I don’t think its exactly a secret to say that Nintendo doesn’t have a solid grasp on what to do with its back catalogue of software in 2019.
When Nintendo released the Wii back in 2006, it was already falling behind the curve in terms of digital game downloads. Where Nintendo’s competitors were offering full downloads of their modern titles, the Wii launched with 512 MB of on board memory, and a focus on retro title downloads. Wii owners could download NES, SNES, and N64 games to their new console, with a library that grew slowly over time. Games were added on a scattered basis, more costly than many anticipated, flipping back and forth between desirable classics and shovelware, and their approach to their back catalogue has only really gotten worse in the years since.
When the Wii U released, Nintendo added a handful more consoles to the mix, like the DS and Gameboy Advance, but the rollout of games continued to be slow and expensive. Players who had already purchased Virtual Console games could have those same virtual console games on Wii U, but they had to pay a small fee of around £1 per title to migrate those games.
The 3DS Virtual console made more sense as a purchasing proposition, as many of Nintendo’s older titles were small enough in nature to be more exciting as portable titles than sit down at home experiences. The selection of consoles available to consumers was reduced for the 3DS, and additionally we saw certain games only available to specific consumers. A great example of this, there are at least ten GBA games on the 3DS that are only able to be downloaded if you purchased a 3DS during its first six months on the market, prior to its price drop.
The Nintendo Switch has stepped back even further in terms of proper leverage of their existing catalogue of games. The console doesn’t feature a virtual console in the same way that prior Nintendo consoles did, in spite of its portability and processing power making it a perfect place to play many older titles. Instead, Nintendo decided to lock retro titles on the Switch behind a subscription surface with a painfully slow rollout. Back in September 2018, Nintendo allowed users of its paid online service to download a handful of NES games for free. These games had online multiplayer supported, but in all other ways were untouched from their original releases. They released a handful of games per month, then a year later added SNES games to the mix, but removed their monthly game schedule. Now we don’t know when we’re going to get more games, or if we will ever see any other consoles added to the service.
Nintendo has charged over and over for its classic games, releasing them slowly over time, and holding back desirable games to keep people thinking about the service. It’s not only disappointingly low on content for the consumer, but it’s also failing to leverage Nintendo’s biggest strength.
When I think about companies whose cast of games and characters over the decades have remained consistent fan and critic favorites, with huge amounts of audience good will and nostalgia attached, the two biggest names that come to mind are Nintendo and Disney. Where Nintendo has failed to leverage their back catalogue properly, Disney seems to have really taken proactive steps to use their past successes to push future services and products. This is perhaps best exemplified by today’s tweet thread from Disney revealing the launch day lineup for their new streaming service.
In the Twitter thread, which consists of more than 600 tweets at the time of writing, showcases the launch day lineup for Disney+, a new streaming service from Disney where much of their back catalogue, plus multiple new shows, will begin airing next month. Where Nintendo chooses to drip feed its history to consumers, Disney has gone all out. The company is putting pretty much every single title it has ever released that it owns the rights to on the service day one. They’re making sure that if you love even a handful of rare Disney properties, there will be a reason for you to be interested in the service. It’s literally what Nintendo fans have spent years asking for. A company’s history, every old piece of media you kind of want to revisit but don’t want to seek out or pay money for, at your fingertips. You can grab any piece of media you remember from growing up, and it’s probably there for you to get your nostalgia fix from.
If Nintendo’s free online games offer that game with the Switch’s paid online looked more like Disney+’s day one offering, it might have been a much more exciting prospect for people to put their money behind. If Nintendo could tell people buying their console and its subscription would act as a Netflix for all the games they grew up playing, it would be even more of a must have device than it already is.
Nintendo, we will still buy HD remasters and definitive editions of games if you release them, but you’re sat on a treasure trove you refuse to make use of. Imagine if your Nintendo online subscription got you every first party NES, SNES, GBA, N64, and DS game as something you could download. Nintendo isn’t selling these games individually, it’s not like they’re holding them back to sell one by one for more profit. If Nintendo really wants to make its subscription based retro games service desirable, it needs to learn from Disney+, step up, and start copy pasting those game files and emulators over to the Switch. Because right now, your offering pales in comparisons to what other companies with similar nostalgic histories are doing to get our cash.
Seriously Nintendo, if you started a multiple hundred tweet thread of classic games people could download on Switch, I’m confident it would sell a couple more Switch systems.