What the hell Nintendo? Seriously, what the hell? Apple gets it, Valve gets it, Sony gets it, Microsoft gets it, even EA gets it, so why don’t you? Why do you remain the odd man out when it comes to digital distribution?
The question occurred to me the other day while pondering whether or not I wanted to get a 3DSXL. I already have a 3DS, bought back when the Ambassador program was announced, and only recently do I feel like enough games have come out to justify the purchase. Thankfully the 3DS is backwards compatible, allowing me to enjoy the massive library of the DS as well while I wait for more current-gen games, but the tiny screen can cause headaches after a while, and it’s not exactly the most comfortable thing to grasp if you’ve got big ol’ beef fingers like I do, which is what ultimately led me to decide that the 3DSXL might not be such a bad investment after all.
But what about my Ambassador games? What about all those free NES and GBA roms Nintendo gave me, some of which still aren’t even available for purchase in the eShop (and those that are are ridiculously overpriced for decades-old ROMs)? Is there going to be a way for me to carry my membership to Nintendo’s fancy club over to my shiny new future device? I hit the Google in search of answers. As it turns out, yes, I COULD carry my Ambassador games over to the 3DSXL, but if I did I would not be able to also play them on my 3DS.
I say to you again, what the hell? Now, this isn’t exactly a major inconvenience as I wouldn’t be very likely to play the 3DS-puny all that much after getting the XL, but doesn’t this whole backwards system of transferring your purchases from device to device as a whole seem a little ridiculous when you look at how so many others among Nintendo’s competition handle things? With Steam, Origin, Good Old Games, etc. my purchases are tied to my account, not to my current PC. If I get a new PC, I just reinstall Steam, log into my account, and bam, there’s every game I’ve ever purchased right there ready to download to the new machine. If my PC should get stolen, I don’t lose access to everything I’ve ever bought on Valve’s service. If my 3DS gets stolen, well I’m pretty much out of luck, aren’t I? And what if I want to give my old 3DS to my little brother, and he wants to play some Minish Cap? Well, I guess he’s out of luck, because the rights to that game are on my XL and I’m half way across the country. What if he just wants his save data from a game he was playing on my 3DS before I got a new one? Sorry, not happening.
Nintendo has always given an impression of either undervaluing the internet or not having the know-how to really utilize it in a significant way. While Microsoft and Sony used this console generation to focus on integrating the web into their devices in any way they could, Nintendo pretty much just had the Friend Code system, which was ironically just about the most user-UNfriendly system for matchmaking imaginable. Yes, I know, child protection is the main reason for Nintendo’s online being terrible and restrictive, but children aren’t the only ones buying these systems. They tout things like Netflix integration in the 3DS and Wii U as a major feature, when really, we’re past the point of handing out the praise for that and just NOT having it is a significant mark against you.
It’s almost as if they don’t pay attention to what’s happening around them in the rest of the industry. They’re happy doing what they’ve always done, the way that they know works, and nothing more. They probably realize that a more well-designed online service would make them more money, and it’s not even a matter of not wanting to put in the effort to make it happen. There’s clearly a ton of crazy talented people working at Nintendo. It seems to me like a simple matter of Nintendo not wanting to venture too far outside of their comfort zone. They COULD create something comparable to Steam on their systems, they just choose not to. They don’t see it as a valuable direction to take.
Can you imagine how much better the user experience would be if Nintendo would just catch up their competitors on the online front? What if I could just log in to my centralized Nintendo account, download my eShop purchases to a new device with a few button presses, and start playing? What if you could disable all that child-oriented friend code crap universally and just browse a list of servers or jump into matchmaking? This one’s a stretch, but what if Nintendo took advantage of even a fraction of the enormous library of games they’ve put out over the years to help fill out that rather barren eShop of theirs, and priced the games reasonably? I’m sorry, five dollars for an NES rom that’s been out for over twenty years at this point is not reasonable. How about ninety-nine cents? That seems to work just fine for Apple. I can only imagine the number of eShop sales that ended up being lost to piracy and an emulator because of this silly overvaluation of games that are long past their glory days.
Nintendo’s going through something of a learning experience these days. The novelty of the Wii has worn off and they can’t coast on its success anymore. It’s pretty clear that the Wii U and, to a lesser extent, the 3DS, are made with bringing back some of their lost hardcore audience in mind. But they’ve got a long ways to go before they catch up with Sony and Microsoft, even while they dawdle around at the front of the race with waggle and touch screens of their own. If they want to succeed with these systems they need to pay more attention to what everyone else is doing right. New ideas are nice, but what good’s the cherry on top if there isn’t any ice cream to begin with?