due to the increased profit that Nintendo would gain from it.

    This part in particular has caught my attention:
    “There has been internal debate about keeping Lucas versus Ness, apparently Lucas is likely to get the cut
    Nintendo is planning post-launch character DLC, source doesn’t like this as he thinks it’s greedy”

    I’ll dissect this. First, here is this:
    “There has been internal debate about keeping Lucas versus Ness, apparently Lucas is likely to get the cut”

    This makes me think Nintendo had a role in the character decision on the initial roster… and not exactly in a good way. Even thought I am not fond of Sakurai’s bias towards his personal preference being an interference as it has been to an extent this game, never in a million years would I imagine Sakurai even considering cutting Ness (as it was implied in the third message). Sakurai is a big fan of Earthbound and with the bias he has shown towards Kid Icarus: Uprising, I can’t imagine that he wouldn’t do everything he can to keep both Ness and Lucas and it helps that they’re both really popular characters and neither have anyone else to “replace” them. He’s also the type of person that is strongly against planning DLC until after the game has released so if he were to do DLC, I can’t imagine him supporting the idea of cutting Lucas and then selling him off as DLC for increased profitability with him loathing the idea of cuts.

    Now it may seems logical to make veterans DLC who were cut due to time constraints and I am fine with bringing back cut veterans as DLC, but was the reason really that innocent?

    “Nintendo is planning post-launch character DLC, source doesn’t like this as he thinks it’s greedy”

    If it really was so impossible to get Lucas (and surely other veterans but for the purpose of not knowing if this was the case with other franchises, I will only mention him) on the initial roster, why is the third Gematsu email suggesting that post-launch character DLC were in the works before release? They could have included Lucas on the roster and waited to work on a few of the newcomers in SSB 3DS & Wii U until SSB 3DS & Wii U released and the DLC would still sell well enough to where it would easily cover the cost of developing these newcomers. But no, not only did we not get him, it doesn’t even appear as it was a case of running out of time. Nintendo was working on planning character DLC months before the game was even released. Isn’t this the type of practices that gamers condemn; holding back parts of the game to sell as DLC later? Supposedly, no paid DLC was in the work at the time Mewtwo was in development. But based off Nintendo planning DLC characters months before release, that looks to be a bold faced lie (but I can’t really blame Sakurai for it; Nintendo probably had something to do with it).

    Knowing myself as such a huge Smash fan, I’ll still be downloading every character as well all stages and stuff like music (not costumes thought… they’re too high to justify for me unless they get incorporated in a season pass that provides a decent discount) so I can’t say I’ll be selling my copy of Smash Wii U anytime soon and I am sure that game will bring hundreds of hours of entertainment (as it already have) for years to come. But in the midst of all the DLC hype (especially the Smash Ballot), I feel as most people have overlooked something that very much worth our concerns; the fact that beloved veterans may have been held back for the sole purpose of greed from Nintendo (and possibly other highly requested newcomers as well, I don’t expect Isaac to be DLC but notice how his franchise virtually vanished this game?). If this was the case, I have a bad feeling that this is the beginning of Nintendo turning to the dark side just like the rest of the video game industry. Most may not notice it now, but within a few years, it will be plainly obvious. Sad to say that this is the first time I have ever had to lower my standards for DLC just to justify what I feel is an otherwise an shady action. I sure look forward to seeing Villager being Day 1 DLC in Smash 6. /sarcasm

    And that will be one of many reasons why I will be completely done with modern video games after the Wii U and 3DS are abandoned. There is no one left that I can trust with making a complete video game anymore, which used to be the rule, not the exception. I am tired of being let down by my favorite franchises dying/being ruined by shady business practices as well as the decreasing variety in video games. My standards aren’t even that high; I don’t expect a game to blow me away like they did when I was a child, I just want a fun game to play without worrying about if the publishers behind it are trying to screw gamers over their well earned cash.

    Or maybe Opiate from NeoGAF is right and I’m just an old man yelling at the wind. In that case, I might as well take my video game hobby elsewhere (which I’ve already done as of this year).

    1. Hi Fuzzy Pickles! Glad you enjoyed the article. I’m pretty sure I know I you from Smashboards (I am Spazzy_D there, as well. You might recognize me from one of my Bomberman avatars.) I came to the personal conclusion while writing this article that certain characters were planned for DLC from the get go, but unlike you I do not think it was done in a nefarious way. The Gematsu leakers information was likely from the planning period of Smash development, meaning no actual work would have been done on Ness or Lucas. Sakurai and his team had limited resources and a finite amount of time to create the game, and calling Smash 4 an incomplete game is not fair to the development team. It is jam packed with content, including over 70 stages between the two versions and 53 characters in the starting roster. What having the option to reintroduce characters through DLC did was allow them to focus on completing the game in a timely fashion without worrying about cuts. It is highly doubtful, in my opinion, that Smash 4 could have included these DLC characters in the base game and still come out in the same time frame.

      Long story short, planned DLC doesn’t necessarily mean that content is being held back. It just means that they have plans in place to continue working on the game once it is complete. It would be different if we had any evidence that these characters were more or less complete prior to launch, but we don’t.

    2. Games have to have the functionality for updates and DLC to be downloaded and applied so they have to think about it and code it accordingly to what may happen in the future. It doesn’t mean they already had these characters/content done and were just waiting to release them. There are time constraints when working with large AAA titles like Smash Bros so of course some content will have to go at the expense of new content. Without DLC we might have never seen Lucas, Mewtwo, etc. because there is still a team working on them (hence why they cost money.) DLC isn’t a bad thing. It can be, but sometimes it can be honest, fair, or even nice.

  3. That “mysterious texture that is likely related to downloadable content” looks exactly the the Kid Icarus: Uprising saving icon to me. Maybe it has nothing to do with DLC.

  4. Iwata is the one who makes the call on DLC. Not Sakurai. I don’t know why people keep acting like Sakurai is this great overlord and the only one involved in Smash Bros because he isn’t. Rosalina’s inclusion would definitely have been Nintendo’s higher ups forcing him because they want Rosalina in everything Mario related.

    I think everybody who credits Sakurai is unfair to everybody else who did their part in the game. Sakurai has already stated multiple times he wants to wash his hands of the game and be done with it. If you watch the Direct from April fools day you will see Iwata say the DLC ballot was his idea that he proposed to Sakurai.

    If it was left up to Sakurai Mewtwo and Lucas would never get in and the game would be finished. Iwata is the one that coerced him. He may have said when Brawl came out he would do DLC but he has changed since then. His arm is in pain and he is sick of doing the game. He doesn’t want to do DLC. He just knows if he doesn’t Iwata will get someone else and he won’t get paid.

    Don’t get me wrong. Sakurai is obviously talented. But Iwata is the one to thank for Mewtwo, Lucas and whoever else is joining in. Iwata knows there is serious money involved and he won’t let Sakurai stop him.

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