Post Script

Why Nintendo’s ap­proach to Spla­toon’s com­mu­nity may not be naïvety


Here’s a pre­dic­tion: no one will be ques­tion­ing Spla­toon’s per­ceived value in three months’ time. Sur­prise maps Port Mack­erel and Kelp Dome ar­rived quickly, and Nintendo has promised a roll­out of free con­tent in the com­ing weeks, cul­mi­nat­ing in a sub­stan­tial Au­gust up­date, by which time we’ll have more new stages, gear, weapons and two new ranked bat­tle modes. We’ll also have wit­nessed the first Splat­fest, a metagame that in­vites play­ers to an­swer an Ev­ery­body Votesstyle ques­tion and earn points for their side through online vic­to­ries. Of greater in­ter­est to some will be new match­mak­ing func­tion­al­ity; we’ll fi­nally be able to form a team with three friends, or set up eight­player pri­vate ses­sions.

Nat­u­rally, ques­tions are be­ing asked over whether all of that should have been on the disc. Some have sug­gested that Spla­toon was hur­ried out to fill a gap in Wii U’s thin re­lease sched­ule, and sim­ply wasn’t fin­ished when it launched. Then again, those first two map ad­di­tions were clearly ready to go – and of the two other con­firmed lo­ca­tions, Bluefin De­pot ap­pears in the sin­gle­player cam­paign, while Camp Trig­ger­fish was show­cased in a re­cent Di­rect broad­cast.

Os­ten­si­bly, this is coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. As­sum­ing the lev­els are done, why wait? Many will at­tribute it – along with the rest of the game’s re­stric­tions – to Nintendo’s in­ex­pe­ri­ence online. Per­haps this is a can­nier move than that. This is, af­ter all, a new kind of shooter, one de­signed to at­tract those who had pre­vi­ously been dis­cour­aged from play­ing online. Launch­ing with just five maps and two modes – and one of those locked out un­til you hit level ten – sug­gests a keen­ness to not over­whelm new­com­ers with choice. Form­ing teams in pri­vate games makes sense once the com­mu­nity has been es­tab­lished, by which time those pre­vi­ously un­fa­mil­iar with online shoot­ers will be com­fort­able enough to ei­ther ig­nore or take ad­van­tage of fresh op­tions. And, of course, a reg­u­lar flow of new stuff gives play­ers an in­cen­tive to re­turn.

That’s a gen­er­ous as­sess­ment, but some­times we grow ac­cus­tomed to cer­tain con­ven­tions with­out ques­tion­ing them, and then the mo­ment they’re sub­verted, we’re too quick to dis­miss al­ter­na­tives. And it would be foolish not to think other online games could learn lessons from Spla­toon. Con­sider how quickly you start an online match: whether you walk your Inkling into the lobby or sim­ply tap the icon on the GamePad dis­play, you’re just two taps (three if you’re join­ing a friend) and a short wait from be­ing thrust into a game with seven strangers, be­fore be­ing ran­domly as­signed to a team that is shuf­fled af­ter ev­ery round. Those who want to play along­side pals will see that as a neg­a­tive, but this way you’re un­likely to be re­peat­edly paired with the ex­pert splat­ter who al­ways tops the score­board, or bur­dened by a novice who wastes time spray­ing the walls, think­ing that they’re con­tribut­ing to the score.

If Spla­toon’s re­stric­tions are less down to in­ex­pe­ri­ence so much as Nintendo try­ing to be dif­fer­ent, it still doesn’t get ev­ery­thing right. There’s no ex­cuse for not al­low­ing load­out changes be­tween rounds – pro­ducer Hisashi Nogami says he wants to en­cour­age play­ers to learn ev­ery weapon, but there must be a bet­ter in­cen­tive. Hav­ing to view the an­nounce­ment of the cur­rent maps each time you boot the game and be­ing kicked out ev­ery time that rota changes are mis­steps, too.

Ide­al­ism some­times trumps prag­ma­tism in Nintendo’s de­signs. Spla­toon is meant to en­cour­age pos­i­tive play habits (short ses­sions, friendly com­pe­ti­tion) but it doesn’t take into ac­count how most of us ex­pe­ri­ence online games, nor re­alise many would have ex­pected at least some of these fea­tures at launch. Nonethe­less, given the 40 hours we’ve al­ready sunk into the ap­par­ently skele­tal ver­sion 1.0, and Nintendo’s ev­i­dent longterm com­mit­ment, our time with Spla­toon will be any­thing but a fleet­ing fling.

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