Animal Crossing: New Horizons recently received its very last major update, and it was definitely a pretty spectacular update. Fan-favorite characters like Brewster finally made their way into the game, as well as classic activities like farming and Brewster's cafe. What's more, Nintendo added some exciting new content, from brand-new villagers to useful Island Ordinances. Animal Crossing: New Horizons was already a beloved game, but this massive final update gave it another lease on life, making it feel fresh again even for the most dedicated players. The vast wave of content was a perfect way to send off New Horizons.
However, the update also raises a significant question. Did Nintendo really have to stop updating Animal Crossing: New Horizons? Even though New Horizons has already been around for almost two years, it still has many loyal fans, and the huge update encouraged players who fell off to get back into the game. If Nintendo wanted to, it could've decided to ride the surge of popularity and roll out a new generation of major updates. Instead, it's seemingly done supporting New Horizons. This is only the latest in a long series of Nintendo dropping support for games that could've still received tons of updates. While it might be a good thing that Nintendo doesn't update games for years on end, there are also some missed opportunities to acknowledge.
Games Nintendo Has Left Behind
Animal Crossing: New Horizon's final update was great, but it really didn't have to be the last update. New Horizons is one of the best-selling titles on the Switch and retains a very loyal playerbase who would've been more than happy to keep receiving content that pushes the game in new directions. Nintendo could've made quite a lot more money off of additional New Horizons DLCs, and players would reap the benefits of constant updates that streamline and polish every corner of New Horizons. The game is less than two years old, so it's hardly overstaying its welcome on the Switch. Even so, it's only one of several Switch games that Nintendo has stopped updating for no clear reason.
Super Mario Maker 2 is a particularly notable example of Nintendo's habit of walking away from games just as they're flourishing. Fans and critics loved Mario Maker 2, which introduced tons of new tools for aspiring game designers and added brilliant new features like a story mode and the World Maker. On the whole, though, Mario Maker 2 only got a handful of major updates before Nintendo moved on, in spite of the game's great success. There's lots of Super Mario content that never made it into Mario Maker 2, and there was ample opportunity to introduce DLCs with new blocks and enemies, but Nintendo just didn't seem interested in carrying on.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate also falls into this category of games with lost potential. Smash Ultimate enchanted fans from the very beginning and sold many millions of copies. Fans delighted in seeing all of their favorite characters return, and the DLC fighters introduced some long-requested characters. Smash Ultimate already has a major presence in the fighting game scene, but rather than continuing to support the game with DLC fighters, Mii costumes, and balance patches through the rest of the Switch's lifespan, it looks like Nintendo wants to wrap up Smash Ultimate and move on. All in all, Nintendo doesn't seem keen on updating and expanding its games for years on end.
Should Nintendo Keep Updating Everything?
While it's definitely odd that Nintendo stops updating valuable games while other studios support successful titles for as long as they can, it's not perfectly clear whether Nintendo's habit is good or bad. There's a case to be made for either side. It's certainly a bad thing in certain contexts since Nintendo risks finishing a game's updates too soon and losing potential. Super Mario Maker 2's short run of patches only supported the game for its first few months, meaning many Switch users forgot about it rather quickly. Nintendo could've generated even more Mario Maker 2 sales by continuously supplying creative new updates. What's more, if a major gameplay flaw or a popular fan demand doesn't get addressed before the game's updates run out, Nintendo risks harming the game's legacy.
There are also clear upsides to Nintendo's approach. By keeping updates and DLCs for its games limited, Nintendo remains focused on the future, rather than the past. Avoiding long-term support for any given game lets Nintendo dedicate more time and resources to wholly new upcoming games. Doubling down on long-term updates could also harm Nintendo's reputation if it went too far. Fans would certainly criticize the company if every upcoming Nintendo game was built on the back of post-release updates, or if Nintendo only produced a handful of games for each of its consoles and focused on DLC revenue for years on end.
Keeping Nintendo Games Afloat
Ultimately, it seems there's no one answer to whether or not Nintendo should keep updating its games for more than a year or two. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate did get around three years of solid but sparse updates, even though it could've kept going for longer, while Super Mario Maker 2 only got a few months of new content. Nintendo seems to update games on a case-by-case basis: Mario Maker is only a Super Mario spinoff, while Smash Ultimate is the new Smash flagship. Still, even though Smash Ultimate was updated for longer overall, Nintendo arguably took a more conservative approach to updating it than many other companies might have, which means missing out on both revenue and fan hopes.
Nintendo is probably wise for avoiding a true live-service model for its games. It built its brand on strong, well-rounded games that don't require constant changes to enchant and delight players; Nintendo shouldn't feel pressured to change that reputation. At the same time, every so often, it releases a game like Animal Crossing: New Horizons or Super Mario Maker 2 that really doesn't seem to get as much long-term support as it deserves. It's hard to reconcile those two facts. While it may be ultimately for the best that Nintendo always wants to focus on its next project, its spirit of progress can leave fans looking over their shoulders now and again.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is available now for the Nintendo Switch.
Officially, Animal Crossing: New Horizons describes CJ and Flick as roommates, but the Happy Home Paradise DLC suggests that they are more than that.