Game Freak Shakes Up Pokemon Franchise With Expansion DLC

This week's Pokemon announcements represent a major change to the Pokemon franchise. Earlier this week, Game Freak announced that they would release two sets of DLC content for Pokemon Sword and Shield later this year. During the Pokemon Direct, Shigeru Ohmori compared the new DLC content to the "enhanced" games like Pokemon Platinum or Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, noting that the DLC added new content like those games, but they don't require players to start their adventures over. Instead, the DLC adds more "post-game" content while providing the sort of continuity that players have wanted in their games for a while.

Switching from enhanced versions of games to releasing DLC packs represents a seismic shift to Game Freak's method of releasing new Pokemon games. Not only does it mean that the games have longer lifespans, it also gives Game Freak a chance to grow a region after a Pokemon's game release by adding new characters and even new Pokemon after the game's initial release.

Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon showed Game Freak's willingness to step away from tradition by releasing new non-Mythical Pokemon in the middle of a generation, but the new DLC content takes that even further. The new DLC content not only adds new regular Pokemon (at least three confirmed with Galarian Slowpoke and its evolution) but also brings back older Pokemon missing during Pokemon Sword and Shield's initial release. This should quell at least some of the complaints about the lack of a National Pokedex, and offers hope that Game Freak can course-correct controversial decisions when necessary. Fans shouldn't expect Game Freak to react to every negative outburst, but we now know that these games represent a start point as opposed to a complete experience.

Of course, some fans will complain about needing to purchase DLC to enjoy a "complete" game (much in the same way that fans complained about buying an enhanced version), but Game Freak offset this by offering free updates for all players too. All players will benefit from free updates released in conjunction with the new DLC, which will allow them to transfer and trade for the new Pokemon offered in the DLC. All Pokemon players will benefit from the move towards making Pokemon games "living games," even those who only want to pay for the base games and not DLC.

The prospect of a "living" Pokemon game is an exciting one, especially when it allows for free updates. We've already seen Pokemon Sword and Shield switch up Max Raid Battles to keep a steady stream of new content available for fans, but this week's free update introduced a Galarian Slowpoke - a Pokemon that wasn't even programmed into the initial game. Every player has access to the Galarian Slowpoke, and it opens the door for even more new Pokemon coming via other free updates. I don't expect to get new Pokemon added to the games very often, but this does open the door for a lot of exciting features.

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I look at this week's announcement as a big improvement to how Pokemon games are released. Providing DLC content gives Game Freak a steady stream of income similar to the "enhanced" games, but offers more room for growth and more opportunity for players. Instead of needing to churn out new games on a yearly basis, Game Freak can now build on their games, potentially new places to explore or even sending players back to portions of older regions. I would much rather have two or three new places to explore a year than have to start a Pokemon game over from scratch to get access to new post-game content, and I'd much rather be able to choose which content I want rather than need to buy a full game to get my hands on one desired feature.

This week's announcement represents a huge step forward for Game Freak and the Pokemon franchise. 2020 will be a big year for Pokemon, and it could lead to even bigger moves in the future.