Picture the scene. Having drifted off following a marathon LEGO Batman 3 session (stay tuned for the review, by the way), I found myself roused from my sleep by an mysterious light. "Is it dawn already," I thought as I groggily opened my eyes, only to discover that it was three in the morning and pitch black.
Pitch black, at least, were it not for an eerie glow emanating from my bedside table, mere inches from my head, bathing the room in an unnatural otherworldly radiance. A ghost, surely. An angel. Aliens. The rapture, perhaps. My still sleep-addled mind boggled at the nightmarish possibilities as I slowly, tremblingly, reached out to discover the source of that baffling and terrifying glimmer.
Long story short, it turns out that my Wii U GamePad had switched itself on to flog me Mario Kart 8 DLC.
This isn't really news, since the Wii U has been capable of 'standby notifications' since its last firmware update. Even when operating in a low power state, the GamePad can power itself on to show notifications, updates and adverts for Nintendo software. It was just dumb luck that I'd put the GamePad so close to the bed and failed to disable the feature in the settings menu.
So without further ado, that's exactly what I did. Then I
played several hours of Mario Kart 8 and came straight into work went back to sleep.
I could end this article here as a cautionary tale to anyone who hasn't already deactivated the standby notifications, or parents who let their kids keep the console in their bedroom, but there's a bigger issue here. In fact, you could argue that this is really a cautionary tale for Nintendo.
I've railed against the sick insanity of microtransaction culture before and will continue to do so until it dies or I do. I'm sick to death of the grasping, shameless and increasingly embarrassing schemes that publishers concoct in order to bleed our accounts dry, holding all manner of content to ransom and turning games into grindy slot machines in the process. It's absolutely ridiculous and frankly, at this point, more than a little insulting.
Nintendo is one of the few publishers who has a reputation for being better, but their reluctance to enter the penny-pinching fray has as much to do with poor infrastructure and inexperience as it does with ethics. After years of inactivity, the Big N are finally taking some limping, lurching steps towards DLC and mictoransactions, and they need to tread very lightly indeed.
They've added little throwaway 3DS themes, which other consoles would let me unlock through achievements or progress. The New 3DS reportedly makes users spend roughly 30p to deactivate the web filter, as a byproduct of registering a credit card. The downloadable content is generally of excellent quality, delivered as sizeable expansions or even free updates, but Mario Golf: World Tour revealed a sizeable amount of cut content sold back to consumers as launch content, while Hyrule Warriors also offered a surprising amount of additional material.
And my Wii U woke me up to sell me DLC in the middle of the night.
Tread lightly, Nintendo. Micro-payments and DLC is a disgusting and depraved world that you know almost nothing about. Be careful, be responsible and be better. Be cautious and canny. Maintain your reputation as the last of the old guard, because once lost, it's nigh-on impossible to get back.
Here's hoping. Either way, I'm off to play that Mario Kart 8 DLC. Turns out that advertising to me at 3 in the morning bypasses my cynical mental defences, and more to the point, it's a meaty expansion with meaningful new content to enjoy. Long may that continue, Nintendo. The, erm, big expansion part, not the subliminal advertising.