Nintendo Doesn’t Want You to Play Old Games
Contributed by DJMMT
Many people are angry about the cost and quality of the new Nintendo Switch Online (NSO) Expansion Pass, but this is just the latest in a long list of complaints people have about Nintendo and their continuous efforts to make it both difficult and expensive for people to play older Nintendo titles. There are countless examples of people being actively prevented from playing older Nintendo games by the company in the form of unrealistic price walls, lack of access to content, and even legal action in the case of emulation. I often see people argue that all this gatekeeping and mismanagement of older content is the byproduct of greed, but I believe that’s an oversimplification. It’s not that Nintendo wants to fleece gamers for money to play their old games. It’s that they don’t want gamers to play their old games at all.
When you consider how hard Nintendo has worked to make it difficult to play older games, you can’t realistically say that Nintendo is just being greedy. Greed would mean trying to make things as easy and accessible as possible for high prices. But that’s not what Nintendo does when it comes to old content. They actively put up barriers to make it so you can’t play their old content, whether you want to pay for it or not. Every time they release a product or service that’s tied to playing older content, they handle it in ways that appear to be actively and often objectively wrong from both a business and consumer satisfaction sense. Remember the NES Classic? Seemed like a great idea when announced with lots of demand. Nintendo could have done something amazing with this concept but instead they botched it in multiple ways. They limited the number of titles available on the console, without hacking/modding it. They separated the list of games by region, forcing people to have to try to import them if they didn’t like the games included in their local version. They intentionally limited the production quantity way below the amount of perceived demand. And arguably they charged too much for what was essentially a plastic box holding a Raspberry Pi loaded with a few old ROMs on it. They went on to do the same thing with the SNES Classic and have yet to announce an N64 Classic, even though there is clearly high demand for such a product. Any logical person would say that Nintendo has handled this situation incorrectly. Incorrectly being defined as the way that would have garnered the most profit, customer satisfaction, and brand loyalty. But that assumes that Nintendo wanted these projects to be popular and profitable. And that assumes they want you to care about playing their old games at all. What if that’s not actually the case?
Unlike other big players in the game, Nintendo continues to make the bulk of their money in direct software and hardware sales. They aren’t cashing in too hard on microtransactions or paid DLC. They do have some of that and will continue to as it becomes more and more a necessity to increase profits past the realm of reasonable, because capitalism. But Nintendo by and large are still a company that makes their money simply by selling people games and toys based on those games. That means that they have to keep cranking out new content, charging premium prices for it, and get you to buy it. Look at Ubisoft. Their model is completely different at this point. They want you to buy one game and play it for years, constantly coming back and paying for annual season passes, cosmetics, XP boosts, and other microtransactions. They don’t need you to buy all of their games released in a given year. They simply want you to buy one and keep playing it perpetually. Look at EA. They want you to buy one game a year and keep funneling money into loot boxes. With a business model that only requires each user to buy one or two games a year, it’s a real benefit to have users play your older titles. It keeps them happy when they get bored without them going to the next big game. They play some old stuff for a while, recharge, and go right back into FIFA, FFXIV, or Ghost Recon: Breakpoint. Nintendo doesn’t want that.
Nintendo doesn’t want you to go play Banjo Kazooie so you can go back to playing Smash Bros. Ultimate. They don’t want you playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons with no microtransactions for hundreds of hours, playing Super Mario Bros., and then going right back into Animal Crossing. They want you buying New Pokémon Snap! then Mario Golf: Super Rush then Metroid Dread then Mario Party Superstars and so on. Occasionally they put out a remaster and over charge for it. That’s not to fleece you for money. It’s to actively try to prevent you from wanting to play it. They don’t want you to want to play older games in any form. They want you focused on their newer games that cost millions of dollars to make and haven’t already made their money back. They don’t remaster old Pokémon games because they want to make money on them. They remaster them because we keep asking for them. They want you playing Pokémon Unite until Pokémon Legends: Arceus drops. Then they want you to buy that and play it until the next Pokémon game comes out, then put on the shelf never to think about it again.
That Expansion Pass costs $30 a year because they’re actively trying to discourage you from wanting it. They want to kill your interest in playing N64 games. They want you to buy new Switch games and only new Switch games. It’s not that Nintendo doesn’t know what they’re doing. It’s that they’re actively and knowingly doing whatever it takes to drive your attention away from older titles. That’s why they come down hard on emulation. They don’t actually care about copyrights or the integrity of their IPs. They just don’t want people focusing on their old games. Because then all the people who don’t want to emulate but do want to play their old games will start demanding them more. They’ll want them on NSO. They’ll want them remastered. They’ll want Virtual Console back. And we do! The gaming community does want those old games made affordable, easy to access, and convenient to play on modern hardware. I wish I could get the entire Nintendo 64 library on my Switch or PC for a single, legal low cost one-time transaction. But that goes against what Nintendo wants, because it’s not how they make their money. They could make money that way and most likely do make a profit on these older games endeavors. But it’s not how they want to make money. And that’s why they actively sabotage every endeavor, including their own, that attempts to make retro Nintendo games something worth investing your money, time, and energy into.
Nintendo isn’t fumbling at the management of their old games. They’re intentionally and actively trying to kill them off in the public eye. And you know what, it’s working. I’m not buying that Expansion Pass. I’d love to play some N64 games, though none of the ones currently available as I’ve already beaten most of them and don’t have time to replay games, but I would never pay an additional $30 a year for access to that library. I know many people who feel the same. I see countless people online championing piracy of Nintendo games. Nintendo’s desire to kill off the demand for older games in their library is working successfully. There will always be some pirates and emulators, but the bulk of the public will simply give up on the idea of playing older Nintendo games. As I’ve said many times, it’s chess not checkers. And though I may not agree with what Nintendo is doing, I much acknowledge that they are playing the game quite well based on their own goals.