Nintendo can win it all with one ballsy move…
I didn’t stand in line for the NES Classic Edition. Silly me, I didn’t think I’d need to. Nintendo has been the cause of much FOMO over the years, and while I’ve had to wait through long delays before finally getting my hands on Nintendo’s new thing, I’ve always been able to acquire it. The NES Classic Edition is gone forever and with it, my chance to play reasonably faithful reproductions of some of the games I grew up with for an affordable price. I want to take Nintendo at their word. They didn’t anticipate the demand (they don’t use the internet, I guess?), they’re not working with unlimited resources (plastics and computer chips must be in short supply?), they want to focus on fewer, more lucrative things (reasonable, I guess), but I can’t take their word for it anymore. When it comes to Nintendo’s classic catalog, I’ve been burned too many times.
Back in 2006, with the launch of the Wii, I began gobbling up every classic game released for the then-new Virtual Console. What a fantastic idea, right? People love these games, so sell them to purchasers of the Wii — many of whom were gamers in their youth who had drifted away, only to be tempted back by the Wii’s motion controls and popularity. While I never personally drifted away (#faithful), I was ready with my credit card info to purchase as many VC games as I could. Taken on its own, this is great but Nintendo found a way to make it awful.
Consider this; I’ve purchased the video game Super Mario Bros. probably six times. Same game, different systems. This was due to Nintendo’s lack of a unifying account, one that would allow players to carry their Virtual Console games with them as they move from old to new — or even from couch to train, with the 3DS. While Nintendo has started to take steps to correct the problem with a single Nintendo Account players can use across systems, it doesn’t put the money I spent on six Marios back in my wallet.
“We want instant, on-demand access to our favorite content.”
In the decade since the Wii ruled the roost, we’ve moved on from Nintendo’s methodology. Nowadays, we expect our games to travel with us from one system to the next, seamlessly — Sony could take a lesson from this, too, considering the backlash around their recent comments on classic games. We don’t want to buy the same product a half-dozen times, but we do want to have access to our favorites.
Nintendo’s back catalog is the best in gaming. Period. Sega may be a close runner-up, and Sony has some great games, too, but no one else has the characters, the history, and the quality of Nintendo. That’s what makes their current efforts with Virtual Console so disappointing and their recent comments seem to suggest a viable, digital back catalog isn’t a priority. Not when they could continue to resell us games we’ve already bought. Only now with more line-waiting and disappointment. The Super NES Classic is sure to sell out quickly, leaving a ton of frustrated fans with nothing. You’d think it would be a PR nightmare, but for Nintendo, it’s business as usual.
There’s a way out of this for Nintendo that will not only begin to mend the wounds they’ve inflicted on my bank account but could also secure them victory in the console wars. (Nintendo pretends they’re above the console wars, but let’s be real: they’re not. They’d love a win here.) It ties in with Nintendo’s recent announcement regarding its online service for the Switch — subscribers, we’re told, will have ongoing access to a selection of classic games, some of which will be enhanced with online multiplayer.
This is a good first step, but I can imagine a hundred ways Nintendo could pull a Nintendo (Nintendo as a verb!) here and ruin it. They could keep the selection small, only featuring first-party games or exclusively multiplayer titles. They could add new titles to the list the same way they’ve done it with the Virtual Console; via a painfully slow, drip-feed process that leaves everyone unsatisfied. Or they could drop support and return to an à la carte model that will bleed us dry all over again.
Here’s how they can carry it all the way: Nintendo needs to make the Netflix of classic games.
After all, Western society is moving away from “owning” physical media and instead consuming it on a subscription basis. Netflix, Amazon, iTunes — we don’t want to clutter our homes with Blu-ray discs anymore. We want instant, on-demand access to our favorite content. Sony has begun to do this with its PlayStation Now service, and while it’s not perfect, and doesn’t solve their backwards-compatibility problem, it’s a step in the right direction. Give us the full library — or as close to it as digital rights will allow. And keep it simple: not every game needs to have online multiplayer. Keep your costs low and simply give us solid ports.
Having recently played Blaster Master Zero on Switch, I want to be able to hop over and play the original. And then maybe some Dr. Mario. And heck, why not a little Goonies 2? Don’t neglect SNES and N64, either. Pile the games on, make me beg to pay you a monthly subscription fee. I’ll do it. Anyone who lined up in the cold for an NES Classic Edition will do it. Give us the content we’re craving, and you won’t be able to handle how fast we give you our money.
I love Nintendo. I love their games, I love the way a new Nintendo console makes me feel like a kid again, I love sharing the experience with my nieces and nephews. But Nintendo can’t keep doing this to me. I’ve been patient and understanding, but I think I’ve reached the end of my rope.
Give me the Netflix of games, Nintendo. This console war is yours to lose.