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Nintendo’s Virtual Console is the Biggest Missed Opportunity in Gaming

| December 29, 2015

Nintendo's Virtual Console is the Biggest Missed Opportunity in Gaming Articles Nintendo  Virtual Console Nintendo Wii U Nintendo 3DS Nintendo 3Ds

Nintendo is one of the biggest and most important developers in video game history. Whether you love or hate them there is no denying their significance to the industry, and the amazing contributions that they have made throughout its short history. These contributions have mostly taken the form of some of the greatest games of all time, such as Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Super Metroid, and many, many more. And yet, despite having this ridiculously impressive stable of games and franchises, it seems that Nintendo is missing a great opportunity.

The Virtual Console, Nintendo’s method of reselling old games from their catalog, is woefully underutilized and it’s only gotten worse as time has gone by. The feature first launched on the Wii, pushing out classics like Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong fairly quickly. It then followed with a pretty decent release schedule, though cracks began to show right from the beginning.

Sure, we got a lot of Nintendo classics, but the release schedule seemed almost random, and many of the all time greats had to wait a long time to come out. For exampled, Super Mario Bros. 3 took almost a year to hit the US, and Super Mario Kart took three. These aren’t third party games either, so there’s no licensing arrangements that have to be worked out to get these onto the store.

Nintendo's Virtual Console is the Biggest Missed Opportunity in Gaming Articles Nintendo  Virtual Console Nintendo Wii U Nintendo 3DS Nintendo 3Ds

I won’t pretend to understand the development hassle that has to go into getting these games ready for another system, but considering the potential gains of having such amazing video games available exclusively on your system (at least legally speaking), it’s odd that Nintendo hasn’t devoted more time and attention to this effort.

This also doesn’t go into the disparity between systems that we’ve seen with the Virtual Console. Nintendo 64 games took an almost absurd amount of time to get going on the Wii U, a system that should have been able to handle them quite effectively. To see the worst of the system issues though, you just have to look at the Nintendo 3DS.

The 3DS is probably the best place that Nintendo could have utilized the Virtual Console. Taking older games and making them portable is enough to warrant the high prices that the company has demanded for these classics. However, the 3DS has languished in the Virtual Console department, seeing few releases, and almost no system support outside of the most basic offerings.

Game Boy Advance is probably the one most gamers would expect to hit the 3DS, yet aside from some slightly broken Ambassador program games, the system has been a no-show. Even more egregious though is the lack of SNES support. Games on the SNES should easily run on the 3DS, I’ve seen them run on a DS using some slightly unsavory pieces of hardware. Yet we haven’t seen a single SNES game released for the 3DS as part of the Virtual Console.

Nintendo's Virtual Console is the Biggest Missed Opportunity in Gaming Articles Nintendo  Virtual Console Nintendo Wii U Nintendo 3DS Nintendo 3Ds

The bigger issue with the 3DS and its Virtual Console though is the fact that it is wholly separate from the Wii and Wii U VC. Not only does it have a different selection of games, it doesn’t recognize the fact that the other console exist. This means that if you want to play The Legend of Zelda on your Wii U and your 3DS, you have to buy it two separate times, and the save file is different for each. These are issues that Sony has worked out quite easily, and with less of a fanbase for their handheld device.

The Virtual Console would really do better as a service, rather than a store

All of this still ignores the other issues that Nintendo continues to allow fester within the Virtual Console feature. Third party games have been a big problem, as licensing is understandably a headache for many. However, the biggest problem is how the whole thing is organized.

I already mentioned the pricing model, which aside from the upgrade discount from going between the Wii and Wii U is almost completely absurd. $5 a piece for now 30 year old games is a bit much no matter what game it is. When we’re talking about games that most gamers have bought multiple times already, it becomes quite a challenge to justify. That’s just NES titles though, when you get into newer stuff, like the SNES and N64 the prices continue to go up.

Some of these are totally understandable, such as rare games, or third party titles that have been hard to find. These used to fetch upwards of $30-$50 on ebay and in second hand stores, so getting them digitally for $10 is a great price. It’s just the blind adherence to the policy that’s the biggest issue. A game like The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask should not cost anywhere close to the same as Pac-Attack for the SNES.

Nintendo's Virtual Console is the Biggest Missed Opportunity in Gaming Articles Nintendo  Virtual Console Nintendo Wii U Nintendo 3DS Nintendo 3Ds

But really, if we’re getting into how to fix the whole thing, there’s shouldn’t be individual prices here at all. It would take a whole lot more organizing and negotiating on the part of Nintendo, but the Virtual Console would really do better as a service, rather than a store. Make it into a Netflix-style subscription service, or at least offer it as an option on top of being able to buy individual titles, and gamers would toss their money at Nintendo like they were offering lifetime supplies of happiness injected directly into their brains.

For a monthly fee, let’s say $5 for simplicity’s sake, you gain access to the entire catalog of Virtual Console titles across all supported devices. This method makes it so that the slightly smaller selection of games feels better, as you can always try out something new, rather than waiting on that classic to hit that you’ve always wanted. It also shifts the narrative significantly, moving away from “this game isn’t worth $5” to “I tried it out and had a lot of fun”.

Of course, this also puts a lot of responsibility on Nintendo to keep refreshing the offerings inside the Virtual Console. No one wants to keep replaying the same games over and over again, unless they’re one of the aforementioned classics of course. So they’ll have to work a bit harder to keep adding games (something they’ve seemed to given up on as of late to be honest). However, with a guaranteed amount of money coming in every single month, it gives them more leverage to assign developers, and deal with third parties.

Nintendo's Virtual Console is the Biggest Missed Opportunity in Gaming Articles Nintendo  Virtual Console Nintendo Wii U Nintendo 3DS Nintendo 3Ds

This is all pie-in-the-sky sort of stuff, and I’m sure that Nintendo has had these sorts of discussions before. However, given the over 100 year old company’s propensity to ignore progress in favor of the status quo, I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that they looked at it objectively and decided that it wasn’t the best course of action. Just look at how long it has taken them to implement a true account system and you’ll have an idea for how slow they are to adapt sometimes.

In the end, whether the feature gets a total overhaul or not, I just want the Virtual Console to be better than it is now. I want to look at my Wii U and 3DS and see them as portals to everything Nintendo; past, present, and future. I want to be willing to throw money their way, and see my favorite older titles given back to me in return. I just want them to stop missing the opportunity that their history, and current technology has given them.

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  • Caleb Willden

    Yeah, they’re not using Virtual Console like they should. I mean, only recently did they release Pokemon, and they still don’t have Gold, Silver, or Crystal, VERY popular games. And why the gameboy games like Kirby’s Dream Land instead of the gameboy color versions, you know, with color? Oh well. At least they have it!

    Anyway, I love the subscription idea! I have a few virtual console games here and there, but I’m reluctant to get any more because of the few that have been a waste of money for me. A subscription would give players a huge variety of classic, great games to try out and play and it would give Nintendo extra consistent revenue. Great ideas.

  • Andrew

    And we’ve come full circle.

    GameTap (which beat Virtual Console to market by a year, btw) was exactly what you are proposing: a subscription service promising all-you-can-play access to classic games. All major publishers except Nintendo were present, and ~5 new games were released each weekly. The problem (in addition to the contractual and technical challenges you hinted at) was that the demand just wasn’t there–everybody who has an interest in playing classic games already knows how to do so for free and has little incentive to pay anything.

  • HoistDude

    Disagree entirely.

    The Virtual Console is a masterpiece. Maybe it is underrated and underutilized, but it is a masterpiece nonetheless.

    Unlike subscription fee services, I actually get to OWN and download copies of games I buy on the VC. I don’t have to keep paying recurring expenses to play, replay, and replay old favorites like Punch Out, Contra III, Super Metroid or Super Street Fighter II Turbo — it is all MINE and downloaded onto my hardrive for less than a few months “subscription fees” that I never have to pay again.

    People just don’t get that subscription fees = ripp offs. Nintendo is the only gaming company that has EARNED my loyalty and the VC is a big part of that. Remaster the game for my new console and sell it to me for a nice, inexpensive and one-time fee. Don’t make me pay hundreds over the 5-10 year life of my console just to play — but never OWN, my own games.

    • FatAlbert1020

      Totally agree. And the gaming industry is not the movie industry. You’ll watch a show once or twice, but a good video game you could log 1000 hours on easily over its life. Can you imagine being hooked into a game, then paying for it by the month?

      • Kyle Hanson

        Do you not play PS+ or Xbox Live Gold games then? We are all used to having temporary access to games at some point in our lives. And if they had a mix of subscription and purchase (like this game? Keep it forever for $5!) then we’d have the best of both worlds, and Nintendo would hopefully be raking in the cash.

    • Kyle Hanson

      I’m fine with leaving the buying option in place, but the major point is that the selection and support just isn’t up to snuff. I propose the subscription model mostly because it would shift responsibility more toward Nintendo to keep the fanbase happy.

    • Jocef Knapp

      You own them for that system. You still have to repurchase, or purchase an upgrade, to play it on another. Why? Why would buying a game on the Wii VC require a repurchase for 3ds or Wii U?

  • FatAlbert1020

    The thing about Nintendo, as weird as it is to say it, they’re really the last AAA publisher and business that prioritizes the customers happiness over all. They still believe that when you buy a game, it is the first and last investment you should make into it. They labored over the idea of DLC, and even after they reluctantly gave in, they’re arguably the only ones that do it right! Major DLC’S are welcome boosts to game play, are stable upon release, and cost very little or are free. Want a small DLC? Buy one Amiibo and unlock DLC’s across nearly all of Nintendo’s software, the more Nintendo games you have, the more sense an Amiibo makes. It’s brilliant.

    So considering this, when you think about a VC from Nintendo thats accessible via a monthly payment, it sounds like the most anti Nintendo thing to do. Think about what your asking here. If the NX at launch had unrestricted access to half, no, a QUARTER of the back catalog Nintendo has, how much would you pay for it? Just think about it for 2 seconds.

    Now, why stop there? Nintendo charges nothing for online play, MiiVerse, and half the DLC’S on most games. Since we’re charging monthly, why not roll that into the bill?

    Suddenly, A gaming system from Nintendo is a burden instead of a pleasure. A time machine that was supposed to be a blast to the past has become a sobering toll road into adulthood. I just can’t see Nintendo charging people a monthly fee for something.

    No, the Nintendo I know would do something innovative. They would introduce something akin to Gamer Scores, like in Live or PSN, then make milestones to unlock cool DLC’S, Mii clothes, or even games. A system that would reward players for playing more, not charge them monthly to do so. 1st party games will raise your score quicker, posting regularly on MiiVerse or getting more Yeahs will also raise your score, and so on. THIS would make games fun again. To receive something tangible for doing what you already do. A reward, an endpoint, a goal. NOT a receipt.

    So when it comes down to it, I think Nintendo is right where they need to be, and will continue offering fun, fun for everyone! (iwata)

    • Kyle Hanson

      I wish I was as optimistic about Nintendo as you are. Yes, they’ve proven that they truly care about their customers and their enjoyment of Nintendo products, but looking at the VC it is tough to argue that they haven’t failed at that. High prices for a small selection of games, which get fewer and fewer updates as time goes by. Limited support for the 3DS, and a slow crawl toward Wii U compatibility. They simply have ignored the VC in many respects.

      The subscription model I propose is really an afterthought to the main point that the VC isn’t living up to its potential. If Nintendo has a better idea then I’m all for it, this is just one option that would work better. I for one would simply pay for my Nintendo account without much thought, as I already do for PS+ and Xbox Live, as it would offer far more in return than either of those services, if it did what I propose here.

      Either way though, the real point is that the VC needs to improve, as it has so much potential, but feels like a wasted opportunity.

      • FatAlbert1020

        Yeah, that’s true. The VC is straight up barren. Point taken.

        Makes me wonder what Nintendo is doing with that fat stack of cash they got from the Wii…

  • guest

    This article hit the nail on the head. As much as I love Nintendo, they just aren’t keeping up.?

  • jdc88

    I remember getting super excited when they said they’ll finally release Super Mario Bros 3. When I went to buy it on VC. It was the 8 bit NES. As much as I love SMB3 just knowing there’s the better 16 bit SNES game. I couldn’t buy it, hoping they’ll release the SNES version soon.

    And Super Mario Galaxy 2 came out a year before Super Mario Galaxy 1 on VC. Went to go buy the first one. Completely forgot you need stupid motion wii controls to play the game

  • Jocef Knapp

    Also, Nintendo is somewhat trapped into their better known IPs. As their fans get older, and their games and features list get smaller compared to their competition, fewer and fewer gamers care about classic Nintendo games, and younger ones won’t know them at all. Why does not Nintendo use promotions on the VC in order to revitalize these fanbases. Example, Star Fox Wii U is coming in 2016. Why does Nintendo not make StarFox or StarFox 64 available for free on their VC? They might lose a few sales, but they will probably see more Star Fox Zero sales as a result.

  • Donovan Tull

    I do not want to see Nintendo do something like Netflix. I know I wouldn’t pay a monthly subscription, when I know there’s only one or two Virtual Console games I want that I would prefer to get on Wii U rather than PC.

  • stoli5

    “I want to look at my Wii U and 3DS and see them as portals to everything Nintendo; past, present, and future. I want to be willing to throw money their way, and see my favorite older titles given back to me in return.”


    Heartbreaking we don’t get more. They’re ignoring their older gaming market.

    Looks like one of these days, I really get back into ROM games on PC.

  • StarDragonJP

    They finally did add SNES to 3ds but you have to get the New3ds to play them.

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