I’ve hypothesized this scenario would happen since we learned prior to the Switch launch that the Virtual Console service was being killed off in favor of a subscription service. It was horrendously bad news back then, and those decisions by Nintendo are proving to be even more of a shot to the foot now than ever before.
Before we dive in, I want to take a moment to appreciate just how great of a service Nintendo decided to take out to pasture. The virtual console was an excellent service, beginning life on the Wii, (which was recently shut down, unfortunately), migrating to the 3DS, and eventually ending after the WiiU. The game availability was downright incredible. Just take a look at where we landed with the WiiU! The 3DS Virtual Console was my favorite, personally, as it was portable and I could finally jump into the Super Nintendo games that I missed while on the bus to work. And of course, the OG Wii offerings which were also plentiful.
With the Switch, we have this powerful piece of hardware (relative to the WiiU of course), and the possibilities are endless for some more VC games! And… now it’s gone, in favor of YASS (Yet Another Subscription Service). You cannot imagine my frustration when I pictured myself playing all the GameCube games I missed back in the day from the comfort of anywhere in the world, only to learn that this would no longer be the case.
I do think that Nintendo made a huge misstep by failing to offer “carry-over” with their virtual console releases, where for example owning a Virtual Console title on the Wii automatically entitled you to the same release on the WiiU and 3DS (assuming they were available on said system). This would have made the VC an even more tremendous value and drummed up more customer support, although I do understand that licensing fees get complicated doing something like that.
Although I’m fairly certain that people are sick and tired of buying Super Mario World for the ninth time.
So here we are, on system #4 since the Virtual Console first saw the light of day, and – no Virtual Console. Instead, we have a $20 subscription to play multiplayer games that also includes a minuscule amount of the offerings presently available on older consoles. First we got the NES Online app, which saw some gradual releases to the tune of three releases per quarter. More recently we got the SNES Online app, with a handful of titles (most of them first party). Now, we get to an issue that I’ve identified.
By setting the price to $20 for the “Switch Online” package, Nintendo has set the ceiling impossibly low to be sustainable with more frequent releases. In essence, they have said to customers: “$20 a year is all you will ever hacve to pay for the Switch version of Virtual Console games.” People are asking for Nintendo 64 games, Gameboy Advance games, even GameCube games – but there’s just no conceivable way that $20/year is going to cover the licensing required for this. And now that consumers have (in many cases, begrudgingly) accepted this $20 charge to play games online with the side effect of getting some VC games to play, they’re expecting more – but it simply can’t happen to the scale that people are expecting.
The licensing fees for third-party titles will never be covered by $20/year. That’s $1.66 per month. That’s less than a cup of coffee!
What we have seen is several developers releasing their own versions of classic games, or altogether releasing remasters or bundles of remasters. Disney’s Lion King & Aladdin releases are proof of that. SEGA has been doing the same with the SEGA Ages line. The Switch has become a comfortable living room for ports and remasters alike. But don’t forget that it’s expensive to port a game to run natively, as opposed to emulating the original version.
We have a decent piece of hardware that can run these games. It’s portable. Customers spend a lot of money on software as it is. But Nintendo is making it impossible to spend it on classic titles. Think about it – for months after the Switch launch, the WiiU was still receiving Virtual Console games! So where’s the love for the Switch?
Before you think “wow, this guy is so entitled” – that’s just the thing, I’m not saying the Nintendo Switch Online service should have all these games for free. Quite the opposite – I want to spend more money on these games, on an a-la carte basis. But Nintendo first needs to make them available.
The saving grace here and the reason I believe Nintendo can still revive the VC is that a subscription service “app” like the NES and SNES Online apps wouldn’t work for games on GameCube, and possibly even Nintendo 64, as the games themselves are just too large to have in a single app, or even fit on the internal memory or an SD card. They’d need to be downloaded separately, and for that reason I hope we will see a revival of the “buy VC games independently” model that we enjoyed from the Wii through the WiiU console generations.
Of course, as I mentioned earlier you have players who are already upset about having to pay $20/year just to play NES/SNES games – telling them “you can play Gameboy Advance games now, but have to upgrade to a higher pricing tier” will undoubtedly ruffle some feathers. Even offering a higher price tier for NSO that includes more games could cause some trouble, although I’m not 100% opposed to that either. $20 isn’t enough to cover licensing for hundreds of games, so let me pay more to remediate that.
To be totally honest, I don’t even like subscriptions for this type of thing – I like to curate my own collection. There are far too many subscription services out there as it is. Sure, it’s more expensive assuming you buy all the games you might have played on a subscription service, but I have the same amount of time regardless of whether I have 5 games or 500 games. I don’t suddenly have 10 times the amount of time because I have access to 10 times the amount of games. If anything, what ends up happening is I’ll start 15 games, play them for 20 minutes, then quit and start playing something else.
Same rules go for a buffet (like, for food), and although I do understand that some people prefer the more varied options, that’s just never been my style. I have enough time deciding, for one, and two, I dislike most video games that come out. Not to mention eating food that’s sitting under heat lamps and being exposed to air is f’ing disgusting to me, and I’ve very particular about what goes into my body.
The other issue is that as soon as you stop paying (or your yearly subscription runs out), you lose access to the games. It’s essentially a streaming service at that point.
How Can Nintendo Fix This?
Fortunately in this scenario, there are a couple easy ways out for Nintendo.
The most obvious and biggest way they could get themselves out of the hole they dug is to start offering Virtual Console games again! This wouldn’t come as much of a surprise to people, or I wouldn’t think it would anyway. But DS games and up could be offered a-la carte, or, “pay for each one individually,” and I don’t think players would be too surprised.
They could and should continue to add older games to the Nintendo Switch Online apps. I foresee a Gameboy / Gameboy Color app being available at some point and I’m all about it.
Supplement those games with some Virtual Console titles for Nintendo 64, Gamecube, and we’ll be back in business. Everyone wins – you pay $20 a year for really old legacy content, then buy anything after the DS line.
And what about tiered pricing for the service? At some point the $20/year price tag won’t be sustainable to add anymore games and especially systems to the service (as is the point of this entire article), and a higher tier with more systems might be the answer. I hope this isn’t the decision as I want to buy my games outright, but it would still be better than not getting to play them at all.
Anyway, Nintendo – for the love of all that is holy. You have an excellent system that is setting records nearly every week, month, and year. We want to play older titles on the go or on the big screen.
When I crack open my 3DS, I’m bombarded with my childhood. Not to mention the theme with which we won’t even go into detail today, but all these excellent classics games on there, at my disposal, ready to be played immediately. Earthbound, Super Metroid, Link’s Awakening, Link to the Past, Oracle of Ages, Oracle of Seasons, Pokemon Yellow – half of the money I spent on the 3DS were Virtual Console games and the Badge Arcade. We want some stuff to have fun with, but more importantly we’re willing to pay for it! Let the new generation enjoy these newer generations of great games.
Please let us pick the games we want to play, and for me, I want to pay for them, download them forever, and I’ll pay you way more than $20 a year. I promise.