This week, Nintendo made the world aware it will not bring the Virtual Console to the Switch. To many, this is disappointing news. We all grew up with Nintendo’s amazing catalog of games and we’d all love to bring our DS and Wii purchases over to the Switch. We have to move on, however, and look to the future. And that future is a virtual console as a service; or so it appears. A paid service is actually the best thing for us. Let’s dig in.
We geeks have gotten used to adapting to new content delivery methods. We’ve experienced floppy disks, cartridges, CD-ROMs, and now digital. Unless you hold onto the consoles those media were meant for, which become unsupported after a few years, they become nothing but collector’s items and burnt cash. It’s what we’re used to, isn’t it? I have hundreds of old media lying around. Sure, it’s convinced me that it’s OK to download a ROM here or there and play games on my phone or other device capable of emulating old consoles. The reality is those media are not usable. Some are valuable as collector’s items, however. Mostly I love to look at them, particularly my Zelda games, and think of the great memories I had back in the day. We’ve also adjusted to buying those games multiple times. Nintendo has a history of re-releasing it’s classic NES and SNES games on their consoles. Remember the GBA eReader? Or the NES Classics series on GBA? Presently, Nintendo supports the 3DS and Switch consoles. The Wii U was a failed console, so it’s support ended earlier than most consoles. The implication is: you won’t see new games added to that ecosystem. It sucks - believe me, I have several games on unsupported consoles that I purchased digitally as part of, what I thought, was a living, breathing, ecosystem. One that would be supported on future Nintendo consoles. As an aside - I am confident Microsoft and Sony have this baked into their futures. XBOX Live and PSN digital purchases should roll forward.
Whilst announcing the Switch would not get a Virtual Console any time soon, Nintendo announced it’s paid service, Nintendo Switch Online, will launch with 20 classic titles. By moving to a service-based model, there is a greater likelihood that your purchases will have a life in future console environments. By paying a subscription to access titles, Nintendo is subscribing you to their library. That library will grow over time. This model is similar to Sony’s PlayStation Now service. This is what we all expected before. The difference is, when you purchased a digital Virtual Console title, you weren’t locked in. Nintendo took your money, and in return, gave you a game. Transaction complete. They can forecast sales and valuate their library/offering. With a subscription model, investors value the user-base over the library. The levers of value are the number of subscribers and the price of the subscription. That puts Nintendo on the hook to retain and grow their subscribers. Thus, releasing a new console and dropping support of particular games, if not all, would cause subscribers to leave; this is not in Nintendo’s best interest. This is the model we should all want. Nintendo now works for us, in a sense. They have to work to keep us as subscribers of Nintendo Switch Online: a place we go to play those games we love from the past.
While I do believe Nintendo’s catalog of games is superior to Microsoft and Sony’s, I also believe that gap is narrowing. Franchises like God of War, Uncharted, and Horizon: Zero Dawn, have given Sony an edge of late. Microsoft’s initiative to bring XBOX 360 titles to the XBOX One has been well received. Sony’s PlayStation Now has grown to over 600 games in it’s library, and many are playable across multiple PlayStation consoles. The future is here, in a sense. Let’s embrace it.